Montgomery County State Representative Kate Harper says drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches across Pennsylvania, could be very good for the state’s economy, but she has mixed feelings about the process used to get it out from deep underground. “It’s millions of cubic feet of natural gas, which can be sold and provide jobs for people and gas for industry, so it could be a very good thing. The problem is the fracking process really can be dangerous for water and the environment, and you have to be very careful about how you extract that gas in order to get the economic benefits of it without getting an environmental problem.”
She says fracking, which uses large amounts of chemically-treated water under high pressure, has a built-in potential for danger.
“It involves depositing millions of gallons of water with chemicals into the earth, blowing the gas out, and then having to dispose of the water. Now if you re-use the water, and you can’t re-use all of it, that takes some of the problem away. But if you need to dispose of the water, or if you don’t hold it in a safe place, a leak or a spill could damage waterways, kill fish, and imperil people’s drinking water supply.”
She says Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger has assured her that new rules will protect the water supply, but she’s not so sure about DEP’s enforcement capability.
“I’m a little bit worried that the activity is so great we don’t have enough people employed by the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that everyone is following the regulations, so we need to have two things. One, good regulations that protect our drinking water supply from problems in the process and two, we need to have someone watching the process to make sure that the operators are doing it safely.”
Harper says she believes natural gas can be extracted safely, but it must be done very carefully with strict enforcement of the rules. She says the Delaware River provides drinking water for New York City, Philadelphia and points in between, including the North Penn and North Wales Water Authorities, and that’s one reason behind the opposition to natural gas drilling in Upper Bucks County and other points along the river.