‘Shake the Earth’ discusses geological processes, natural gas

TEMP ORARY November 14, 2012 0

The Elizabethtown College Open Book panel, “Shake the Earth: Fracking into a Fragile Future,” took place in Leffler Chapel and Performance Center last Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 11 a.m. The topic of discussion was the potential, past and future of fracking, the geological process by which natural gasses are loosened.
On the panel were Seamus McGraw, Dr. Terry Engelder, John Quigley and Matthew M. Haar. McGraw is the author of “End of Country,” the shared read for Etown this year. Engelder is a leading authority on the Marcellus gas shale as well as a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. Quigley served as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and is currently an adviser to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research for Northeastern Pennsylvania at Wilkes University. During Quigley’s tenure as Secretary, Pennsylvania State Parks were named the best in the country by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. Haar is a partner in the Harrisburg law firm of Saul Ewing LLP and a member of the firm’s Marcellus Shale and Oil and Gas practices.
Moderator Rebecca Cecala is an adjunct professor of biology at the College. She presented each question to a specific person on the panel, gave the individual eight to ten minutes to answer and then allowed for several minutes of discussion from other members of the panel.
Quigley explained that an ecological footprint describes the impact that natural gas drilling has on natural resources, habitats, air, water, soils, and more. “As we convene here today,” he said, “probably a third of the land of Pennsylvania, about 10 million acres, has been leased by the natural gas industry for drilling.” Over the next 30 years, it is estimated that 200,000 wells will be drilled in Pennsylvania.
“This play is going to change the face of Penn’s Woods,” Quigley said. “It’s going to change very profoundly the state that we live in, and we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
Haar agrees that fracking is changing the Commonwealth, stating that Marcellus drilling is really going to affect the economics in Pennsylvania. McGraw believes that many of the problems surrounding the issue of fracking come from “the model in the state of Pennsylvania historically being the colonial model. It’s been extract-it; it’s been dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out model.”
In spite of this, Engelder argued that “the arc of history bends toward environmental justice.” Fertilizer and petroleum will be even more important in the future, along with natural gas. “We will still need petroleum,” Engelder said, “although we may not be using it to fuel cars. In fact as I should point out, using petroleum, converting it to gasoline to fuel cars is probably one of the more irresponsible uses of petroleum, relative to say, plastic. There will be no replacement for plastic.”
Fracking could potentially help the environment in the long run, perhaps cancelling out some of the 11-degree warming that is projected to happen by 2100. “If you know anything about climate change,” Quigley said, “you know that we would not have had a hurricane like Sandy if climate change was not active in our interfaces right now.”
McGraw told a story to show how the world has evolved and will continue to evolve. He talked about the men who worked in the canal town of Homedale in Wayne County, Pa. These men carried coal, steel and timber, in essence carrying the materials for the railroad. “They were carrying the raw materials for their own obsolescence,” McGraw said.
He believes that there needs to be a plan to figure out what matters to the industry. “Corportations,” McGraw said, “with all due respect to Mitt Romney and Antonin Scalia, are not people, they’re machines. They’re machines designed to produce profit.”
A huge roadblock in the issues of Marcellus drilling in Pennsylvania is that the laws were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “One of the struggles that we deal with today is addressing today’s problems using law that was developed when nobody was really thinking about what it is that we’re doing today,” Haar said.
Once the panel was opened up to questions, an audience member brought up how drilling affects the water cycle, believing that it took out a great deal of water from the cycle, but she was corrected by Engelder. “In fact,” he said, “the production of methane returns more water to the hydraulic cycle than is removed by injection into the ground.”
Because of his book, McGraw is often asked if he regrets letting them drill on his land. “I’m a chain smoking, 54-year-old recovering alcoholic. I’ve been married three times, divorced twice, arrested twice and bankrupt once,” he said. “I can probably count on one hand the number of things I’ve done in my life that I don’t regret. The better question is would I do it again knowing what I know now. And the answer is yes.”

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