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.”

NYC watershed may yet be saved

Here’s an article from the New York Times with some good/interesting information about not drilling for gas in the NYC watershed.
By JAD MOUAWAD and CLIFFORD KRAUSS

Published: October 27, 2009

Bowing to intense public pressure, the Chesapeake Energy Corporation says it will not drill for natural gas within the upstate New York watershed, an environmentally sensitive region that supplies unfiltered water to nine million people.

The reversal seems to signal a more conciliatory tone from the gas industry, which is facing mounting opposition in New York to its drilling practices. The decision also increases the pressure on state regulators to reverse their decision to allow drilling within the watershed.

“We are not going to develop those leases, and we are not taking any more leases, and I don’t think anybody else in the industry would dare to acquire leases in the New York City watershed,”. Aubrey K. McClendon, the chief executive officer at Chesapeake Energy, said in an interview on Monday in Fort Worth. “Why go through the brain damage of that, when we have so many other opportunities?”

He spoke on the eve of the first scheduled hearing on proposed state rules governing the drilling, on Wednesday in Loch Sheldrake in Sullivan County.

Chesapeake, one of the nation’s biggest gas producers, is the largest leaseholder in the Marcellus Shale, a subterranean layer of shale rock that runs from New York to Tennessee. The shale is believed to hold substantial natural gas reserves.

But extracting gas from shale relies on a method called hydraulic fracturing that has stirred broad concerns. Water, laced with chemicals, is blasted down gas wells at high pressure to break the rock and allow gas to flow out more easily. The technology has vigorously expanded in recent years, allowing for enormous growth in the nation’s natural gas reserves.

But the concerns include the use of chemicals, the disposal of wastewater and the danger of leaks and spills into groundwater and deep aquifers. There also has been a string of explosions from Wyoming to Pennsylvania.

Under energy legislation passed in 2005, the industry won an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Chesapeake acquired 5,000 acres in the watershed when it bought Columbia Natural Resources a few years ago, and it is currently the only leaseholder in the area.

Over all, Mr. McClendon said, the company’s holdings in the watershed are “a drop in the bucket” compared with the Marcellus field’s potential. He suggested that Chesapeake had more to lose by drilling there than by forgoing it, even though he contended such drilling would do no harm.

“How could any one well be so profitable that it would be worth damaging the New York City water system?” he said.

But Chesapeake and other companies are still expected to drill for gas in areas of the state outside the watershed.

State officials have been eager to embrace the drilling because of its potential economic benefits, especially in the current downturn. This month, the state’s environmental agency said it would allow companies to drill throughout the state, imposing few specific limits on operations.

The proposed regulations, which were requested last year by Gov. David A. Paterson, do not ban drilling in the watershed, as many New York City officials and environmental advocates had urged, but would require buffer zones around reservoirs and aqueducts.

Gas industry representatives say the rules, if enacted, will be among the most restrictive in the country. Opponents say they would be inadequate to prevent contamination.

The New York watershed is an area of about one million acres, representing 4 percent of the state’s total surface. Thanks to gravity, water from the region’s rivers and streams flows to six reservoirs in the Catskills, and then, through a series of aqueducts and tunnels, to the taps of New Yorkers. This system provides unfiltered drinking water for half the state’s population, including 8.2 million people in New York City and about one million people in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties.

Some New York City politicians welcomed Chesapeake’s decision and said they hoped it would have a broader impact. “To proceed with drilling doesn’t make any business sense and doesn’t make environmental sense, and I think Chesapeake understands this, and I am happy they have come to that decision,” said James F. Gennaro, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. “If only we could get the state government to come to the same realization. It is strangely ironic.”

Chesapeake’s announcement was also praised by environmental advocates. They said the company’s position should encourage the state to reverse its decision and impose an outright drilling ban throughout the watershed.

“When the industry says it will not drill in the watershed, it sends a strong message to state regulators that drilling there is inappropriate,” said James L. Simpson, an attorney at Riverkeeper, an environmental group.

Hydraulic fracturing pumps huge volumes of water laced with chemicals like benzene into the shale to break it and release the natural gas. The process has been linked to contamination of water wells and the death of livestock exposed to potassium chloride, one of the chemicals used.

State environmental regulators have said they saw no “realistic threat” to water quality that would warrant a drilling ban in the two watersheds in the Catskills region. Their review noted that the city controlled a large amount of the land surrounding the reservoirs and could deny permission to drill in those areas.

In addition to the forum on Wednesday, hearings on the state’s proposed regulations are scheduled Nov. 10 in New York City, Nov. 12 in Broome County and Nov. 18 in Steuben County.

Chesapeake said it had started to publicize the chemical components of the fluids it uses during drilling, down to the percentages for each chemical used since last year, acknowledging criticism that companies had not been transparent enough. “The industry is moving quickly to complete disclosure,” Mr. McClendon said.

Gases escaping from natural gas tanks in Texas

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15/business/energy-environment/15degrees.html?emc=eta1

I know a couple of you were asking about the air pollution issues that come up with natural gas drilling. Here is an article from the NY Times  with some nice pictures of what the naked eye cannot see, but it’s there.

The sealing of these leaks by the companies that have them might be a big help in attempts to stall climate change, as well as offer cleaner air for folks who live near this well tanks.

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