Gas and drilling not clean choices

Robert Howarth

Natural gas is marketed as a clean fuel with less impact on global warming than oil or coal, a transitional fuel to replace other fossil fuels until some distant future with renewable energy. Some argue that we have an obligation to develop Marcellus Shale gas, despite environmental concerns. I strongly disagree.

Natural gas as a clean fuel is a myth. While less carbon dioxide is emitted from burning natural gas than oil or coal, emissions during combustion are only part of the concern. Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas with 72 times more potential than carbon dioxide to warm our planet (per molecule, averaged over the 20 years following emission). I estimate that extraction, transport and combustion of Marcellus gas, together with leakage of methane, makes this gas at least 60 percent more damaging for greenhouse warming than crude oil and similar in impact to coal.

The most recent method of hydro-fracking is relatively new technology, massive in scope and far from clean in ways beyond greenhouse gas emissions. The landscape could be dotted with thousands of drilling pads, spaced as closely as one every 40 acres. Compacted gravel would cover three to five acres for each. New pipelines and access roads crisscrossing the landscape would connect the pads. Ten or more wells per pad are expected. Every time a well is “fracked,” 1,200 truck trips will carry the needed water.

Drillers will inject several million gallons of water and tens of thousands of pounds of chemicals into each well. Some of this mixture will stay deep in the shale, but cumulatively, billions of gallons of waste fluids will surface. Under current law, drillers can use absolutely any chemical additive or waste, with no restrictions and no disclosure. Recent experience in Pennsylvania indicates regular use of toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic substances. Out of 24 wells sampled there, flow-back wastes from every one contained high levels of 4-Nitroquinoline-1-oxide, (according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation). It is one of the most mutagenic compounds known. Flow-back wastes also contain toxic metals and high levels of radioactivity extracted from the shale, in addition to the materials used by drillers.

Industry tells us that surface and groundwater contamination is unlikely, since gas is deep in the ground and drilling operations are designed to minimize leakage. Nonsense. The technology is new and understudied, but early evidence shows high levels of contamination in some drinking water wells and rivers in other states.

Accidents happen, and well casings and cementing can fail. The geology of our region is complex, and water and materials under high pressure can move quickly to aquifers, rivers and lakes along fissures and fractures. Flow-back waters and associated chemical and radioactive wastes must be handled and stored at the surface, some in open pits and ponds unless government regulation prevents this. What will keep birds and wildlife away from it? What happens downstream if a heavy rain causes the toxic soup to overflow the dam? What happens to these wastes? Adequate treatment technologies and facilities do not exist.

What about government regulation and oversight? The DEC is understaffed,underfunded and has no history with the scale and scope of exploitation now envisioned. Federal oversight is almost completely gone, due to Congress exempting gas development from most environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, in 2005.

We can be independent of fossil fuels within 20 years and rely on renewable green technologies, such as wind and solar. The constraints on this are mostly political, not technical. We do not need to sacrifice a healthy environment to industrial gas development. Rather, we need to mobilize and have our region provide some badly needed national leadership toward a sustainable energy future.

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.

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.

Frac In Depth

http://www.energyindepth.org/in-depth/frac-in-depth/

Here’s a link to a site that is industry driven. It gives you the energy industries take on what they are doing and a history of Fracking…that only includes information on the bright side of the coin. There’s a lot of water and sand but the other stuff is pretty nasty. Keep in mind that after the water comes out of the well, it has all sorts of goodies in it that are not mentioned in their graph. They can control what they put in the ground but it’s much harder to determine what’s going to come back out of it.

I’m not sure if they expected the radioactive materials they found in NY. The below link contains info from the DEC about the radioactivity.

http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/23473.html

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