Lock Haven University Biology Professor (and Landowner) Recounts Positive Experience with Drilling in the Marcellus

Lock Haven University (PA) produces a regular online publication called The Hemlock. The current issue, dated March 2009, focuses on drilling in the Marcellus region in Pennsylvania. The issue is quite long with different articles focusing on different aspects of Marcellus drilling. As you can imagine, the articles are mostly negative and “the sky is falling” in nature. Fair enough. They have a viewpoint and wish to air it. Those of us who believe drilling can occur safely, but understand there will be problems along the way, have nothing to fear from the very worst the anti-drilling side can dish out. I rather enjoy reading such articles because I always learn something.

What do I learn from the opposition? As an example, one of the articles contributed is from a retired state forester–Butch Davey–offering this bit of insight into why he’s against drilling in the Marcellus:

Reading the children’s book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to my grandchildren brings home the lesson that we need to carefully conserve the natural resources of Pennsylvania on both private and public land.  It is up to us to start living in a sustainable way so that future generations won’t be saddled with mistakes we made because of a myopic view of natural resource limitations or outright greed.

There you have it folks. Dr. Seuss, a leading light of environmental knowledge and highly-sought after expert source, is one of Mr. Davey’s inspirations.

About half way down the issue, amongst the articles recounting the gloom and doom of drilling, are a couple of landowner perspectives. One perspective is from a landowner who purchased his land without purchasing the mineral rights. Doh! When the energy companies show up and drill and you don’t get a dime from it, of course you’re going to be against it and focus on every single shortcoming and ill-effect of drilling (noise, traffic, etc.). Such a perspective is hardly impartial. Lesson to those buying land in the Marcellus: Be sure you purchase the mineral rights–and don’t blame the Realtor for your own stupidity if you don’t purchase the mineral rights, as this person did.

But, somehow The Hemlock added a pro-drilling perspective! About the only pro-drilling aspect of the entire issue–no doubt their idea of “balance.”  The perspective is offered by Dr. Ralph Harnishfeger, a biology professor at Lock Haven–someone who knows and cares about nature and the environment. He recounts how he and his wife (also a professional biologist) and his neighbors “did it right” by banding together, working out a lease that protects them all and protects the environment, while at the same time allowing drilling on their property. A win/win for everyone. He acknowledges there is always some environmental impact from drilling, but when done right, the negatives can be minimized. Slogging through the entire Hemlock issue is worth it just to read his short contribution. He concludes his perspective with this:

We believe that energy development can occur responsibly and in a manner consistent with good environmental stewardship. Farmland has been significantly altered by man from what existed prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent and such change has dramatically improved food production and the resulting quality of life for many humans. This transition has increased habitat for some species and decreased habitat for others. It is unrealistic to expect a return to primeval forest and in the context of our highly altered environment we prefer well-managed and planned land use with the additional protections guaranteed through our lease.

It seems at its core much of the debate over drilling in the Marcellus, as is the debate for most environmental issues, is a clash of philosophies, as Dr. Harnishfeger alludes to in his summary statement. Many people erroneously believe we can return “nature” to it’s pre-man condition. They view man and his activities on this planet as an infestation rather than as a species with the God-given (or Nature-given, if you’re a non-believer) right to manage the resources around us. It is not only impractical, but idiotic to ignore the energy needs of humans and think we can return to animal skins and clubs and give up electricity, machinery and the many advances of the last 500 years of human-kind. That view is truly unsustainable.

Does drilling for natural gas impact the environment? Sure does. Do accidents happen along the way? Yes. Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater with respect to drilling because of some negatives? No way! Although The Hemlock issue is long, I encourage you to read it, particularly Dr. Harnishfeger’s contribution (especially if you’re a landowner) so you get some insights into how to “do it right” when it comes to creating a lease for your land.

Read the issue here: The Hemlock, Volume 2, Issue 6 (March 2009)

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