Gas Drilling in Marcellus/Utica Shale Leads to Earthquakes in Ohio

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West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all been overwhelmed by the rapid progress of natural gas exploitation, headed up by companies like Chesapeake. These companies are rushing to exploit the Utica and Marcellus shale formations which are layers of rock located thousands of feet below the surface of the earth and which are believed to contain hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of cubic feet of valuable natural gas.

Nonetheless, the drilling activities are not without significant costs to the ordinary consumers, farmers, and workers living across Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The drilling rigs have brought significant noise and disruption to residential areas, as each drilling rig is a substantial construction project in its own right. Once rigs are in operation, they can make considerable noise, night and day, disturbing residents, livestock and wildlife.

The drilling rigs themselves are serviced by an army of trucks, excavators, bulldozers and other heavy equipment necessary to extract the gas from the earth. The increased traffic on local and rural roads has in many cases been more than those roads were designed to bear. These events increase pressure on city, county, township, and state governments to keep up with the pressure on their tax revenues that this increased activity is causing.

But perhaps the most dramatic and striking outcome of the natural gas drilling has been earthquakes. State regulators in Ohio recently concluded that gas drilling was the cause of a series of earthquakes centered on a well near Youngstown, Ohio. Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales involves injecting, under high pressure, a mixture of obscure chemicals and water that the companies call "brine." The chemicals injected with the water include the kind of chemicals one would find in cleaning formulas and are not themselves healthy or safe to drink. There is little doubt that the nationwide gas drilling boom will lead to significant health consequences in terms of air and water quality. The risk of gas explosions is also a major potential hazard of the work.

Moreover, as the Youngstown incident showed, the pressure with which this "brine" is injected into the rock causes the rock to fracture, which the companies hope will release natural gas that then can be brought to the surface. However, these powerful forces being unleashed inside the earth have now been shown to lead to earthquakes. Significant increases in earthquake activity across the Marcellus and Utica shale have been suspected for some time since the drilling began.

The harvesting of natural gas can be a boon to local economies in some ways, particularly if the companies are required to pay their fair share for the services they consume in the way of roads, fire, police protection and all other infrastructure the government provides throughout the region. However, it is important, when exploiting any natural resource, particularly a new resource, that companies are not allowed to put the costs of what they are doing on the backs of others, while reaping the profits for themselves. Certainly if gas drilling has the potential to cause earthquakes, every single person living in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania has a stake in what the gas companies are doing and ensuring that it is done safely and with respect for the rights of the population.

-- Bordas & Bordas

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