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Energy Voices: Insights on the future of fuel and power

Fracking in Pennsylvania: What goes on behind the scenes?

Fracking has revolutionized the US energy landscape, but the technique is controversial. One energy blogger takes a tour of a fracking site for himself, to see what all the fuss is about.

By Geoffrey StylesGuest blogger / July 11, 2013

A drilling rig is seen in Springville, Pa., in this file photo. One blogger shares his experience peeking behind the scenes at a fracking site in Pennsylvania.

Alex Brandon/AP/File

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Touring a “Fracking” Site in Pennsylvania

It’s easy to talk about the shale gas revolution in the abstract and forget that it is the cumulative result of thousands of operations in locations across the country. It combines the technological marvel of precisely planned and executed drilling more than a mile below ground with the efforts of teams of skilled workers on the surface, and affects the surrounding community in many ways. Last month I had my first opportunity to visit one of these sites, near Williamsport in north-central Pennsylvania. I also saw several nearby sites in different stages of development. Although I was consistently impressed, I also tried to observe with the concerns of shale gas critics in mind.

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The Anadarko Petroleum well “pad” I toured is located in Cogan House Township in rural Lycoming County, atop the Marcellus shale formation. This site visit for bloggers and other media was arranged by API, which also paid for accommodations in Williamsport. Anadarko provided experts from its local engineering and public affairs staffs and hosted a dinner with members of the community the evening before the site tour.

A Tightly Run Ship

I’m no stranger to industrial sites or oil fields, and I’ve invested countless hours researching and discussing shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing. When it comes to complex technical subjects like this, however, no amount of reading or Youtube videos can substitute for seeing the real thing and being able to talk to the people actually doing the job about how it all works. 

One example of that is safety. Safety plans, targets and slogans are important, but it carries more weight when the site engineer looks you in the eye and says emphatically in his own words, “The most important thing is that everyone goes home at night,” and then proceeds to explain the stop-work rules, the “red zones” that have to be clear of workers when the fracking pumps are running, and other aspects of onsite safety. We were constantly reminded to watch where we stepped and to make sure we had multiple points of contact with the ground whenever we looked at something or photographed it.

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