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November 21, 2012

Our Opinion: Expanded shale drilling operations will have an impact

NEW CASTLE — Until recently, the local impact of shale gas drilling has been mostly a theoretical, what-if discussion.

But as drilling, hauling, pipeline construction and related activities expand in Lawrence County, the issue has a more immediate — and practical — impact.

As with many land use activities, shale drilling creates conflicts. While some county residents welcome the drilling, others are fearful or flat-out opposed to the consequences.

Let’s be clear: Any drilling operation can pose a nuisance to nearby residents. That’s especially so with shale operations, because of their scope and all that’s involved in drilling deep underground and injecting fluids into the earth.

While most of these impacts are temporary, and many well projects have been completed without longer-term consequences, that’s not always the case. Problems have arisen at some drilling sites around the country, ranging from explosions to fluid spills to contaminated water supplies.

There are risks associated with all forms of energy production. Coal mining endangers lives and stripping away layers of earth has significant environmental consequences. Drilling for oil deep under the ocean poses risks that became all too obvious two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Nuclear power has radiation risks. Even wind energy production raises concerns because of the dangers to birds and bats.

So the question becomes: How dangerous is shale gas production compared to other energy endeavors? All things considered, we think it represents an attractive option. And it represents a potentially huge economic potential for this community and region.

Of course, that assessment may not fly with someone whose water well has been ruined or life has been otherwise disrupted by a problem. And the potential concerns of a well drilled in one’s neighborhood is far different than one located hundreds of miles away.

This is why it’s in everyone’s interest — particularly drillers and government officials — to take every reasonable precaution against negative impacts from shale gas operations. Problems inevitably produce public opposition. And opposition creates a political force that could lead to efforts to restrict drilling.

Right now in Pennsylvania, there is virtually no local control or regulation over shale drilling. State law puts that power in the hands of Harrisburg.

The lack of local input on drilling decisions has the effect of speeding up the process. But if things go wrong in communities, and there is no mechanism for giving residents or local officials a voice, the current streamlined process could backfire.

We see significant potential for Lawrence County related to shale drilling. And the best way to ensure this potential is realized is to avoid problems and conflicts. As for those that do arise, they need to be addressed and resolved as quickly and openly as possible.

 

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