My Turn by Joe Sestak

Pike County Courier > Opinion

MY TURN By Joe Sestak

Published: December 24, 2009

Caution required in gas drilling

I believe in the responsible development of Pennsylvania’s energy resources, including natural gas, as part of the transition to a cleaner, more renewable and more secure energy supply. In Pennsylvania alone, there are several hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to supply this country’s demand for decades to come. Natural gas can boost our economy and cut our dependence on foreign oil. And it also causes less than half the carbon emissions of coal, allowing us to reduce our impact on climate change in the near term.

Our abundant natural resources are a blessing for our Commonwealth. We should never have to sacrifice our health and safety, clean air and water, natural lands, and communities to companies seeking access to our natural wealth. Clear regulations and strict accountability for violators can protect us from abuse and carelessness. Reasonable fees can offset the cost of these protections and provide a sustainable investment in Pennsylvania.

Done improperly, drilling can seriously harm our health and safety, environment, and land values. It should be done only with clear and transparent reporting and strong oversight. That’s why I have written to the Secretary of DEP urging the Department to make its reports on the oversight of the drilling operations readily available to the public.

It’s also important that Pennsylvanians know that this drilling, called hydrofracking, falls under the so-called “Halliburtron Loophole” that was slipped into President Bush’s energy bill in 2005 and allows energy companies to ignore the rules of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. These protections exist for a reason. Fracking involves using huge amounts of water laced with chemicals, and it has already contaminated drinking water in seven counties across Pennsylvania. That’s why I co-sponsored the FRAC Act to close this loophole. I also helped pass legislation calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to look into threats this drilling method poses to our water supply.

Right now, the Pennsylvania legislature and the Department of Environmental Protection have the power and responsibility to protect the people of Pennsylvania from potential harmful effects of drilling. Wastewater regulations that have been proposed by DEP are a start, but much more needs to be done.

New regulations should not favor, by grandfathering, the use of older, less capable treatment processes at the expense of encouraging use of state of the art facilities. Regulations should cover all major components of fracking wastewater so that harmful substances don’t end up in our streams and rivers. Furthermore, the Commonwealth owes it to this, and future, generations to make sure drilling does not cause irreparable harm to our natural resources, especially our protected state lands.

I believe the state legislature and DEP must establish clear and effective regulation prior to further expansion of drilling in order to decide how best to protect our citizens and our natural resources. There is no doubt in my mind that if proper forces come to bare this can be done, and done quickly, so that we can move into a new era of economic prosperity for the Commonwealth while ensuring Pennsylvanians that their health and natural resources are adequately protected.

I am not convinced we currently have strong enough environmental, health, and property safeguards — and I am not satisfied that people will have the access to just compensation should even the best safeguards fail.

Let’s take a lesson from an earlier generation of energy development. Acid mine drainage is the legacy of abandoned coal mines. It has left 2,500 miles of deteriorated streams and 250,000 acres of contaminated land in Pennsylvania at an expense of $15 billion to clean up.

We have a real opportunity in Pennsylvania to benefit from the resources of Marcellus Shale, one of the largest natural gas reserves on the planet. There is no reason to allow this bounty to ultimately turn out to be a net harm for our state and our families.

Let’s not cash in on our resources today in a way that causes disproportionate harm, brings little lasting benefit, and results in a greater cost in the future. This is our state, these are our resources. Let’s utilize them in a way that is best for all the people of Pennsylvania and the generations that follow.

Editor’s note: This statement was delivered by US Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-7-PA) At an Environmental Quality Board Public Hearing on the Proposed Wastewater Treatment Requirements Regulations:

Marcellus Shale Muster!!!

Marcellus Shale Muster – January 30, 2010

A Muster to build a strong coalition
in support of a natural gas extraction tax and protection of public forest and park land

Nittany Lion Inn, State College, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Join the fight to:

  • Require big drilling companies to pay a severance tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale gas so we can invest in the land, water wildlife and communities “hosting” the drilling;
  • Protect the precious resources our state forests provide and stop them from being treated like an ATM machine, by imposing a moratorium on further leasing of public land for gas drilling until we know the environmental and economic impacts;
  • Ensure that the Oil and Gas Lease Fund is used primarily for conservation purposes so our children are left with more than empty gas wells and degraded public lands.

We cannot do this alone. We need you to join the campaign to ensure that gas drillers pay their fair share to the people of Pennsylvania for the use of their natural and community resources and to gain adequate protection of our state forest and park lands.

At the Summit you will:

  • Hear from key legislative leaders about the importance of a severance tax on natural gas drilling;
  • Get a briefing about the challenges of managing gas drilling on state forest and state park land;
  • Learn how profitable the Marcellus Shale deposit is for gas drillers;
  • Find out how volunteers are becoming watch dogs;
  • Find out how you can help build a strong campaign.

Cost to attend the Muster is $25; registration is required. Click here to register toda

Fighting climate change with natural gas

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_us_energy_shift

Here’s a link to an article from the Associate Press that was headlined on Yahoo’s! homepage this morning. Natural gas is finally getting as much media play as reality television programs and Hollywood scandals. That’s good, but not all the publicity shows a true persepective of what’s at stake. This article doesn’t even mention the negative impacts on the environment and communities in the area where drilling is taking place. I don’t think that was the point of the article so I won’t call the Associated Press a lot of nasty names. But, the article does explain a lot of what our country is up against as far as climate change goes. We need to change the way we produce energy; we need to do it quickly; we need to do it cheaply. Natural gas is looking like the best option for that at this point and despite the down side(s) of the gas industry, I don’t think we will be able to fight the idea of tapping into this energy resource  to make the rest of the globe happy as well as prolong our ability to live life as we have known it on this planet.

At this point it would make all the more sense to see some severance taxes, higher well bonds, ANY waste water disposal management plans and safer methods for hydro-fracking of wells. I always wonder if any of the folks who write up these articles live in any of the states where the drilling is going on. Do they have a well in their back yard and a contaminated water well?

The Dish on the air quality in Dish, TX

http://earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=439

Check out Earthworks at this link to see the survey results for the health of the residents in Dish, TX.

Under-used Drilling Methods are Possible-Greener Fracking?

http://www.propublica.org/feature/underused-drilling-practices-could-avoid-pollution-1214

A good read from Propublica. The discussion of safer and “greener” drilling chemicals is on the rise and so is research that shows these other methods do work. And of course some parts of the industry will fight this tooth and nail while others have embraced it and some are already putting it into action. There is an intersting quote at the end of this long article.

“No matter what we do we are capitalists here in the U.S.,” said Richard Haut, the Houston Advanced Research Center project director. “We do have to look for a balance between environmental issues and development.”

of course capitalism is playing it’s role…and we are playing ours as stewards of our resources, water and homes.

Public Supports Rules for Drillers

By DAVID THOMPSON – dthompson@sungazette.com

POSTED: December 17, 2009

More than 100 people turned out Wednesday for a public hearing regarding a Department of Environmental Protection proposal to set more stringent treatment standards on wastewater primarily associated with the natural gas industry.

The hearing was hosted by the state Environmental Quality Board and moderated by Patrick Henderson, executive director of the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Of the approximately 20 people who testified at the hearing, held at the DEP’s Northcentral Regional Office in Williamsport, most were either in favor of the proposed standards or advocated even stricter or wider-reaching standards.

Two who testified said they believed current discharge standards are adequate.

The proposal would impose restrictions on the amount of total dissolved solids – or TDS – sulfate and chloride that can be discharged by a treatment plant into a waterway.

It also regulates levels of barium and strontium that can be discharged from wastewater specifically from the natural gas industry.

Deb Nardone of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited spoke in favor of the proposed standards, calling it “a necessary tool” for the DEP to use to protect the state’s fresh water resources.

Nardone suggested that more stringent regulations may be needed in the future, but in the meantime, the ones proposed should be “in place as soon as possible.”

Anne Harris Katz of Fairfield Township said she and her husband were drawn to the area almost 20 years ago but now questions whether the move was a good choice.

Katz said she fears the gas industry will change the region’s “pristine environment, small-town atmosphere and the confidence that residents’ health and safety are adequately protected from the short- and long-term hazards of gas drilling and extraction.”

“The proposed new standards will decrease the amount of pollution, and in this instance, less is better,” Katz said.

Her husband, Harvey M. Katz, said the gas industry should bear the cost of treating its wastewater, not the public.

He added that water polluted by gas industry wastewater will impact the area’s aquatic life.

Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action, which represents a consortium of environmental and watershed groups, spoke passionately about the impact gas industry wastewater could have on local waterways.

Sooy said the DEP proposal “will go a long way towards ensuring our drinking water supplies will not have unsafe levels of (TDS)” and urged the agency not to weaken the proposed discharge standards.

Sooy added that the rules should be put in place as soon as possible, that no drilling permits be issued until that happens and that discharge standards should be applied to other materials found in gas drilling wastewater.

City resident John Bogle said the gas industry will prove harmful to the state’s tourism industry, the Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, agriculture and property values.

Bogle suggested the industry could adversely impact the area in ways similar to the coal industry.

“A trip through the coal regions will show what pollution from an unregulated extractive industry can do to the economic future of a region.”

“The DEP’s proposed TDS strategy is a solid move in the right direction,” he said. “The DEP needs to stick to its guns.”

Jerry S. Walls, former director of the county planning department, said it is “vitally important for Pennsylvania to have effective policy standards for the discharge of total dissolved solids.”

According to Walls, clean water is as essential to a healthy environment and positive quality of life.

“Our groundwater, rivers and streams should not be viewed as easy, unlimited waste disposal systems,” he said.

Walls said he was involved in the planning, design and development of the Lycoming County landfill. The DEP has specific standards regarding the control of leachate from the landfill. However, frac water flowback impoundment lagoons at drilling sites “have no such standards” which ‘equals preferential regulatory treatment of the natural gas industry,” he said.

Walls lauded the industry’s efforts to recycle gas drilling wastewater, adding the proposed TDS standards would provide incentives to continue that practice.

John Tewksbury, a kindergarten teacher from Muncy, said he attended the meeting on behalf of his students who wanted him to speak in support of the regulations.

Tewksbury said the students were concerned with the impact pollution could have on rivers and streams.

F. Alan Sever, an engineer from Montoursville who worked for the DEP, said the Environmental Quality Board determined in 2001 that there “was no reason to assign statewide effluent limitations for total dissolved solids, chloride or sulfate.”

Sever said that except for isolated incidents on specific streams, the DEP has not shown that there is any reason to change that policy.

If the agency finds specific problem areas, it could assign “site specific” discharge limits at those sites, he said.

Sever also took issue with the cut-off date – April 1, 2009 – for when dischargers would fall under the new guidelines and those that would be gandfathered under the previous guidelines.

By grandfathering treatment facilities already causing problems and assigning stringent limits to those that did nothing to create a problem is unfair, he said.

He also cited an example of a discharge permit issued to a company several days prior to the cut-off day and suggested the permit was issued “in order to protect this company from having to meet these new limits.”

Ned Wheeler, president of Keystone Clear Water Solution Inc., said the oil and gas industry has been in Pennsylvania for 100 years and has a history of cooperation with regulatory agencies.

Wheeler said the proposed regulations are “unrealistic and unreasonable” and do not take into account regulations already in place.

According to the DEP, the expected results of the new rules would be to prevent the water quality issues that came to light in 2008 on the Monongahela River and ensure that the cost of treating gas industry-generated wastewater will not be borne by customers of drinking water systems.

In the fall of 2008, the river flow fell and concentrations of TDS, which mostly is salt, and sulfate in the river rose to historic highs.

According to the agency, the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and Moshannon Creek have a limited capacity for handling new loads of TDS and sulfate.

How Can the Natural Gas Industry Make Itself Cleaner?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121419226&sc=nl&cc=nh-20091216