Op Ed – So what’s the rush to drill for gas?

Reposted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (August 17, 2011)

A seasoned environmental health professional looks at the Marcellus Shale
By Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.

Haven’t we learned anything from our past mistakes?

Public health and the environment have been my life since 1966. I have been a U.S. Public Health Service officer stationed in Los Angeles, our most polluted city; an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan administration; and the director of an academic environmental health program in New Jersey, arguably our most polluted state.

Before the Marcellus Shale issue, I believed we had learned from past mistakes to approach potential environmental health risks intelligently. But now I’m not so sure.

Let me start by saying I’m in favor of extracting Marcellus Shale gas — but not yet. For reasons that include air quality and global climate change, natural gas is a better energy source than coal. At the risk of offending my environmentalist friends, I don’t believe that conservation measures combined with alternative energy sources will eliminate our need for fossil fuels within the next few decades.

I also agree it is in our national interest to decrease our reliance on fossil fuel imports. The gulf oil commission recently supported a return to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because if we do not get this oil, Cubans, Venezuela or China will. But unless the Canadians can horizontally fracture under Lake Erie, the gas in the Marcellus Shale is ours for the taking.

The Marcellus Shale’s fixed location and limited amount of gas provides many reasons to go about it thoughtfully. Whenever we begin, we still will have at least the same amount of gas extracted over the same duration of time. In contrast, delaying allows us to prepare for three certainties…  Read more