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Michael Monheit
Michael Monheit
Attorney • (215) 840-6573

Pennsylvania: Once Home to Coal Miners, Now Home to Frackers

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Last summer, two Pennsylvania coal companies laid off over 200 workers due to "weaker-than-normal" coal demand and stricter EPA regulations, per the Washington Examiner. One mine manager accused President Obama of trying to "destroy the coal industry."

Much like sand, silt, and gravel turn to sediment over time, it seems Pennsylvania has evolved from coal mining towns to a full-fledged fracking industry. As part of the Marcellus Shale formation that spans eight states, fracking in Pennsylvania has produced more than 72,000 jobs since 2009, according to what-is-fracking.com.

As U.S. News and World Report writer Meg Handley recently posited, "Fracking [Is] a Game Changer for [the] U.S. Economy."

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated that Marcelllus alone could provide nearly 410 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Fracking in northeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania reportedly produces a combined 3 billion cubic feet per day, per what-is-fracking.com.

"I bet we haven't even scratched the surface of 5 to 10 percent of this yet as an industry," geologist Bill Zagorski told Handley.

According to IHS Global Insight stats, "Marcellus is expected to contribute $42.4 billion annually to Pennsylvania's economy by 2035," Handley reported. But at what cost to Pennsylvania residents?

To answer that, it may be helpful to know the answers to the following questions.

First, what is fracking?

"Hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' is a technology used to extract natural gas, and oil, that lies within a shale rock formation thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface," according to NPR site StateImpact Pennsylvania. Millions of years of decomposition created the natural gas, which became trapped in the rock.

The fracking drill burrows about a mile into the earth, which can take up to 30 days. When it hits shale, "[I]t turns horizontally," StateImpact reported. "Drilling can then occur in several directions, much like the spokes of a wheel."

Horizontal drilling permits pressurized fracking fluids to be injected into the shale, which "creates new channels within the rock from which natural gas is extracted," what-is-fracking.com explained.

What's in those fracking fluids?

In addition to water and sand, gas companies may use citric acid, benzene, or lead, according to what-is-fracking.com.

How does fracking affect the environment?

In at least three ways, according to the U.S. News article.

First, sleepy Pennsylvania towns face noise pollution as trucks transport equipment back and forth.

Next, pressurized fracking fluids use 4 to 5 million gallons of water at each job site.

Also, chemicals account for 0.2 percent of the fracking fluid, and environmentalists worry that those chemicals may contaminate groundwater supplies.

StateImpact Pennsylvania mentioned another potential impact.

"Wastewater from the process returns to the surface contaminated with some of those [fracking fluid] chemicals, as well as buried salts and naturally occurring radioactive material," it reported. "That wastewater needs to be treated, or buried deep in the earth using underground injection wells."

So what's being done to protect the environment from fracking?

Both what-is-fracking.com and StateImpact reported that fracking wells are lined with cement to prevent fracking water and natural gas from leaking into the groundwater supply. StateImpact said that steel is used in addition to cement.

Lawmakers are also working to regulate the industry. "Pennsylvania has made many strides in regulations to allay some of the public's fears, including updating well standards," U.S. News stated.

When did fracking start?

Halliburton's website claimed that it first used fracking in Kansas in 1947.

Why has fracking become so popular in the last few years?

The Energy Information Administration has estimated that energy demand around the world will skyrocket 35 percent between 2015 and 2035. With nuclear energy falling out of favor after Fukushima's Chernobyl-esque disaster, natural gas is once again a contender, according to U.S. News. It already provides electricity to 25 percent of U.S. homes and heat to 60 million of them.

Why is so much fracking going on in Pennsylvania?

Geologist Bill Zagorski said of the Marcellus Shale formation, "This stuff was public for 30 or 40 years [but] … It just took the right combination of circumstances, technology, and timing to make these discoveries occur."