Role of Natural Gas in America's Energy Future
Our nation's top energy priority must be the rapid expansion of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. These are the quickest, cleanest, and most sustainable solutions to meeting our energy needs, while curbing global warming and other serious pollution problems. As we work to increase renewable and more efficient energy, however, more damaging energy sources—including fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas—will continue to play a role in our energy mix. Because power plants burning natural gas produce less air pollution than coal-burning plants, in the near term natural gas can actually serve to diminish a number of public health threats caused by generating electricity. To achieve this, though, sound policies must be in place to make certain that natural gas is used to replace coal and minimize methane emissions—a potent global warming pollutant—and does not displace investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. As long as natural gas is part of our energy mix, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will continue to demand improved safeguards for its development, and make it a priority to advocate for a truly clean energy future based on renewable energy sources and efficiency. For additional information, see our complete fact sheet.
Environmental Risks of Oil and Natural Gas Extraction
Natural gas development has exploded at break-neck speed in recent years, fueled by advancements in an extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—that has allowed the oil and gas industry to access previously out-of-reach reserves. Unfortunately, federal and state safeguards to protect people and the environment from the hazards of fracking have not kept pace. As a result, this development has proved dangerous, destructive, and polluting. This unbridled growth of fracking has allowed the gas industry to run roughshod over communities, leaving a host of serious impacts in their wake—from poisoned water wells, to contaminated rivers and streams, toxic air pollution and devastated property values in towns, and rural areas across the country. For more information, see our complete fact sheet.
The Importance of Transparency
A full and complete understanding of the risks associated with oil and natural gas extraction are necessary to protect communities from the worst impacts. In order for regulations to be effective, they must be based on the best possible data. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry has steadfastly resisted calls for greater transparency, including things like disclosure of chemicals used in drilling and fracturing fluids, measurement of hazardous air pollutants, and characterization and tracking of dangerous waste water.
Citizens have a right to know whether they are being exposed to dangerous pollutants in their own backyards. Across the country, regulations governing oil and gas extraction either fail to require full and transparent reporting of the risks, or regulatory agencies fail to disclose this information to the public. This map was created by compiling information made freely and publicly available by the agency responsible for regulating oil and gas in each state. The goal is to make obvious what data is and—more importantly—is not available to the people who live near these wells.
Frequently Asked Questions about Fracking in Pennsylvannia
Q. Why do so many of the data fields say “Not Available?”
All the information in this database comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection(PADEP) website. For all the fields with “Not Available” listed, the PADEP either does not collect this information or does not make this information available through its free, publicly accessible database. PADEP makes a great deal of additional data available through its PA-IRIS database, but a significant subscription fee is required to access this database.
Q. Many of the wells in my area don’t show any waste reporting. What does that mean?
The information in this database comes from a government database. Even though they may be generating waste, the wells without reporting have not provided any information about the type or quantity for the waste that is being produced—or the government has not made that information freely available.
Q. I’m worried about fracking in my community. What can I do about it?
Fracking is a serious issue. Please explore how to keep your family safe from fracking at Don't Get Fracked!
Q. The map shows that there is a well there, but when I look at the satellite view, why is there nothing there?
There could be several reasons for this.
- The satellite image may have been taken before the well was drilled.
- The location recorded in the database may be incorrect.
- Older well locations may have been entered into the database using a coordinate system that references a different datum than the current system, so the well may be plotting in the wrong place.
- For older wells, the surface may have been restored to the point that there is minimal surface disturbance visible in the satellite image.
Our map is based on the information available from the government. We are urging the government to move forward and address shortcomings in the information available.
Q. Aren’t a lot of the new wells in Pennsylvania horizontal wells? Why can’t see that on the map? What does the dot actually represent?
A. Yes, many of the new wells being drilled in Pennsylvania are horizontal wells. The dot on the map only represents the surface location of the well. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) does not disclose the location of the bottom of the well.
Q. Don’t oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania use FracFocus to report the chemicals they use for hydraulic fracturing? Why isn’t that information here?
Some companies do report the chemicals they use through FracFocus. There are several reasons why that data is not included in this map:
- Information provided by FracFocus is limited. FracFocus only requires operators to report chemicals that have a Material Safety Data Sheet (“MSDS”) and furthermore only includes a subset of the information that state disclosure rules require. For a complete discussion of chemical disclosure requirements, see NRDC’s report, “State Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure Rules and Enforcement: A Comparison.”
This spotlights how little information the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection provides to homeowners living near oil and gas production operations and facilities. Pennsylvania should provide all relevant information to its citizens through a single, geographically-based, freely available website.