Drilling Not Issue; Regulations Are

Proper oversight and concern can help tap Marcellus Shale’s vast potential

Morgantown Dominion Post - Editorial
2 June 2011

If you care about green, these may be the best of times and the worst of times. The green we refer to is both the real wealth of our state — its air, its water and its soil — and the other kind; the kind that drives our economy, provides jobs and generates tax revenues.

In the ongoing debate about the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, we have always maintained that the environment and the economy are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. Some claim Marcellus drilling is bad for both the economy and the environment. They reason that extractive industries are tomorrow’s dinosaur, fossil fuels have no future and devastate the environment — no matter how conscientious the operator or stringent the regulations. We don’t subscribe to those thoughts, at all. If companies handle Marcellus Shale drilling and extraction of natural gas with care, there can be minimal impact to well sites, water quality and our roads. Of course, that’s a big if. But many drillers in this industry want to do things right and make amends when they do things wrong.

Are there operators who don’t work that way? Of course. And even a few is too many. But catering to stereotypes and biases about Marcellus drilling and other extractive industries is no justification for smearing every driller. We were probably the first state newspaper to call for regulating Marcellus drilling. And when the regular legislative session ended without progress on regulating drilling, we immediately called for a special session to address it.

This issue has also become a litmus test for political candidates who meet with our editorial board. And we even joined a call for a moratorium on the issuance of new permits until regulations were in place. But we do not now and never have opposed Marcellus drilling. In fact, we support this industry. What we don’t support is the lack of regulations to require all drillers to live up to common standards for being a good corporate neighbor and a good steward of the land. We trust many members of this industry would agree with such standards and the need for regulation. They also realize there is a business model for doing things right — and even a profit motive for investing in green practices. We are not apologists for drillers who consciously wreak havoc to increase their profit margin. Some of them are ripe for criticism on any number of issues. Yet this industry — when regulated, managed right — can be a comfort and not a curse to a tough economy and a sensitive environment.