Pennsylvania Town to Gas Companies: Frack Off

Community Fights Back Against Controversial Practice

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted September 13, 2010

If a polite man in a nicely tailored suit arrived at your door and said he was prepared to give you $100,000 — right now — to drill a little hole in your backyard, you might be inclined to ask, “Where do I sign!?!

But if the man said, as he handed you a pen, "Oh — by the way, the work they need to do may make your drinking water flammable," you might reconsider...

That's essentially the choice Pennsylvania residents are facing as more companies show up to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a huge natural gas deposit that some claim could provide enough of the fuel to satisfy 20 years of demand.

In order to get to the natural gas, however, companies must drill down a mile or more to access the natural gas deposits using a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

The practice uses a pressurized solution to fracture rocks underground, which increases the output of a well.

But while the companies say the process and the solution is perfectly safe, citizens in several fracking areas are crying foul after coming down with unexplained health problems. Some say that the fracking has contaminated the groundwater.

Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox investigated these kind of claims for the Sundance award-winning documentary Gasland.

One man had so much methane in his tap water that he could literally light it on fire!

So it's within this framework of questionable health risks that local communities are fighting back against fracking in their towns.

The latest plans to drill up to 30,000 more wells throughout the Marcellus Shale is drawing the ire of the Eagles Mere community, an idyllic Pennsylvania vacation town. What makes Eagle Mere a bastion for anti-drilling support is that the landowners there are rather well-to-do, so they aren't as susceptible to gas industry money.

"There are some things that are just not worth risking," Bob Spahr, a year-round resident of Eagles Mere told Reuters.

Many townsfolk have been offered up to $2,500 an acre to lease their land for natural gas drilling, but have stood resolutely against leasing the area for drilling. The Eagles Mere Association — which owns over 200 acres surrounding the area lake — recently turned down an offer from Chesapeake Energy Corp. to expand their fracking operations into the town.

Due in part to the public backlash, the EPA has decided to undertake a new study of hydraulic fracturing, with a focus on the chemicals used in the fracking solution. The agency sent letters to nine drilling companies requesting detailed information for a report that is due to be released in 2012.

While the EPA found fracking to be “essentially safe” in 2004, many critics found that study to be politically motivated by the Bush administration.

Following the EPA's study, Congress exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act, leaving companies like Halliburton to post huge profits without worrying about the EPA's pesky environmental regulations.

“Natural gas is an important part of our nation’s energy future, and it’s critical that the extraction of this valuable natural resource does not come at the expense of safe water and healthy communities,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement.

Hopefully that report can light a fire under the industry to address these health concerns.

And I know at least one guy who shouldn't have much trouble finding a flame...

Be Well,