"Just give it a second," the man said as he held his cigarette lighter next to the water flowing from his kitchen faucet. A second later, a fireball erupted from the sink.
It’s powerful imagery, and it’s from the recent documentary "Gasland," about the possible ills of the booming natural gas industry.
From Pennsylvania to Central Arkansas, Texas to California, gas companies are striking liquid gold as new technology allows them to extract oil and gas from reserves that until recently weren’t extractable. It’s big business, and we’ve seen the positive aspects of the trade in Faulkner County for a few years now.
There’s no question that companies exploring in Faulkner County has done some wonderful things.
It’s created jobs, and in several instances, play in the Fayetteville Shale has generated great wealth for Faulkner County residents. Some who’ve had very little in the past are now collecting thousands each month after selling their mineral rights to companies drilling in the area.
It’s boosted the local economy, and in this tough economic climate, some local leaders say the industry is what has kept our area from experiencing the full brunt of a national economic decline.
But at what cost?
Nobody really knows for sure.
County government has had a tough time keeping up with country infrastructure damaged by the heavy equipment being trucked around the county as companies move from one drilling site to another. The roads can’t handle the pressure, and after constant activity that our roads weren’t designed to handle, cracks and sinkholes and damaged bridges are the result.
But the impact companies are having on our environment and our local way of life may be much greater than a few bad roads.
The Environmental Protection Agency is taking another look at the industry and the real effects of its activity.
Questions and concerns about water and air quality are pouring in, and though there’s no definitive answer at this point, some of the claims are alarming.
Much like the man who was able to set his tap water on fire, others claim their drinking water wells have been contaminated since natural gas companies began working in the area. They complain of hazy or foggy water, poor air quality and constant noise.
They’re worried that some of the chemicals used in the process are a threat to their health and safety. And for all we know, they may be right.
We’re not quick to call out an industry that has done great things for the community. Aside from great paying jobs, turn the pages of the Log Cabin Democrat, and on any given day, you’re bound to see an article or photo about a local gas company outfitting a local school with computers or other learning equipment. These companies have been pretty good partners to the community, and their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
But if the EPA can’t tell us for sure there are no health or environmental quality dangers of an industry’s presence in a community, then there is reason for alarm.
We hope local and state and federal agencies are doing the appropriate studies and tests to determine the real impact of natural gas activity on the environment and our other natural resources, mainly water and air quality. We have every reason to believe they are.
But there are a lot of questions to be answered. Until they are, area residents have reasons to be concerned.