On April 17th, the Jewish Exponent and WHYY will be the media sponsors of The Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project’s second annual Civil Discourse Forum: “A Frank Conversation about Fracking, Without All the Fracas.” The evening will present experts with opposing views about the controversial use of hydraulic fracturing. Here, the event’s speakers preview their positions. For more information or to register, visit: civildiscourseproject.org .
The growth of the Marcellus Shale has fostered a spectacular and rewarding industry, launching Pennsylvania as the second-largest energy field in the world and fourth-ranked in the nation in energy production.
Despite the negative publicity and controversy regarding the industry’s extraction process, investments and many more positive outcomes have emanated from the direct economic impact of the Marcellus Shale and its related industries.
One of these results, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Industry 2013 2Q report, is the employment of 241,926 individuals. Their wages are, on average, $35,600 above the average Pennsylvania wage. In addition, residents who heat their homes with natural gas have paid a total of $50 million less to do so.
The industry has acknowledged some of its early mistakes and made drastic turnarounds to provide better communication in local communities and best practices when extracting natural gas.
Safety and the environment have been top priorities, with success in helping the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection develop more stringent rules and procedures for drilling and for the protection of Pennsylvania’s waters and habitat.
As people consider the economic impact of hydraulic fracturing, many come to the conversation with predisposed ideas about water quality and the overall human and environmental safety of the industry. They may not be aware of the strong environmental practices the industry has put in place to address concerns by environmentalists, communities and lawmakers.
Pennsylvania in particular has one of the most comprehensive sets of regulatory statutes in the United States to ensure safe drilling and protection of waters, streams, forests and citizens. A company that drills in Pennsylvania must comply with 12 state site construction regulations, 18 state drilling regulations, 18 state hydraulic fracturing regulations, 11 state midstream regulations and 10 state reclamation/completed site regulations.
In addition, several federal agencies and laws also heavily regulate the oil and gas industries.
As good neighbors, energy companies are finding ways to minimize environmental impact. Most recycle their own water to keep flowback water from getting into streams.
Chesapeake Energy founded its Green Frac Initiative in 2009, which evaluates each chemical sedative to determine its necessity and its impact on the environment.
Many have established guidelines for vendors regarding proper handling of the chemicals while on the surface to ensure environmental safety.
In addition, in response to concerns that chemicals were contaminating the water, the website Fracfocus  was established to disclose the chemicals that are used for drilling and to specify their use.
Individuals also have raised concerns that fracking would contaminate streams, kill wildlife or contaminate drinking water. The drilling depth — more than a mile underground —makes these scenarios highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, the industry responded with the program Aqua Renew, which renews used water from drilling. The water is collected and tested for any salt and mineral content to determine at what rate it can be used with fresh water, ensuring proper quantity and quality for operations. This process has allowed energy companies to reuse between 52 and 97 percent of the water associated with the sites where they drill. Taken together, the record and impact of the industry is impressive, leading to more jobs, higher wages, lower-cost energy and investment in effectively managed environmental stewardship.
Communication, education and accountability are key tools to help develop trust as we continue to produce a resource that we all use every day.
William Freeman is the founder of Freeman Astor and past chair of the Natural Gas Use Committee of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.