Marcellus Shale: The Trillion Dollar Question
We’re sitting on what may be the second-largest natural-gas field in the world—but is it possible to improve our air and water while making the most of the enormous economic opportunity?
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Nicholas J. Deiuliis
President, CONSOL Energy Inc.; president and chief operating officer, CNX Gas Corp.
CONSOL Energy’s roots run deep in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We have embraced innovation and continuous improvement as part of that deep culture. During the last 150 years, we have witnessed and deployed innovations that have improved how we access our energy resources, how we convert our fuels into energy and how we deliver that energy to our homes and businesses in increasingly efficient ways.
Domestic, abundant, reliable and affordable are coal’s strongest attributes, which is why it continues to be the lifeblood of the country, producing nearly half of our nation’s electricity. Advancements in technology have allowed coal to make incredible strides to improve its environmental legacy.
Regulated emissions from a coal-fired power plant built today are 90 percent cleaner on average than the plant it replaces. Natural-gas discoveries in the Marcellus Shale have the potential to shake up the energy markets and geopolitics across the globe, and it is all because of the application of horizontal-drilling technology. We are able to safely tap into resources that we could not tap into historically.
Stewardship of our natural resources must go hand in hand with their development for energy use. At CONSOL, we take a holistic approach to water management and conservation, actively employing advanced water-treatment technologies and processes in our operations. We are proud that our Marcellus Shale gas operations are recycling 100 percent of our flowback and produced waters.
Today, there are more than 3.5 billion people on planet Earth without access to affordable and reliable electricity. Global demand for energy will increase by more than 50 percent between now and 2030. Nowhere else in the world will you find such a rich mix of energy assets and institutional know-how to enable our resources in a responsible way. The greater Pittsburgh region is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this rapidly changing balance of trade. All of the elements exist to transform the global energy challenge into an energy opportunity—an historic opportunity to develop new supply chains, invest in and apply new technologies, and create new American jobs right here in our local communities. This is an opportunity we must not and will not squander.
President and chief executive officer, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
All forms of energy production have environmental impacts. The Pittsburgh region’s air is significantly compromised by pollution from coal-fired power plants. The Post-Gazette’s series “Mapping Mortality” revealed that 14,000 people died prematurely from breathing pollution emitted by these plants. The region has long lived with the legacy of coal mining with many of its rivers and streams degraded by acid pollution from abandoned mines.
Natural gas is a much cleaner-burning fuel than coal. It emits virtually no mercury or soot pollution and has markedly lower emissions of ozone smog forming nitrogen oxides and acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide. Many coal-fired power plants in the Pittsburgh region are more than 40 years old and do not have modern pollution controls. Those plants should be either shut down or converted to gas-fired power plants.
However, to ensure that the benefits of natural gas as a fuel are not outweighed by the environmental impacts of drilling, we need stronger regulations. Gas-drilling operations involve many sources of air pollution: diesel generators, increased diesel truck traffic, compressor stations and more. In order to ensure that the drilling does not further degrade the region’s air quality, drillers must control the pollution from these new sources.
There also need to be greater protections for water, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has made progress. As of May, gas drillers will no longer be permitted to pass their wastewater through sewage-treatment plants that are not equipped to treat the water. But we also need to expand protection for water by requiring well pads to be set back further from waterways and drinking-water supplies, prohibiting gas wells in flood plains and tracking the use of water from withdrawal to disposal.
If we set world-class standards that protect our air, land and water, then all Pennsylvanians can benefit from the development of the enormous and valuable resource under our feet.