The Problem – Hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus shale for methane
sustainable scale of gas well drilling!? Ha, there couldn’t be. or could there? in theory there’s an amount of CO2 we could burn that the ecosystem could absorb. but the drilling could never be sustainable, the gas is finite and consumed. on an empty planet, the problem wouldn’t be one of sustainability, because there might be enough gas for everyone to burn some without making a dent in total reserves, but problems of pollution and environmental injustice would remain.
If the rate of throughput increases?! HA! The rate of throughput is exploding, with disasterous consequences. The benefits – a few jobs, slightly cheaper natural gas, and we will be able to keep the lights on for a few years longer, if we don’t melt the planet first. The consequences – we’re befowling our streams, tearing apart our mountains, toxifying the air. And it’s falling on people that have lived with the disasterous consequences of coal mining for generations. My heart sinks to think that now they’ll be burdened with this. I can and will leave; it’s not really my battle. I’ll fight it while I’m here, but I’ve never felt like it was my water being polluted. But I see how beaten down these people are by the mining, and I see how divided they are about the industry. It breaks my heart to see it reving up in a new arena.
Who benefits? The mineral owners (if they don’t plan to stay living near the wells) and the energy companies. And the population as a whole in a very dilute way by the pennies they save on their gas bills. Though I’m not sure that’s true…… if we were to not drill into unconventional gas reserves, increased prices would force conservation, which might lead to a happier way of life, and could slow encroaching disasters associated with climate change.
Who created the costs? The beneficiaries, of course. Duh.
Who bears the burden? The people of Appalachia. The poor, health-impacted, community-divided people of Appalachia. For those few who can lease gas rights and make enough money to retire and perhaps move away, who can blame them? And even more so when their neighbors have already leased gas rights. In that way, it spreads like a contagious disease.
who created the values that are affected? nature, first and formost – the streams, the hills, the forests, all raped and pillaged. but also people who have built houses, developed farms, and developed relationships with their local landbase.
who determines what is just and unjust? in what court? in the court of public opinion, I suppose each of us individually, with (sometimes coercive) guidance from the media. in the court with material consequences, the courts, armed with police and appointed by corrupt political processes.
the external costs are many – I hope someone will do an analysis for Marcellus wells like the ‘true cost of coal’ analysis that Epstein recently published. if they had to pay for the potential risks and eventual costs, I suspect they wouldn’t be able to drill. externalized costs include pollution of waterways that is guaranteed: sedimentation runoff and some amount of organics, and the product of the probality of a blowout or other disaster times the costs of such a disaster—from the emergency crews that come to put the fires out, to the downstream ecological effects. there’s also the air pollution, the people who have to move off their farm lands or from their homes because they’re getting sick from the air pollution. there’s the lost aquifers, which are becoming all the more valuable as (clean) water becomes scarcer.
perhaps prices could be used to internalize some of these costs, and I think they should be as long as drilling is happening. but ultimately, our knowledge is insufficient to estimate the costs associated with these damages. the technology is five years old – how could we possibly know how it’s going to impact future generations?