The fact that gas will be extracted in Pennsylvania means absolutely nothing for whether local people will benefit from it. Let me repeat: It means nothing.
To understand why, you simply have to look at the history of oil, coal, and gas extraction. Are profits in fact distributed to the people who have to suffer the devastating side effects? Or do outsiders drain profits and leave messes behind?
We do have democratic processes that tip the scale one way or the other: appropriate taxes on mineral extraction, effective regulation, and public participation in decision making. These tools are our safeguards. When one of them is lacking, we see inequality and injustice grow: political, economic, environmental, social.
Here’s a paragraph from Elizabeth Burns, whose Rancho los Malulos contains stunning documentation of a historical legacy of irresponsible and exploitative resource extraction that continues into the present on the south Texas ranch where she lives:
No one cares if oil companies steal from large land owners. People think, “Well, they are large land owners, they deserve it.” What they don’t realize is that ExxonMobil, El Paso and Chevron are stealing much much more from poor people of South Texas. Read the court ruling. The poorest and sickest counties in the whole United States. Counties full of hungry, sad, disenfranchised folks, poisoned by PCB’s, mercury, lead, radioactive slag and contaminated ground water. (compliments of ExxonMobil, El Paso, and Chevron) In the words of Carl Richardson, (Enterprise Pipeline’s head landman) “The oil business has been kind to you. You have no right to complain.” Yes, the oil business has indeed been kind to South Texans. That is why we are the wealthiest and healthiest area in all of the USA. Go District 4!!
If oil and gas are in fact so great for the economy, why wouldn’t McKean and Warren counties be the greatest and most prosperous counties in all of Pennsylvania? Why wouldn’t Oklahoma and south Texas and Saudi Arabia and Nigeria be the greatest places to live in all the world?
The presence of mineral resources alone guarantees nothing. In fact, it can invite speculation, greed, exploitation.
Hear Ecuador’s Alberto Acosta on Democracy Now discussing the gap between a richness in natural resources and the poverty that can accompany extractive practices.