Clearfield County, Pennsylvania and the Gulf of Mexico don t seem to have much in common. Different landscapes, environments, communities. But now these far-flung locations are linked by accidents that the oil and gas industry insists are unlikely to happen, and the failure of blowout preventers it considers an adequate safeguard.
In the wee hours of June 4, an explosion at a natural gas well in the Moshannon State Forest spewed gas 75 feet into the air and leaked an estimated 1 million gallons of toxic water contaminated through hydraulic fracturing. Even though emergency responders and technical crews finally capped the well after local air space had been closed, campers evacuated, and roads shut down the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection promises a thorough investigation into the accident and the possible contamination of streams and land.
The Clearfield event is far smaller in scale than the offshore oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which is now in the sixth week of widespread, continuous degradation of natural systems and local economies. But both accidents starkly represent the dangers inherent in an extreme search for fossil fuels that goes deeper and deeper beneath the Earth’s surface and uses any possible technological and chemical means to get there.
This quest is rapidly shaping up to be Quixotic. Both the ocean floor and tight shale formations like the Marcellus are literally interconnected with precious natural resources like fisheries and drinking water, and their exploitation threatens so much that we need, like health, safety, and traditional livelihoods. Yet the true price of decimating all this is not reflected at the gas pump or on electric bills. And the irreparable harm to people, wildlife, and the natural world caused by fossil fuel development is never fully reflected on oil and gas company ledgers.
Governments and policymakers and all of us as consumers need to decide whether to finally to stop the reckless search for a bit more oil here and gas there, and shift toward cleaner sources of energy. Even as we travel this long road, it’s never too soon to demand accountability by an industry that has special exemptions from environmental laws and which has often been let off the hook by regulators.
Residents of Pennsylvania surrounded by a woefully underregulated gas industry and Gulf Coast communities waiting for answers and financial relief are all too aware of what fossil fuel energy really costs but so far they re paying the bill alone.