Tag Archives: water

A Well-Fueled Debate: Natural gas drilling in your backyard?

Marcellus Shale Gas Play, Appalachian Basin

Source: Energy Information Administration based on data from WVGES, PA DCNR, OH DGS, NY DEC, VA DMME, USGS, Wrightstone (2009). Only wells completed after 1-1-2003 are shown. Updated March 17, 2010. (Click image to go to EIA site.)

Natural gas drilling has become a hot issue recently in Pennsylvania, even as close as Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and the Powdermill Nature Reserve.  The question of whether or not to drill raises a number of political and personal concerns as abstract as the economy and as immediate as the water we drink.

On one hand, companies and individuals could make substantial profits. Communities could benefit from job creation and funds from leases and taxes. On the other, they risk costs to enviromental and public health. Natural gas could bridge the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, since it releases 25% less carbon than coal. Extracting it, however, could also result in lasting damage to watersheds and public drinking water, and the people and wildlife who depend on them.

Typically, proponents of drilling include the companies, people, and organizations who hope to profit from the wells. Opponents include people wary of the risk to the environment and the danger of disasters. Recent accidents related to extractive industries have populated headlines with stories of  the catastrophic BP Gulf Oil spill, last Wednesday’s Clairton County coke works explosion, the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, and natural gas-specific incidents like the Clearfield County shale well blowout and an explosion at a two-day-old gas well near Moundsville, WV.  Given these events’ casualties and devastating impact and the many questions related to drilling, many politicians and citizens are calling for more studies, cautious timelines, and regulatory legislation before new drilling endeavors proceed.

The source of the gas is the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends about 1 to 2 miles below the surface of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. This shale contains natural gas. Break the rock, and the gas releases. Recent advances in drilling techniques have made accessible areas where drilling was previously too expensive. That means that areas above the Marcellus Shale are now appealing drill sites, and companies have been approaching landowners–even in highly-populated areas like Pittsburgh–for permission to drill below their properties.

To extract the resources, drillers combine two techniques. One is horizontal drilling, which makes more shale accessible than the old drilling technique. The other, and the more controversial, is hydraulic fracturing (also called hydrofracturing, water fracturing and fracking). In hydraulic fracturing, drillers blast a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale to fracture it, releasing the gas into a pipeline. The fracking process raises the most alarm among those opposed to shale drilling because of the chemicals in the frac fluid. In response to public concerns, in June the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a list of the chemicals involved in fracking. Many are hazardous. Residents of Dimock, PA claim that methane released in a nearby drilling operation poisoned their well water, and some evidence suggests that fracking can also contaminate groundwater, but companies and government investigators maintain that the cause of such pollution is unclear. An article from The New York Times presents a thorough, well-balanced analysis of the many facets of the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania, including the influence of the region’s coal-mining history, the industry’s past in Texas, and New York State’s recent natural gas debate.

A source anyone reserching shale drilling is likely to come across is Gasland, an impassioned and controversial TV documentary that has sparked many people’s interest in the discussion of natural gas drilling. While the industry issued a rebuttal to the film’s claims, and some critics disagree with its approach, Gasland’s website does offer some informational material and advice about activism, and the film certainly appeals to the emotional side of the debate. (To get an idea of the radically different spins put on the issue, compare the Gasland site’s description of the fracking process with this one from an industry coalition.)

Links in this post connect to many articles and resources. For more information, also see NPR’s informative series discussing shale drilling. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists all of its coverage related to local natural gas issues. The PA DEP also offers several fact sheets about Marcellus Shale drilling on its website. Recently, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments developed a data-sharing tool called Fractracker to “provide citizens with a common place to share their experiences regarding natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale play.” The CLP Reference Department has compiled a comprehensive list of printed, audiovisual and web resources about energy, which is sure to be helpful to informing your opinion about natural gas drilling in PA and elsewhere.

Our city and county governments are currently planning their responses to demands for shale drilling in our community. Please do what you can to become informed and active. Whatever your stance on drilling, our drinking water, environment, and neighbors who work at these sites are too precious to take this issue lightly.

–Renée

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Mind Your Water! (And Ours Too…)

Water DropletThis summer CLP is having a lecture series about water conservation.  We have partnered with some wonderful organizations to bring in speakers to talk about different aspects of this topic. 

The Black and Gold City Goes Green speaker was here on June 15th and gave us ways to personally use water more responsibly to have a positive impact on the Pittsburgh area.  If you missed this talk, try these books to guide you on your way to better use of our most important liquid natural resource…

The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-savings Guide to Everything in Your Life by Thomas M. Kostigen -  This book spells it all out.  It lists exactly how much water is used to grow, manufacture, and accomplish everything that we humans consume, use, and do.  Want to know how much water is used to grow raspberries versus blueberries?  What about making an eraser or a pillow?  How much a commercial hot tub requires every time it is filled?  All of this and more, including a quiz for figuring out your water footprint, is included in this book.

Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground edited by CleoDam with water behind Woelfle-Erskine, July Oskar Cole, and Laura Allen – This book is a collections of stories, first of the history of water over usage and how we got to where we are today, and then of how people in various areas have started grassroots campaigns and plans for water conservation in their locations.  Hopefully you’ll be inspired by their stories to make a change of your own in our community.

On Saturday, July 17 from 3:00-4:00 PM, Juliette Jones, Education Specialist of Sustainable Programs at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, will speak about water conservation as it relates to your garden and lawn care.  Learn about particular plants, ways to landscape, and other methods that can help you reduce the amount of water you use.  If you are interested in this topic, try these items…

Energy-Efficient and Environmental Landscaping: Cut Your Utility Bills by Up to 30 Percent and Create a Natural, Healthy Yard by Anne Simon Moffat, Marc Schiler, and the Staff of Green Living -  Examples of energy efficient landscapes for every type of climate are included in this book, along with a whole chapter on low maintenance water efficient landscapes, and basic landscaping design planning.

Flood waters on signRain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainability in the Garden and Designed Landscape by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden – This idea generating book starts with an explanation of why rain gardens are a great idea, moves along to design plans and site surveying, and then finishes with a water saving plant directory so you can select the plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees for your water efficient garden.

Renovation Nation: Learn How to Save Water, Save Money with Steve Thomas – This DVD shows ways to collect rainwater, and other green household innovations.

Then, on Tuesday, July 20 from 6:00-7:30 PM, representatives from Nine Mile Run Watershed Association will be here to tell us about the importance of watersheds and how we can keep our local watershed healthy.  For more information on this and other water related environmental issues, check these out…

Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America by Chris Wood – Chilling examples of how the impending water shortage will affect communities on our continent are laid out in this informative book. Did you know that eventually the US will be getting less water but Canada will get more?  The political impact of this water crisis is also explored.

From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers by ChadWater with dead trees Pregracke – This man’s journey to clean up the Mississippi reads like a Mark Twain adventure.  Starting with only his resolve to make a difference, he eventually received the support of the river folk as well as the media and even corporate sponsors.  His tale of change is inspiring to say the least.

Water, The Final Resource: How the Politics of Water Will Impact on the World by William Houston & Robin Griffiths – The authors in this book examine the reasons for the world’s water challenges, identify actions that help change the expected future outcomes of water shortages, and examine how this will affect relationships between countries around the world.

All of these lectures will be held in the Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor of the Main Library in Oakland.  For more information call 412.622.3151 or visit the events page at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/.  We look forward to seeing you, and our water resources do, too!

-Melissa

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