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Article published May 15, 2014

No-drilling is no option

GG Charles H. Shultz,
Ph.D. Geology, Boyers

I have several issues with Michael Bagdes-Canning’s response (“Pro-frackers fibbing,” April 21) to my letter (“Anti-fracking nonsense,” April 8).
Regarding his response that “Even a geologic neophyte like me knows there are pockets of water, sands, and all sorts of natural fractures between the surface and the Marcellus ...” For simple clarification purposes, neither water nor sand comes in “pockets”. There are geologic formations (sandstones, limestones, mudrocks, etc.) that extend in sheets over large areas, and there is groundwater that exists just under the surface of the land, except where it comes to the surface in the form of streams, springs, lakes and swamps. If water can be withdrawn from rock or sediment beneath the surface, such materials are called aquifers. As for the fractures, most of the stratigraphic section between the Marcellus Formation and the surface is occupied by mudrocks. These may be somewhat cracked by tectonic and compaction stresses, but they do not support through-going fractures directly connecting the Marcellus to the surface aquifers.
The writer also questions my comments about air pollution associated with Marcellus wells. He lists a host of gaseous components, but again fails to list their concentrations and what EPA lists as dangerous levels. Analytical detection does not necessarily constitute a health hazard.
Not only that, everyone gets all fussed up about diesel fumes at a gas well site but think nothing of the vast number of trucks that use the highway system to bring us products or about the number of unnecessary miles we drive in our own cars. Or, how about fueling your own car? How many parts per million benzene molecules do we inhale or absorb?
The point is to keep things in perspective.
The writer points out that Western Pennsylvania has been mined and drilled before. Yes, it certainly has, and our environment bears the scars of those previous activities. However, not only were those all shallow activities, which can’t be compared to activities in the deep formations such as the Marcellus, but they predated government regulation: In fact, they are the reason for government regulation. There was a time that our land and rivers stunk or were poisoned with municipal and industrial waste, our factories spewed out tons of air pollution, lead accumulated in body tissues, and mining was promiscuous.
Nobody wants to go back to that and government regulation has provided the means not to. The gas drilling industry is already regulated and new regulations are on the horizon.
Dr. Andy Grotewald also commented on my letter (“Stick to science,” April 18.) His principal point was that the consequences of fracking may not become apparent until decades from now. The fact is, the environmental degradation would have become apparent within the first couple of years. Not only that, we are doing many things whose consequences won’t become apparent for years — building in geologically unstable locations, installing landfills, using cell phones, computers, new medicines, etc. Does that mean we don’t do them? No. We use the best science available to us at the time and if we have to alter the course, we do.
I am taken with the notion that we all use natural resources (including natural gas) to live comfortable lives, yet in the minds of the anti-fracking group, the solution appears to be “no drilling” rather than “responsible drilling.”
I just don’t get it.