For years, most consumers took the source of their refined petroleum products for granted. Now there is heightened public awareness of the environment and quite a lot of attention paid to hydrocarbon development in gas shales, particularly in the heavily populated northeastern US.

It was a still a great surprise to have more than 1,300 advance registrants for next week’s Marcellus Shale conference in Pittsburgh. Envisioned as a regional conference for operators, service companies, and perhaps interested parties in local government or the investment community, the DUG East conference has morphed into a much larger event. Following the actual conference on Oct. 19, Hart Energy will host a “Marcellus Week” Oct. 26-30, with webinars and exclusive online content at the UG (Unconventional Gas) Center.

Perhaps some of the interest is generated (fueled?) by the media’s coverage of shale gas resources. Operators are still building acreage positions in the northeast and landowners are keenly aware of contracts under negotiation and bonuses paid to their neighbors.

Environmental impact is another popular news angle. Chemicals used in some hydraulic fracturing operations have been getting more attention than most industrial processes that have been in widespread use for years. This may have a positive effect on high school science class enrollment, but I doubt it will lead to many dinner-table discussions centered on organic chemistry.

While the natural gas drilling industry is under heightened scrutiny, there seems to be comparatively little vitriol directed at known sources of industrial effluents.

This week, an article was posted in the Elmira Star-Gazette (a Gannet newspaper in NY State’s Finger Lakes area), “Horseheads board to vote on Schlumberger project Thursday.”

The Village of Horseheads is in Chemung Co., NY, close to the Pennsylvania border. Schlumberger owns 90 acres in The Center at Horseheads industrial park and wants to build a service center for natural gas drilling that could create as many as 400 jobs.

Last week, the Horseheads Board of Trustees made a negative declaration on the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for the project, meaning that in their opinion there is not enough evidence to require Schlumberger to submit a full environmental impact statement (EIS).

Horseheads residents met Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the village hall and expressed concerns about chemicals and explosives that would be stored at the site and questioned the Trustees decision that a full EIS is not necessary. Despite residents’ concerns that the village was rushing through the SEQR review process, Horseheads Trustees will vote on Schlumberger’s alternate site plan Oct. 15.

Perhaps the environmental concerns are overblown, but local citizens' concerns could be comprehensively addressed in an EIS prepared by a competent third-party. A large, reputable company such as Schlumberger might well appreciate the opportunity to vindicate operations by voluntarily submitting an EIS.

Perhaps the trustees are applying the same level of scrutiny afforded to other companies that invested in the industrial park in the past. But in not asking for an EIS, the Horseheads trustees are taking away a valuable opportunity for Schlumberger to show itself as a good neighbor and responsible local employer.