America’s character is based on an alliance of rugged individualism and common enterprise. Each individual has his own fair opportunity to attain his dream, but always in an alliance with America’s commonwealth. America has been built by those striving for their own achievement, but always with a sense of being part of a greater effort.
Here in Pennsylvania, the natural gas companies are stressing the individual opportunity that the Marcellus Shale offers: 175,000 to 200,000 jobs to be created by 2020. But they caution that 35 percent of natural gas wells will be forced to close – and promised jobs lost – if the federal government’s Safe Drinking Water Act were imposed. And they have similar warnings if an excise tax were to be enacted.
How does this promise of so many jobs balance with our “commonwealth”? First, only 2,000 of these promised jobs are permanent, and according to a study by the Pennsylvania College of Technology over 80 percent of the temporary ones are being filled by “out-of-staters.” Second, Pennsylvania is not benefiting from the savings the gas companies are reaping in transportation and distribution costs. These represent half the expense of natural gas, and they are greatly reduced by our location next to the lucrative American northeast market. Our Commonwealth is not being paid an excise tax for our own share of the companies’ increased revenue -- unlike the other top 14 natural gas producing states, which are located further away from this market. Yet despite the loss of this revenue, the Commonwealth is paying for infrastructure investment and for repairing environmental damage caused by heavy trucks and drilling contamination. In contrast, when Walmart creates over 2000 permanent jobs in just a few years, we will not be faced with having to repair environmental damage or make such infrastructure investments.
I learned in my 31 years in the Navy that poor pre-planning means greater cost later, which will be borne by those left behind, including future generations. For instance, after the demise of the anthracite coal industry, the Commonwealth was still left with a $15 billion cleanup of 2,500 miles of damaged streams and 250,000 acres of contaminated land. Today, at least seven of our counties have already been cited with contamination from natural gas fracking, and the Commonwealth has issued several hundred violations for wrongful discharges, faulty practices and pollution of our streams.
The Navy also taught me to “expect what you inspect.” The Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection not only lacks sufficient inspectors but also adequate standards by which to inspect and enforce drilling violations and contamination. Moreover, since 2004 the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been prohibited from any oversight to ensure that Commonwealth’s drinking water is safe from drilling. Unfortunately for the Commonwealth, those “left behind” once the natural gas companies are done will have a greater cost to bear than they did after the demise of coal mining. The footprint of fracking gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps as much as double that of coal over a 20 year horizon; this is because methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The point is one we have failed to learn far too often in the past. The role of government is not to strangle rugged individualism, but to encourage it – while ensuring that the common enterprise, the common good, of our citizens is enhanced and not harmed. In this case, drilling can ensure a common good by offering reduced carbon emissions and less dependence on foreign oil. But it must not be at a greater cost, or even damage, to our Commonwealth. It is this balance that government must strike in fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. To do otherwise is to reward individual opportunity without regard to our overall Commonwealth.