We're becoming victims of shale game
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With the exception of those who live alone, there probably isn't a person alive who hasn't occasionally had to suffer the preposterous accusation he or she was "gas-lighting" a spouse.
The verb is a reference to director George Cukor's 1944 murder mystery, "Gaslight," starring Ingrid Bergman as an opera singer slowly being driven mad by Charles Boyer, her psychologically abusive pianist husband.
His character, Gregory Anton, spends most of the film undermining his wife's grip on reality by moving furniture, dimming lights (but denying he's doing so) and being an all-around condescending jerk.
When his wife, Paula, notices that her environment is being transformed in major and minor ways, Gregory insists that her "forgetfulness" is the real culprit.
Living in Pennsylvania during the hunt for untapped natural gas deposits throughout the Marcellus Shale region is a lot like being married to Charles Boyer.
As citizens, we know that the natural gas industry, corporate chicanery and indifferent politicians have left a trail of tears, dead animals, contaminated water and chronic sickness in other parts of the country where industry interests have taken precedence over people suffering the environmental impact of barely regulated drilling.
Pennsylvanians desperately want to believe that extracting trillions of tons of natural gas from hundreds of feet underground will be an environmentally neutral affair that will create thousands of high-paying jobs and usher in a golden age of American energy independence and tax relief.
Just as Paula noticed things out of place in her home, Pennsylvanians have begun to notice the mounting evidence that the price for extracting natural gas might be higher than the industry is letting on.
Perhaps I'm suspicious about all the so-called benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a formation that covers two-thirds of this state and huge swaths of Ohio, New York and West Virginia, because I've just watched Josh Fox's infuriating but excellent HBO documentary, "Gasland."
"Gasland" chronicles an almost unbelievable litany of environmental indifference by drilling companies operating in Pennsylvania and 34 states throughout the country.
The filmmaker interviews Pennsylvanians who can't shower or drink water from once-pristine wells because the chemical runoff caused by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" has rendered them toxic.
The most disturbing footage in "Gasland" revolves around homeowners setting tap water straight out of the faucet on fire. It is impossible to remain blase about the potential disasters down the road after seeing something like that.
Last month, a natural gas well exploded in Clearfield County, spewing gas and fracking fluid for 16 hours. It isn't even shocking to us that fracking fluid is exempt from federal oversight despite the fact it is composed of some nasty chemicals.
Last week, Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 head of cattle on a Tioga County farm after they came into contact with fracking fluid pooling on the property.
Still, officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection agree with the industry that there is little evidence that underground water sources are being poisoned by fracking. That's obviously a bunch of anecdotal hysteria by people who don't see the full economic benefits of the industry as clearly as the folks in Harrisburg.
John Hanger, the painfully conscientious head of Pennsylvania's DEP, isn't a fan of "Gasland." Mr. Hanger called the documentary "fundamentally dishonest," perhaps because the filmmaker offered him a glass of water from one of the affected properties on camera. He doesn't drink it, of course. He's no fool.
Although Mr. Hanger looks guilty as he ends the interview near the end of the film, he has since done more than most folks in his position to toughen regulations against the industry. The DEP has finally gotten around to publishing the list of chemicals used in fracking, and it isn't pretty.
Mr. Hanger told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the dramatic uptick in citations against drillers demonstrates "how active our inspection program is." A far more sinister interpretation is possible, too.
Proving that he knows how to keep his eye on the corporate ball as good as any Republican, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato scotched the idea of a moratorium on drilling until more research is done on the fracking process and the danger to the water supply.
"I will grant permits," Mr. Onorato said during a campaign swing in Wilkes-Barre, "but I want these companies to hire Pennsylvanians. I don't want to see a bunch of Oklahoma and Texas license plates here."
Yes, we're being gas-lighted in Gasland, folks.
First Published July 9, 2010 12:00 am