As the energy paradigm shifts from centralized utility scale power plants to more distributed solar panels, wind turbines and fracking sites, small communities around the country are experiencing the boom and the pain of power production.
The natural gas boom that continued this year, unlocked by the relatively new technology of hydraulic fracturing, (“fracking”) has brought millions of dollars into rural communities across the country. According to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett the state’s gas bonanza has created more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, contributed millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues, and made some landowners rich with lease and royalty payments.
“Pennsylvania is now self-sufficient in supplying itself with natural gas and in future years will likely become a major supplier of natural gas and liquids to consumers in other states,” a study from Pennsylvania State University said in July.
Even so, there are some who say that corporations are making most of the money while local farmers and landowners are seeing minimal profits while bearing the brunt of the environmental impacts of development.
At the second installment of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Jobs and Innovation Forum most representatives said developing gas could only help rural communities by boosting local economies. But at the same meeting, Representative Mike Doyle (D-14th District, PA) said he was concerned that some of his constituents were cheated by gas companies to take far less money for land leases than they deserved.
Gas companies have been impatient to get their hands on the land above the gas-rich Marcellus shale. Some companies have been urging the state legislature to approve forced land leases that would require landowners who don’t want to lease their land for drilling to do so if their neighbors have agreed. But so far, these attempts have been unsuccessful.
Pooling is a “very difficult issue to get support for,” said Senator Dominic Pileggi, leader of the Republican majority in the state Senate.
Sandra Major, chair of the Republican majority caucus in the state House of Representatives, said people in her northeastern Pennsylvania constituency, one of the state’s most active drilling areas, are opposed to the idea of being forced to give up gas under their land.
“The whole idea of them being told that gas was going to be taken from under their land becomes a real concern,” she said. “Whether that will be part of the package this coming fall…probably not.”
The Bakken Shale underlying North Dakota, Montana, and two Canadian provinces, which is adding 450,000 barrels per day to US production this year, is causing a ruckus of its own. It is still unclear what impact heavy construction equipment and big rigs will have on local roads as hordes of workers descend on tiny towns.
Daryl Dukart, county commissioner of Dunn County, North Dakota, a center of drilling activity, said most county towns had fewer than 100 people before the rigs began moving in five years ago. Now roads are clogged and deteriorating, emergency services are slowed by potholes and traffic jams, and the county lacks money to fix them. The small county staff has maxed out overtime trying to cope with a spurt of land sales, mineral leases, title searches, and subdivisions, and the county has trouble replacing stressed workers who depart for better-paid jobs with the drillers.
And unlike the Marcellus shale, this oil bonanza did not directly benefit many local residents, as 60-70% of surface landowners don’t own subsurface mineral rights, Dukart said.
Local communities have also protested wind energy operations they find disturbing. In Maine, several homeowners brought a lawsuit against the Fox Island Electric Cooperative that installed three turbines on the small island of Vinalhaven in Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Residents claimed the turbines caused unbearable sound and light pollution.
“In the first 10 minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground,” a homeowner in the area, Art Lindgren told the Huffington Post. “Nobody in the area could believe it. They were so loud.”
But distributed generation has also unlocked the potential of small homeowners who can buy solar panels or rooftop energy saving systems to produce their own energy.
One western New Jersey resident, Mike Strizki, produces enough power from his 150 solar panels, stored in 11 hydrogen tanks about 100 yards from his house, to not only power his own home year-round but to sell an additional 21 kW of power back to the grid. In his case, it has been profitable to keep the power close to the home.
Photo Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama listens to an unidentified youth during a visit to MA’O Organic Farms located in the Waianae area, the largest Native Hawaiian community, on November 12, 2011. MA’O is a 24.5 acre certified organic farm that grows 35-45 different varieties of produce and primarily run by area youth who participate in a Youth Leadership Training (YLT) internship.