Election of Tom Wolf poised to bring changes to fracking in Pennsylvania

By Sarah Voska
Student Writer

During the final week of J-Term, a significant change will hit Harrisburg when new Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf takes office. Wolf is unique in that he is one of few people to be able to knock an incumbent governor out of their seat, a feat he was able to achieve based on voter support for some of the larger issues that were really focused on this election cycle.

One major issue was gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation. Wolf believes that a 5% extraction tax should be charged on the market sale price of hydraulically fractured natural gas. During his time in office, Corbett reduced regulations on “fracking”, of the opinion that it would stimulate the PA economy.

But fracking does not support the local economy to the extent that it is advertised. Job turnover rate in the industry is close to 700% annually: meaning employment lasts on average less than two months, during which the employees work about 70 hours per week.

While workers are paid more than minimum wage, there is a very high profit margin that the company tucks away to pay for large campaign contributions to sway political opinion. There are also lawsuits from landowners who leased their land to fracking companies and are now suffering from health problems. What’s more, the natural gas fracked from our land could very well end up not even supporting America’s quest for energy independence. Energy is typically sold to the highest bidder on a global scale, not necessarily staying local.

The United States has declared water to be a right, not a privilege. We have a right to clean, safe drinking water, but the fracking industry has been exempted from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Clean Air Act on the federal level thanks to the 2005 “Halliburton Loophole”.

Each fracking well requires anywhere from two to 10 million gallons of water; the water is infused with a toxic concoction of chemicals in a “proprietary blend” that is not fully disclosed to the public and then poured down the wells. The contaminated water is a major contributor to pollution and health problems in the areas near fracking sites. The water is dealt with by either recovering the fracking fluid, or by leaving it in the wells; both pose public health and environmental risks.

According to a study by the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, of the 632 chemicals identified to have been used in the natural gas operations, 353 were identified by their Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number to have adverse health effects. 75% affected skin, sensory organs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; 40-50% affected brain/nervous system, immune, and cardiovascular systems; 37% affected the endocrine system, 25% caused cancer or mutations, and more than 40% were shown to have negative ecological consequences.

Until environmental and human safety can be assured, such an industry should not be allowed to operate. Pennsylvanian taxpayers certainly should not be subsidizing this process, as they have in the past under Corbett and other governors who wanted the economic stimulus to come to their state. Wolf’s plan to tax drilling corporations will hopefully work to discourage companies from fracking PA land.

Instead of working with a dangerous and inefficient energy such as natural gas, we should shift our focus to renewable resources. With the prospect of renewable energies, we can create long-term positions because of all the room for growth in the industry. These solutions will be viable sources of cheap, clean energy for generations to come.

I recommend that Pennsylvania invest in solar, wind and geothermal energy. Especially with all of the mountains in the western part of the state, we could certainly capture a significant amount of wind power. The jobs will allow room for promotion and improved education as the industry will require knowledgeable engineers, designers, and consultants to improve the technologies presently available.

As we continue to increase efficiency of our energy sources, jobs in installation will continue to be filled by an American workforce. We can focus on environmental health and improve the economy at the same time.

Because of the vote of the people of Pennsylvania, Wolf will be able to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and shift Pennsylvanians to more sustainable energy solutions. On Messiah’s campus, we have already implemented solar water heating through the use of photo-thermal panels on the roof of North Complex. With gubernatorial support, Messiah can continue to expand its programs for future efforts toward a more sustainable future.

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