Concerns over the environmental impact of Marcellus Shale gas drilling have been overstated, an official from a Pittsburgh-based natural gas company said last weekat a public forum at the Carnegie Science Center on the North Side.
Lindell Bridges, the senior vice president for geoscience at EQT, fielded questions about the region's burgeoning drilling industry during "Drilling Down on the Marcellus Shale: Energy Potential" at the center. Audience members had the chance to question Bridges about how drilling will impact the Pittsburgh region in decades to come.
Bridges touted the long-term benefits of drilling, telling the audience that Western Pennsylvania sits on one of the largest reservoirs of natural gas in the world. Tapping that resource may be an economic boon for the region, creating jobs and providing a new source of energy, he said.
But many of those in attendance expressed skepticism about the environmental hazards that the drilling process could pose in western Pennsylvania, including the potential contamination of drinking water.
"There's a great economic impact to Marcellus Shale," Bridges said. "We're sending a lot of money overseas right now and a lot of that money is for oil."
Drilling companies have employed new methods in recent years to tap pockets of natural gas trapped deep underground in the Marcellus Shale formation that stretches throughout much of western Pennsylvania.
New techniques such as hydro-fracturing, a process in which pressurized water, sand and chemicals are injected into a well to increase the flow of the natural gas, have increased productivity. That process also has spurred concerns from environmental advocates and property owners that chemicals could seep into the ground and drinking water.
Audience members repeatedly pressed Bridges during the question-and-answer session about the long-term effects of Marcellus Shale drilling and the possibility of water contamination.
"I just don't understand how before drilling the water is fine and then afterward it isn't," said one audience member, saying her research has turned up accounts of contamination in others areas where drilling took place. "How do you ensure that it doesn't go into the aquifer?"
Bridges said that additional casings placed around the well's pipeline are intended to prevent chemicals and fracking fluids from entering the aquifer. He said a "minimal" amount of chemicals is used in the fracking process.
"We are trying to fine-tune our fracking process in any way that we can," Bridges said. "Frankly, it's economic. The fewer chemicals needed to be used in the process the better."
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has in using some of the 9,000 acres of county-owned land surrounding the Pittsburgh International Airport for drilling.
"We're are trying to mitigate people's concerns with things like better well construction," Bridges said. "The process is now much more efficient."