Archive for June, 2010

Disaster Averted in Marcellus Shale

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

On the evening of May 3, there was a gas well blowout in Penfield, PA: “Details about the accident were still sketchy, but the agency was told that unexpectedly high gas pressure in the new well prevented the crew from containing it, said Dan Spadoni, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.”  It took 16 hours to get the well under control. According to the article, polluted water (most likely containing fracking chemicals)  spewed 75 feet into the air.

We have been told by the industry that no federal regulation is needed, the water supply is safe, only a poorly drilled pipe could put hazardous chemicals into the water supply and the chances of this happening are between slim and none. They say that if the EPA regulates these fracking chemicals, it will be the end of civilization as we know it, and nobody will be able to make a decent living drilling for shale gas.  You know the lobbyist and interest group gloom and doom drill.

The country can use its shale gas.  Landowners can use the royalties, drilling companies can use the profits, drilling crews can use the work.  But do we want more Deepwater Horizon disasters on a smaller scale?  What if the escaping methane had exploded?  What if the blowout preventer had failed? Was there a Plan B?  Is the current petroleum engineering model based upon “Safety 3rd?”  We need to know.

There is some risk to humans and the environment from any form of energy production.  There is no sense pretending we can make the world completely safe.  Fracking of oil wells was once done with nitroglycerin torpedoes. People died.  The abandoned Pithole City, PA serves as a monument to environmental and human degradation in the rush to extract valuable substances from the earth. These things are mostly out of sight and out of mind. And we have improved our methods of resource extraction over time.

However, the companies that produce our energy are dropping the ball these days.  In this case, the PA Department of Environmental Protection was not even called for 5 hours. Do you think there might be some angry regulators down in Harrisburg? My limited knowledge of PA DEP leads me to have more respect for this agency than the US Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. But I do not know if the agency has been affected by state budget cuts or if they have the resources to keep up with the Marcellus drilling frenzy.

As it has been said, we are all downstream.  The public needs to get involved.