Think Philly’s Water Is Gross? Worse Could Be Coming


The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences held a “town hall” discussion about fracking last night.

It’ no surprise that PA Governor Tom Corbett says fracking regulations are too aggressive–Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal executives contributed more than $180,000 to his campaign since 2004. Still, it’s not just republican-democrat fight: it remains a polarizing and contentious issue between today’s modern hippies and fat-wallet oil executives.

The Marcellus Shale is a geologic feature that spans from West Virginia to parts of New York State–and lies underneath most of Pennsylvania, except for the southeast of the state. Under miles of bedrock sits pockets of untouched natural gas, and our state legislators have been turning to gas drilling as a way to help close the mounting deficit.

This time a year ago, the Pennsylvania legislature voted on a budget that would allow then-Governor Ed Rendell to authorize natural gas drilling in state-forests, particularly around the Marcellus Shale.  It would ignore concerns from the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and allow drilling on an additional 80,000 acres.

Corbett is following in his predecessor’s footsteps, despite other states acting at a slower pace. Both Arkansas and New York have place a year-long moratorium on fracking. Even Pittsburgh also approved a bill last year that prohibits fracking, and some want to see that expanded statewide. Last night, the Philadelphia Museum of Natural Science held a “town hall” discussion on agricultural impact of fracking, an issue often overlooked.

Environmentalists are critical of the mining practice used to withdraw the gas.  They say hydraulic fracturing, which uses toxic chemicals to drill, isn’t properly regulated, and as a result, pollutes underground drinking water.

“People don’t stop to think about where there food comes,” says Marilyn Anthony, southeast regional director for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. She says fracking contaminates water and soil, and as a result, also affects agriculture and food.

But economists insist the Marcellus Shale brings a huge potential of needed revenue. Adam Garber is a field director for PennEnvironment and admits while there may be some negative affects, “development of the Marcellus shale will clearly have some major positive effects for Pennsylvania’s economy. Higher employment, higher state sales tax collection, more business activity.”

Farmer Kim Seeley owns  Milky Way Farms, which sits about 200 miles away from Philadelphia in north-central Pennsylvania. He signed a lease, and now 36 active wells surround his 400 acre farm.  He says oil companies stifle transparency because “gas companies slip in a confidentiality agreement. The average owner that’s not a liar doesn’t understand why that’s being put in it.”

That includes himself. He says he overlooked a confidentiality clause that restricts him from saying too much about their contract. But he doesn’t hesitate to say that the nearby Delaware River supplies drinking water for 15 million people, including Philadelphians. That and other water supplies could be affected. Still, proving the dangers of fracking remain an ongoing difficulty. Fracking occurs miles underground, so it’s difficult to directly link fracking to environmental issues.

Pittsburgh also approved a bill last year that prohibits fracking, and some want to see that expanded statewide.

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