The New York Times Magazine has a great piece today on hydraulic fracturing and the state where I was born, Pennsylvania, home to the Marcellus Shale region and a lot of fracking activity. The story focuses on Amwell Township, in Southwest Pennsylvania, and the toll that fracking has taken on this Appalachian community.
About five years ago, leases began to appear in the mailboxes of residents of Amwell Township from Range Resources, a Texas-based oil company seeking to harvest gas through hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking,” as it is known, is a process of natural-gas drilling that involves pumping vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet into the earth to crack the deep shale deposits and free bubbles of gas from the ancient, porous rock. Harvesting this gas promises either to provide Americans with a clean domestic energy source or to despoil rural areas and poison our air and drinking water, depending on whom you ask [...] What these companies paid was more than many people in Amwell Township, where the per capita income in the 2000 census was $18,285, were accustomed to seeing in their lifetimes, even if the windfall wasn’t the same for everyone [...]
At the fair, Haney ran into her next-door neighbor, Beth Voyles, 54, a horse trainer and dog breeder, who signed the lease with Haney in 2008. She told Haney that her 11 /2-year-old boxer, Cummins, had just died. Voyles thought that he was poisoned. She saw the dog drinking repeatedly from a puddle of road runoff, and she thought that the water the gas company used to wet down the roads probably had antifreeze in it [...] A month later, Haney’s dog, Hunter, also died suddenly. Soon after, Voyles called Haney to tell her that her barrel horse, Jody, was dead. Lab results revealed a high level of toxicity in her liver.
Read on to discover more about the continued animal kill and the diversity of opinion in this conservative region. Stacey Haney, referenced above, found her water unusable and her child sickened with arsenic, presumably coming from the water. The problem has as much to do with how to deal with the wastewater from fracking as the chemicals used in the process. For a few thousand in royalty checks, these residents are seeing a near total poisoning of their environment. And yet some in Amwell Township, motivated by that easy money or right-wing beliefs, still support fracking in their area.
The story notes that there was a planned vote coming this Monday by the Delaware River Basic Commission, composed of four states – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware – and the federal government. The vote would be on rules governing fracking in the Delaware River Basin, which supplies the water supply for 15.6 million residents, including big cities like Philadelphia and New York. It would allow up to 300 gas wells in the sensitive environmental area. Delaware and New York planned to vote no, while New Jersey and Pennsylvania, governed by Republicans, were likely to vote in favor, certainly Pennsylvania. New Jersey has no fracking wells and would seemingly be motivated only by water quality, but Gov. Chris Christie has been noncommittal. It may have come down to the Obama Administration, specifically the US Army Corps of Engineers.
A multistate agency that has spent years developing regulations for natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed abruptly canceled a key vote scheduled for Monday after two members announced their opposition.
The Delaware River Basin Commission said Friday it was postponing a vote on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to give the agency’s five commissioners more time to review the draft regulations.
Incidentally, you’ll see the hand of Eric Schneiderman in this. He sued to try and force the commission to engage in an environmental impact study to test the kinds of environmental issues we’re seeing in Amwell Township.
This is a victory for environmentalists who wanted to stop the fracking regulations from taking effect. The commission wanted unanimous support and Delaware’s announcement guaranteed a close vote. If New York and Delaware continue to hold out this will be postponed indefinitely.