I am editor of a quarterly e-zine that deals with wildlife and conservation news and the fall issue’s theme is Energy. The cover story was on Marcellus shale drilling and, as expected, it brought in many more letters to the editor than any previous article had. So far most comments have been of the same sort – saying that the article is one-sided and pro-drilling. We aimed to be as neutral as possible, mentioning some negative impacts to the environment while not directly calling drilling a bad industry. I had to keep my personal feelings out of it; something that was VERY difficult for me to do. That is the role of a good journalist, however: to remain impartial. Yet I was so upset by some of the letters that I had to vent here and share some of my feelings about drilling in the Marcellus shale. These thoughts in no way represent what my organization thinks; they are solely my own.
I did a lot of research for that article and even visited a few drill sites. I will be honest, they were not as horrible as I imagined they would be, using my preconceived notions formed from watching “Gas Land” and reading various articles and non-profit organization websites. But they still weren’t what I’d ideally like to see in a forest. A lot of trees are cut down to build the pad site, the area is graded with heavy machinery, which will compact the soil (and once soil is compacted it is difficult to fix), and there were a lot of vehicles coming and going through the area. It’s not a “natural” site, to be sure, and one that shouldn’t be built willy-nilly throughout the Commonwealth.
Friends ask me whether I am for or against drilling for natural gas. That’s a tough question for me to answer. The part of me that is a pure conservationist screams, “No! I am NOT for it!”, but the more practical side of me pauses and thinks, “Well, we need energy to power our daily lives. The natural gas question isn’t going away any time soon. Basically, it’s complicated!” Do I wish we could put solar panels on every roof in the state and grow native grasses for biofuel? YES! In a perfect world we could make much of our energy using alternative sources. If Germany and other European countries can do it, why not us?! But in our current democrat fighting with republican world, that isn’t likely to happen, so what else can we do? Does this mean we must drill for natural gas? In the short-term, I think the answer is yes. Is that the answer I like? No, not really, but unless we’re all willing to go back to lighting our homes with beeswax candles and taking a horse-drawn buggy to the general store (ask your kids if they’d be willing to give up their video game systems and tell me how that works!), we have to find some sort of energy source in the U.S. and in the short-term that probably means natural gas.
Am I a bad environmentalist for saying that? Perhaps. I’ve participated in a protest or two in my life but generally I’m not that hard-core and prefer to make change in a more constructive manner. The Greenpeace-types of the world deserve big kudos for the difficult and sometimes dangerous work they do, but that’s definitely not my style. I’m the kind of person that watches “Whale Wars” and thinks that sometimes the people are doing more harm than good when they sabotage the Japanese whaling ships, but I digress…
Back to Marcellus. Conservation of our natural resources is, in my opinion, the most important thing we as conscientious human beings can do. Yes, we have to make money so we don’t starve, but once our basic needs are taken care of I think we have a responsibility to protect our natural world because it’s the only planet we have, our very health depends on it, and once something is destroyed or exterminated we can’t bring it back. If companies are going to continue to drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania and elsewhere it needs to be done in a very cautious, science-based, enlightened way that takes into consideration the health of our forests, waters, wildlife, plants and people. This is happening now, but in a piecemeal fashion. We need more people, not fewer, out there inspecting sites, making sure companies are doing what they’re supposed to.
So those people who wrote angry or concerned letters about the article, I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from in terms of your fears and worries. Pennsylvania was manipulated and trashed by industries in the past – think turn of the century loggers and coal mining, just to name a couple – and you can’t blame people for expecting the worst. We need to have those people out there with very strong opinions and keen eyes to keep everyone in line, doing the right things. I may not be allowed to picket a drill site (unless I want to lose my job), nor would I necessarily want to, but it comforts me to know that there are folks out there who are making sure our resource extraction – not just of natural gas, but of other energy sources and minerals – does as little damage to the environment as possible, until we reach the day when we can power our homes, vehicles and lives with something that does little to impact the Earth. Keep up the good fight!