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Increased Marcellus Shale Drilling Has Local Officials Worried About Safety

GREENTREE(KDKA) – The number of trains and tanker trucks hauling highly explosive by-products from drilling through local towns has increased exponentially.

John Knepper lives near the railroad tracks in Carnegie where tanker trains rumble through a dozen times a day.

A lot of them are hauling liquefied petroleum from Marcellus shale drilling. While the rattle or the rails keeps people up at night, so does the fear of something worse.

"Someday it's going to happen," said Knepper. "I hope it doesn't happen right here in front of my house. My house won't be here to worry about. Maybe you'll hear the boom, maybe you won't."

"They're bombs on wheel," says Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek.

The boom in Marcellus shale gas extraction has increased train traffic from the occasional to the constant. Wheeling Lake Erie Railroad is hauling four times as much shale gas as three years ago and placards warn of the danger.

"The material that they're hauling is extremely flammable," said Kobistek. "It's explosive material. One derailment could be a catastrophe, especially in an area that is as populated as we are."

Safety is job No. 1 for this industry in Pennsylvania.

The so-called "wet gas" is hauled into the Rook train yard in Greentree, where much of it is off-loaded into tanker trucks. The producers of shale gas say the increased train and truck traffic is the price of prosperity – that the production of this gas is generating jobs for local people and energy independence for the nation. The goal is to do it as safely as possible.

"We need to apply safe practices, continue to work with the federal government," said David J. Spigelmyer with the Marcellus Shale Coalition. "But America has an unquenchable thirst for energy and we need to bring gas to the burner tip 365 days a week."

"I do not feel safe," said Marianne Sywy of Carnegie. "Not in my backyard."

Still, residents are uneasy. And while the railroad has agreed to help train his first responders in the event of an accident, the mayor is frustrated that there's no local control.

"I don't know what we can do on our level, except call attention to it," Kobistek said. "It's a federal issue, you don't have to say in how many trains or when the trains come through your area."

But with drilling activity ramping up in the Marcellus, there will be more trains rumbling through these suburban towns and with them, a heightened concern among residents about their safety.

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