Controversial billboard depicting contaminated water comes down

The Sautners from Dimock put up a billboard that has a picture of their dirty water and the words “FIX IT” on Rt. 29 in the heart of Cabot Oil & Gas territory. As soon as it went up, they held a press conference.  Angry pro-gas neighbors were also there –  and Cabot spokesman George Stark.

Read the details here: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/controversial-billboard-depicting-contaminated-water-comes-down-1.1184658#axzz1UBDbLfOQ

Under the Influence of Fracking?

In addition to the environmental and health threats posed by gas drilling, driving on PA roadways is also becoming more dangerous. 

The Pennsylvania State Police and the Department of Environmental Protection announced that during an October three-day joint safety enforcement operation, three out of every four drilling wastewater hauling trucks stopped were cited for safety violations.  Out of 1,175 trucks inspected, 207 were so dangerous they were immediately placed out of service, and 52 drivers were driving illegally. Here in Lycoming County, the record was even worse than the state-wide figures. Of the 340 vehicles inspected, 85% (289) were issued citations and 55 (nearly 1 in 5) were immediately taken off the road.

These are the trucks you see on the highway as you travel in the family car. These are the trucks that share PA’s back roads with busloads of school children.

This is an ongoing problem the drilling industry doesn’t seem to want to fix. Each drilling site requires upwards of 2,000 trucks hauling gravel, water, and chemicals in and toxic wastewater out.

As the industry pockets billions in profits, these vehicle fines are not much different from the DEP fines levied for illegal dumping and other environmental violations – just a part of the cost of business as usual.

PA’s Department of Environmental Protection Releases Video of Gas Leaks

This video is a bit slow to load but is worth watching if you have not had the opportunity to see a well pad or a leaky well.

http://pahomepage.com/fulltext/?nxd_id=161487&shr=addthis

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.

A Pennsylvania resident’s thoughts on natural gas

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/business/energy-environment/08fracking.html

Below are some thoughts and sentiments of a fellow concerned PA resident in regards to the above article. She wishes to remain anonymous but I felt her thoughts were worth copying down here.

“If Cabot has proof that the wells had methane issues BEFORE the drilling commenced, well, show us the data. See, baseline water quality testing works both ways.  But if there weren’t prior problems, then it defies logic that the drilling didn’t have something to do with it when big problems popped up (heck, blew up) AFTER the drilling.
The proper response of a responsible drilling company would not be to deny it on high like Cabot did.  It would have been to admit that something unexpected happened and to aggressively investigate it using their technical experts.  That is the scientific approach.  After all, how many experiments haven’t turned out exactly as you planned, yet analysis of the failure helped you design a better approach?  Unfortunately here, the “experiment” impacts a precious commodity– drinking water.”

I feel that the above concept (trying something new, experimenting, and then when it doesn’t work out right, correcting it to make it better) shouldn’t be so difficult to adhere to any viable business plan. The problem seems to be that so many corporate industries (another good example would be the food industry) chooses to attempt to change laws and regulations instead of fixing their system when it doesn’t work. AND they spend millions of dollars doing this when it almost seems that they could spend less money long-term by just figuring out what actually works.
“One theory is that there are prior existing natural faults in the Marcellus that are allowing more migration than expected.  Have the geologists take a closer look!  But then there has to be some ruling that prevents drilling in areas that have this type of pre-existing geology that can cause problems.
It is only because the PA DEP put pressure (& fines) on Cabot that Cabot was willing to do anything to help remedy these people’s water problem.
The Binghamton Sun & Press Bulletin carried an AP story months earlier that touched on this “Appalachia” theme.  That story pointed out that the Dimock people were some of the first to sign leases (at much lower rates, ~ $50 – $250 / acre).  They have received very little money or royalties from this (contrary to Gov. Rendell’s claim).  What little money they have received has been spent (& then some) trying to remedy the water issues now.  That was in contrast to a land owners association just across the NYS line from Dimock.  They & NYS have slowed it down, to try investigating the claims & potential problems and maximize benefits.
It is apparent that the industry will not change without pressure.  Pardon the pun there.  And as the article points out below, they can’t get away with mistakes or accidents here on the East coast like they think they have out west because of our higher population density.
That’s why I was so alarmed when the Fortuna representative said, “Hey that’s the way we do the operations, and if you don’t like that, well then tough, because we aren’t going to change the way we do it.”

Getting the water in your well tested?

If you are having a gas well put in on your property, I hope you are also having the water in your well tested prior to any drilling. Despite the costly manner of having your well water tested I would say that it should be a mandatory procedure. A basic test can be anywhere from $300.00 to $1,000.00. If you live next to someone else who is having a well put on their property you should also seriously consider having your well water tested.

There has been some discussion and worries about what sort of metals of chemicals and toxins should be tested for and who should/can to do the tests. Seewald laboratories out of Williampsort, PA offers well water testing that covers all the basic tests AND the procedures used by Seewald to test the water are acceptable and will hold up in a court of law. If you are using some of the other “mom & pop” testing companies who may not always follow all the correct procedures, such as “chain of custody”, or doing it yourself (which can be much more affordable – $80.00) the chances of the test being useful for a court case is pretty insignificant. The phone number for Seewald is 570.326.4001. If you think the chance of needing to take the gas company drilling on your land, or your neighbors, is not likely, check out this link.

http://www.topix.com/com/cog

Penn State Cooperative Extention has published this, which you might find useful if you are wanting more information about water well contamination, what’s in the ground that can get in your well and water testing.

http://resources.cas.psu.edu/WaterResources/pdfs/gasdrilling.pdf

Taking Cabot to Court

http://www.startribune.com/business/70652327.html?elr=KArks:DCiU1OiP:DiiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

Here is a bit of a follow up article from the Star Tribune about the folks who have the water pollution problems in Dimock, PA. Note that the same company, Cabot Oil & Gas, that had the spills in the Dunkard Creek area is the culprit here as well. (This company just seems to be terrible at what they do…) Much of the problem extends from the land owners not being aware of the possibility of gas migrations into their wells or homes, in part because the gas company choose to leave that important bit of information out of their spiel when encouraging land owners to sign leases. Who’s at fault? The gas company for not explaining and disclosing this info or the land owners for not being better educated about what drilling for natural gas entails? Whatever is decided, the people of Dimock, PA are most likely due some sort of retribution. I find it frustrating that a price tag can be placed on the value of people’s health and homes and that these companies have no problem paying folks off if they can. (Go check out  Split Estate if you haven’t yet) Honestly, I think Cabot Oil & Gas needs to throw in the towel and go find some other business to venture in. They seem to be wrought with problems due to negligence, greed and incompetence in everything they do! I mean, if you can’t get the ball in the hoop, don’t play basketball for a living.

Cabot Oil & Gas get the “OK” to go back to work

http://www.depweb.state.pa.us/news/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=549265

An update on what’s going on with Cabot Oil & Gas since they were told to stop drilling by the DEP.

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