Friday, May 27, 2011

Is smog the Achilles heel of the Marcellus Shale?

from Greenwire/New York Times online:

Since returning to private life, John Hanger, the former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, has kept busy trying to douse fears that his state's natural gas boom is contaminating drinking water.

Hanger's two-year tenure saw the Marcellus Shale, an underground rock formation that runs beneath much of the Northeast, change from a geological oddity into the center of a American drilling renaissance. Under his watch, Pennsylvania scrambled to respond to claims that water supplies are being tainted by the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which a blend of water, sand and chemicals is injected underground to break the shale and release the gas inside.

Hanger, a Democrat who previously led the Pennsylvania-based environmental group PennFuture, left office convinced that the high-profile fracas over fracking is misguided.

Air pollution is more of an Achilles' heel for drilling in the Northeast, he said last week, pointing to spikes in emissions that have followed natural gas development in other parts of the country.

Thousands of natural gas wells are expected to be drilled in Pennsylvania over the next few years, requiring a fleet of construction equipment, diesel engines and compressor stations. Together, they could be a large new source of smog-forming emissions along the Northeast corridor, much of which still struggles with old air quality standards at a time when U.S. EPA is preparing to make the rules stricter.

"If the industry ubiquitously uses the dirtiest choices, it won't fit into the Northeast," Hanger said. "It won't happen. There will be suits from New York, New Jersey, everywhere. From environmental groups. Maybe even from Pennsylvania state officials, trying to stop that.

"That's a real issue," he added. "The chemicals coming back up from fracking is not."

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