Pennsylvania and New York State may border each other but they are a thousand miles apart in terms of their philosophies about hydraulic fracturing. Pennsylvania has been plowing ahead and has become one the nation’s leading natural gas producers while New York is still debating whether to ease its ban on fracking. The shale gas boom, which is an unconventional form of natural gas, is not just leading the economic recovery, it’s also spearheading an energy revolution. That is, it is displacing coal and by extension, reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions. But adversaries of shale gas production say that the process is harmful to groundwater supplies and that it is should be stopped, or tightly regulated.
To ply loose the shale gas from the rocks where it is embedded a mile beneath the earth’s surface, a concoction of water, sand and chemicals is used. The Obama administration wants more federal regulations to promote safety standards, saying that it is the best way to win the public’s confidence. The shale gas industry says that the state’s are closest to the issue and that they should continue their oversight.
With that, the states are approaching the shale gas debate in different ways. Pennsylvania is set to become the nation’s second leading natural gas producer this year. In 2011, it was seventh. The papers in Pittsburgh are reporting that the shale gas sector now employs 46,644 people in its metropolitan area. Its drillers produced 1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the first half of this year, which will double by year-end and which is up 58 percent from a year ago. The challenge now, the paper says, is getting the pipeline infrastructure built to accommodate the number of wells.
According to Colorado-based consulting firm Bentek, gas from the Marcellus basin — where several states get their shale gas, including Pennsylvania — is displacing that found in the Gulf of Mexico and fulfilling the needs of the Northeast. In fact, the firm says that its excess will start to head south and to the Midwest. Indeed, the Potential Gas Committee’s figures show that the Marcellus basin’s gas is up 147 percent, with a third of the total U.S. shale gas. The Appalachian region, which also takes into the Devonian and Utica Shale Regions, comprises the largest volumetric and percentage gains.
The gas committee, which is a research arm of the natural gas and petroleum industries, says that this country has a natural gas resource base of 2,384 trillion cubic feet of natural gas as of 2012. That’s a jump from previous analyses; the gains are coming from the Rockies, the Atlantic region and the Gulf Coast. “This assessment further demonstrates that the United States, led by the Marcellus, is well-positioned to be a global energy leader for literally decades to come,” says Kathryn Klaber, chief executive of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
New York State, however, is a different case study. It has been assessing the issue of whether to allow fracking for close to five years. Until a decision is made, the moratorium on gas production will remain in place. Proponents of shale-gas drilling are pointing to a Yale University review that says development would add $100 billion to a national economy and that environmental concerns could be protected. Opponents, however, are citing a study from the Colorado School of Public Health that says those living near drilling sites are exposed to unhealthy conditions.
Opponents of fracking, meanwhile, won a relatively high-profile New York appellate court case that essentially said that community standards are able to take precedence over state-wide laws. That is, about 150 local towns there have either outright banned fracking or they have temporarily halted the drilling procedure. So, if New York would eventually come back and lift its ban, those communities with prohibitions could continue their policies.
That atmosphere has, in part, prompted Chesapeake Energy to pull up stakes in New York State. Moreover, the energy company had been battling locals there over leasing rights, with the landowners wanting more lucrative deals that would have resembled those of their neighbors in Pennsylvania. In the scheme of Chesapeake’s natural gas leases, the New York land is said to be a small amount. Perhaps the best thing is to watch those Marcellus-based states that are currently drilling, allowing them to become national case studies as whether the shale gas boom is both environmentally and economically beneficial. If their policies and processes work as hoped — not as hyped — then Pennsylvania could motivate New York to get off the fence.