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Boom and Bust in Pittsburgh Natural Gas History: Development, Policy, and Environmental Effects, 1878–1920
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PITTSBURGH AND WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA have a rich energy history focused on the development and utilization of the resources of coal, oil, and natural gas. Within the last ten years the region has experienced a boom in natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale deposit that extends throughout the state. The drivers of this boom have been a rise in gas prices and the application of the technology of hydraulic fracking (nonconventional horizontal drilling). Thousands of wells have been drilled throughout Pennsylvania, and thousands more are projected. Extensive discussions are taking place in the state about controversial issues such as regulatory policy, extent of drilling, duration of supply, and environmental impacts.
This natural gas boom, however, is not the region’s first. It mirrors in many ways a boom that began in the late nineteenth century and extended intermittently for several decades. This article will sketch out the history of this period of natural gas exploitation, emphasizing issues of policy, risk, and environmental impacts. Many similar issues have arisen from the current Marcellus natural gas boom, suggesting that closer attention to history might have helped avoid some of the environmental and governmental policy problems currently being encountered. For the purposes of clarity, the article is separated into two sections: the fi rst presents the history of natural gas developments in the region, while the second discusses in a topical fashion issues relating to environmental impacts.