Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Marcellus Highlights, Dec. 19, 2011

Wow, another lost week there!  Busy catch-up week for me after my part-time semester was finished.  On a side-note, many faculty and state survey people are demanding I be hired full-time so they have a "real" geology department. Being resisted by a non-geoscience dean who's concerned that anything but surface geology (on a freshman-level) hurts the "brand" and few faculty with pull who go along with this model....anyway here are the highlights from the Marcellus news I've tweeted during the past week.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's pipeline series continued, focusing on concerns of both environmentalists and sportsmen, eminent domain issues, and conflicts among local citizens over pipelines.

Remember the case where the contractor for the state's Homeland Security department spied on anti-fracking activists?  A judge is allowing the 1st Amendment case to proceed:
The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition sufficiently pleaded First Amendment violations in its lawsuit against an American-Israeli anti-terror think tank that contracted with Pennsylvania's Office of Homeland Security to keep tabs on environmentalists' protests against natural gas drillers, a federal judge ruled.
 According to the Coalition's September 2010 lawsuit, the group was swept up "in a prolonged and secret campaign of domestic surveillance" after Powers gave the green light to a $125,000 contract for the Institute to "regularly surveil and report on potential terrorist threats against ... [Pennsylvania's] critical infrastructure."
Another example of citizens' institutions being turned against citizens engaged in legal civic activity on behalf of wealthy entities. And more outsourcing of public duties to private for profit companies.

Questions are being raised (on an environmental site mind you) over whether fracking will have the economic benefits that proponents claim it will:
Our shale gas resources, however, while much ballyhooed in the press, are far less certain. We may now have a 100-year supply of gas in America, as suggested by recent reports. . . or we may not. The U.S. consumes 24 tcf of gas per year. Currently, we only have an 11-year supply on the books: 273 tcf classified as “proved reserves,” meaning gas that is commercially producible at a 10 percent discount rate. Beyond that, there are only “probable,” “possible,” and “speculative” resources, where the gas has not yet actually been discovered, or proved to be economically recoverable. Even where we are sure that the resources exist, we do not know how much of is technically recoverable until we produce it. And as I noted two weeks ago, in the EIA’s Low Case shale gas estimate, the U.S. could become a net gas importer by 2035.
For me this is one of the biggest questions.  Although the fracking process has been around awhile, the application of fracking to liberate gas in tight reservoir shales has only been developed in the past decade or so and the data on the long-term productivity of these wells is still an open question.

The battle over how much local governments will be allowed to regulate drilling continues, particularly in Pennsylvania where surrender of local control is a pre-requisite in the proposed "impact fee" legislation:

The fight, which pits towns and cities against energy companies and states eager for growth, has raised a fundamental question about the role of local government: How much authority should communities have over the use of their land?
The battle is playing out in Pennsylvania as the Republican-controlled legislature considers bills that would in their current form sharply limit a community’s right to control where gas companies can operate on private property. Critics say the final bill could vastly weaken local zoning powers and give industry the upper hand in exchange for a new tax, which municipalities badly need.
The legislation has struck a nerve in a state where land control has long been considered quintessentially local.

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