What the Frack Will Happen to Appalachia?

The controversy over “Big Coal” is hardly a new topic.  For years, groups like the Sierra Club have protested against every type of mining.  The regions in the U.S. where mining that occurs is shown below.

Energy Blog Pic #1

As shown, a high concentration of mining is done in West Virginia, Kentucky, Eastern Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania, much of what is considered to be Appalachia.  Traditionally poor, Appalachia sees several types of mining on its land.  Coal tended to be the only driving economic factor in this part of Appalachia.  Within Appalachia certain counties rely so heavily on coal that over 70% of the economy is tied to it. (1) Studies show that reduction of mining will undoubtedly lead to a greater reliance on social programs and poverty.  However, the Sierra Club launched the campaign Beyond Coal, claiming that coal leads to 13,000 premature deaths and over $1 billion in healthcare costs in America every year.  One of the goals of the Beyond Coal Campaign is to only mine underground in Appalachia.(2)  Eliminating other forms of mining will eliminate jobs.(1)  In a region where its inhabitants saw manufacturing jobs disappear the impact could be enormous.  There is the distinct fear for the future of the region if the Beyond Coal campaign is successful.  As the keynote speaker at the New York Coal Association’s annual conference  in 2007 Bob Murray, of Murray Energy, told the audience, “some wealthy elitists in our country, who cannot tell fact from fiction, can afford an Olympian detachment from the impacts of draconian climate change policy. For them, the jobs and dreams destroyed as a result will be nothing more than statistics and the cares of other people. These consequences are abstractions to them, but they are not to me, as I can name many of the thousands of the American citizens whose lives will be destroyed by these elitists’ ill-conceived ‘global goofiness’ campaigns.”(3)

As the potential for the shift away from mining Appalachia occurred, so did the potential for economic growth within another energy sector. Drilling has occurred on US soil for over 60 years.  However, only recently has natural gas played a dominant role in U.S. energy discussions.  The discovery of Marcellus and Utica shale in Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia brought hope to the depressed region of Appalachia.  However, hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as “fracking” also receives criticism from the Sierra Club.  The Marcellus shale is so deep that the only way to extract the natural gas is by tracking.   Below is a map of where the Marcellus shale play is, the red zones are Marcellus.

Energy Blog Pic #2

Recently the Beyond Natural Gas campaign was launched.  The Sierra Club believes that the U.S. should not use energy from fossil fuels.  If eventually fossil fuels are not utilized, where will that leave the people of Appalachia?


  1. Roenker, Jonathan “A Study on the Current Economic Impacts of the Appalachian Coal Industry and its Future in the Region.” The Appalachian Regional Commission 2001
  2.  http://content.sierraclub.org/coal/
  3. Colon, Alycia “A CEO with a Spine.” New York Sun 3 April 2007
  4. http://content.sierraclub.org/naturalgas/


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3 responses to “What the Frack Will Happen to Appalachia?

  1. hfateh

    The sole option to solving the problem of death casualties and healthcare costs due to mining does not have to be no mining at all. A smarter and more efficient method of mining can help reduce such concerns, if not completely eliminate them. In addition, I believe the goals set by anti-mining organizations such as Sierra club are a little too extreme. We should be more focused on a sustainable use of such energy resources instead of completely abstaining from their use.

  2. jeanneeckhart

    What a thought provoking blog, it is interesting to see how many people view the different types of energy and their trade-offs. It is easy how misinformed people can get. (1) The process to extract natural gas, hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940’s. In fact, this process has become extremely efficient, which is one of the main reasons why natural gas is so cheap to recover from the ground. If the process of hydraulic fracturing is done correctly, and is significantly deeper than the ground water (which it usually is), then there should not be pollution issues. Key words are “if it is done correctly.” Who really knows how many times it is done or is not done correctly. There are so many hydraulically fractured wells, that is extremely difficult for the regulating agencies to keep up! And when the companies are supposed to be self checking and report certain things, like the “frac fluid” disclosures, etc. There are just too many companies and people to keep up for regulators. I completely agree that the move away from fossil fuels is not going to happen in the U.S. any time soon (I’m looking at you transportation sector!) I do believe that making companies reliable for doing the hydraulic fracturing job correctly and then disposing of the fluids and waste correctly is something that should and could be improved on. The regulators of the nation need help, not friction.

    (1) http://geology.com/articles/hydraulic-fracturing/

  3. I’ve never been able to understand how philanthropic organizations like the Sierra Club could be so dismissive of how their efforts negatively affect a large number of Americans. Common sense dictates that we must move away from fossil fuels and develop alternative, cleaner forms of energy. I don’t think many people would disagree with that, but the accelerated “cold turkey” approach that some environmental groups advocate seems to be both illogical and potentially detrimental. The increase of domestic energy production (both coal and natural gas) can greatly improve the nation’s current economic conditions and increase employment. In class, we saw how low North Dakota’s unemployment rate is.

    I agree with you, jeanneeckhart. We need to focus our attention on regulation. Companies that use hydraulic fracking do need to be held accountable. I read an article this past week which stated that the regulations that prevent much of the polluting effects of fracking would be relatively inexpensive for companies to implement, so there’s really no excuse. Improving fracking standards overall is a move in the right direction.

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