The Promise and Peril of Shale Gas Fracking

The Promise and Peril of Shale Gas Fracking

Editor's Note: This is the latest episode of Energy NOW!, A video program dedicated to energy and environmental issues. You can see the full video at the bottom of this post, and archived episodes are online at EnergyNow.com.

Tapping the energy stored in a rock formation called the Marcellus Shale has been an economic boon to Pennsylvania, but is the state paying an environmental price?

In this special report, energyNOW! Chief Correspondent Tyler Suiters interviews residents of Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania, the heart of the Marcellus Shale. The residents blame nearby gas drilling for methane contamination in their water wells, while the energy companies say they aren't responsible. One family tells Suiters they are ready to leave Pennsylvania for good because of their water problems. Suiters also meets a doctor from the University of Pennsylvania who is searching for potential links between gas drilling and health complaints.

Suiters speaks to another Bradford County resident who says income from shale-gas production saved his family farm. In the county seat of Towanda, a restaurant owner says booming shale-gas production has revived the local economy. A local politician agrees, saying the community has benefited from the jobs and higher salaries offered by the shale-gas industry. But he cautions that rural Bradford County isn't getting enough tax revenue from the gas industry to cope with the influx of people and heavy equipment. He also says he's worried about the impact of drilling on the area's water quality.

Suiters explains the combination of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and horizontal drilling that makes the surge in shale-gas production possible. While energy companies say shale-gas drilling doesn't threaten water quality, Suiters speaks to an engineering professor who says industry officials and regulators are understating the risks. He also interviews the current and former heads of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection about the industry's safety record and the millions of dollars in settlements and fines levied against drilling companies.

Note: energyNOW!'s initial support comes from the American Clean Skies Foundation, which is funded in part by Chesapeake Energy. energyNOW! is editorially independent – neither the foundation nor its backers control what it says or does.