For the past several weeks, the drilling industry — hammered by bad financial results — has begun promoting its next big thing: the Utica shale, generating the sort of headlines you might have seen five years ago, when the shale drilling rush was gaining speed. “Utica Shale Holds 20 Times More Gas Than Previous Estimates”, read one headline. “Utica Bigger Than Marcellus”, proclaimed another.
For years, the shale industry has touted the economic benefits it can provide. An overflowing supply of domestic natural gas will help keep heating and electric bills low for American consumers, they argue, while drilling jobs and astounding royalty windfalls for landowners will reinvigorate local economies. These tantalizing promises have caught the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C. who argue that the rewards of relying on shale gas outweigh the risks, especially because harm can be minimized by the industry or by regulators.
But across the U.S., communities where drilling has taken place have found that the process brings along higher costs than advertised. Even when properly done, drilling carries with it major impacts — including air pollution, truck traffic, and plunging property values — and when drillers make mistakes, water contamination has left residents without drinking water or cleaning up from disastrous well blow-outs.
And as the shale drilling boom moves into its 12th year, the most crucial benefit claimed by drillers — cheap and abundant domestic fuel supplies — has come increasingly into question. The gas is there, no doubt, but most of it costs more to get it out than the gas is worth.
A new report from New York state, where a de facto shale drilling moratorium has persisted since 2008, concludes that unless natural gas prices double, much of the shale gas in the state cannot be profitably accessed by oil and gas companies.
In a press release, Marcellus Money, a project of Common Cause of Pennsylvania and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania laid out the sobering facts about the frackers' stranglehold over the PA state government, writing,
The natural gas industry and related trade groups have now given nearly $8 million to Pennsylvania state candidates and political committees since 2000…Top recipients of industry money given between 2000 and April 2012 were Governor Tom Corbett (R) with $1,813,205.59, Senate President Joseph Scarnati (R-25) with $359,145.72, Rep. Dave Reed (R-62) with $137,532.33, House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28) with $98,600, and Sen. Don White (R-41) with $94,150.
Furthermore, between 2007-2012, the gas industry spent an astounding $15.7 million on lobbying the PA state legislature.
The overwhelming majority of the campaign cash flowed in the direction of Republican Party politicians between 2010-12. Individual GOP politicians and Political Action Committees (PACs) received $4.5 million from the gas industry during that time frame, while, on the other side of the aisle, Democratic Party politicians and PACs received roughly $650,000.
“The industry has largely had its way in Pennsylvania and has spent millions to put their friends in the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion,” said James Browning, Regional Director of State Operations for Common Cause, in the press release. “The industry’s focus now is on protecting these investments and maintaining access to key elected officials.”