How Will Natural Gas Development Impact the Southern Tier and Vestal?
The Vestal Gas Coalition recently held an essay contest on natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale, sponsored in part by EID Marcellus. The result was some very thoughtful examinations of the opportunities and needs surrounding natural gas development in our region.
The Vestal Gas Coalition decided to sponsor a scholarship for seniors at Vestal High School this year. Students were asked to submit an essay as on “How will natural gas development impact the Southern Tier and Vestal?” as part of our mission to foster fact-based education on natural gas development, based on criteria consistent with a college level research paper.
The main criteria for the essay contest, taken verbatim from our application, were as follows:
BE SURE to submit an essay; do not simply list facts. Show that you know and understand the subject. Your essay should be factual and draw conclusions on the facts presented. It should use rational arguments and deductive reasoning. Make sure to provide support for your reasoning. You may set the scene by presenting and linking facts, then drawing conclusions. This contest is intended to produce essays that show that you have read, researched, and understood the subject.
The scholarship was originally released with a 1st place award set at $600 and a 2nd place set at $400.
Based on the quality of the submissions we received, we decided to expand our awards to include a 3rd place, and to more than double the amount of money awarded to $2,500. The quality of the essays, the documented facts and references, and their ultimate conclusions were excellent and well presented. – Stephen Howland; Executive Committee, Vestal Gas Coalition.
Third place in the amount of $400 was presented to Geno Rocco, the 2nd place award of $900 was presented to Connor McKercher, and Saiema Alam was the recipient of the 1st place VGC Scholarship in the amount of $1,200. Here’s what, Stephen Howland, of our Executive Committee, had to say about the contest, speaking for all of our coalition members;
On behalf of the Vestal Gas Coalition, I would like to commend this year’s recipients of our scholarships, and wish them great success at college. – Stephen Howland; Executive Committee, Vestal Gas Coalition.
Saiema Alam plans to attend Binghamton University to study English and Neuroscience. Here’s her winning essay.
Ever since one of the largest shale deposits in the world – known as Marcellus Shale – was discovered beneath Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, a controversy has ensued. The process used to extract the natural gas contained within the shale is known as hydraulic fracturing; both the economic and environmental impacts of this drilling on the Southern Tier have been intensely debated. The question is, will natural gas development benefit or harm the Southern Tier in the long-run?
Homeowners, industries, and our local government all stand to benefit economically from Marcellus shale drilling in the Southern Tier. The gas companies will increase jobs by hiring locals to work for them. However, the drilling will economically benefit more than just those directly involved with the industry. As more workers pour into the area and more jobs are created, hotel, restaurant, and retail industries will also be boosted. As workers receive income from the drilling companies, they will spend it locally in the Southern Tier, impacting even those who aren’t directly involved in the drilling industry (Penn State). Demand for clothing, food, and housing will increase and jobs in these industries will be created to meet the increased demand.
In Pennsylvania, as of 2009, the Marcellus Shale industry added more than 29,000 jobs, added a total of $2.3 billion to the economy, and gave more than $240 million in local taxes within one year (Considine). The economic impacts in the Southern Tier will likely mirror the impacts that occurred in Pennsylvania. Considering the disastrous flood in our area and the recent economic downturn, the Southern Tier desperately needs more jobs and a boost in the economy, both of which natural gas development will provide.
Even though the economic benefits of drilling are undisputed, there has been much controversy over the potential environmental impacts. Many homeowners fear that their water supplies will be contaminated by drilling. There is the possibility of water contamination in the Southern Tier as a result of gas development. There have been claims in Pennsylvania of odors being emitted from tap water and pollution in home water supplies after drilling (Gjelten).
However, the truth in these claims is highly contested. There is no doubt that when drilling occurs, there is a risk of contaminating water in surrounding areas; however, this risk is extremely small. More than 95% of complaints received from homeowners were actually as a result of pre-existing problems in their land or wells and not the fault of drilling (Penn State). As of 2009, the Ground Water Protection Council had found no instances of groundwater contamination that directly resulted from hydraulic fracturing (Gjelten).
Overall, the Southern Tier does not need to fear that its water supplies will be damaged from natural gas development. The shale rock from which the gas is extracted is thousands of feet below the aquifers that supply our drinking water; there are also many layers of rock between the two (Gjelten). Gas drilling companies are required to adhere to a strict set of rules. Among other regulations, gas wells have to be 200 feet from drinking water supplies and 100 feet from bodies of water. Many people worry about the pollutants that are found in drilling waste fluids, such as salts, benzene, metals, and organics.
Even small amounts of this brine pollution can cause serious damage to water supplies because it is so highly mineralized. However, most gas companies go to extreme measures to ensure that this fracking wastewater is carefully disposed of. The water is collected in metal tanks and carefully trucked to a treatment facility (Penn State). Despite the complaints in other places where hydrocracking has occurred, it has been impossible to directly connect water pollution problems to the hydraulic fracturing process. The Southern Tier does not need to fear that natural gas development will contaminate its water supplies because the chances of that occurring are nearly impossible.
Drilling would also create a challenge for the local housing market. As drilling employees enter the Southern Tier, they will require homes. Our town, however, doesn’t have surplus housing for these workers. As demand for housing increases, rent prices could skyrocket, posing a serious problem to long-time residents of the Southern Tier who have low-incomes. Creating houses isn’t the solution either, because when drilling finishes and the workers leave, there would be countless unoccupied homes that no one would need. The Town Board will need to carefully plan how much housing should be created. A solution may be to create more hotels and motels; after drilling employees leave, these can be used to increase tourism to the Southern Tier.
Finally, natural gas development will also impact our local roads. As drilling companies enter the area, they will bring trucks that will drive on local roads. There will be heavy truck traffic on rural roads and many of these trucks will carry heavy water and drilling supplies. Roads in the Southern Tier have not been designed to hold such traffic and weight, and this might result in significant damage to our local roads (Considine). However, the cost of fixing and repairing roads would likely be insignificant when compared to the billions of dollars the drilling companies will bring to our town through job creation and tax payments.
Although there will be environmental causes for concern when natural gas development begins, they will be few and slim. With careful planning and execution on the part of the gas companies, environmental safety should be ensured, and the economic boom and job creation they brings will benefit the Southern Tier for years to come.
Considine, Timothy, and Robert Watso. “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play.” Allegheny Conference. Penn State, 24 July 2009. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.alleghenyconference.org/PDFs/PELMisc/PSUStudyMarcellusShale072409.pdf>.
Gjelten, Tom. “Water Contamination Concerns Linger For Shale Gas.” Npr.org. NPR, 23 Sept. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.
“Impact of Marcellus Shale on Housing Needs.” Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF PHILADELPHIA, Spring 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. <http://www.philadelphiafed.org/community-development/publications/cascade/77/08_impact-of-marcellus-shale-on-housing-needs.cfm>.
“Penn State Extension.” Natural Gas (Penn State Extension).
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/issues/environmental/resources/water>.