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Gas Drilling's 'Haves' and 'Have-Nots' Emerge in Pennsylvania

For some, fracking has meant royalty payments and employment. Still others have no land to lease and no jobs available, as they face higher living costs

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 20, 2011
a natural gas drilling rig surrounded by trucks

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the seventh in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three, four, five and six)

MONTROSE, Pa.—Ask Chris Tucker if extracting natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is environmentally and economically prudent — and he offers an answer before the question is fully formed.

His response is a resounding and less-than-shocking "yes."

"We ought to be looking for energy solutions that won't cripple the economy and are close to home," says Tucker, a spokesman for the gas industry advocacy organization . "If that's the premise we're establishing, then natural gas is the choice.

"The wrong response is, 'We shouldn't produce natural gas in this country,'" he emphasizes. "Ultimately, we're going to win the day because the facts and science are on our side."

He admits that the industry has its hands fuller than ever with a communications challenge now that energy is being extracted near people's homes in states such as Pennsylvania.

"Any energy choice has its impacts and those have to be managed," Tucker says. "We have to be honest about the inconveniences associated with that impact. Conservation is important but let's have an adult conversation about energy demand continuing to grow. Where is that energy going to come from? I wish it just rained down like manna from heaven. But with natural gas, you have to drill for it."

An Energy Divide

Hydraulic fracturing, he continues, offers jobs to the unemployed and underemployed and offers a cash infusion for states slogging through a recession in the red.

Tucker has more than a professional stake in the energy future of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He grew up in the down-on-its-luck Wilkes-Barre region, the first in his family to attend college and the grandson of an adventurer who emigrated from Russia to mine coal in the Keystone State.

"The manufacturing economy is gone in that part of Pennsylvania," he says. "This offers a chance to reinvigorate the middle class there."

In Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale rests beneath the entire western half of the state and the northeastern corner. Numbers gathered by state authorities reveal that natural gas companies have thus far leased about 7 million acres of public and private property — about one-quarter of the state's entire land mass.

That high volume prompted the Pennsylvania chapter of to delve into what impact such an intense fracking footprint will have on the flora and fauna the nonprofit organization is dedicated to protecting.

With all that is at stake, Nels Johnson, the nonprofit's director of conservation programs, says he understands why hydraulic fracturing has become so divisive.

"Places in Northeastern Pennsylvania have never dealt with anything like this type of development before," Johnson notes. "This is a different scale.

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