---- — On the Nov. 25 Opinion page, Carlyle Westlund gives a very complete description and analysis of the technology of hydraulic fracturing and stated he was uniquely qualified to comment on the extraction process as evidenced by his background.
Please let me offer my "unique" qualifications to comment on gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing as an aquatic biologist having served as a regulatory biologist for both state and federal governments for 32 years and as an environmental consultant for seven years. In the past three years, I have conducted many detailed environmental assessments for private and government clients and during that time have assessed or monitored the impacts of a few hydraulic fracturing fluid spills, most involving surface waters like ponds.
What I have seen are:
n Large-scale erosion and sedimentation issues caused by very large pieces of equipment running on roads originally built for a Jeep and the construction of new roads impacting the algal, macroinvertebrate and fish communities in sensitive headwater and other streams by smothering them in sediments;n The reduction in stream flows due to water withdrawals to support hydraulic fracturing calculated by engineering and hydrologic methods and not ecologically driven protocols;
n And the construction of access roads and pipeline corridors across wetlands, streams and in the close proximity to rattlesnake den sites, bat hibernacula and other delicate habitats. These constructed corridors supply easy access to areas once difficult to reach and harm.
Yes, there are laws and regulations that environmental agencies have promulgated, but I find enforcement weak and without the ability to fully protect the environmental impacts brought on by the mechanisms of gas extraction. I do not fault the state Department of Environmental Protection as it has an unquestionably dedicated staff of too few trained employees to handle the workloads they face and the non-support of their own upper-level management that serves an administration that seems to more serve the industry. The same is true for other related state agencies. The ability to regulate the industry and to protect sensitive environmental areas without ceasing gas extraction is possible. But it will take a serious partnership by representatives on all sides of the issue.
So case those wells properly and follow drilling procedures by the book, but the environments of gas extraction areas are not fully protected by current laws and attitudes in Harrisburg. The so-called possibility of increased jobs in the gas lands is hardly worth another despicable legacy of timber and coal extraction in our beautiful Pennsylvania wild lands and state parks now under the onslaught of pad and pipeline construction. Once these sacred places are damaged, they will be forever lost.
Michael D. Bilger,