The Consequences of PA’s Fracking Boom In One Statistic

The entire debate about the merits of Pennsylvania’s fracking boom rests on the tricky question of whether people’s air and water are being contaminated by the chemicals drillers use to get at the vast quantities of natural gas sitting underneath the state’s expansive Marcellus Shale formation. If procuring it is safe, then natural gas appears to be a great alternative to dirtier fossil fuels like coal and gas*. If not, well, it’s not.

Now, we have some answers. Newsworks flags the results of a painstaking investigation by the Scranton Times-Tribune mostly to highlight what a pain in the butt the state can be when it comes to releasing records from the Department of Environmental Protection. But the investigation also tells us how many contamination cases oil and gas drilling has really caused in Pennsylvania: From 2008 to 2012, the state found, water supply contamination was due to drilling in 161 of 969 reported cases, a large increase from the pre-fracking era. Whether we can even trust that number, as some analysts told the Times-Tribune, is another question altogether.

*This post has been updated to clarify that natural gas is also a fossil fuel; the original wording suggested it was not.

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  • JimBarth

    The original research, and article, by Laura Legere is excellent. One important correction to The Scoop reference to the article, is, methane can not be an alternative to fossil fuels, because it is a fossil fuel. While it does burn more cleanly than coal or gas, it is far worse for the planet for at least the next twenty years, which, is the most critical time frame to consider. The amount of unburned methane that escapes into the atmosphere is immense, and, that methane is more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide, by a factor of more than twenty times.

    In his analysis, Peischl found that the methane leak rate from the Los Angeles-area, oil and gas operations alone, was 17 percent. This is a huge amount, which dwarfs the US EPA estimate of 4% emissions. Peischl’s analysis does not include distribution (pipelines to the city, and in the city, as well as stoves, meters, and so forth, to my knowledge.
    Natural gas is neither a viable alternative, nor a bridge, to anything.

  • Liz Rosenbaum

    Kudos to any local newspaper striving to do its job, despite the considerable expense of legal fees and work hours that suing for public records requires. The public owes them our thanks.