Environmental Protection Meets Economic Opportunity
Guest column about Marcellus Shale drilling—its impact and benefits—by James Protin.
August 16, 2011 -Patch.com
The natural gas industry has been booming in our region for a few years now and it seems like every move the energy companies make is front-page material.
In recent weeks I have written about hydraulic fracturing facts, energy companies and their roles in our communities and the economic benefits of natural gas extraction in our region.
It has also been my opinion that there had to be a way for Pennsylvanians to reap the economic benefit of natural-gas exploration and production and protect our environment.
To that end, the state and federal regulatory agencies, energy companies and environmental agencies have been working together to establish new and expanded regulations related to air and water pollution resulting from natural gas extraction operations.
On July 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a suite of highly cost-effective regulations that would reduce air pollution from oil and gas industry operations while allowing continued responsible growth in oil and natural gas production in
the United States.
The proposal would cut smog-forming emissions by nearly one-fourth across the oil and gas industry, including 95 percent reduction in emissions from new and modified hydraulically fractured gas wells. This is a significant reduction using proven technologies to capture natural gas that currently escapes to the air.
The gas that currently is waste would then be made for sale resulting in an estimated net savings of $30 million while significantly reducing air pollution.
Of course, there will still be those sign-waving folks who are convinced that the energy companies can circumvent EPA regulations or simply ignore them. The truth of the matter is that the EPA is a federal agency with enforcement powers, meaning there are consequences and repercussions for non-compliance with these regulations.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set New Source Performance Standards for industries, including oil and gas production, that cause or contribute to air pollution that could potentially endanger public health. The Clean Air Act, like other laws enacted by Congress, was incorporated into the United States Code as Title 42, Chapter 85. The House of Representatives maintains a current version of the U.S. Code, which includes Clean Air Act changes enacted since 1990.
These proposed amendments represent the regulatory community’s commitment to protecting the environment while working collaboratively with industry. As much as we must protect our environmental health, people need jobs. I am an unapologetic proponent of responsible, environmentally sensitive economic development.
Whether we are discussing natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale, developing a new manufacturing facility along the Monongahela River or completing the Mon-Fayette Expressway, there are environmental concerns that must be properly resolved. The development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale can help bring well-paying jobs, increased revenue to the commonwealth, as well as energy and economic independence to the country.
Unemployment across Pennsylvania for April 2011 was at 7.5 percent. This was 1.5 percentage points below the national rate of 9.0 percent. Updated employment numbers show that there are 218,200 people employed in Marcellus Shale related industries with 72,000 new hires between fourth quarter 2009 and first quarter 2011.
The increase from the 48,000 that has been widely distributed is the addition of 9 ancillary industries and government employment. There are those who believe the employment numbers are inflated by the industry. The numbers quoted above did not come from the oil and gas industry but from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the agency tasked with tracking these things in the Commonwealth.
The report goes also shows that over 500 new establishments were added with 319 in core industries and 206 in ancillary industries giving Marcellus Shale related industries a total of 13,358 establishments.
The industry has established best practices gleaned from operations in more mature shale plays such as the Barnett Shale in Texas.
Understanding that there is no one size fits all approach, the energy companies continue to develop practices that best fit the Marcellus Region. There are hurdles to be sure. Public backlash to a new industry and its operations is to be expected.
The industry engages stakeholders in the Marcellus Region at every opportunity to build a consensus among residents, environmentalists, and elected officials.
Many times too little information, sometimes conflicting information or a lack of information has hinders this process. While the energy companies are committed to doing it right, we must hold them to task. That’s all part of the collaborative journey to consensus.
Responsible development of this resource includes building consensus among all stakeholders. Continued collaborative discussions between representatives of the drilling and pipeline companies, environmentalists, county and state economic development specialists, local, county, and state elected officials and landowners. The global spotlight is on us. Poland, Hungary and Russia, among others are keeping a close eye on Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
The global economy is now firmly planted in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is up to us as to what we do with it—make it grow and develop or let it die on the vine.
Editor's Note: James Protin is the director of business development for the Mid-Atlantic region for Chester Engineers.
Source: Patch.com August 16, 2011