Natural Gas: Friend or Foe of the Appalachian

For it or against it, natural gas drilling has come into northern West Virginia and will most likely continue to expand across the state. Natural gas is seen as a cost-effective, clean alternative to abundant coal reserves, bringing with it thousands of jobs. It is also aiding in revitalizing the economies of several cities and towns in the area that otherwise might go under. It also doesn’t hurt that natural gas has the potential to help alleviate our national dependence on foreign oil. But besides this expansion and the good it brings with it, public safety could be at risk.

Natural gas drilling technology has aided in reducing the number of well towers needed to pump gas through methods such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking.” In the process, thousands of gallons of “fracking fluid”, mostly sand and water are pumped down to fracture the shale containing the gas, allowing the gas to be pumped out easier. Not only are there environmental concerns of gas leaching into groundwater, but after the fluid is pumped back out of the well it is held in nearby holding tanks. It is not a matter of “if” there will be an issue but “when and where.” Just a month ago, a minor incidence in Bradford County Pennsylvania occurred when a well spilled thousands of gallons of fracking fluid into a local stream. What if this was to occur near a municipality? In the city of Morgantown West Virginia, there is a well located within site of downtown just upriver from a water treatment center. What would the consequences be if this well had a blow out–likely environmental devastation and the loss of drinking water to thousands of people? The city of Wellsburg and just days ago Morgantown, banned drilling within one mile of city limits. However, local governments should not have to vote whether or not to allow drilling within city limits. Gas companies should adopt a measure of responsible drilling away from municipalities less northern West Virginia have its own “Gulf Oil Spill.”

Natural gas brings with it the promise of jobs, I alone work as a junior scientist in the Marcellus Shale. I have seen the goods of natural gas, the landowner that can afford to retire and send his kids to college, towns that have been saved, jobs that have been created. I have only heard of the negatives. I applaud the decisions of the Wellsburg and Morgantown city governments, not because it is against drilling but because it helps set a standard for responsible drilling and public safety.

Huffington Post. “Pennsylvania Fracking Spill: Natural Gas Well Blowout Spills Thousands of Gallons of Drilling Fluid.” April 20, 2011.

Energy In Depth.