A misleading picture
On August 24, the Penn State-sponsored Wayne County Task Force held a meeting in Honesdale on the “Economic and Community Impacts of Marcellus Shale.” Holding this event is commendable. Professor Timothy Kelsey gave a polished, and at first glance balanced, overview. He emphasized that fracking is a boom-and-bust industry, where early profits dribble to all but nothing, and recommended we plan now for a future with no gas income. He mentioned that though huge profits are earned by some, others would lose. He said many businesses would experience sales increases, but infrastructure, health and environmental cleanup costs could outweigh increases in tax revenues—and that towns may actually experience no tax revenue increases since most drilling labor is migrant. When pressed, he admitted that, because so many traditional jobs are lost, the net job growth might be negligible. He said local renters would no longer be able to find housing.
But through omission, the power of clever visual presentation, length of time spent on each issue, and even sheer misinformation, Kelsey nevertheless painted a rosy picture, and did not accurately represent to our community what we in the Upper Delaware River region should know.
1. The polished PowerPoint graphs and charts were based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Marcellus Shale reserve estimate of 410 trillion cubic feet of gas, suggesting we may have fracking here for at least 30 to 50 years. But the USGS has just released a reserve estimate 80% lower, of 84 trillion cubic feet, an estimate EIA accepts. Thus, investors and legislators must now consider closer to 10 years of Marcellus drilling, and thus short-term drilling profits will not last long.
2. Repeatedly, Timothy Kelsey insisted that the Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Act precludes local townships from zoning where drilling may occur, when in fact the state Supreme Court, and more recently lower courts as well, have affirmed that though localities cannot determine how drilling is done, they can zone where it is done. After the presentation, Kelsey admitted he had not read any legal documents.
3. Actual environmental, health and infrastructure costs were not discussed at all. Kelsey said no studies have been completed that he knew of. However, in a discussion following the event, he admitted these external costs were high, and that since the net gain of jobs is about zero, these costs might make the overall gains of fracking negative.
4. Kelsey implied that what happens in one community would happen in ours. But our valley is unique. For one, geologists believe our area is not rich in gas, a situation Kelsey acknowledged in a conversation after the presentation. After his talk, he also admitted that his estimate of $2 million earned per well is based on averaging productive and non-productive areas, not from actual productivity figures. I have yet to hear from him just how he came to that figure. If wells here have low productivity, lessors here would earn considerably less, and maybe not much at all.
Kelsey ignored the economic advantages we have by our close proximity to NYC. Not only do our second-home owners—who might leave if drilling arrives—supply us with a major portion of our property tax revenue, but we also have the opportunity to exploit the Eat Local & Eat Organic movements in NYC. He insisted that even though organic and other food producing operations could be harmed by drilling, that there was plenty of food produced in other places for us to eat. Because of global warming concerns, inevitably eating locally will be mandated, for shipping food vast distances creates huge greenhouse emissions. We have the potential to be major suppliers of this healthy local food.
About a week after the panel, Penn State released a new study, lead by Dr. Kelsey, that states that in 2009 Pennsylvania natural gas development created roughly half the jobs and economic activity reported in earlier, industry-financed studies, and that only about half of leased land is owned by primary residents.
[Alice Zinnes is a resident of Damascus, PA.]