EPA Wants to Look at Full Lifecycle of Fracking in New Study – Gas industry not happy

by Nicholas Kusnetz

ProPublica, Feb. 9, 2011, 2:32 p.m

The EPA has proposed examining every aspect of hydraulic fracturing, from water withdrawals to waste disposal, according to a draft plan the agency released Tuesday. If the study goes forward as planned, it would be the most comprehensive investigation of whether the drilling technique risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.

The agency wants to look at the potential impacts on drinking water of each stage involved in hydraulic fracturing, where drillers mix water with chemicals and sand and inject the fluid into wells to release oil or natural gas. In addition to examining the actual injection, the study would look at withdrawals, the mixing of the chemicals, and wastewater management and disposal. The agency, under a mandate from Congress, will only look at the impact of these practices on drinking water.

The agency’s scientific advisory board will review the draft plan on March 7-8 and will allow for public comments then. The EPA will consider any recommendations from the board and then begin the study promptly, it said in a news release. A preliminary report should be ready by the end of next year, the release said, with a full report expected in 2014.

A statement from the oil and gas industry group Energy in Depth gave a lukewarm assessment of the draft. “Our guys are and will continue to be supportive of a study approach that’s based on the science, true to its original intent and scope,” the statement read. “But at first blush, this document doesn’t appear to definitively say whether it’s an approach EPA will ultimately take.”

The study, announced in March, comes amid rising public concern about the safety of fracking, as ProPublica has been reporting for years. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008. In September 2010, the EPAwarned residents of a Wyoming town not to drink their well water and to use fans while showering to avoid the risk of explosion. Investigators found methane and other chemicals associated with drilling in the water, but they had not determined the cause of the contamination.

Drillers have been fracking wells for decades, but with the rise of horizontal drilling into unconventional formations like shale, they are injecting far more water and chemicals underground than ever before. The EPA proposal notes that 603 rigs were drilling horizontal wells in June 2010, more than twice as many as were operating a year earlier. Horizontal wells can require millions of gallons of water per well, a much greater volume than in conventional wells.

One point of contention is the breadth of the study. Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, said he understands the need to address any stage of the fracking that might affect drinking water, but he’s skeptical that water withdrawals meet the criteria. “The only way you can argue that issues related to water demand are relevant to that question is if you believe the fracturing process requires such a high volume of water that its very execution threatens the general availability of the potable sources,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The EPA proposal estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually, or about the same amount used by one or two cities of 2.5 million people. In the Barnett Shale, in Texas, the agency estimates fracking for gas drilling consumes nearly 2 percent of all the water used in the area.

The EPA proposes using two or three “prospective” case studies to follow the course of drilling and fracking wells from beginning to end. It would also look at three to five places where drilling has reportedly contaminated water, including two potential sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and one site each in Texas, Colorado and North Dakota….

To read this article in full online, view the photos, videos, sidebar topics and access the links within it, click here:

http://www.propublica.org/article/epa-wants-to-look-at-full-lifecycle-of-fracking-in-new-study

Gas driller pays Pennsylvania state Senator Joe Scarnati’s way for trip, ticket to Super Bowl

I received this comment from another blogger on this same article: “To paraphrase Jim Cramer, well known for his investment & corporate financial opinions on television and internet, the United States has the best government money can buy.”

Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 11:04 PM Updated: Monday, February 14, 2011, 9:11 AM

PHILADELPHIA — An energy company drilling in Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale paid for a top Republican state senator’s trip to see the Pittsburgh Steelers play in the Super Bowl in Texas, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had his ticket, plane ride and hotel bill paid for by Consol Energy Inc., one of Scarnati’s top aides told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The free trip is permitted under Pennsylvania’s ethics rules, Drew Crompton, Scarnati’s legal counsel and chief of staff, told the newspaper. Scarnati might reimburse Consol for some of the costs, Crompton said.

Consol executives and lobbyists have contributed more than $15,000 to Scarnati’s campaigns since 2006, according to state records. The Inquirer reported that it’s not known whether Consol paid for any other legislators to attend the game in Arlington, Texas, a contest in which the Green Bay Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

In a statement, Canonsburg-based Consol said it “had several guests join us at the Super Bowl” and noted that the expenses would be reported on its next lobbying disclosure report. The company did not identify the other guests.

Under Pennsylvania law, legislators are allowed to accept such tickets and travel as long as they report everything above a $650 annual threshold.

“There’s nothing illegal about it, but it does show the undue influence industry has over elected officials,” said Jan Jarrett, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, an environmental advocacy organization that has pushed for taxes and tighter regulations on natural gas drilling. “It really creates an uneven playing field between those who’ve got the resources to buy that kind of influence and those who don’t,” she said. Other Pennsylvania legislators, including Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, went to the Super Bowl as guests of the Steelers.

Asked by The Inquirer if the trip would affect Scarnati’s decisions on natural gas policy, Crompton said it would not. “Sen. Scarnati has taken positions that are adverse to shale companies, and nothing in his mind has changed,” he said. “He does not toe the line of these companies. His independence speaks for itself.”

Consol Energy expanded its Marcellus presence last year with the $3.5 billion acquisition of the natural gas operations of Dominion Resources Inc., including 1.46 million acres of gas leases and 9,000 operating wells. Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said legislators in some other states aren’t allowed to accept free travel or gifts and that his group has been pushing for such rules in the Keystone State. “Under no circumstances should he be allowing someone to pay for his trip if they’re lobbying the Legislature,” Kauffman said. “It just doesn’t look good.

To read this article online,click here:

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/02/gas_driller_pays_pennsylvania.html

FrackTracker

Here’s an exceprt from the blog at Fracktracker, a useful site for info and maps and visuals.

The Environmental Protection Agency has submitted a draft of its Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan, which is to be reviewed by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group of independent scientists that works with the agency. According to the EPA’s news release, the focus of the study will be the lifespan of the water, from extraction to disposal of the waste water.

The 140 page draft has been made to the public. The SAB is scheduled to review the plan March 7th and 8th, and the plan will likely be edited based on their input.

Initial results of this study are expected by 2012, with an additional report due by 2014.

Want to see more of this site? Go here: http://www.fractracker.org/

A Comprehensive Website for News Headlines

The below site, while not covering everything, does offers a lot of info in one place.

Newspaper Headlines:

http://www.marcellus-shale.us/Gas-Drilling_NEWS.htm

Groups File Federal Gas Drilling Lawsuit against DRBC

Delaware River Basin Commission Served Notice

Trenton, New Jersey —The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability have joined forces in filing a federal lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in federal district court in Trenton, NJ. Complaints were served on the DRBC today. The conservation groups are challenging the actions the DRBC took to allow certain exploratory natural gas wells to be drilled without DRBC review and approval and despite a Basin-wide moratorium on gas wells….

Federal Circut Judge Assigned to Case – [Court Date To Be Announced]:

Honorable Anne E. Thompson

United States District Court for the District of New Jersey Trenton, New Jersey

To read the full article online, click here : http://www.damascuscitizens.org/DRBC-lawsuit.html

Oil and Gas Companies Illegally Using Diesel in Fracking

By Adam Federman, Earth Island Journal

Posted on February 1, 2011

The 2005 Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act famously exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. But it made one small exception: diesel fuel. The Policy Act states that the term “underground injection,” as it relates to the Safe Drinking Water Act, “excludes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities [italics added by author].” But a congressional investigation has found that oil and gas service companies used tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel in fracking operations between 2005 and 2009, thus violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. Hydraulic fracturing is a method of drilling that injects large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand underground at high pressure to break open rock formations and release stores of natural gas. In some cases, however, water based fluids are less effective and diesel fuel or other hydrocarbons may be used.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the congressional committee noted that between 2005 and 2009, “oil and gas service companies injected 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.” None of the companies sought or received permits to do so. “This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the letter states. “It also means that the companies injecting diesel fuel have not performed the environmental reviews required by the law.”

Moreover, because the necessary environmental reviews were circumvented, the companies were unable to provide data on whether they had used diesel in fracking operations in or near underground sources of drinking water. Diesel fuel contains a number of toxic constituents including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

In the last few years, shale gas extraction has increased exponentially, raising fears that drinking water wells and underground aquifers may be at risk. It has become a particularly sensitive issue in the northeast’s Marcellus Shale, which underlies parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Later this month the Delaware River Basin Commission will hold public hearings on drilling in the watershed—a source of drinking water for more than 15 million people.

The EPA is currently conducting its own study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies due out in late 2012. But will companies that have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2005 be held accountable?

Matt Armstrong, a lawyer with the Washington firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents several oil and gas companies, told the New York Times, “Everyone understands that E.P.A. is at least interested in regulating fracking.” But: “Whether the E.P.A. has the chutzpah to try to impose retroactive liability for use of diesel in fracking, well, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode. I suspect it will have a significant fight on its hands if it tried it do that.”

To read this article online, click here:

http://www.alternet.org/story/149760/oil_and_gas_companies_illegally_using_diesel_in_fracking_

To read the New York Times coverage of this issue, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/business/energy-environment/01gas.html

To read the Energy policy Act, click here: http://www.epa.gov/oust/fedlaws/publ_109-058.pdf

To read the letter from the Congressional Committee to EPA Administrator Jackson, click here: http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/waxman-markey-and-degette-investigation-finds-continued-use-of-diesel-in-hydraulic-fracturing-f

NOTE: The letter states, “In 2003, EPA signed a memorandum of agreement with the three largest providers of hydraulic fracturing to eliminate the use of diesel fuel in coalbed methane formations in underground sources of drinking water. Two years later, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act except when the fracturing fluids contain diesel. As a result, many assumed that the industry stopped using diesel fuel altogether in hydraulic fracturing…

According to EPA, any company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought—and no state and federal regulators have issued—permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing…

In a 2004 report, EPA stated that the ‘use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat’ to underground sources of drinking water….

In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which contained a provision addressing the application of Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to hydraulic fracturing. Congress modified the definition of ‘underground injection to exclude’ ‘the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas… The effect of this law is to exempt hydraulic fracturing from the underground injection control (UIC) permit requirements unless the fluid being injected is diesel fuel. As EPA states on its website: While the SDWA specifically excludes hydraulic fracturing from UIC regulation … the use of diesel fuel during hydraulic fracturing is still regulated by the UIC program. Any service company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive prior authorization from the UIC program….

PA DEP Fines Pennsylvania General Energy Co. LLC $28,960 for Illegal Surfactant Discharge

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA

Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau

Room 308, Main Capitol Building

Harrisburg PA., 17120

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

02/2/2011

CONTACT:

Daniel T. Spadoni, Department of Environmental Protection North-central Regional Office

570-327-3659

DEP Fines Pennsylvania General Energy Co. LLC $28,960 for Illegal Surfactant Discharge to Pine Creek in Lycoming County

Incident Occurred at a Marcellus Natural Gas Well Pad in Cummings Township

WILLIAMSPORT — The Department of Environmental Protection today announced that it has fined Pennsylvania General Energy Co. LLC (PGE) of Warren $28,960 for the illegal discharge of Airfoam HD, a surfactant, into Pine Creek in Lycoming County last March.

Surfactants are used by natural gas drillers to create a foam that will lift water and drill cuttings to the surface. Airfoam HD is approved by DEP for use by the industry.

“PGE responded immediately to this incident and fully cooperated with the department,” said DEP North-central Regional Director Nels Taber.

During the weekend of March 13 and 14, 2010, there was significant rainfall and snow melt that caused residual Airfoam in a Marcellus well bore to migrate to a spring on the hillside creating a white, foamy substance. The spring was not used as a source of drinking water.

A DEP investigation on March 15 verified that the material was flowing from the spring, down the hillside, under Pa. Route 44 via a storm drain, and into Pine Creek. At the time, the spring was flowing at an estimated 180 gallons per minute.

PGE began diverting foam from the storm drain in the road berm and later placed an absorbent boom across the spring run on the hillside, which prevented further discharges to Pine Creek.

No constituents of Airfoam HD were detected in Pine Creek.

The discharge was a violation of the Clean Streams Law, Solid Waste Management Act, and DEP’s oil and gas regulations.

The fine was deposited into the fund that supports DEP’s oil and gas permitting and enforcement programs.

For more information, call 570-327-3659 or visit http://www.depweb.state.pa.us.