Much of the time, a winter storm keeps people snug at home but apparently not in Ohio when gas development is at stake. Nearly 300 residents and elected officials in Canton (Stark County) turned out last week for a debate on the issue. Even in a state with a long history of digging and drilling for fossil fuels, modern-day gas extraction is clearly something worth learning about.
And also worrying about, as industry trains its sights on both the Marcellus and the even deeper Utica shale, and newly elected Governor Kasich openly hopes that gas will be an answer to his budgetary prayers.
Don t blame me for signing a lease, and you'll never stop the drilling, the man said. There s an old saying: you can t eat the scenery.
Most days, this would have been depressing to hear and just another reason why gas development is running amok. But on this day, the speaker was part of something very positive, a role play on how to talk about the downsides of drilling with reluctant friends and neighbors.
This topic was part of Get Organized: Skills to Protect your Community in the Marcellus Shale, a training held last week in Pittsburgh and Connellsville, PA. Dozens of local residents turned out to learn how to recruit volunteers, generate media coverage, coordinate with other activists, and track problems in communities.
The events were hosted by PennEnvironment (which is planning more such events in the coming months) and co-led by EARTHWORKS, Clean Water Action, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, and Mountain Watershed Association.
The turn of a year signals new plans and possibilities. But as 2011 kicks off, elected officials are wondering how in the face of steep federal and state deficits they'll ever have the funds to realize policy goals.
In the Marcellus Shale region, it s been tempting to plug budget holes with the quick bucks that come from issuing permits and leasing state land for gas drilling. But this stop-gap measure can also mean an increase in drilling, and with it the need for even more revenue to pay the steep costs of gas development (like road damage, toxic clean up, and health problems). Tackling those impacts requires steps many politicians are loath to take, like long-term planning, bold regulatory change and taxing industry.
Pennsylvania and New York are the only oil- and gas-producing states without a severance tax to make companies pay for the resources they sever from the land forever. Resource extraction taxes can offset the financial burden placed on public coffers and, when used appropriately, mitigate damage to drilled communities and the environment. Severance taxes vary widely in basis (value or volume), rate, and exemptions, but don't appear to deter industry from seeking the resources from which they so greatly profit.
Yesterday, the New York State Assembly reconvened in Albany and ended up working late into the night to debate and vote on a time out for gas development. The bill (A. 11443B, sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Sweeney) passed by a wide 93-43 margin and suspends the issuance of permits to hydraulically fracture gas wells in New York State until May 15, 2011.
With a companion bill already passed by the State Senate in August, the moratorium will become law once it s signed by Governor David Paterson, who stated last week that Even with the tremendous revenues that will come in we re not going to risk public safety or water quality, which will be the next emerging global problem after the energy shortage.
The Assembly vote was the culmination of months of hard work by organizations, citizen activists, and forward-looking legislators from across New York. A broad coalition of groups heralded the news as an opportunity to closely examine the true costs of shale gas development that have plagued communities in other states before permits are issued.
As more than 230 people from 25 states and Canada gathered last week in Pittsburgh, the EARTHWORKS National People s Oil and Gas Summit shone a bright light on both shared problems and the potential for lasting solutions. As participants listened to presentations by scientists and citizens, held lively discussions, and got busy strategizing, the idea that there is far more that unites than divides us rang true.
Reports of serious health problems in the oil and gas patches of Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania are tragically similar, and bad leasing, drilling, and waste disposal practices are now ubiquitous. As both drilling for and consumption of natural gas spreads across the nation, the true costs of dirty energy development have become harder to ignore the West, with its longstanding energy development, and the East, with its newly exploited shale gas plays, increasingly share common interests and stories. And as climate change and pollution accelerate, only a collective quickening of the pace will win the race for a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.
It didn t take long after the mid-term election last week for winners, pundits, and the media to attribute the results to a rejection of a new reform agenda in Washington. Unfortunately, when it comes to energy policy, the elections did deliver a solid victory for the status quo.
Politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government are loudly calling for more extraction of fossil fuels, including natural gas. But when it comes to the need for stronger government regulation and oversight to protect public health and the environment, political voices remain a mere whisper.
Drillers certainly liked what they heard the day after the elections, when former White House aide Karl Rove prognosticated that legislation to stem climate change and regulate the gas industry will simply be "gone" with the new Congress. (Rove s political group Crossroads Ventures spent $300,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, a lead proponent of the FRAC Act to require companies to disclose the toxic chemicals they pump into the ground.)
Clearfield County, Pennsylvania and the Gulf of Mexico don t seem to have much in common. Different landscapes, environments, communities. But now these far-flung locations are linked by accidents that the oil and gas industry insists are unlikely to happen, and the failure of blowout preventers it considers an adequate safeguard.
When the landman comes knocking, it s tempting to open the door wide. The promises made can be beguiling: fast cash, payments for years to come, and hardly any change on your property. Just sign up now
But harsh reality can set in fast. Maybe it s a road built right behind the house or through a crop field. Or barrels of toxic chemicals stored next to a drinking well. Perhaps the wastewater pond wasn t fenced, so thirsty livestock got sick. And when the royalty check arrives, it s far smaller than expected.
Across the Marcellus Shale region and beyond, there s abundant evidence that a rush to drill without strong regulations causes environmental and health problems. Less well-known is how the rush to lease in the absence of information, legal advice, and safeguards is harming many landowners, as well as their neighbors and communities.
For more than a decade, OGAP has worked to inform property owners about their rights and what to consider before signing a lease most recently at landowner workshops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.