It’s been three weeks since a natural gas well in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County went out of control, spilling thousands of gallons of chemical-laden hydraulic fracturing fluid.
The leak does not seem to have changed many minds about the pros and cons of Marcellus Shale drilling.
During the first meeting of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission, back in March, Bradford County Commissioner Doug Mclinko stepped up to the microphone during public comments to sing the praises of natural gas drilling.
“We have a climate change in Bradford County,” he said. “The climate is, family farms are being saved. Shops–mom and pops–are seeing so much prosperity that they’ve never seen before.”
Two months–and a spill–later, he’s sticking to that argument.
Standing outside Bradford County’s courthouse, Mclinko points to the county’s 5 percent unemployment rate, and the thousands of jobs it added last year. That’s all because of drilling, he says.
Industry brings jobs and trucks
“We had the most jobs created in the state of Pennsylvania last year. About 2,500. But … this doesn’t even tell the story. Right here on Main Street, you won’t find an empty storefront,” he said. “You know, if they don’t have stores in them they’ve got offices in them.”
What you’ll also find on Main Street is trucks. Lots of them–water trucks, flatbeds hauling heavy equipment, and pickup truck after pickup truck with names of drilling companies such as Chesapeake plastered to the side.
“Oh, it’s usually back-to-back loaded. I walk across the Ulster Bridge. There’s a pump station right on the other side, and there’s no walkway on the bridge for pedestrians. I do it every day. And they just zoom right by,” says Mike Roberts of Ulster in Bradford County. “They’re water trucks, and roads are getting ripped up. It’s pretty bad.”
While he acknowledges drilling is boosting the economy, he says he’s leery about the whole thing. The April spill at a Chesapeake Energy well site made him a bit more nervous about drilling’s consequences.
“Some locals are finding good paying jobs, which is a plus. But then you have disasters like (the spill),” Roberts said. “What’s going to happen–the long-term effect? We don’t know what’s going on yet.
To extract gas from the shale, companies shoot chemical-laden fluids into the ground at high-pressure rates.
Unusually high methane levels found
A study from Duke University released this week shows higher than normal methane levels in northern Pennsylvania wells located near drilling sites, but it didn’t find any evidence fracking chemicals are migrating into drinking water.
The drilling industry takes issue with the report, pointing out it didn’t conduct before-and-after tests on the wells’ methane levels.
Reaction to the spill is much more muted in Leroy Township, where the Chesapeake Energy well site is located.
Richard Bailey lives a few hundred yards from the well site where the accident took place. He’s lived there for 50 years, he says, as he sits on his porch, smoking.
Bailey and his wife recently returned from Florida. For now, they’re holding off on drinking their well water.
“Whether something could have come through from the creek, we don’t know,” he says.
Bailey says he is more concerned with traffic than water problems, since dozens of trucks rumble by his house each day.
“All of the sudden last year, they were in here, dug up that road. They never said a thing to anybody, that they were going to do it on the street here. They just came through one day and started digging up. Dust flying all over,” Bailey says.
His small road was dirt went down to Florida for the winter. It was paved when he came back–but in a haphazard, bumpy sort of way.
‘Good for some … miserable for others’
Bailey is thinking about leaving the place he’s lived for half a century and moving to Florida full-time, because of the hassle.
“It’s good for some of the people, but it’s miserable for others,” he says, adding that he’s probably among the miserable. “Because I didn’t make a half million dollars by leasing land,” he says.
Chesapeake Energy has temporarily shut down fracking operations across the state, as the company tries to figure out what went wrong in Leroy.
The spill has caught the attention of the Corbett Administration, as well as federal regulators. Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley will tour the well site and state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer will be in Bradford County next week.
Meanwhile, heavy fines could be leveled against the company soon.