There's a large industrial park close to my home, filled with large buildings and tasteful landscaping. All were empty last year; all are filled this year. They have been leased by companies seeking to drill for natural gas in the remnants of countryside and rolling hills, now crowded out by McMansion subdevelopments and strip malls.
A large building sits near the wetlands nearby. Once host to a mental health facility, it has now been sold for a pittance to another developer, who hopes to remake it into mixed commercial and light industrial use. It abuts some of the most prolific wildlife in the area, all living in and around man-made wetlands created to provide sanctuary for wildlife displaced by highway building. The local mental health advocates now want to allow the natural gas companies to move in, drill for gas and turn over a portion of their profits to mental health. Meeting after local meeting has these advocates pitted against the environmental activists. It's a tug of war whose result is yet to be determined.
It has been a slow awakening to the wealth of natural gas that is to be found in the Marcellus shale formation. After the coal ran out ( and this area is quite completely 'undermined' in the most literal sense.), nobody thought that there was anything worthwhile to extract, till new techniques such as fracturing or 'fracking' the shale to release the gas were developed. The downside is that millions of gallons of water are needed for the purpose, and mixed with toxic chemicals that form part of the 'fracking fluid', lots of elaborate mitigation and water purification methods are needed to render the waterways safe for use in drinking water supplies.
The companies are already complaining about the regulations, suggesting that the millions of dollars they will spend on regulatory requirements and taxes would be better spent on creating 10,000 new jobs. But it would be a short-sighted choice. Luckily both the DEP and concerned citizens are taking a closer look, in the aftermath of the recent blowout at a Marcellus shale natural gas well in West Virginia. What had happened not too long ago at Hickory PA, could now come to this part of the county.
Here's what a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article had a few days ago:
"The industry noise began with a "blowout" on June 3 at a Marcellus Shale well outside Penfield in rural Clearfield County. That well, adjacent to the Moshannon State Forest, spewed natural gas and drilling wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals into the air for 16 hours.
On Monday, drillers hit a pocket of methane in an inactive deep mine, causing an explosion and fire that flared 50-feet high for four days, destroyed a drilling rig and burned all seven workers on the well pad, located in a farm field near Moundsville in West Virginia's northern panhandle.
"We're horrified by the possibilities of that happening here," Ms. Borowiec said about Marcellus Shale wells planned for a pad 1,500 feet from homes in Upper Burrell. "The more research we do the more horrific it is, and I don't think a lot of people know what's going on."
The Pennsylvania and West Virginia accidents at gas wells tapping into the mile-deep, gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation have alerted some for the first time to risks that accompany what some have termed a gas-drilling gold rush, and heightened serious safety and environmental concerns for others.