No Fracking Way!

by Katherine Callaway on March 28, 2014

            ” No Fracking Way”

Growing Up in Pennsylvania During the Marcellus Shale Controversy


           As someone who grew up in western Pennsylvania, “fracking” has been a part of my vocabulary since elementary school.  That’s why I was a little surprised last week when Professor Morattari asked the two HS345 student presenters how they had heard about hydraulic fracturing.  After class, I asked my roommate from Connecticut whether she had ever heard of fracking.  Again, I was surprised when she said “no.”  As a resident of Pittsburgh, PA, fracking has been a consistent point of controversy and tension within my community.  The reason is Marcellus Shale.

Pennsylvania is home to the largest natural gas reserve in the United States.  The Marcellus Shale Formation is a large, 400 million year old sedimentary rock bed that underlies much of the Allegheny basin.  Drilling natural gas from Marcellus Shale was not really a possibility until the development of hydraulic fracturing in the early 2000s.  Since then, Pennsylvanians have been caught up in a huge legal controversy about how much fracking we want in our state and about how we want to regulate this potentially-harmful drilling technique. On one hand, natural gas drilling has the potential to revive our floundering state economy, which was traditionally based on the now obsolete industries of coal mining and steel production.  On the other hand, fracking could permanently damage Pennsylvania’s beautiful natural landscape. The use of fracturing fluid to push up the natural gas could also put PA residents at risk of harmful chemical exposures if these fluids ever contaminated our drinking water sources.

One of the biggest flash points of the Marcellus Shale Controversy started on February 13, 2012 when PA Governor Tom Corbett signed a controversial energy bill, Act 13, into law.  Act 13 was an attempt to address the new problems being raised by Marcellus Shale drilling.  The controversy arose because of a key clause in the law that denied local municipalities the right to decide where hydraulic fracturing could occur.  In other words, our local governments would have very little control over where gas companies decided to use fracking to extract Marcellus Shale gas.  I can vividly remember the uproar in my community when Act 13 was passed.  People put up signs and bumper stickers protesting our lack of control over fracking and urging the PA government to “Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful” by saying “No Fracking Way.”

The tension over Marcellus Shale kept escalating until December 19, 2013. On this date, the PA Supreme Court made the historic decision to strike down many of the controversial sections of Act 13.  Although the legislation still holds, our local governments now have the power to control where gas companies decide to drill.  Companies are also required to reveal the complete chemical composition of their fracking fluids to any health professional who is treating someone with an accidental exposure. These decisions were met with much excitement- I was home for Christmas break during the time and Marcellus Shale was all over the news.  The historic importance of the Act 13 ruling came from how it was made.  The court justified its decision to remove the controversial sections of Act 13 with a clause in the PA constitution called the Environmental Rights Amendment (PA Article 1-section27).  This Amendment states:


The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.


Although the Environmental Rights Amendment had been part of our state constitution since 1971, the Act 13 ruling was the first time that it was used to determine a question of constitutionality.  With the repeal of Act 13, the PA Supreme Court therefore set an important precedent.  For the first time in our state’s history, they officially acknowledged that we the people of Pennsylvania have a constitutional right to enjoy our natural environment and to preserve it for future generations.  I am proud to call myself a Pennsylvanian during this important milestone in my state’s environmental history.  Although the controversy and Marcellus Shale is still playing out, the repeal of Act 13 showed that, despite its less-than-perfect record, Pennsylvania can stand up for the environmental rights of citizens like me.




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