Monday, August 6, 2012

Commmentary: Newark Basin Drilling Ban is All NIMBY

The Newark Basin in SE Pennsylvania may have only a fraction of the recoverable amounts estimated for the Marcellus Shale. This, coupled with depressed natural gas prices, make any exploratory drilling, let alone production, unlikely in the foreseeable future.  Those facts didn’t stop state senators Chuck McIlhinney (R-10) and Bob Mensch (R-24) from introducing a bill banning drilling in Montgomery, Berks and Bucks counties as soon as they heard of the USGS report on the possible reserves.  In fact the bill specifically states that the commonwealth, “may not issue well permits to engage in oil and gas operations within the geographic boundaries of the South Newark Basin as defined in the (USGS) report.”

The senators provided a vague and weak rationale for their bill, claiming that Act 13, which limits the ability of local governments to regulate drilling, was meant for the northern tier counties and that the Newark Basin for some reason required further study, something that apparently not needed for the Marcellus region. 
It seems to me and many others that the reasons why this midnight moratorium was pushed through was NIMBYism and political pandering and has nothing to do with geology or scientific data.  As pointed out recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The issue has become a political hot potato in Bucks County, where many communities have strict zoning and saw the new law as jeopardizing their suburban way of life.
People in Bucks were still fuming at the April meeting where Mr. McIlhinney said he announced his intentions for a moratorium. Things got so loud that he and other elected officials there could barely get a word in.
Some in the crowd felt they had been sold a bill of goods -- that they had been assured Act 13 wouldn't apply to their communities. According to news reports of the meeting, Mr. McIlhinney, too, said he had believed that when he voted for Act 13. He promised to get the law amended so that it wouldn't apply outside Marcellus Shale areas.
Defending the moratorium to Senate colleagues late last month, Mr. McIlhinney reiterated that he had been unaware of Act 13's reach.
Seems many voters in those counties weren't concerned about Act 13 when they thought it only stripped some poor rural communities of local control, an attitude that changed they realized it applied to them too. Throw in the recent USGS report and the specter of gas drilling in well-heeled communities suddenly became a too real for many.  Thus the Senators pushed through a NIMBY amendment to placate voters and shore up their support.

Now, maybe the senators and their constituents suddenly developed concerns over drinking water contamination and became anti-fracking activists, although these concerns seem to vanish past the county lines.* But even if the wells ran unattended and emitted fresh air and water as byproducts, some people in these burbs would be up in arms.  Look at the opposition in wealthier areas to threat of having to merely look at wind turbines. More likely, the mere thought of industrial-type facilities populated by rough-hewn blue-collar workers and serviced by large trucks popping up in their communities was too much to bear -think of the effects on real estate values.  No, in my opinion this ban has little to do with the need for reasonable study and planning and worries about groundwater pollution, it’s all about NIMBYism.  The part of America that consumes huge amounts of energy per capita and spews huge amounts of CO2 in the process doesn’t worry about the side effects of that energy production, they just don’t want it to intrude on their insulated bubble of existence.

*I fully realize that there are many voters in these counties legitamtely concerned about pollution, fracking, energy etc. on a scale greater than their immediate surroundings. Nevertheless, NIMBy rules in many communities there and in my own neck of the woods.  As long as people don't see how their sausage is made and that it's made far away they don't care.

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