The development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas find is of vital importance to the economic resurgence of Pennsylvania. It is already creating jobs by the tens of thousands. However, Senator Casey's effort to nationalize regulation of the technique used to bring the natural gas to the surface may bring this economic resurgence to a halt — and result in lost jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Pennsylvania.
A study by Penn State University on the effect of the Marcellus Shale on the Pennsylvania economy concluded that during 2009 Marcellus gas producers spent a total of $4.5 billion to develop Marcellus Shale. This investment in the Pennsylvania economy resulted in an estimated $3.9 billion added to the economy, $389 million in state and local tax revenues and more than 44,000 jobs in 2009. In 2008 alone, natural gas companies paid over $1.8 billion in lease and bonus payments to Pennsylvania landowners.
The success of the development of Marcellus Shale depends upon the continued use of the hydraulic fracturing process or "fracturing." Fracturing involves the injection of a mainly water and sand mixture (99.5% water and sand and .5% chemicals) at a high rate of pressure down the steel-encased, cement wellbore so that the water disperses through perforations at the bottom and into the shale bed. The force of the water causes tiny fractures in the shale resulting in the emission of natural gas, which flows back up through the wellbore to the top where it is placed into a pipeline for distribution. Because the Marcellus Shale is so deep and the shale so hard fracturing is the only technique that will allow the extraction of its natural gas in a commercially feasible manner.
Fracturing has been used to extract oil, gas, water and other materials from the earth in more than one million wells for more than sixty years now. Fracturing has been regulated by the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DEP) for many years. Every step of the process is performed in accordance with state requirements. Before drilling is permitted, a state-issued permit must be obtained. The chemicals used in fracturing are reported to the DEP.
Fracturing, when performed properly, has proven to be an environmentally safe technique. In 2004, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a study assessing the potential for contamination of underground sources of drinking water from fracturing into coalbed methane wells, which are thousands of feet closer to underground sources of drinking water than the Marcellus Shale bed. The EPA concluded that fracturing used in coalbed wells poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water and did not justify further study. The EPA also reported that it found no confirmed cases linking drinking water well contamination to fracturing.
Furthermore, John Hanger, the Secretary of the DEP, in a September 11, 2010 interview with the Patriot News stated, "In terms of frack fluid injected deep underground, we have not found yet, as of today, one case in Pennsylvania where these frack fluids have come back up from 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground and contaminated someone's water."
Nevertheless, Senator Casey wants to add another layer of regulation over fracturing. Senator Casey authored a bill entitled the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (S. 1215 in the 111th Congress) to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 to accomplish two goals: (1) to regulate at the national level, through the federal EPA, the hydraulic fracturing operations relating to oil or gas production activities; and (2) to require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracturing.
I oppose the FRAC Act on three grounds. First, it is redundant. Oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania are already required to disclose the chemicals used in fracturing as part of the permitting process. And, fracturing is already regulated and has been so regulated for many years by the DEP. There is no need for the federal government to involve itself in this state and local matter.
Second, by placing the regulation of fracturing under the EPA, as well as the DEP, oil and gas companies may not be able to frack at all until the EPA promulgates a rule or creates a permit application process permitting fracturing. This could shut down the entire development of the Marcellus Shale resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the destruction, by the federal government, of this great economic opportunity for the people of Pennsylvania.
Third, the nationalization of the regulation of this process undermines the structure of our Constitutional Republic which is based upon the concept of federalism — power is shared and divided between the federal and state governments. The regulation of fracturing within Pennsylvania's borders is the job of the state government of Pennsylvania — not the federal government.
The development of the Marcellus Shale will result in profound and lasting economic benefits to the people of Pennsylvania — including the creation of tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs. Without fracturing there will be no more development of the Marcellus Shale. That is why the federal government should stay out of the way and let oil and gas companies develop the Marcellus Shale under the watchful eye of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Marc Scaringi is a lawyer and owner of the Harrisburg-based law firm Scaringi ~Scaringi, P.C. and a candidate for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in 2012.