May 08, 2012
Remember these guys?
People have been talking about the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom for a few years in WV. So far, most of it has been taking place to the north of my normal stomping grounds but I made a visit last week to see how it hit Wetzel County, which sits right at the base of WV's northern panhandle.
Aside from the Ohio River border, most of the county is pretty rural and was relatively bucolic, the operative word being was. Now the countryside has been torn up along with the highways as well pads, frack ponds, and pipelines go in all over the place.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a term you hear a lot in conjunction with shale gas drilling. It refers to the practice of pumping water, sand and chemicals into horizontal wells thousands of feet underground. Actually, fracking is only one of several steps along the way.
As I understand it, the whole process consists of site preparation (they call them pads), which I've heard called "mini mountaintop removal sites." Basically it means clearing and leveling an area of several acres. Then comes the drilling, which goes down thousands of feet vertically and then moves horizontally across the layer of shale in which the gas is trapped. Then they "seal" the shaft by pumping concrete in to supposedly protect ground water and aquifers from contamination. We all know that concrete never cracks, right?
Once the well is dug, an explosive charge is detonated along the horizontal shaft to break up the shale. After that the fracking is done, in which several million gallons of water, sand and God knows what kind of toxic stuff is pumped in at high pressure to help release the gas. About half of the frack fluid stays in the ground; the rest has to find a home somewhere else.
Once stuff starts coming up the drill shaft, the next step is flaring to eliminate waste gas. Once the gas is good to go, it is pumped along pipelines with the help of natural gas compressors. I'm sure I left out a few steps. All this involves thousands of tons of traffic on rural roads and lots of noise, besides concerns about air, water, solid waste and hazmat contamination. In a word, it's a mess. And, yes, lots of jobs are involved, but most of those go to out of state workers.
The WV legislature created some pretty good draft legislation, but it was "tweaked"--some would say gutted--by Gov. Tomblin. More regulation needs to happen if the political will can be generated. And we need to create a future fund from natural gas and other severance taxes to make sure WV gets a little something out of this mess.
PRIORITIES. Here's a good op-ed by a friend of mine which makes the connection between huge cuts in state corporate taxes and possible cuts in child care for low income working families. Unsportsmanlike conduct, I say.
HARD TIMES. Here's a sneak preview of Paul Krugman's latest book on the messed up economy.
FLEAS. Dinosaurs had em. Big ones.
SPEAKING OF GAS, the dinosaurs apparently had plenty of that too.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED