Fracking and Pipelines


Appalachian Gas Troubles

A recently-developed technology to extract natural gas buried miles below the earth’s surface, unconventional hydraulic fracturing (fracking), has created a massive rush of gas exploitatation and pipeline transport. Pollution, traffic issues, water and land degradation, community upheaval, health problems, and government collusion cause problems. CFTM and its partners actively address these issues.

Whose Boom, Whose Bust? Marcellus Shale Fracking

The gas industry has rushed into Central Appalachia at a pace that is overwhelming informed citizen decision-making.  The discovery that slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing of the deep Marcellus Shale can bring trillions of cubic feet of natural gas to harvest is bringing in a drilling industry stampede that is already overwhelming certain areas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with parts of Ohio, New York, and Maryland lining up. This new phenomenon is highly controversial in ways not dissimilar to the controversies revolving around coal. Arguments rage over jobs vs. environment; domestic energy vs. imported energy; private property rights vs. community rights.

One can find countless reams of information about Marcellus Shale Fracking.  What is needed, we feel, is a recapitulation of basic Biblical/Theological concepts on God-given human responsibilities that can point us in a moral/ethical direction.  Of course, people of good will can differ on some points, so we need to keep a modicum of humility and openness and civility as we engage this critical issue. But make no mistake, the Marcellus Shale gas exploitation is rapidly and significantly changing the face of Central Appalachia.

Some Links on Fracking

Ownership of underground mineral rights supercedes surface property ownership. Often fracking operations are foisted upon surface owners with little distance from homes.

Biblical/Theological Considerations on Marcellus Shale Gas Hydrofracking

CFTM offers the following considerations:

1. “The earth and all that it contains belongs to God” (Psalm 24:1) is CFTM’s key scripture regarding the use of the creation. This and other similar scriptures show clearly that the earth’s “resources” are ultimately God’s property.  Those of us who hold title to property deeds must recognize that our ownership is subservient to that of God’s “ownership” prerogative for the purpose of creation.

The Marcellus Shale gas is under the rightful authority of God.

2.  Genesis 2:15-17 concisely demonstrates that our human responsibility is to nurture, enhance, and protect creation.  Creation then reciprocates by providing for our human substance to live.  Furthermore, God places boundaries that are not to be transgressed, most pointed, to not attempt to usurp God.

Are the drilling, transport, use, and sale/profit of Marcellus Shale gas congruent with the overarching human responsibility to nurture and protect creation? Is human hubris (self-idolatry) active as a boundary transgression (playing God)?

3. “Love thy neighbor.”

On one hand, drilling may provide jobs, energy, lucrative royalties for mineral rights owners, and less dependence upon foreign imports.  Some people will gain.  On the other hand, drilling may cause toxic, health damaging air and water pollution, noise, light, day and night disturbance, property value deflation, ecological degradation, and a change in the living quality of an area. Other people will lose.

4. Intergenerational Covenant.  What responsibility do we have to future generations?

Fossil fuel resources including coal, oil, and natural gas are finite.  “Drill, baby, drill” mantra assumes that our present generation is entitled to as much nonrenewable energy resources as can be mustered.  This is selfishness, and furthermore, theft from future generations who will have much more limited access to such resources.

5. Mammon, the lust for money and power.  Just as gold fever can possess people, so can “gas fever.”  That is, the allure of riches from gas extraction can cloud moral sensitivities.  Jesus warns that one cannot love both God and Mammon, but will love one and hate the other.  Money lust is incompatible with Christian faith.  (Matthew 6:24).  The sin of covetousness is denounced in the 10th Commandment. Greed is equated with idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Financial decisions should be made in light of the will and purpose of God, not first of all for considerations of profit or wealth.

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea
Marcellus Shale Gas Exploitation and the Common Good

Following are excerpts from talks given by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University. His Ph.D. is in rock fracturing mechanics. He has done twenty years of research on hydraulic fracturing for companies like Schlumberger, Exxon and the Gas Research Institute. I [Allen Johnson] heard him speak at a congressional staff briefing in March 2011.
Ingraffea opposes immediate intensive exploitation of the Marcellus Shale.  He says, “Not here, not now.” His immediate reasons for landholders is as follows: (1) Gas prices are low; (2) Science/technology in this field is in its infancy; (3) Regulations are weak.

Ingraffea suggests other important reasons why society should reject intensive drilling:

  1. Marcellus Shale gas exploitation will benefit less than 2% of the population [New York state], and cost other people much more for much longer.
    2. Drilling regions will incur losses of life, habitat, infrastructure, incomes, and quality of life for many, without any current modality of compensation for these losses.
    3, Marcellus Shale exploitation will prolong the inevitable shift to renewable energy sources, while providing negligible impact on the national energy supply.
    4. Greenhouse gasses will rise.  This includes carbon dioxide from combustion and methane from leakage.


    Ingraffea emphasizes that a national energy policy is needed with timetables that meter out future consumption. As for Marcellus Shale gas, Ingraffea says that the national supply of natural gas is high, prices are low, and that future generations should have access to such energy. “Bank it for the grandkids!”
    Cortney Jaquet (Cornell University) has taken Gilmore’s 4 Stages of Boomtown Attitudes from a 1975 study of Rock Springs (Green River) Wyoming, to apply to the modern gas boom in Wyoming. See link here.

Gilmore’s 4 stages of Boomtown Attitudes
1. Enthusiasm
Concentration on Positive Impacts
Negative impacts are either unknown or dismissed
Lots of pro-industry spin, but little objective knowledge
2. Uncertainty
Town starts to change
Realization that negative impacts have arrived, and might grow
Begin to Research/Analyze Situation,  few resources to draw upon
Industry and State Gov. claims nothing can be done
Pro/Anti growth divisions emerge within the community
3. Near Panic
Industrial Activity and impacts develop far faster than expected
Town starts to change dramatically (what happened to my community?)
Residents become confused, angry at officials and each other
Gov. Services overloaded – officials ill-equipped, unprepared
Realization that increased revenues will not match expenditures
Any ongoing planning efforts are found to be misdirected, under-funded
4. Adaptation
Core problems are identified
Planning and mitigation strategies are developed
Residents become solidified in their beliefs
Development opponents start to accept situation
Sense of Progress develops despite overwhelming impacts

Ingraffea gives some useful statistics:
A typical gas well costs $4.5 million to drill, which can be expected to produce an average of 4 billion cu. Ft. in 50 year lifespan. One pad can support from 8 to 12 wells.  A well might be designed to drain 80 acres, figured as 1 mile long, 300 feet wide, and 100 feet high (Marcellus Shale seams are not thick).

A drilling company can only drill one well at a time on a pad. A well takes two or three months to drill.  With 8 to up to 12 wells per pad, the local communities can figure about 3 years constant, 24/7 of 365 days per year of noise, truck traffic, and light pollution per pad.

Chesapeake Energy figures an average of 5.5 million gallons of water (lubricated with fracking fluid) per well. If the water is trucked in at 6000 gallons per truck, that is close to 1000 water hauling trucks, often on narrow country roads, emitting noise and diesel exhaust.

About 0.5% of the water is fracking fluid.  That is, 5000 gallons frack fluid per million gallons of water. About 1/3 of the frack fluid flows back to the wellhead.  This is a key concern, inasmuch as the frack fluids themselves are highly toxic, but in addition, they bring up from the ground salt brine, heavy metals, and sometimes radioactive materials.



Photos of Fracking Operations

The Marcellus Shale encompasses most of the Central Appalachians (see gray area). The layer varies in thickness (50 feet to 250 feet) and depth under the surface (surface outcrops to 2 miles under).

Of course, the “low-hanging fruit” is exploited first. Such determining factors include available existing infrastructure (such as pipelines and storage), available water and disposal, availability of minerals leasing, existing environmental regulations and the liklihood of future industry-compatible regulations, and markets.

The Jonah Gas Field is a large natural gas field in the Green River Basin in Wyoming. Its 21,000 acres are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

This aerial photo shows the density that gas drilling can encompass when fully developed. Unseen is the tremendous volume of water required to drill utilizing horizontal fracking technology. Also unseen is the environmental damage to the land, wildlife (such as Sage Grouse), and aesthetics.      …Photo by James Luong

Narrow, crooked Appalachian roads do not make for a good fit for heavily loaded chemical, sand, and water trucks. Or trucks hauling in large drilling equipment.

Accidents abound. For example, in a space of 12 days in the area near Wetzel and Marshall counties, West Virginia, and just across the Ohio River in Ohio, 7 fracking truck accidents occurred.

Well Pad in Wetzel County, West Virginia. In the hilly lands that encompass most of Appalachia, hilltops often are leveled. Temporary water holding ponds are set up. Roads are carved to the site.

These well pads run day and night, 365 days per year with loud noise and nighttime lighting.

Residents of Wetzel County attest that their former idyllic way of life is over. Everything has changed. Many residents are now hauling their drinking water inasmuch as even their livestock refuse to drink the nearby contaminated water.

Construction of wells too often degrades land and water.

Flaring gas is commonplace. More climate-warming greenhouse gasses and more pollutants for neighbors.