This Viewpoint, by Keith Oberg, Brackney, PA resident, is an eloquent reflection on the situation that lies ahead for communities of folks like you and me living on top of the Marcellus shale... a situation already facing residents of Dimock... Oberg's perspective gives us lots to think about...
February 23, 2010
Much has been written, and will continue to be written, about the Marcellus shale; on one side about how much money and jobs it will bring, and on the other, about how much environmental damage may result. But this battle of words, being waged by gas development's proponents and opponents, is mostly speculative. There is probably some truth as well as exaggeration coming from both sides, but the argument may be missing the point. Here in Susquehanna County we are beginning to experience the reality - and the reality is very disheartening.
If you own land to which you are not particularly attached, or which represents only an investment - something to log, or quarry, or exploit in some other way - the Marcellus is just another opportunity. But if you live in the country because you love the rural aesthetic, because you seek solitude, or the joy of experiencing the natural world, you are in for a very unpleasant surprise. You are going to be living in the middle of an industrial zone.
In Dimock over the past year, gas well pads have been installed or are being planned at a rate of one for every 80 acres or so, meaning roughly eight gas well pads per square mile. You will inevitably be within eyesight and ear shot of at least one gas well, and will have numerous well sites in and around your community. Each well pad is a prominent graveled work yard of three to five gated acres, including large pits, tanks, pipes, valves, generators and exhaust stacks. Each has a heavy-duty gravel access road, and each has a 30- to 40-foot-wide pipeline swathe going to the next well pad in a continuous network across the countryside. Your rural landscape will be transformed by bulldozers into an industrial complex. Everywhere you look you will see their handiwork.Once you and your neighbors sign leases, you will no longer be the masters of your lands. The gas exploration companies will take over, first with miles of wire and small dynamite charges every 100 yards to map the rock below, then with road building, pad development, pipeline clearing and drilling. Gas company employees will be polite, but firm about their rights to your land.
While the process of development and drilling goes on, you will be subject to the noise and vibration of a major industrial operation. The coming and going of work crews and the trucking of millions of gallons of frack water, waste water and miles of piping will dominate your roadways. When they flame off the new gas wells, the light from the huge roaring torches will brighten the night sky for miles around. You will feel like you are living in J.R.R. Tolkien's Mordor.
Your world will not return to normal for many, many years to come. They will not simply sweep through an area and then be gone. The gas companies will cap the wells, re-open the wells, re-drill the wells in different directions, add more wells at the same site, or build new sites around you for many years and perhaps decades to come, depending on the market and their own timetable. They will be here until the gas runs out.
Natural gas may be a great benefit to our local economy - and will make a lot of people a lot of money - but for the majority of us who revere the natural world, it represents the loss of the beauty and tranquility that brought us to the countryside in the first place. And for those who live on small rural lots or are tenants, there isn't even any compensation for their loss.We can argue forever about the pros and cons, but the reality is that our lives, our communities and our natural environment will never be the same.