Debate has arisen in North East regarding what some believe to be the solution to foreign oil dependency that could found in some residents’ backyards.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Agency, the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation underlying in approximately two-thirds of Pennsylvania and parts of New York and West Virginia, is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
Consequently, some of this Marcellus Shale is believed to lie beneath North East Township.
Freda Tarbell, spokeswoman for the DEP, said in a June 4 Erie Times-News story that since the shale formation in Erie and Crawford counties is not as thick as other parts of Pennsylvania, drilling may not occur as quickly.
Tarbell, who was unavailable for comment at News-Journal press time, previously said drilling has mostly occurred along a strip extending from southwestern Pennsylvania to the northeastern corner of the state.
Extracting the natural gas requires a vertical and horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing. Since 1947, hydraulic fracturing has been successfully used and adopted in the United States.
Once a well is drilled, it is cased and cemented to protect groundwater, natural gas and other fluids from escaping. Drillers then pump a water, sand and fluid mixture into the shale formation under high pressure, puncturing holes into the shale, thus allowing natural gas to flow into the well.
Typically, the amount of water required for hydraulic fracturing ranges between one million gallons for a vertical well, to five million gallons for a vertical well with a horizontal lateral.
According to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the water used in the drilling process is withdrawn from streams or rivers. Gas producers, however, are required to identify and obtain a permit from the state regulatory agencies, limiting withdrawal to protect fish and aquatic life.
Once the process has been completed, the used water, called “frac returns,” must be either recycled or transported to an approved treatment facility.
The remaining well is restored and landscaped as much as possible to its pre-drilling conditions, leaving a small wellhead, concrete pad, equipment, two to three water storage tanks and a metering system to monitor gas production.
Some sources say gas from the Marcellus Shale has the potential to produce 87 billion gallons of oil, equivalent to 12 years’ worth of U.S. energy consumption and more than 200,000 jobs.
Additionally, homeowners can reap financial rewards from lease payments and royalties over the well’s lifetime. Communities and businesses may also benefit from the influx of construction workers and oftentimes their families.
Despite the economic and personal financial gains, drilling poses numerous environmental, infrastructure and social implications.
As stated above, large quantities of fresh water as well as lubricating chemicals are needed to fracture the shale. Environmentalists believe the chemicals will affect air quality, as well as aquifer and surface water pollution. Drilling also has the potential to contaminate groundwater and springs, drain watersheds, disrupt wildlife habitat, and alter landscape.
Since landowners can contract a drilling company on an individual basis, conflicts may arise among neighborhoods, schools and even community members.
The debate continues between people on both sides of the issue.