The Marcellus Shale, the Newark Basin, and Household Income

When the US Geologic survey released their assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources last month, it created some attention in Pennsylvania, as it raised the possibility that oil and gas companies might begin exploring areas in the southeastern portion of the state for the first time ever.  The report estimated $2.5 billion worth of gas in the southern portion of the Newark Basin at current prices.

When the legislature placed a moratorium on drilling in the formation until January 1, 2018 as impacts are studied, many observers saw this as fundamentally inconsistent with the spirit of Act 13, passed by the same legislature earlier in the year. While Act 13 established an impact fee for drilling operations and strengthened some environmental regulations, it was controversial due to all but eliminating local input on when and where gas wells and corresponding infrastructure could be built.

To many, the moratorium in southeastern Pennsylvania seems like a double standard, as many in the Commonwealth have advocated for a moratorium in the Marcellus for precisely the same reason–to assess impacts of drilling and related activity–to no avail. Why then did suburban Philadelphia get treated differently from the rest of the state?

The Marcellus Shale, the Newark Basin, and median household income by county in Pennsylvania. Please click the compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Click the blue “i” tool then any map feature for more information.

This map explores the possibility that this could be an environmental justice issue. The Newark Basin, where caution was employed, underlies the three wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania as measured by median household income according to the US Census. Obviously, correlation does not show causality, but the possibility that representatives of wealthier communities are more influential than others is an idea worth exploring.

The moratorium for the Newark Basin was inserted into the state budget at the request of Republican Senator Charles McIlhinney of Bucks County, who voted for Act 13 (known as HB 1950 until its passage). To see how other Pennsylvania senators voted on HB 1950, see the map below.

Pennsylvania senate votes on HB 1950 (subsequently known as Act 13). Click the blue “i” tool then any map feature for more information.