What really happened in Harrisburg on Friday, May 23rd? According to one news source, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett issued an order “prohibiting leasing for natural gas development in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forest”. Another source claimed that the governor “lifted a ban on new oil and gas leases in state forests.” So, which was it? Did Corbett prohibit gas leasing while also lifting a ban on gas leasing of the same property? In a sense, yes he did. In reality, his action was less contradictory than local newspapers might present, but what is clear is that fracking is still a decisive issue where even major media sources are taking sides.

The governor, who is a long-time advocate of oil and gas development, replaced an existing ban on drilling under state parks and forests. The ban was replaced by a new order that allows minerals to be extracted “as long as the surface is not disturbed,” according to the Post Gazette article. In the Business Times article, Corbett directs that Pennsylvania will “maintain a moratorium on any additional gas leasing of DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) lands that involves long-term surface disturbance.” 

It can be difficult to weigh the costs and benefits of Oil & Gas Development when every source has a bias. What’s worse is that many sources disguise their biases by presenting misleading information, as seen in the opposing news articles cited in the beginning of this post. The governors order comes shortly following a decision by Allegheny County to allow the extraction of natural gas from Deer Lakes Park property from an off-site well. Similarly, the county park will allow mineral resources to be taken as long as the surface is not disturbed. Like, the governor, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald is highly in favor of drilling. He said that the decision to drill under Deer Lakes is “a victory for people who use the parks.”

The Reality of Shale Gas

Whether you are for or against it, the development of shale gas is a growing industry in Western Pennsylvania. The map below from oilshalegas.com illustrates the distribution of Marcellus Shale, which is currently the most prominent source of shale gas being developed in this region. Instead of taking a blanket stance one way or the other, the mission of DECO Resources is to present information on what is happening and to provide resources like water testing and evaluation to protect our environment.

marcellus shale distribution

The next image from nationalmap.gov/streamer depicts the entire watershed for the headwaters of the Ohio River. The red dot is located at the confluence near Point State Park in Pittsburgh and the red lines indicate major waterways that feed into the Ohio. The entire watershed is contained within the area of the Marcellus Shale. This means that there is a possibility for drilling activity to occur anywhere in the Ohio River Watershed. Any contamination has the possibility to affect the watershed and the source of drinking water for more than a million people who reside in this watershed, not to mention everyone downstream.

Ohio River Watershed

It is apparent that strong measures should be in place to protect the watershed from industrial development. For example, the City of Pittsburgh gets 100% of its drinking water from the Allegheny River through the PWSA. Both Governor Corbett and County Executive Fitzgerald claim to be taking extra measures to ensure protection for water supplies. If you get water from a spring or well on your property, you can conduct a baseline water test to ensure the quality of your water going forward.

Is Natural Gas A Clean Energy?

Another question is whether or not natural gas is a clean energy. On Tuesday, the Post Gazette reported that the State of Pennsylvania has awarded Allegheny County funds through the Alternative and Clean Energy Program for two Compressed Natural Gas service stations. DECO’s Michelle and Anthony debate the merits and environmental impact of this decision:

Roughly one third of the money, out of a  total fund of slightly more than $3.4 million tax dollars, was spent on two fueling stations. These stations are providing energy that is cleaner than traditional gas. The United States doesn’t have an abundance of traditional fuel energy, but we do have an abundance of natural gas. Natural gas can be renewable, especially if its produced in a controlled manner like a landfill. However, natural gas is only as clean as the process for sourcing it. There are a number of variables that affect how clean the production of gas can be, including possible contamination of water and air.

Roughly one third of the money was spent on two fueling stations.

In her Master program at Carnegie Mellon Michelle, DECO’s Green Business Specialist, had a teacher who spoke about green vehicles. In the course, he only mentioned electric cars. Michelle asked him why he did not bring up compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and he argued two main points: first, the infrastructure is not yet sufficient to make CNG vehicles viable and, second, electric vehicles are more common and hence more popular. If the State is looking to promote CNG vehicles, it will need to help build out the infrastructure to make it viable, which is what these two new stations provide.

Even if you don’t have a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas, making the technology more available can still directly benefit the wider public. Using cleaner energy for transportation will improve air quality for everyone. This can benefit the environment and our society in the long term. The important thing to note is that there are costs and benefits on both sides of this debate. Our goal at DECO is to look out for harm against the environment and to find ways to reduce the potential for that harm. We welcome your thoughts and insight on this incendiary issue.