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Friday, May 11, 2012

Seven more decades of drilling in Pennsylvania?

John Hanger blogged today that Marcellus drilling in Pennsylvania will likely go on for another seven decades, topping out at around 200,000 wells drilled.  Today, a little over 10,000 Marcellus wells have been permitted and less than 6,000 drilled.
We are in the very, very early stages of the Keystone State’s shale gas era. And the staggering 200,000 well projection is just for the Marcellus Shale.  There are other shale beds that could (and are) – being drilled in Pennsylvania: the Utica, the Upper Devonian, and the Trenton-Black River

The implicit assumption here is that we will somehow dig up every last hydrocarbon on earth and burn it for our energy needs.  While the economics of renewable energy are changing for the better – a condition that could be accelerated with the right subsidy policies – history would suggest that that assumption is a strong one.  How many more wells will eventually be drilled in Pennsylvania, then, is anyone’s guess.
What the impact of all that drilling will be on Penn’s Woods is something that should concern every Pennsylvanian.
A complex set of issues swirl around shale gas drilling, and they need to be addressed now. But the long term cumulative impacts of gas drilling also need to be planned for, avoided, and minimized now as well. Otherwise, we will repeat the mistakes of Pennsylvania’s past waves of resource extraction, with consequences that will be devastating.
The gas industry and others are moving to develop – on paper at least - best practices that will need to be refined with experience.  Surely, drilling technology is advancing and will advance further.  Already, green fracking chemicals and even waterless fracking with propane or nitrogen are being tried.  But the early evidence suggests that gas drilling is already devouring Pennsylvania’s forests and fields.  Fundamental questions about water consumption and wastewater disposal are still open. We will need industry to not only reduce resource consumption and reduce the footprint of individual well sites and pipelines, but to think ahead to the next seven decades; to plan ahead; to collaborate; to share infrastructure, and avoid disturbing sensitive lands (which we have a lot of in Pennsylvania).  That will save money, conserve natural resources, and benefit us all.  
We need gas drillers and pipeline companies to do more than talk about watershed- and landscape-level planning, but to actually do it.  Now.  There are seven decades of drilling ahead in Pennsylvania. But time to conserve our natural heritage is running out. 

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