This series of videos taken in Colorado tells me it's not just coal, either. In Northern Appalachia now (where I grew up) there has been a boom–maybe even a mega-boom–in natural gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale area, and particularly in my two home counties, Bradford and Tioga in Pennsylvania. From what I understand, most home and land purchases generally don't have an agreement about mineral rights. They're sold separately, so many of the folks living there are getting wells drilled on their property whether they like it or not, and those who are savvy enough to know this are buying their mineral rights back and then, in a heinous lack of forethought, selling them to the gas companies. It's hard to argue when you have money in large sums just waiting for a signature, but what about the drinking water and other environmental impact?
The hydro-fracturing process these gas companies are using drills down to 8000 feet or so using water and assorted chemicals whose impact on the surrounding groundwater is largely unknown. Since the companies don't have to observe the Clean Water act–why is that, again?–they simply don't.
And look at the sheer number of drilling permits issued here:
This is a screenshot of that map. That big purple cluster in the middle-left are the well permits issued for my home territory. Hell, the water we got from our well sucked growing up anyway. It bubbled ferociously, tasted like shit, and turned my clothes all kinds of funky colors. What's a few more toxic chemicals whose effects no one knows?
I'm one of the Appalachian brain-drain kids. I left my home for grad school and the city, probably forever, so I don't have a stake in this except that I spent the first 21 years of my life there, and 95% of my family live within fifty miles or less of these two counties, and my preoccupation with the place has fed my writing life for twenty-odd years now. Nothing big. :-/
But I'm at a loss for what to do and how to help. I have to think more about this, so forgive me the scattershot approach, and watch the series of videos, and imagine it happening in a place you love.