THE BLOG
01/28/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2013

Frack Tracks: Life-Changing Royalties, Health Concerns And A Paper-Mache Pig

Private landowners in Pennsylvania likely reaped more than $1.2 billion in royalties from natural gas drilling last year, according to an AP analysis.

For some landowners, the unexpected royalties have made a big difference.
"We used to have to put stuff on credit cards. It was basically living from paycheck to paycheck," said Shawn Georgetti, who runs a family dairy farm in Avella, about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

An economist interviewed by the AP cautioned that while the natural gas rush may help out some individuals, it is "not going to have a big impact on the overall vitality of the overall economy."

I've met many Pennsylvania residents in my reporting who have received potentially life-changing offers from natural gas companies vying for rights to tap the abundant underground gas in this area. Some have jumped at the opportunity, others have decided not to take the gamble out of fear of possible long-term environmental and health consequences. As I wrote on Friday, such decisions are often made without complete information.

In other fracking news from the state currently at the center of the natural gas boom...

  • A new analysis suggests that Pennsylvania may not be able to handle the wastewater produced by the fracking boom in the region. While the relatively new technique of hydraulic fracturing produces 30 times more natural gas than conventional wells, it also produces 10 times as much wastewater -- fluids that return to the surface immediately or even years after the concoction of water, sand and chemicals are injected deep into the shale rock. More than 830 million gallons of wastewater seeped back up from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale in 2011. NBC News interviewed Brian Lutz, a biogeochemist at Kent State University and co-author on the study:
  • "Wastewater from the Marcellus Shale is really a central challenge to future development," he said. "It is not an ancillary problem that is perhaps going to solve itself, but something that really needs to lead the discussion, at least from the environmental side of things, as we think about future development."

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has announced a new study of radioactivity associated with fracking. Some scientists are raising concerns about radium, a known carcinogen, released during natural gas production. Radon, a decay product of radium, is even more dangerous. But as NPR reports, the jury is still out on whether there is any real public health concern here:
  • The problem with radium is it can accumulate in the soil where crops are grown, and where animals graze. From there, it could be passed on to people. Radium at some level, is present in almost all rocks, soil and water. The question is how much would be harmful to public health, and how much is released by the drilling process. The Environmental Protection Agency says the body will eliminate the bulk of radium that is ingested, but long-term exposure can be harmful.

  • Anti-fracking activists locked themselves to a nine-foot-tall paper-mache pig at a natural gas well site in Bessemer, Penn. on Sunday. Fracking, their chants and signs protested, is threatening local agriculture and food safety.