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Ridge addresses the debate on gas drilling

Former governor Ridge speaks to campus about the Marcellus Shale. (credit: Nicole Hamilton/Comics Editor) Former governor Ridge speaks to campus about the Marcellus Shale. (credit: Nicole Hamilton/Comics Editor)

Numerous sources have cited Western Pennsylvania as the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” The Marcellus Shale holds the responsibility for this nickname, containing about 10,000 square kilometers of mostly untapped natural gas reserves.

Many argue that tapping into these reserves will have detrimental environmental impacts on the surrounding regions, while others argue that these risks are small, and doing so will drastically decrease the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and energy while creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Last Thursday, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge came to Carnegie Mellon to offer his viewpoints on the Marcellus Shale and what it means to the people of Pennsylvania.

Ridge, a native of Western Pennsylvania, holds a degree from the Dickenson School of Law and an honorary doctorate degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon. Ridge served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, where he developed a “growing greener” initiative that earned him a Conservationist of the Year award from the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation.

He then became the president and CEO of Ridge Global, a company that, according to the Ridge Global website, consults with businesses and governments on issues including the development of the Marcellus Shale.

His talk about the Marcellus Shale last Thursday brought hundreds of Western Pennsylvanians to Carnegie Mellon.

At the beginning of his talk, Ridge spoke about the structure of the talk itself, stating, “It’s designed to be provocative. We’re taking on some really challenging issues. Probably one of the most challenging, one of the most controversial, and most important in the 21st century — bigger than Marcellus — is how do we as a country, down the road, interact and work with mutual needs and remain environmentally sensitive...?”

Ridge expressed his thoughts on how the core mechanics of America’s economy have changed since the steel-mill days, though its people’s obligation to those who follow in their footsteps has not; the Marcellus Shale would create job opportunities to fulfill such obligations. He claimed that, in the past two years, 75,000 new jobs have been created, resulting in nearly $1 billion in revenue for state and local governments.

“The story of natural gas is one of a new American reliance on itself. We will rely on our own natural resources, we will rely on our own people, our own technology, and our own ability to meet and exceed challenges.... I’d rather drill here than import from a cartel,” Ridge said.

He went on to say that nearly two-thirds of the country’s oil comes from overseas, and that utilizing the energy from the Marcellus Shale would allow the U.S. to become more energy-independent.

Ridge claimed that the risks involved with drilling are inevitable, and thus the key to making this venture successful is “managing the risks.” He explained that numerous questions regarding these risks remain, and the burden will continue to be on the industry to answer these questions.

When his keynote speech ended, the audience was allowed to ask questions. Most of the audience members expressed concern for the environmental impacts and asked for clarification on how these issues were being dealt with.

One audience member in particular, a native of Peters Township in Washington County where some Marcellus Shale drilling is already occurring, urged Ridge to talk to residents who have complained of contaminated water as a result of the Shale drilling and are being silenced by nondisclosure agreements.

Ridge responded that he did not believe the contamination was caused by the drilling.

Numerous audience members were dissatisfied with Ridge’s response to many of the questions regarding the science and engineering of Marcellus Shale drilling, with one member even saying to him, “With all due respect, you should know the answer to that question.”

Ridge responded, “I didn’t graduate with an engineering degree.... You can think the lack of my technical education is somewhat surprising, but I’d be more concerned if the regulators weren’t technically qualified.”

The debate over Marcellus Shale will continue as further research will help uncover many of the uncertainties behind the current methods of extraction.

“It is important that while we develop domestic energy sources like shale gas, we also think about the potential consequences for our critical water resources,” said civil and environmental engineering professor Jeanne VanBriesen in a recent press release.

These potential consequences will be the driving force behind future research. As Ridge stated, “You need to have science drive this, folks. This conversation has just begun.”