The English poet Samuel Johnson famously wrote that “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”
In Pennsylvania, the natural gas industry may be hanging itself by continuing to present a cautionary tale to the world.
Last week, I had dinner with representatives of the French government who were in Pennsylvania to gather information on the impacts of natural gas drilling in the Keystone State. This was my second meeting with officials from that nation. Last spring, I met with two members of the French Senate who were on a similar fact-finding mission before voting on the enactment of a ban on fracking that remains in effect.
All of these officials recognized the complexity of the issues surrounding unconventional gas development: the significant economic and energy security benefits, the opportunity to combat climate disruption, the unanswered questions, the impacts on public health, and more.
But what tends to focus the mind – like a hanging – are the graphic incidents in Pennsylvania like this one:
A methane geyser in Tioga County, PA
StateImpact PA has compiled this excellent report on methane migration problems that continue to plague gas drilling in Pennsylvania. This is a particularly troublesome problem, and not only for its environmental impacts - investors have called on the gas industry to minimize its methane emissions.
Incidents like these do not build confidence in the industry. And that could have implications not only here, but in countries that have banned the practice (France Switzerland, Bulgaria), and in nations like China that are eyeing the performance of the gas industry here as it considers auctioning gas development rights.
Stronger regulation, better pre-drilling planning to understand Pennsylvania’s complex geology and its local variations before a drill bit cuts into the ground, and drastically improved industry performance are all needed for the gas industry to bring its methane problem under control and avoid hanging itself.