Bills before the PA General Assembly

George champions drilling bills
House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chair Camille “Bud” George (D-Clearfield) yesterday introduced an important pair of bills that increase protections for natural resources and property owners from gas drilling. The bills were referred to George’s committee, and we expect hearings and action this spring.

The first proposed law, House Bill 2213 would require the Department of Environmental Protection to beef up inspections of gas well sites, provide greater protection of drinking water, require full disclosure of chemicals in water used to frack the rock to release the gas, update bonding requirements and clarify that local governments still have a role in regulating where gas wells can be placed.

George’s House Bill 2214 would forbid a drilling company from deducting post-production expenses in the calculation of royalty payments for landowners.

Citizen Monitoring Info

For those watching the gas drilling industry’s activities, keep in mind that the federal EPA now has a hotline (they call it a tip line) for reporting issues that the public spots. details are available at this website:

http://www.epa.gov/region03/marcellus_shale/tipline.html

For broader information about spotting and reporting environmental problems to EPA, see:
In Pennsylvania drilling issues can also be reported to PA’s Department of Environmental Protection. As far as I know PA DEP does not – yet – have a hotline or tip line specific for gas drilling issues. Reports to PA DEP can be made according to the guidelines noted here: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/report_an_incident/6010

Updates and meetings

A couple of updates.

The “Tioga County Natural Gas Task Force” has changed it’s name to “Citizens Concerned about Natural Gas Drilling” because they are not associated with local government and the use of the term “task force” was confusing for some other PA/NY groups.

The Waterdogs will offer and Advanced training (for those of you who have taken the initial training) on the morning of February 27th from 9-12pm. You will need to call Erika and sign up if you wish to attend. I believe part or all of this course will take place outside so please dress appropriately and be prepared for cold and wet weather.

The next meeting for the Citizens Concerned about Natural Gas Drilling will take place on Feb the 11th at Wild Asaph Outfitters at 7pm; Please bring a chair.

PA Environmental Digest

This site offers a variety of articles to keep you updated on specifics about state lands and water issues in PA.

http://www.paenvironmentdigest.com/newsletter/default.asp?NewsletterID=685

Of particular note are the following:

(1) Spotlight- Forest Fragmentation A Concern In Marcellus Shale, Natural Gas Well Development

(2) Marcellus Shale Drilling Wastewater Topic Of Senate Environmental Committee Hearing

(3) House Sponsored Meeting On Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Draws 200+

More than 200 people attended a contentious debate this week between representatives of the natural gas industry, who argued Pennsylvania does not need a severance tax and maintained their activities will not harm water supplies, and environmentalists who called for a moratorium on drilling in the state’s Marcellus Shale region until studies are done.

1967 Recklessness in PA Equals Destruction?

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Marcellus rush echoes history of recklessness
Pa. has seen plenty of destructive energy extraction.

By Susan Q. Stranahan
The natural gas industry eyed the rugged forests of northern Pennsylvania, eager to exploit their enormous potential. Descending on Harrisburg, the industry’s promoters promised a much-needed economic shot in the arm. The year was 1967.

In hindsight, the plan seems impossibly audacious: Explode a 24-kiloton atomic bomb in the thick shale beneath the Sproul State Forest near State College to create a massive cavern for storing natural gas. Known as Project Ketch, it was a partnership between the Columbia Gas System Service Corp. and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which was hungry to find peaceful purposes for nuclear technology. (Another commission brainchild of the era: to nuke its way across Panama to create a second canal.)

Back then, Harrisburg had the red carpet out for any nuclear project, no matter how bizarre, and the proposal caught on. Why not put all that empty forest land to good use? Pennsylvania could cash in big, because the industry and the AEC hoped to detonate as many as 1,000 nuclear bombs to allow gas storage in the Northeast.

While the plan had the blessing of lawmakers from downstream districts along the Susquehanna, the reception wasn’t as enthusiastic upstream. Among those opposed were the residents of Renovo, which was ground zero for Project Ketch. Wouldn’t the forest be harmed? And, by the way, wouldn’t the gas in the cavern be radioactive?

The project’s backers quickly responded that the gas would meet all existing regulations. True, except for one fact: There were no regulations. As news of the plan spread, more than 25,000 Pennsylvanians signed petitions opposing it. Ultimately, the AEC and Columbia backed away from the idea, and Sproul remained nuclear-free.

How different is today’s race to exploit the rich natural gas reserves buried deep in the Marcellus Shale formation stretching across Pennsylvania, including the Sproul State Forest? Not very.

Last week, the lure of a fast buck swept across Harrisburg once again. The latest bids for drilling rights on state forest land generated twice the revenue anticipated. The response in the Capitol: Let’s cash in! There are 1.4 million more acres of forest land out there that we haven’t leased yet. (That the state didn’t have the courage to demand a tax on this vast resource is another shameful story.)

Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware) voiced the warning that should be reverberating around Harrisburg when it comes to handing Penn’s Woods to energy developers. “We need to go real slow at this and not look at the parks as a cash cow,” he said. That’s true of the whole gas leasing boom, on public and private land.

So far, the gas industry has called all the shots in states with Marcellus reserves. Pennsylvania is no exception.

In the absence of tough oversight in Harrisburg, concerned citizens have been left to ask: What will this do to water supplies? (Drinking water and streams have already been contaminated.) What chemicals are you using to extract the gas? (Until recently, the industry insisted this was a trade secret. Some are known carcinogens.) What happens to all the waste water generated? (The industry now concedes a lot of it will remain underground.)

In place of answers, the gas industry has given Pennsylvanians the same mumbo jumbo that the Renovo folks heard back in 1967: We meet all regulations. Trouble is, there aren’t enough regulations. Or regulators.

If developers are willing to pay top dollar to grab this natural resource, then it’s worth holding up the race for riches to make some wise choices – choices that won’t destroy Pennsylvania and haunt future generations.

Loggers swept across the northern tier of the state more than a century ago, leaving denuded mountains and polluted waterways. Only through decades of publicly funded reforestation and careful stewardship did the magnificent wooded headwaters of the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Allegheny river basins recover.

Pennsylvania gave away the store to the coal barons, too. They gouged hillsides, destroyed drinking water supplies, contaminated thousands of miles of streams, and left a cleanup tab in the billions of dollars.

Does anybody see a pattern here?

The short-term gains of these exploitative industries have become the long-term debts of Pennsylvania’s citizens. If wiser heads don’t prevail soon, the natural gas boom will leave a similar legacy – one regretted long after the resource, and those who profited from it, are gone.

Backlash to Natural Gas

The pictures did not carry through with this article but you get the idea by reading it. Our water supplies are at risk and hydraulic fracturing is too new a technology to really be sure what may or may not happen. (This is not news to many of us living in shale country) There is a lot of info and history laid out in this article and it is worth the time it takes to read it. Exxon (who now owns XTO Energy) has been lobbying in Washington this week because they do not want Congress changing the drilling regulations in regards to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

DRILLING TACTIC UNLEASHES  a TROVE of NATURAL GAS – AND a BACKLASH // WSJ 1/21/10

SHREVEPORT, La.—A mounting backlash against a technique used in natural-gas drilling is threatening to slow development of the huge gas fields that some hope will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal.
The U.S. energy industry says there is enough untapped domestic natural gas to last a century—but getting to that gas requires injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to crack open the dense rocks holding the deposits. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing, has turned gas deposits in shale formations into an energy bonanza.

The industry’s success has triggered increasing debate over whether the drilling process could pollute freshwater supplies. Federal and state authorities are considering action that could regulate hydraulic fracturing, potentially making drilling less profitable and giving companies less reason to tap into this ample supply of natural gas.
Exxon Mobil Corp. placed itself squarely in the middle of the wrangling when it agreed last month to pay $29 billion for gas producer XTO Energy Inc., a fracturing pioneer. Wary of the rising outcry, Exxon negotiated the right to back out of its deal if Congress passes a law to make hydraulic fracturing illegal or “commercially impracticable.”
On Wednesday, Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson faced questions about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing at a Capitol Hill hearing on the merger.
“We can now find and produce unconventional natural-gas supplies miles below the surface in a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible manner,” Mr. Tillerson told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Criticism of hydraulic fracturing was muted at the hearing, with most representatives focusing on the potential benefits of increased gas use. But the merger has given drilling opponents a new target.
“It puts Exxon at front and center of this whole issue,” said Michael Passoff, associate director of As You Sow, an environmental-minded investment group.
Even before the Exxon-XTO deal, the controversy over hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking” or “fracing,” was growing.
Oilmen were injecting water into wells to free up valuable oil and gas as far back as the 1940s. But in the past decade the technique has really taken off. First in East Texas and in the outskirts of Fort Worth, companies began pumping water under enormous pressure to see if they could break open dense shale-rock formations to release gas.

These initial efforts were largely welcomed by communities, with homeowners and landlords often receiving lucrative checks for the mineral rights that allowed companies to drill on their land.
When early efforts succeeded, the companies began running bigger fracturing jobs, using more water and higher pressure—and in turn searching for even more gas-bearing shale deposits.
This took the gas industry into places where drilling was less common in modern times, including downtown Fort Worth, northeastern Pennsylvania and within the city limits of Shreveport, La.
Hydraulic fracturing and some other technology improvements have created a way to tap a domestic fuel source that has proved abundant. U.S. natural-gas production has risen about 20% since 2005 in large part because of these developments, making gas a much bigger player in energy-policy planning.
Natural gas heats more than half of U.S. homes and generates a fifth of America’s electricity, far less than coal, which provides the U.S. with nearly half its power. The industry and its allies are promoting natural gas a bridge fuel to help wean the U.S. off coal, which emits more global-warming gases, and imported oil until renewable fuels are able to meet the demand.
What most worries environmentalists isn’t the water in the fracturing process—it’s the chemicals mixed in the water to reduce friction, kill bacteria and prevent mineral buildup. The chemicals make up less than 1% of the overall solution, but some are hazardous in low concentrations.
Today, the industry estimates that 90% of all new gas wells are fractured. Shale—a dense, nonporous gas-bearing rock—won’t release its gas unless it is cracked open, and other types of formations also produce more gas when fractured. Easier, more porous formations, which don’t require fracturing, were tapped in earlier decades and have largely dried up.
As the industry has honed its techniques, hydraulic-fracturing operations have become more complex, requiring far more water and chemicals—millions of gallons per well, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons in the past.
Environmentalists and some community activists fear hydraulic fracturing could contaminate drinking-water supplies. They point to recent incidents that they say are linked to fracturing, including a water-well explosion in Dimock, Pa., and a chemical spill here in Shreveport.
The industry says fracturing is safe and argues that there have been only a handful of incidents among the millions of wells that have been fractured over the past 50 years. “Hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1940s in more than one million wells in the United States. It’s safe and effective,” says Exxon spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman.
Even if the industry can make its case, it still must deal with the public-relations and political fallout from some of the questionable incidents.
On a recent Friday morning, a crew from Cudd Energy Services worked to fracture a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Caddo Parish, La., the heart of the Haynesville Shale gas field. While cattle chewed grass in a field across the street, a team of Chesapeake and Cudd employees monitored computer readouts as 21 diesel-powered pumps forced nearly 3,800 gallons of water a minute down a well that reached two miles into the earth.
It is a process Chesapeake says it has learned how to do both efficiently and safely. “We’ve done it 10,000 times in the company’s history without incident,” said Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a separate interview.
But in a coffee shop in nearby Shreveport, Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Linn said he had concerns after more than a dozen cows died during a Chesapeake Energy fracturing operation last year. A preliminary investigation linked the deaths to chemicals that spilled off the well site into a nearby pasture. A Chesapeake spokesman says the company compensated the cattle’s owner and has taken steps to prevent a similar incident in the future.
“I’m all for drilling, and I want to get the gas out from underneath us,” Mr. Linn said. “But at the same time, how do you balance human life and quality of life and clean water against that?”
Natural-gas companies say what’s at work is fear of the new. “When you introduce something like hydraulic fracturing in a part of the country that hasn’t had any experience with it, I think it’s natural for there to be questions about the procedure,” says Mr. McClendon.
Regardless, the industry faces a real prospect of tightened rules that could make it harder, or impractical, to use hydraulic fracturing. In June, congressional Democrats introduced legislation that would regulate fracturing at the federal level for the first time. The bills remain in committee. In October, the house formally asked the Environmental Protection Agency to study the risks posed by fracturing.
Several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York, have either passed or are considering tightening regulations on fracturing and related activities. Members of the House of Representatives pushing for new legislation argue that federal oversight is needed to protect water supplies because state regulations vary widely.
The industry worries that new regulations would hurt the thin margins on many gas wells and cut the financial incentive to tap the U.S.’s vast supply of gas. “There is an anticipation that more federal oversight would add enough costs to make it uneconomical, even it wasn’t outright prohibited,” said Gary Adams, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP’s oil and gas consulting division.
Already, the growing concerns about the practice are causing some companies to rethink where they drill. Chesapeake last fall publicly abandoned plans to drill in the watershed that provides New York City with its drinking water after opposition from city officials and others who feared a spill could contaminate the water. Talisman Energy Inc. is shifting its drilling effort away from New York as well.
There have been attempts to regulate fracturing before. The 1974 Safe Water Drinking Act regulated wells that injected liquids underground. The federal courts ruled the law covered fracturing in a 1990s lawsuit from Alabama. But the technique was exempted from federal oversight in the 2005 Energy Bill.
Some argue there is little really known about whether fracturing poses a genuine risk to water supplies. Hannah Wiseman, a visiting law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, says tighter regulation may be warranted. “There just isn’t enough information out there right now about the effects,” she said.
Some of the potential threats are clearer than others, however. Gas-bearing shale formations typically lie a mile or more below the surface, with thousands of feet of nonporous rock separating them from even the deepest freshwater aquifers.
Most people agree that means that if a fracturing job is done correctly, it would be virtually impossible for water or chemicals to seep upward into drinking water supplies.
The industry argues that there has never been a proven case of water contamination caused by fracturing. But regulators have tied multiple incidents to oil and gas drilling more generally. Environmental groups point out that wells aren’t always constructed properly. Moreover, they say, storage ponds that hold chemical-laced water after fracturing is complete can overflow, and trucks carrying chemicals can crash.
A poorly sealed well is the alleged cause of gas escaping into an underground aquifer in Dimock, Pa. Gas also built up in one resident’s water well, causing an explosion in January 2009.
The company that drilled the wells, Cabot Oil & Gas, paid a $120,000 fine to settle the matter with the state, but has denied responsibility for the contamination and says fracturing couldn’t have been the cause.
“I could never sell this house now,” said Dimock resident Craig Sautner, who now has drinking water shipped to him by Cabot. “Our pristine water that we used to have? It’s done.”
Whether it is the act of fracturing itself or the risk of contamination from related activities is somewhat beside the point, says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has raised concerns about fracturing. “Ultimately it’s semantics. Somebody’s water got contaminated,” she says.
Still, for Exxon, the hearings this week presented an opportunity to highlight its investment in developing U.S. energy supplies and creating jobs. Most of its investments in recent years have been overseas. And Exxon executives usually face congressional grilling only when oil and gasoline prices skyrocket.
“This should probably be a very pleasant change of pace for Exxon Mobil because it’s not going to be an argument about high oil and gasoline prices,” says William Hederman, an energy analyst with Washington research firm Concept Capital.

—Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.

Radioactivity and Natural Gas

Here is a copy of a letter a fellow concerned citizen wrote to the Environmental Quality Board in regards to radio activity and natural gas. This issue is quite alarming and has not been getting as much press coverage as some of the more obvious and worrisome issues. We are seeking answers and so far no one seems to be able to find them?

Dear Environmental Quality Board Members,

This is my second email concerning proposed changes in
Pennsylvania’s Wastewater Treatment Requirements and
it concerns radioactivity related to gas drilling in
the Marcellus shale layer in Pennsylvania.

First, I do not have a background in radioactivity.
However, I do know that DEC in New York State has
reported finding radioactive readings as high as
123,000 picocuries/liter in flow back fluids from
Marcellus wells up there. Their lowest reading was
14,530 picocuries/liter. The federal limit for
radiation in drinking water is 15 picocuries/liter.

The New York numbers seemed awfully high and I
am well schooled enough in geology to know that
Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shales were put down at
the same time as those in New York and that geology
doesn’t respect state boundaries. So, I sent a series
of questions to DEP to get some answers in mid-December.
Those questions were forwarded to the Bureau of Radiation
Protection in Harrisburg within a few days. I have since
followed up the original questions with a second email
on the 12th of January. To date I have received no
answers! Not even a note telling me that they are working
on the problem. Something isn’t right to my way of
thinking. Why the silence?

The questions asked in my emails in an abbreviated form:

1) Has Pennsylvania (DEP)taken radiation readings
from flow back water (the same liquids that have
already been discharged into some of our streams with
DEP approval) at some or any of our Marcellus wells?

2) What were the readings (picocuries/liter)?

3) When Marcellus wells are flared (burned, sometimes
for days, even weeks) how much radiation comes “up pipe”
with some of the liquids injected into the well as well
as small solid particles of sand and rock?

4) If our Marcellus flow back liquids and solids
are radioactive, is that radioactivity neutralized in
the heat of the burn?

5) How far away from the burn site will these liquids
and solids travel before falling back to earth and if
there is radioactivity present, should we be concerned?

I think I know some of the answers but I would like some
responsible state employee with the proper background
answer them for me. If what I suspect is true, then this
matter has the potential to be more difficult to deal
with than the TDS problem and I thought I should bring
it to your attention.

Marcellus Shale and Other News from PA Enviromental Digest

Lots of info from the RDA in this entry.
There are a number of articles about Marcellus Shale drilling in this week’s PA Environment Digest:

http://www.paenvironmentdigest.com/newsletter/default.asp?NewsletterID=682

(1) See especially this about DCNR’s latest leasings. It was announced at the Trout Unlimited meeting in Williamsport this week that PA now has one third of its state forests under lease for gas drilling.
(2) Note also additional cuts to state agencies that are critical to monitoring the gas industries activities and for oversight of state forests: http://www.paenvironmentdigest.com/newsletter/default.asp?NewsletterArticleID=14570&SubjectID=
(3) Also seethe note about the Susquehanna River Basin Commission shutting down operations in Tioga County by Texas-based driller, Novus Operating, LLC.

Drilling without approval

On January 12, SRBC ordered Texas-based Novus Operating, LLC, a natural gas drilling company, to immediately cease all water-related activities at two drilling pad sites in the Marcellus shale formation in Brookfield Township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  The company began drilling two wells without prior approval from SRBC.

To read more, click here: http://www.srbc.net/whatsnew/Newsletters/article_33.asp

DEP Fines again….but rather late.

DEP Fines M.R. Dirt Inc. $6,000 for Residual Waste Sludge Spill
Seven Tons Spilled in Clinton County Last Fall

WILLIAMSPORT — The Department of Environmental Protection has fined M.R. Dirt Inc. of Towanda, Bradford County, $6,000 for a residual waste sludge spill last September at the Avis exit of U.S. Route 220 in Pine Creek Township, Clinton County.

“M.R. Dirt was clearly negligent because a company employee drove away even though he observed that the seven tons of gas well drilling wastewater sludge had spilled from his vehicle,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell.

Read more here:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/newsroom/14287?id=2866&typeid=1
Note:

(1) This was an infraction last fall, and the fine was imposed months later.
(2) The money paid for the fine will not go to defray public costs associated with the  gas industry. The fine was paid to the Solid Waste Abatement Fund that is used to pay for cleanups across the state.
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