The concept of “greenwashing” discussed two classes ago is still resonating with me. The idea that either a company or a person could completely disregard their impact on the world around them just seems absurd. One of the biggest culprits in todays society regarding this is the natural gas industry. As seen in the movie “Gasland” that was screened in the same class, natural gas companies have a tendency to not give a shit about their environmental footprint. Being from Pennsylvania, the rapid industrialization of the Marcellus Shale has had a tremendous impact on myself and those close to me. A good friend of mine, whom I will reference to as Luke, has had close interaction with gas companies, resulting in them drilling on his property. Natural gas drilling has negative impacts on the environment, and the misleading advertising created by the gas companies misinforms the public of their actions and intentions.
Range Resources, a drilling company based out of Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the most prominent drillers in the southwestern region of Pennsylvania. Over the years, Range has invested over one billion dollars in the area, leasing 95% of the mineral rights in the township of Mount Pleasant alone (This American Life, 2011). This interest in the Marcellus Shale in the area, resulting in the building of over 100 wells, coincides with the creation of hundreds of billboards and advertisements to perpetuate the idea of a healthy economy because of the resource. The most notable one that I have personally seen is a simple billboard created by Range. The ad contains the Keystone, a symbol of Pennsylvanian pride, along side the phrase “Thanks to Natural Gas, our economy is in a better state”. The phrase itself is simple. As a result of fracking, the economy of Pennsylvania has grown. However, a slogan that small, that simple minded, does not fully paint the picture of natural gas’ impact on Pennsylvania’s economy. Why is it in a better state? Is it really giving Pennsylvania the most “bang for its buck”? What benefits is natural gas bringing to the state, and at what cost? The answers to all these questions are much more complex then what can be placed on a billboard for passers by on their way to work (some to a drilling rig owned by Range), and will take away from what the company is trying to convince consumers about their products.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states that does not tax natural gas companies. In addition, regulation towards drilling is minimal, with any proposals being rejected immediately by such institutions as Penn State. In a 2009 study conducted by The University, researchers commented “proposals to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act pose yet another serious threat to the development of the Marcellus shale” (U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 2010). In the same study, researchers also state that “As the Pennsylvania Marcellus shale industry develops, policy makers should keep in mind the trade-offs between any short-term gains from taxation or regulation with the long-term effects on industry development” (Considine 9). As previously stated, the study was published in 2009. How much does an industry need to grow to be considered “developed” by Penn State’s standards? The small, 1.1 square mile area of Mount Pleasant has 100 wells drilled by one company alone. An economy in a better state would be taxing that amount of production in order to give those living there more public goods such as better education systems, better roads, and better environmental protection. A study by the Pennsylvania budget and policy center has concluded that a small 5% tax towards natural gas could generate upwards of $400 million for the state (The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, 2014). Truly that would put Pennsylvania’s economy in a better state then it is now.
The regulation towards gas drilling in Pennsylvania is laughable. The study conducted by Penn State stated that regulation would hinder the development of the Marcellus Shale region. However, how much more developed can a region get? The counties of Butler, Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette combined have a total of 1,779 wells between them. Of those wells, 301 violations regarding environmental, health, and safety regulations have been issued (StateImpact 2011). In total, the state has issued $5.9 million in fines to the 62 drilling companies operating in it. Without higher fines, proper regulation of the fracturing rigs, and a general disapproval of the way natural gas is currently extracted, Pennsylvania will not continue to thrive in the way Range Resources proclaims.
The actions of Range and companies like it maintain the illusion that their methods of extraction are non-harmful and environmentally cautious. However, a close friend of mine, Luke, has been involved with the industry, saying that their claims are completely false. Luke is a generally well off guy. His family grew up in southwestern PA and owned a large plot of land near Washington county. A few years ago, his family was approached by a drilling company (he would not tell me which) offering to buy the mineral rights to their land. “A proposed gas line came in and tried to low ball us but we ended up getting a good amount”, he told me, “but after they drilled, they just up and left”. The company completely tore apart their land, telling me bluntly “the place looks like shit…after they drill and make their money they basically tell you to go fuck yourself”. His family has been fighting with the company to restore their land to its original state, but they have yet to have it fully redeveloped. According to Range, Luke and his family are in a better state as a result of natural gas drilling, but to Luke, “with all the shit they fuck up the money isn’t worth it to ruin a piece of property you love”.
Range Resources’ claim of putting Pennsylvania’s “economy in a better state” is misleading, as it does not analyze the true factors of natural gas’ success in the state. Through the lack of taxation, absence of regulation, and personal impact on homeowners, gas companies in Pennsylvania do not have an equal balance of positive and negative attributes, as the negative aspects of current drilling methods outweigh the good. Hopefully within the coming years, regulation and taxation will make natural gas a viable and profitable energy source in the state of Pennsylvania.