RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—With no stringent regulations in place and a Bush-era exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act, natural gas drilling companies are flocking to areas containing Marcellus Shale, a deep geological formation found in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, where natural gas occurs naturally within the rock. The Marcellus Shale formation can be found in 63 percent of Pennsylvania, and also underlies a significant portion of New York.
Until recently, drilling a mile-plus deep shaft into the earth and blasting through this type of shale to release natural gas was inefficient and unprofitable. But thanks to the coupling of two types of technology—horizontal drilling and Halliburton-developed hydraulic fracturing—now, it's just inefficient. With huge gas-drilling companies standing to make a profit using the new combo method, which includes the use of carcinogenic chemicals and millions of gallons of water, the clean drinking-water supplies of millions are at serious risk. And taxpayers could be on the hook to clean up the mess years down the line unless strict regulations are put in place soon.
"Clean water is not limitless; it needs to be protected," says Louis Kaplan, PhD, senior research scientist and principal investigator of biogeochemistry at Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, PA. "Anytime that we consider something like mining for coal or drilling for gas, all of those processes need to be viewed through a lens of environmental protection and sustainability." Right now, that is not the case. And while there's a drilling moratorium in New York as an environmental impact statement is being finalized, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is handing out natural gas drilling permits like Halloween candy, issuing more than 3,500 so far this year alone.