IN RECENT years there has been a movement by many people to "think globally, act locally" in regard to preserving our planet by acting in a responsible fashion in our own backyards. The theory goes that if the majority of us act on this sensible advice, it will make a world of difference for the environment and for future generations.
We in Northeastern Pennsylvania have the opportunity to do just that by helping to provide the nation with an energy source that has one-third of the carbon footprint of coal and about half that of oil. Natural gas is clean-burning and can provide power for electrical generators, bus and truck fleets and, eventually, automobiles. With an estimated 50-year supply of natural gas about 5,000 feet beneath much of our region, we can help the country become less dependent on foreign oil.
These pockets of natural gas also offer economic development opportunities that have not been seen in our region for years. Clearly, those people with gas reserves on their land are the first to benefit. Many of them have operated family farms for generations with little wealth to show for their efforts. These residents deserve the opportunities that gas leases bring.
It is not only the lease holders, though, that benefit from the economic boost of natural gas exploration. Small businesses are springing up throughout the Northeast to serve not only the gas industry directly, but also the many needs that a growing regional economy requires. Fencing firms, automobile service facilities, retail operations and other professionals, such as accountants, have witnessed significant growth in the gas region and will continue to do so. Local college graduates now are able to find good-paying jobs and remain here rather than seek employment elsewhere.
Of course, those who think locally must also be concerned with the impact drilling and transportation will have on our environment. The immediate concern for those of us who believe that our beautiful region must be maintained is how to ensure that extraction of natural gas does not harm the very environment we seek to conserve.
The fact of the matter is that no energy source is without risk. The extraction and transportation of petroleum-based products from the earth always has presented problems to those living close to the source of that energy. The BP oil spill and the Exxon Valdez are catastrophic reminders of this fact, as were the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan and the incidents at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. The risk calculus with which any industrialized society must cope presents difficult choices.
How do we ensure that our region will be minimally exposed to risk from the growth of natural gas extraction and its various spin-offs? That is the $64,000 question. In the long run, the answer lies in rethinking our energy policy. The United States and most states, including Pennsylvania, have made a political, economic and social decision to keep the price of energy below its real cost. The price we pay for energy today does not take into consideration the cost to the environment that might occur in the future. Most major and reputable energy companies build some of these future costs into their calculations for doing business. That is the only way they can survive major cleanup costs in mitigation that occasionally, but inevitably, occur. Perhaps greater assurances are needed.
In the shorter run, reasonable state taxes and fees levied upon the natural gas and oil industries can help this situation in several ways. Fees and taxes can be used to establish a fund that will be available for environmental cleanup operations if it becomes necessary. Secondly, additional revenue from these taxes and fees also can support the repairs and expansion of roadways, bridges and other infrastructure that are impacted naturally by the exploration and transportation process in the counties where exploration is taking place and in neighboring areas that are similarly impacted by the process. Fees and taxes, which invariably are passed along to the consumer, also serve another purpose – they raise the price of natural gas, thereby reducing the demand for it. This factor alone tends to conserve energy and makes the price of alternative energy sources more attractive.
It is important that Pennsylvania's taxes and fees be imposed in a manner that allows the producers in our state to remain competitive with gas companies in other states. If these fees and taxes become onerous, the gas-related companies and the enterprises that support them will move their operations to other states.
Northeastern Pennsylvania can provide a source of energy that is not only cleaner, but also provides some domestic security for more than 300 million Americans.
We should commit ourselves to the careful and thoughtfully regulated recovery and transportation of natural gas, while at the same time insisting that all involved in the extraction process share the risk. When added to the work that reputable companies are undertaking to upgrade local roads and restore the drilling terrain to its previous state, these policies and procedures will help to ensure that our region and our country benefit from a clean-burning energy source for half a century.
We can indeed think globally, and both act and benefit locally.