The Costs of Fracking: PennEnvironment Documents the Dollars Drained by Dirty Drilling

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PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Firing a new salvo in the ongoing debate over the gas drilling practice known as fracking, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center today released a report documenting a wide range of dollars and cents costs imposed by dirty drilling.  As documented in The Cost of Fracking, this form of gas extraction creates millions of dollars of health costs related to everything from air pollution to ruined roads to contaminated property.

“The Commonwealth has already felt the environmental damage caused by the drilling industry. As if that’s not bad enough, it turns out that this dirty drilling imposes heavy dollar and cents costs as well,” said Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center. “And in many cases, the public will be left holding the bag for those costs.”  

The report documents a wide range of costs imposed by fracking. Fracking operations, defined in this report as all aspects of shale gas operations, contaminate drinking water sources in many ways – from spills to leaking waste pits to methane from drilling itself.  

In Dimock, Pennsylvania, fracking operations contaminated the drinking water wells of several households for roughly three years, perhaps more.  Just providing 14 of those families with temporary water cost more than $100,000.   Providing a permanent new source of clean drinking water would have cost an estimated $11.8 million.

In addition to water cleanup costs, the report shows that fracking damage exacts other tolls on communities – from road repairs to health costs to emergency response.  The report includes the following examples of such costs.

  • Health:  in Arkansas’ Fayetteville Shale region, air pollution from fracking operations impose health costs estimated at $9.8 million in one year.  In Texas’ Barnett Shale region, those costs reach $270,000 per day during the summer smog season.
  • Roads to Ruin:  with fracking operations requiring thousands of trips by trucks and heavy machinery, a Texas task force approved $40 million in funding for road repairs in the Barnett Shale region.

Moreover, as with previous extractive booms, fracking will impose long-term costs as well.  As noted in the report, the coal boom in Appalachia left Pennsylvania with an estimated $5 billion cost for cleaning up acid mine drainage.

“We should have learned from our experience with the coal industry, that without mandating the appropriate environmental protections and costs recovery mechanisms, taxpayers will be left to foot the bill,” said Rep. Phyllis Mundy, Luzerne County.

The Costs of Fracking report comes as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court prepares for an October hearing to decide whether municipalities are allowed local zoning control over shale gas drilling in their communities or whether they will be forced to adopt statewide zoning provisions that would allow drilling in residential communities.

“The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act does not protect Pennsylvania’s valuable streams,” concluded Kurt Limbach, a property owner in Boliver, “And I have seen the costly result with my own eyes.”

“If we remain silent on these growing costs, we will have to live with the consequences, and so will our children,” said Robert Schmetzer, Council President of South Heights, Beaver County.

To the extent that fracking is continuing at thousands of sites across Pennsylvania, the report also recommends dramatically stepped-up bonding requirements and other financial assurances that match the full scope of fracking’s immediate and long-term costs.

“In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘You don’t go out and build a tower unless you first count all the costs,’ quotes Rev. Thwing, a pastor at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Moxham, “and there are many costs which the drilling industry and our present government have not included in the Marcellus Shale plan in Pennsylvania.”

“We already know about shale gas drilling’s damage to our environment and health.   These dollars and cents costs are one more reason to reject this dirty drilling practice,” concluded Staaf.