September 20, 2009
Who wants to be prosperous anyway?
There is a natural gas gold mine under our feet
By: Glenn Thompson
Pennsylvania's economy has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn, especially in the 17 rural counties I have the honor to represent. Unemployment is at record levels, families are struggling and Washington's response has been to shovel a trillion-plus dollars out the door in make-work projects that haven't stimulated much more than our national debt.
But there is hope, and it's right here in our own back yards. More accurately, it's about 6,000 feet beneath those yards -- and it is called the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. It stretches from New York to Kentucky, and according to professors from Penn State, holds the potential to yield more than 500 trillion cubic feet of clean-burning natural gas.
Some scientists believe it is the largest natural gas reserve in the world. And even if it isn't, stumble across 500 trillion cubic feet of just about anything, and you're going to generate a lot of revenue, a lot of jobs, and a lot of opportunity. At a time, it should be said, when we need all those things more than ever.
The safe and well-regulated process involved in producing and delivering natural gas from the Marcellus has already paid dividends to our region and commonwealth. According to a recent Penn State study, Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling last year generated 29,000 jobs, added $2.3 billion to the economy and generated $240 million in state and local taxes. For 2009 the estimates are 48,000 jobs, $400 million in tax revenues and economic output will top $3.8 billion.
But that process - an energy technology known as hydraulic fracturing - finds itself under withering attack today. Not because it's dangerous, or untested, or ineffective. No, it's being targeted for elimination today because it's considered too effective.
It allows us to access energy resources that are too deep. It allows us to produce gas pockets that are too tight. In short, from the perspective of those who oppose responsible energy development - it's too efficient a tool for delivering homegrown energy to Americans who need it. And so it must be stopped.
Despite its clear record of environmental safety (a million wells drilled, not a single documented case of contamination) and stringent regulation by the states, a bill introduced earlier this summer would hand the regulatory reins over fracking to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.
While some claim these efforts are merely aimed at forcing operators to disclose materials involved in the process (even though Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection lists these fluids online), the consequences of this legislation are far greater.
It will give the Sierra Club and others opposed to responsible energy development another tool to stop exploration -- by tying the process up in the courts for years. As stated recently by a Sierra Club affiliate: "In the absence of government protection, the last resort may be the legal system." Last resort, or first option?
In another study conducted by Penn State, professors there concluded this legislation could "pose yet another serious threat to the development of the Marcellus Shale." Describing the legislation as "ominous," the professors determined, "there is little question that this type of legislation would accomplish little in terms of protecting potable freshwater but would be disastrous in terms of the domestic oil and gas industry, raise prices for gasoline and natural gas, and ultimately derail any efforts to address the need to reduce carbon emissions."
Plainly put, in a world where new access to productive energy fields is limited by the whims of dictators abroad and the laws of physics and the federal government here at home, hydraulic fracturing allows us to redefine what was previously impossible and capture what was previously unreachable.
Without it, more than seven billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas simply could not have been produced over the 60 years in which it's been used.
We're talking about a technology that allows us to recover clean energy resources that time, gravity and pressure - political and otherwise - has rendered unavailable. And, in conjunction with the development of advanced new horizontal drilling techniques, we'll now be able to acquire those resources with far fewer wells drilled, and far less of our land disturbed.
The Marcellus Shale represents a tremendous opportunity to expand and grow the economy, get people back to work, decrease our debt and lessen our dependence on imported energy.
With an economy in peril, millions of Americans out of work, and our dependence on far-away dictators for our energy growing by the day, not since the second World War has there been a more important time to put our region's massive energy resources to good use.
In hydraulic fracturing, we now have the tools we need to confront these challenges in a safe and effective way. And if history is a guide, you can bet that's exactly what we'll do.
Rep. Glenn Thompson represents Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.