You can't drink money (image: SS&SS)

Aunt Toby’s short answer: No.

Aunt Toby’s longer answer: Hell no.

“On the economic potential of the nascent shale revolution, even some career environmentalists sound impressed, if cautious. “This thing is a potential game-changer,” says Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Shale production in the U.S. has increased from practically nothing in 2000 to more than 13 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas supply. That proportion is heading toward 50 percent in coming years.

The U.S. passed Russia in 2009 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. An Energy Dept. advisory panel on which Krupp sits estimated in August that more than 200,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, “have been created over the last several years by the development of domestic production of shale gas.” At a moment of 9.1 percent unemployment nationally, additional decently paid work is just one potential benefit. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emits less in the way of greenhouse gases, and avoids mercury and other pollutants from coal,” Krupp points out. “So this could be win-win, if—and this is a big ‘if’—we do it the right way.

Since we have this going right at our doorsteps here, just over the PA border, I can tell you what shale gas production does do:

1) It makes jobs for gas workers who are brought into the area from outside (in PA, most of the people working are from Oklahoma and Texas). These folks buy food and gas so there is a bit of sales tax revenue there. However, a lot of that money is going back home to THEIR families.

2) It makes work for people in construction because the gas workers absorb any and all available rental housing. When the new housing is created, then local people needing it can find housing – but the new housing is much much more expensive to rent since local people have been priced out of the market.

3) It makes work for road crews who have to constantly repair all the damage that the drilling rigs and trucks do to local roads. Local governments have to then go after the drilling companies and try to get them to pay.

4) It makes work for the people who install ‘buffalos’ which are large fresh water tanks which are required when drilling activities (and negligent crews) cause ground water contamination.

5) It makes work for firefighters when negligent drilling crews cause explosions and fires at drilling sites.

6) It makes work for local law enforcement when drilling crew members clash with local residents in places like bars (there have been at least 2 murders in counties close to me under these circumstances).

What shale gas production does not do:

1) it does not make jobs for local residents. They are not hired on drilling rigs because – this is not an industry that we have had before; so our people frankly do not have the skills (whether or not the crews brought in from OK and TX to do the work DO is another issue entirely. They have shown already that they know how to dump fracking brine in National forests, cause explosions, poison farmers’ water and cattle).

2) It does not make energy any cheaper for local residents. It is not was if drilling and production companies have agreements with local communities that they will set up a pipeline to some sort of storage facility and allow local residents to get cheap gas. In the area just south of us, pipeline companies are scrambling to get the Millenium and other pipelines done so that the Marcellus can be made accessible so that energy companies can buy and sell this stuff by itself or sell it to electric generators.

3) It does not make the real estate any more valuable; as a matter of fact, because of rules giving drillers the right to horizontally access the land of people who have not signed lease agreements (yes, this IS true here in Upstate NY), land is actually less valuable. Why would anyone buy a piece of property where they do not have rights to keep it and the water supply on it safe?

4) It does not conserve the natural beauty of property. When a holding pond leaks or spills (which actually has happened quite often in PA), it not only ruins the water supply and can kill livestock – it also kills anything growing on the land as well.

So, who will benefit?

The energy companies (and by the way, natural gas prices right now are highly depressed because of the oversupply of Marcellus gas from PA, OH, and WV coming into the market. No one is storing this stuff and waiting for higher prices later) are able to buy very cheap gas now for either natural gas supply or to use to produce electricity. Too bad the industrial economy is so depressed that no one needs it. What they will probably do is liquify it and put it on tankers bound for China.

The drilling companies will do well.

Some individuals will do well.

The communities will not.

And in the case of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the commonwealth has already in a bunch of cases allowed drilling companies to vacate agreements to provide safe drinking water, to repair roads and bridges and so on, leaving the damage to local and state taxpayers. Oh, and Pennsylvania STILL has not figured out a system of fees and fines on this.

Guys – the horse is out of the barn already. Krup’s comment about ‘if we can do it the right way’ is totally moot. Companies like Cabot Energy and Chesapeake have been doing shale gas production through fracking for years (oh and there were four 4+ on the Richter scale earthquakes in Oklahoma recently; don’t tell me this is NOT from the fracking that is going on down there). You’d think they’d know how ‘to do it the right way’ already.

They don’t and they don’t have any control over the negligence of the crews.

But they sure don’t want to have to pay for it once it’s happened; and once the brine hits the water table, it’s pretty hard to stuff it ‘back in the barn.’