Out of all the issues on which the Sierra Club Allegheny Group in Pennsylvania urges people to take action, few have gotten as huge a response as natural gas drilling.
While in Pittsburgh last month, I spoke with Claudia Kirkpatrick of the Sierra Club Allegheny Group about Pennsylvanians finding themselves at the center of a fight over natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region. The Marcellus Shale is a massive underground formation stretching across several states that is believed to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.Many Pennsylvanians have a problem with just how the natural gas is extracted from the shale, using hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"). Fracking involves injecting, under high pressure, huge amounts of water laced with sand and more than a hundred chemicals into rock formations deep under the ground. Fracking has contaminated some communities' water supplies (see the Pennsylvania communities of Hickory and Dimock).
And so residents are speaking out. "People are finding it important and worrisome," said Kirkpatrick.
Others are finding themselves becoming something they never thought they'd be: activists.
"A lot of opposition (to fracking) has come straight from grassroots groups of citizens who've never been involved in this sort of thing before," said Peter Wray, conservation chair for the Sierra Club Allegheny Group. "So many have spouted up—there a good dozen or more of those kinds of groups around Pittsburgh alone."
As such, the Sierra Club Allegheny Group and the Pennsylvania Sierra Club are working with a broad coalition in western Pennsylvania to call for rules that will protect residents both from predatory natural gas leasing and from the toxic chemicals that come with fracking. The groups are also planning a major protest at a Nov. 3 natural gas industry conference in Pittsburgh.
Many - including the Sierra Club—want the natural gas drilling process cleaned up and regulated to keep citizens from being harmed.
"It's a gas rush now, like a gold rush, and the state is being forced to do things far too quickly," said Wray. "We really should be very careful with this. Pennsylvania itself has seen the state devastated by lumbering in the early 19th century, we're still seeing the impact of unregulated coal mining in state - and don't want this to happen again."
This is also a national concern—natural gas drilling must be done properly. The Sierra Club supports strong state and federal rules to prevent natural gas exploration, development and distribution from causing damage to the environment and communities. Tough regulations that identify where drilling is acceptable can protect surface and ground water, ensure air quality, and protect wildlife, natural areas, and local communities.
We also support ending the regulatory loophole that exempts the gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act , as well as the full disclosure of all chemicals used in the drilling process.
If natural gas is to help replace coal and oil and accelerate America's transition to wind, solar and geothermal energy, then natural gas companies have to be subject to additional scrutiny and strong national and state regulations that protect our air, water, and communities.
If you want to get involved with our efforts to clean up the natural gas industry, join our Fracking Team on our Activist Network.