Despite controversy regarding oil and gas drilling, especially near populated areas, some companies are making an effort to recycle byproducts of the drilling process.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has scheduled a public meeting to discuss one such proposal, which would allow Clean Earth Inc. to use treated natural gas drill cuttings (broken rock material removed from boreholes) to expand Johnson Airport in Tioga County.
The meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25 at the Wellsboro Fire Department, will give members of the public the opportunity to give oral testimony of up to five minutes. Alternatively, residents may submit written testimony of any length. The permit application is available for public review at the Tioga County Conservation District office and the DEP’s North-Central Regional office.
A lull in drilling for oil and natural gas, largely driven by low fuel demand, is giving officials and conservationists in Tioga County time to assess the pros and cons of drilling methods, and to make plans for the future.
Critics of drilling, and in particular the controversial method known as fracking, say that methods disrupt both the environment and area inhabitants. On an immediate level, the drills, pumps and trucks associated with drilling operations can cause noise disturbances for residents (simple methods such as planting trees can mask unwelcome sounds by about 50%, but residents often feel this is inadequate with the decibel levels in question).
Other activists worry about longer-lasting impacts such as contamination of groundwater, methane emissions and radiation exposure. Evidence is still coming in on both sides; a study released Jan. 15 by the Pennsylvania DEP, for example, states that there is “little potential for harm to workers or the public” from radiation exposure associated with drilling for oil and natural gas (including exposure to drill cuttings such as those Clean Earth Inc. proposes to use). However, numerous citations have been issued to drilling sites. The 640 active wells in Tioga County alone have accumulated 497 environmental violations since 2009.
Planning for the Future
Conflicting evidence is prompting a question environmentalists are struggling to answer: Is there such a thing as safe, environmentally responsible drilling?
Jim Weaver, Tioga County’s environmental planner and a biologist, told the Washington Post Jan. 16 that plans to protect groundwater have, to date, been effective, and that negative repercussions of drilling in the area have been minimal.
However, he points out, there’s a difference between ameliorating effects as they come and truly being proactive as to the local area’s energy future.
“As a culture, we’re not going to rest until we burn every drop of oil we can get our hands on,” Weaver told the Post. “And when we’re done with that, we’ll burn all the natural gas. And when the gas is gone, we’ll start on the trees. And the trees are starting to go already. And when the trees are gone, we’ll start burning the furniture. So if we don’t start a furniture preservation program right now, we’re not going to have a place to sit.”