Any changes in state policy regarding the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale will likely be generated at a two-day policy conference meeting at Duquesne on May 3 and 4.
“This meeting, organized by Duquesne University and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, is designed to bring specialists from around the country to make recommendations to the Department of Environmental Protection in Harrisburg on revisions in the state’s drilling regulations,” said international energy expert and Duquesne professor Dr. Kent Moors. For this region, he said, “Marcellus Shale will be the single most significant economic event in our lifetimes.”
John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and John Quigley, acting secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be speaking, as well as Moors, director of the Energy Policy Research Group, and a full slate of other industry, academic and government experts from Pennsylvania and across the country.
The goal, Moors said, is to set an agenda for reforming energy policy to address the Marcellus drilling while meeting environmental standards, determining “who’s allowed to do what where, and whether there is drilling in more populated areas.”
Water, Moors said, is the main issue: obtaining the amount of water, most often by the truckload, needed for the drilling, risking potable water supplies and dealing with waste water. Pennsylvania has not yet established a Water Basin Commission to oversee these processes, even though energy companies are purchasing options on millions of acres of land in the state and drilling already has begun in some areas.
To separate the natural gas from the rock formation, 1 to 5 million gallons of pressurized water and a sandy solution including a synthetic form of diesel fuel is forced into the shale during a process called fracking. This process also utilizes horizontal drilling that can extend for up to a mile, as well as traditional vertical drilling, said Dr. John Stolz, director of Duquesne’s Center for Environmental Research and Education and a member of the organizing committee. Fracking can loosen heavy metals, minerals and other potentially hazardous contaminants that are otherwise stable under the Earth’s surface.
Typically, the Marcellus Shale is much deeper inside the Earth than the aquifers that provide drinking water, so the gas and its solution must pass through them to reach the surface. Faulty pipeline casings could lead to contaminated drinking water and, in at least one case, a well exploded, Stolz said.
“This will be a genuine opportunity to be able to come up some remedies,” Moors said.