Benefits, risks of Marcellus gas drilling

Seems like everyone in the state these days is talking about the
effects of Marcellus natural-gas drilling — both good and
bad.

Government officials widely disagree. Depending on whom you listen
to, shale gas development is either an unprecedented economic boom
that we should blindly pursue without reservation or an ecological
disaster waiting to happen on the scale of pollution from
widespread strip-mining that ruined much of Pennsylvania 100 or
more years ago.

Our state still has more miles of streams ruined by acid-mine
drainage than any other, so forgive us if we’re slightly paranoid
about pure water and clean streams. And we still have a precious
and impressive wild-trout resource — especially native brook trout
— clinging tenaciously to existence in our northern tier. That’s a
region, by the way, that is experiencing extensive Marcellus gas
activity.

The president of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s
board weighed in recently on protecting mountain brook trout
streams and their headwaters. Bob Bachman, of Lancaster County —
an unabashed protector of the commonwealth’s wild-trout resource —
pointed out that perhaps the biggest threat to mountain streams
from drilling is siltation – not millions and millions of gallons
of frack water.

Speaking at the agency’s quarterly meeting in July, he pointed out
there is a common misperception about siltation and healthy streams
harboring wild trout. “With a headwater brook trout stream, you
don’t just put a little bit of mud and silt in them, and it quickly
washes away,” he said.

“In our headwaters brook trout streams, it can stay for decades and
it can smother the macroinvertebrates for miles — that’s what
trout eat. The macros don’t do well in mud and silt.”

Bachman — who has a PhD in biology and did wild trout research
decades ago — noted that it’s not widely known that silt can
persist so long in a mountain stream after pollution events, such
as those caused by drilling or construction of a forest road, well
pad, pipeline or gas-pumping station.

“The one argument I hear frequently is that those streams get muddy
when it rains anyway, so why does a little more mud from gas
development matter?” he said. “But we all know that our healthy
headwater brook trout streams don’t get muddy after rains.”

Another misperception about Marcellus Shale gas development in our
state is that most people strongly oppose it. Certainly you would
get that impression from reading these pages. But not so. This may
be a subject where sportsmen and the general public have different
opinions.

A recent poll done by Quinnipiac University has revealed that
Pennsylvanians — by a 2-to-1 margin — support natural gas
drilling in the Marcellus formation. The survey also showed strong
backing for an extraction tax on energy companies.

The recently released poll shows that 63 percent of Pennsylvanians
say the economic benefits of drilling outweigh the environmental
impacts, while 30 percent express the opposite view.

The poll appears to reflect the prosperity that drilling has
brought to economically struggling regions of the state. Drilling
firms and related industries added 72,000 jobs between the fourth
quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.

And those jobs have an average salary higher than the statewide
average, according to the state Labor Department.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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