Are Voluntary Disclosures Enough for Marcellus Shale?

Range Resources submitted its first voluntary disclosures form of Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on August 12, but is this enough to ensure responsible development of this natural gas source and protect PA’s water supply?

The Marcellus Shale is a Middle Devonian-age black, low density, carbonaceous (organic rich) shale that occurs in the subsurface beneath much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.  In layman’s terms it is an extraordinary resource of natural gas causing a lot of debate in states where it could potentially be extracted.

Why the controversy?  The method of extracting that gas could prove detrimental if left unchecked.   A relatively new and controversial extraction process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking could pollute sources of the Delaware River that supplies Philadelphia’s water.  Hydraulic fracturing entails a vertical drill moving horizontally to get the gas bound up in the rock and then millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals and sand being forced into the shale fracturing it; whereby making the gas pour out.

Range Resources Corporation one of the first companies on the scene to begin developing western PA’s source of natural gas drilled a Marcellus well in Washington County, Pennsylvania in 2003 and found a promising flow of natural gas.  As of August 12, 2010 Range has committed to providing information on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.  Information on the first three Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania that Range has hydraulically fractured since implementation of the voluntary initiative can be found on Range’s website.  The purpose of this voluntary initiative is to provide landowners and citizens of Pennsylvania an accounting of the highly diluted additives used at each well site.

While the initiative has been met with supportive response from policy-makers, I cannot help but be skeptical about this new extraction method, the voluntary nature of the reporting and the effect on the 15 million people in Philadelphia who rely on the watershed which could potentially become contaminated.  I hope voluntary disclosures are enough to keep the Marcellus Shale development safe.

Image Credit:  chuckchuckchuck! via Flickr under CC license.