There is a growing amount of information available to citizens about natural gas development in Pennsylvania, thanks to some great work by two Pennsylvania media outlets. The Fourth Estate is providing an invaluable public service in compiling and presenting this information to the public.
StateImpact, a public radio project, has launched an interactive tool to provide information based on records from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. It shows the location of producing gas wells, which operator drilled them, and their violations of state environmental regulations.
It tells an essential story.
Note that StateImpact is reporting on producing gas wells -- wells that are sending gas to market. Far more wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania -- the target is constantly moving, ever upward. Why the disparity? Because infrastructure, like regulation, has not caught up with the pace of drilling. There are thousands of wells in Pennsylvania that have been drilled and are being drilled every day that are not producing gas because gathering lines and pipelines have not yet been built to connect them to markets.
And therein lies another essential story, and the second great source of information. The Philadelphia Inquirer has created Deep Drill, a special webpage about Marcellus drilling in Pennsylvania. The page debuted with a four-part series on pipelines that is -- if you’ll excuse the pun -- riveting reading.
A map of gas development in Bradford County offers a visual snapshot of the extent of development in one drilling hotbed and hints at the cumulative impacts that will reshape Pennsylvania as the shale gas boom unfolds. Multiply Bradford County by the fact that gas-producing shale underlies two thirds of Pennsylvania, and you begin to get an idea of the massive impacts that the industry will have on communities, economies, forests, fields, habitats, ecosystems, and Pennsylvania’s way of life.
But as Deep Drill notes, Inquirer reporters found something potentially more explosive: these “thousands of miles of high-pressure pipelines carrying the gas to market are being installed with no government safety checks -- no construction standards, no inspections, and no monitoring. In fact, state and federal regulators don’t even know where many lines are located.”
This is a risk that can be minimized and managed. That is -- or should be -- in the interest of the industry as well as the public. Protecting people is the most basic function of government. It’s past time for Pennsylvania and the federal government to place pipeline development under strict government regulation.
That third essential story needs to be written right away.