Shale gas has become something to everyone. In the last few years, no other energy topic has managed to garner so much global attention and generate so much controversy. Politicians, business people, economists, scientists, environmentalists, journalists, and citizens have all joined in the fray, each one with their own view on the subject. Some have called shale gas “a game changer” and a path to energy independence and economic revival. Others have looked closely at the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking (the technique of extraction) and our continued dependence on fossil fuels.
Like gas taking the shape of its container – whatever it is – shale gas has no single meaning and impact. In the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, for example, it has become a major industry, providing thousands of jobs and reviving the local economy. Nearly 9,000 wells have been drilled so far and tens of thousands are on the way. At the same time, gas migration, water contamination, and land spills have become quite common, as the industry has expanded rapidly and without much oversight, putting natural habitats and communities at risk. Traditional industries like farming and dairy production have also suffered.
Other countries have recently decided to emulate the example of the United States, but for their own specific set of reasons. In Europe, Poland has now become the most zealous supporter of extraction, in the hopes of breaking its dependency on Russian energy supplies. Although still in the early stages of exploration and still far from successful, the program has turned into a major ideological tool and a centerpiece of Polish economic and national security policy.
This project, a joint initiative of the Pulitzer Center and Calkins Media, will look at some of the different dimensions – political, economic, and environmental – of shale gas in Poland, Pennsylvania, and beyond.