State of the Region Conference sheds light on natural gas extraction
By CG News Editor April Jaynes
The Inaugural Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference entitled, “Understanding the Boom-Bust Cycle for Greater Sustainability” took place last Wednesday in Walter Hall Rotunda at Ohio University. The purpose was to inform concerned citizens about what communities can do to improve our methods of extracting resources and regulatory practices that promote sustainability.
Jennifer Simon, Director of the Ohio University Innovation Center, welcomed attendees with a summary of the conference’s purpose. “It’s about maximizing the benefits of our community and taking initiative to repair the damage,” she said.
The speakers discussed topics such as the pros and cons of shale gas use, consequences of hydraulic fracturing and regulation strategies for extracting natural gas.
Keynote speaker John Quigley, Advisor to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research for Northeastern Pennsylvania at Wilkes University and Energy Dimension, previously served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In his presentation he used Pennsylvania as a cautionary tale for Ohio citizens and offered strong advice regarding how to approach shale gas extraction.
“As you approach this shale gas boom in Ohio, go into it with your eyes wide open,” Quigley said. “Unimaginable climate change is in front of us and we have got to get our train on a different track.”
Quigley mentioned benefits of shale gas use, which included a 50 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions, an increase in landowner wealth and the provision of new jobs for the community.
However, while Quigley said natural gas could be our bridge to sustainability he also emphasized that other chemicals produced in the process such as methane gas need to be maintained and the water supply needs close moderation.
Quigley also said that 50 percent of the gas is extracted within the first five years of drilling and that the economic activity will consequently dry up after this period of time. “Most local drilling jobs will only last as long as the drilling does,” he said.
Another issue Quigley discussed was horizontal drilling versus vertical drilling, which he said involves understanding spatial components and accumulative damage. Horizontal drilling uses less wells but stretches across more land in the process and often leaves the same-sized ecological footprint. “The footprint issue is usually distorted,” he said.
Immediate consequences of hydraulic fracturing include traffic and infrastructure damage, decline in air quality, noise pollution and overall public health. These are factors that Quigley said he believes need immediate attention, something of which Pennsylvania has failed to do with the recent enactment of Act 13 that attempts to improve environmental regulations.
One out of every three acres in Pennsylvania is currently leased for drilling, 40 percent of the state is used for coal production and a third of the state is used for oil and shallow gas extraction. Additionally, the state has no home regulation on water wells. Problems like methane migration, well explosions, high unemployment, rising poverty, and fracking fluid, diesel and other surface fluid spills are the major social and environmental problems Pennsylvania is currently facing as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
“Pennsylvania, if anything, provides a cautionary tale for Ohio,” Quigley said after presenting attendees with these facts. “I come from a community that bears the scars of resource extraction.”
Quigley also shared ideas of a shale gas monitoring program he recently developed. His ideas include an annual comprehensive assessment of shale gas activities of state forest land, a Bureau-wide interdisciplinary team of specialists and field staff and external partner collaborations and enacting a severance tax. He also emphasized the need for studies beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s, continual wastewater monitoring and a commitment to science findings.
“If you approach this thing proactively, your communities can emerge stronger for the long-term,” Quigley said. “You’ve got to understand the long-term impacts. Don’t fall for the hype.”