Category Archives: natural gas

Natural gas drilling front lines move to highway billboards

This is my latest newspaper conservation column.

The ongoing battle between the pro-natural gas drilling people and conservationists who see and realize more value in a natural landscape not punctured by drill rigs and drill pads and heavy-equipment roads hacked out of former wildlife habitat have taken their respective campaigns to roadside billboards.

This is, coincidentally, something that would never happen in the Green Mountain State (where I sit) because nearly a half-century ago the people of Vermont wisely voted to permanently outlaw billboards and impose stringent limits on the size and height of business ID signs and such.

One recent billboard – the space bought and paid for by anti-drilling folks – makes its point with a collage of photos. One shows a drill rig and concrete drill pad, labeling the scene as a roadside “attraction.” And that spurs memories of a PennDOT placard on the southbound side of I-81 telling motorists of an attraction we know as “Humboldt Industrial Park.”

But back to the drilling biz. Punching holes into Earth across the Marcellus shale region is akin to bulldozing and paving more roads across Penn’s Woods. Sure, a handful of native wildlife continue doing alright population wise afer their habitat has been fragmented by roads, sprawl, cul de sacs, drill pads, and even airport runways. These include critters like the white-tailed deer and eastern cottontail. And skunks, raccoons and European starlings, too. Most of our native wildlife, though, suffers and their population numbers decline until, someday, the federal Endangered Species Act comes into play and a given species is approved for listing as a threatened or endangered one.

Naturalists don’t need a science degree in order to put the principles of “citizen science” to work and help gather the data showing such downward population trends. I have countless hours and days myself walking along the shoulders of rural roads – in Pennsylvania, Virginia and elsewhere – and counting the roadkill specimens found along the way.

A five-mile hike one year along the southern Delmarva Peninsula reach of Highway 13 sticks in mind for the horrendous slaughter I found; a toll most motorists are oblivious to as they race on to their next appointment, gas station, or motel room. On that day, my field notes remind, I found 15 dead turtles, many of them the species we know as the eastern painted turtle, their carapaces crushed by car or truck tires. Terrestrial wildlife like amphibians and reptiles seem, more often than not, to be the roadkill targets. But that’s only because they can only crawl, walk or slither so fast.

Here in Vermont, there is no shale formation underground, its rocks harboring natural gas. There is no danger lurking of a drilling rig suddenly showing up one day to start punching a hole into terra firma outside the front door. But through much of the mid-Atlantic region just the opposite is the case. And like much else these days, many people whose lives are disconnected from wild nature see only money when a drilling company rep knocks on the door.

Destoying precious land for natural gas

Wild Nature, buckaroos, is not making any “new” land. So, once humans and their machines have taken over a scrap of formerly wild nature, that scrap is gone. Sure, restoration is possible, but not if the land becomes a parking lot and part of an industrial “park” or business “park.” Read more.

The business of fracking

The federal government should set baseline environmental safety standards for hydraulic fracturing. So pleads the NY Times in this editorial. Again, missing from the discussion are the ancillary effects of drilling, whether for natural gas or oil or even water: The construction aspect of setting up a drill pad etc. means building a new road, chopping up wildlife habitat, clear-cutting forest, touching off noise pollution, etc.

‘The Sky is Pink’

That’s the title of a new documentary put together by Josh Fox, whose “Gasland” look at natural gas extraction is a winner. Read about the pink sky here.

Natural gas, by the book

This editorial pokes a good-sized hole in the cheap rumor that natural gas is one helluva lot better than coal when looking at each fossil fuel’s greenhouse gas emissions. And the other big issue with natural gas drilling – unmentioned in this piece – is the wildlife habitat fragmentation that occurs whenever a new drill pad is set up.

Making fracking safer?

This editorial is on the mark when it comes to things like water pollution. But it misses entirely a huge issue circulating around the industrialization of the American landscape, especially in Pennsylvania: The fragmentation and outright destruction of wildlife habitat. It is little wonder why forest-interior songbird species like the Wood Thrush are in population trouble when their habitat is continually beaten up by developers, road builders and natural gas drillers.

EPA caps emissioins at gas and oil wells

The Environmental Protection Agency issued its first standards for oil and gas companies covering air pollution from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That’s good, of course, although the drillers will cry foul and again will label the EPA as anti-business. Balderdash. But this new rule will do nothing to restore the forest fragmentation and outright habitat destruction that accompanies a drilling operation, especially in New York State and Pennsylvania.