F or a couple of years, the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling issue has been at the forefront of discussions across Pennsylvania, having mostly to do with fracking, conservation of natural resources, environmental issues and Gov. Tom Corbett's refusal to enact a drilling tax on well operators.
When I last checked, Pennsylvania had almost 9,000 functioning natural gas wells, mostly in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the state, managed by about 75 individual operators.
In about three years, there have been more than 3,000 safety and environmental violations to the tune of about $3.5 million in fines.
There are no Marcellus Shale wells operating in York County. And as far as I know, none are expected.
But I've been hearing about this Marcellus Shale deal for so long now, I couldn't help but be curious about the new film "Promised Land," which deals specifically with the issue of fracking and natural gas drilling and the effect it might have on a community.
So I went to see the movie earlier this week. First off, let me say the movie is not and does not even pretend to be a balanced account of the process of natural gas drilling. It is not a documentary; it's fiction.
But it could very easily be a film based on the Marcellus Shale project. It's not, but it could be. In fact, it was filmed mostly in and around Worthington, Pa., a little bit north of Pittsburgh in Armstrong County, which, in reality, does have 178 active natural gas wells.
The movie was written by and starred in by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, with Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt filling out the cast.
It tells the story of two natural gas company salespeople -- Damon's and McDormand's characters -- who attempt to buy drilling rights from the landowners in a small farming community.
Naturally, there is resistance from some residents -- mostly environmental concerns -- while others see it as an opportunity to get rich beyond their wildest dreams.
But as I was sitting there watching this movie about natural gas drilling, it wasn't natural gas drilling I was thinking about. It was weird, but my mind kept going to the proposed Perdue soybean-crushing plant being planned for Conoy Township, across the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County.
Closer to home, I guess.
Because there are plenty of folks right here in York County -- mostly in the Wrightsville and Hellam areas -- who are worried about the potential environmental fallout from the Perdue operation.
After all, they live -- as the crow flies and the winds blow -- just a couple of miles from the planned location of the Perdue Grain and Oilseed plant.
And they're worried about something called hexane -- an inexpensive petroleum-based ingredient used to extract cooking oils from seeds, but in this case, soybeans.
Before the last couple of months, I'd never heard of hexane.
So when I learned Perdue plans to use and disperse (in the air) this thing called hexane, I wasn't too alarmed. At first. But then I realized they intend to emit up to 245 tons of hexane into the air every year.
Anything over 50 tons of hexane released into the atmosphere each year requires a strict state review.
We're talking five times more hexane than the state review limit.
So I did a little research of my own.
In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations on the control of hexane gas emissions because of its potential cancer-producing properties and environmental concerns. Long-term exposure to hexane can cause serious and permanent nerve damage in humans and other living things.
In the real world, hexane is used to make glues for shoes, leather products, and roofing. It is also used to extract cooking oils from seeds and in textile manufacturing.
It doesn't sound like the sort of thing any of us should be sniffing on a regular basis. And certainly not in York County, which only recently has been making progress at cleaning up the quality of its air after being named one of the 20 worst metropolitan areas in the United States in terms of air quality.
I don't blame people living in eastern York County for being concerned.
And I think they've been plenty reasonable about it. All they've asked is that Perdue add a scrubber in its facility to reduce the amount of hexane emissions.
Perdue, which does have a good safety record in the industry as far as I can tell, is so far unwilling to add the scrubber because it says it would do little to reduce emissions. They say people living close to the proposed plant, even in York County, have nothing to worry about.
I live, more or less, in the center of York County. And to be honest, I don't want to think about breathing hexane, either, on days when the wind is blowing in my direction with a little more oomph than usual.
It's a health issue.
And if Perdue intends to be a good neighbor, it would do well to satisfy the concerns of those who live close to its proposed soybean-crushing plant.
Even if it adds a couple million dollars to the cost of its operation.
That would be money well spent if it meant its York County neighbors could get a good night's sleep without worrying about their kids breathing in a neurologic toxin every time they stepped out of the house.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.