Monday, September 21, 2009

Cabot + Halliburton = Polluted Wells & Streams

All manner of PA officials including politicians and agency 'crats have been downplaying the impacts of gas drilling on watersheds (water quality and quantity). This is not surprising considering the economic boon realized by landowners, energy companies, and of course the state budget.

ProPublica covers this story about pollution problems caused by Cabot Oil and Gas in northern PA. Cabot is a drilling firm that uses (and it would seem abuses) a chemical compound manufactured by the notorious (drum roll...) HALLIBURTON. No lie. Natural gas drilling polluted nine private wells, a wetland area and Stevens Creek in the Susquehanna watershed according to the PA DEP.

According to Penn Future in a statement made September 11, a proposed PA budget deal that was recently announced included a "massive giveaway to huge, multi-national energy corporations that want full and immediate access to drill, baby, drill in our public forests and parks." This was was pushed heavily by PA Republicans with some bipartisan support ("drill baby drill" is a regularly used Republican Campaign slogan made popular by former Governor Palin).

The newly proposed acres would be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of acres already under lease, mostly for natural gas extraction. According to Penn Future the legislature also failed to adopt the severance tax on drilling operations, something many of us supported through our letters to state reps and senators.

Go to the Penn Future website to listen to a discussion by Jan Jarrett. It's an easy way to get a summary of this issue which is so critical for all people living within the Marcellus Shale formation in PA. It is a huge issue for the Susquehanna River and Upper Delaware River watersheds (including a portion of NY).

Gas drilling is a hot topic in Texas, Michigan and several other states, as I have found out through participation in a Google Group for folks who are dealing directly with gas drilling. And that means they are involved with their neighbors. Many of the communities involved in northern PA have revolved around the entire progression of historic resource extraction over hundreds of years; industries like timber and coal. The Marcellus Shale formation is a big chunk of Appalachia.

I know how welcome the revenues from gas drilling were for my late Uncle Cecil Parsons of Canaan Valley, WV. He and Aunt Ginny were farmers in a Zone 5 climate, and the gas dollars helped supplement income from beef, hay and of all things -- cauliflower (1960's). But to my knowledge the drilling operation was small and low impact. Indeed their farm now abuts the nation's 500th National Wildlife Refuge.

But as the links referenced above show, serious damage to the natural environment is occurring and it is widespread. Gas drillers are like utility companies as far as the techniques they use to conquer and divide the people who own the tracts of land that happen to be the places the geologists predict will yield gas. I have experienced 'divide and conquer' and have seen the damage done when things go wrong with certain pipeline and electric companies. They also have the political influence (AKA lots of dollars) to influence elected officials at all levels, but especially state senators and representatives.

A confluence of economic conditions and geopolitical events is causing a flood of drilling pressure in every direction. Each company brings its own proprietary blend of chemicals to split open the earth and each is capable of ruining streams and contaminating groundwater. Pennsylvania is set to open the flood gates even though its own environmental enforcement structure is inadequate to monitor drillers and enforce its regulations. That's left up to the drillers themselves and that can't stand. It will become the responsibility of the people who would potentially be harmed.

According to an industry source "Oil and Gas Investor" Cabot is increasing production in PA and they are just one of several operating within the commonwealth and adjacent areas in New York.

Local watershed associations are needed to put the focus on watershed systems rather than discreet drilling sites and site specific problems.