Shale gas has plenty of detractors.
Environmentalists say fracking, a process in which drillers blast water into a well to shatter rock and unleash the gas, threatens pristine watersheds. Dish, a hamlet of 180 residents north of Fort Worth, Texas, has almost as many wells, compressors and pipelines as people.
‘Children, Old People’
Last year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found benzene, which it classifies as a carcinogen, at 10,700 times the safe long-term exposure limit next to a well 6 miles (10 kilometers) west of town on which a valve had been left open.
“We have children, old people, pregnant women,” Mayor Calvin Tillman says. “They’re not supposed to be subjected to toxins.”
Switzer, who moved to Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, to build a $350,000 dream home with her husband, Jimmy, in 2004, had no idea how shale gas would consume her village of 1,400.
She says she found so much methane in her well that her water bubbled like Alka-Seltzer. Neighbor Norma Fiorentino says methane in her well blew an 8-inch-thick (20-centimeter-thick) concrete slab off the top. The $180 bonus Cabot paid to drill on Switzer’s 7.2 acres (2.9 hectares) and the $900 in royalties she gets each month don’t compensate, she says.
‘Beads and Baubles’
“I feel like one of the Indians who sold Manhattan for beads and baubles,” she says.
The economics of shale don’t look great right now for big companies either. Natural gas prices plunged to $2.41 per MMBtu in September 2009 from $13.69 in July 2008 as the recession cut demand while drilling accelerated. On May 24, gas traded at $4.04.
Includes related videos: John Hanger, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, talked with Bloomberg's John Lippert in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on May 13 about regulation of shale-gas drilling operations in the commonwealth.