Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission challenged on environmental issues at first meeting

Alright, I apologize up front for this being rather lengthy but I really feel that the information being provided here and the comments below are worth reading through slowly and considering carefully when trying to figure out which side of this debate you want to fall on. I know many of you already have your minds made up and any of you who are living in areas where the drilling is heavy know this is not all coming up roses the way they keep telling us it is or will be.

Published: Friday, March 25, 2011, 6:44 PM     Updated: Friday, March 25, 2011, 7:05 PM

Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley opened the first meeting of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Friday with an idyllic vision of what Pennsylvania could become in 20 or 30 years “if we make the right decisions today.” Brain-drain” and “rust belt” would be phrases of the past. “Tens of thousands” of people would be working in the natural gas industry, “and thousands more working in related industries like water purification.” There would be “open spaces and family farms that have passed from generation to generation because foreclosure was avoided today.” Cawley’s vision was reitterated by most of the other commission members, whose introductory remarks were punctuated with two mantras: “we need to do this right” and “we need to find science-based and fact-based solutions to environmental issues.”
Even the environmental members of the commission echoed those sentiments. With one exeption. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation stepped up with a list of specific environmental concerns …. “CBF would like to draw attention to the fact that Pennsylvania’s recently crafted Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load does not currently account for the cumulative increases in the nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment loads generated by the natural gas industry, an omission that will need to be addressed,” said staff attorney LeeAnn Murray. “CBF also notes that DEP currently reviews permits for gas extraction on a permit by permit basis without viewing the potential comprehensive cumulative impacts resulting from increases in sediment loads from erosion and post-construction runoff from roads, wellpads, pipelines and other infrastructure.” “It is issues like these that we believe may have an impact on water quality,” she said, “and with recent scientific studies indicating that water quality is affected by gas extraction activities we hope to discuss methods of reducing such impacts.” … She said the foundation is “looking forward to discussing topics involving: shallow gas migration, the ultimate fate and risk of contamination from frackwater, documentation and tracking of waste products, inadequate bonding laws, setbacks, fines, well pads siting issues, floodplain concerns, an exploration of alternative fracking methodologies that may have less environmental and health impacts and a funding source…whether a fee, assessment or, tax, which compensates PA for the extraction of a natural resource and allows citizens of the Commonwealth to utilize the money for local impacts and environmental improvements.” Murray was by no means the only commission member to address environmental concerns, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation representative was the only person at the table willing to jostle Gov. Corbett’s apple cart from the start.
Outside the meeting, representatives of more activist environmental groups complained about not being appointed to the commission. Even the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which works to clean up the water flowing into the world’s largest estuary, “is not involved in shale issues up to the eyeballs like the rest of us,” said Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action. But it appears — at least at the moment — that the activist environmentalists do trust the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to be a torch bearer for their concerns. “They have a perspective to this that’s a lot bigger than Pennsylvania,” said Virginia Cody, an activist from Wyoming County. But the foundation has not been given one of the leading roles in the “working groups” expected to do most of the work between now and July, when the commission is supposed to give the governor its recommendations.
Lt. Gov. Cawley appointed Michael Krancer, Acting Secretary of DEP, as chair of the working group on “public health, safety and environmental protection; vice-chair is Cynthia Carrow of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
When asked about the industry-leaning make-up of the commission after the meeting, Cawley said, “This really isn’t about the make-up of the commission, but the information we get. I suspect and hope we will hear even more from environmentalists.” When asked if there would be an opportunity for the public to at least observe or listen to the meetings of the working groups, Cawley said, “I’m sure.
To read this article online an access the links within the text, click here:

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/03/marcellus_shale_advisory_commi_1.html

Below are comments and thoughts from Anne with the Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA). Please take the time to read through this, especially if these issues are new to you.

COMMENTS: About the above article, take with lots of salt grains.   I highlighted some specific sections and will comment on these here.

(1) Consider this comment: “Brain-drain” and “rust belt” would be phrases of the past. “Tens of thousands” of people would be working in the natural gas industry, “and thousands more working in related industries like water purification.” There would be “open spaces and family farms that have passed from generation to generation because foreclosure was avoided today.”
If the Governor cuts support for PA’s educational institutions, just how does that stave off the brain drain?

As I said in past messages to this email list concerning jobs: the gas industry is hiring retired members of the region’s governmental and regulatory agency elite – or in some cases not waiting that long and just hiring them away from those jobs. That’s not bringing new jobs to those who need them. So far the majority of the newly-hired from the ranks of the non-retired unemployed are not family-friendly jobs. Because of overtime pay for working long shifts and/or having no days off within a week, the take home money may be family-sustaining. But the worker doesn’t get quality time to spend with his/her family.

Regarding open spaces and family farms, consider what family would want to remain on their land  – much less farm it – if the gas industry ruins their source(s) of fresh water. Some of those who have leased large farms for drilling have said, should their wells become contaminated, they will take their royalty money and move away. That’s one way to maintain open spaces. But I don’t think that’s what the Governor intended when he mentioned maintaining open spaces.

(3) Consider the comment: “we need to find science-based and fact-based solutions to environmental issues.”
Without unbiased scientists on the Commission, the likelihood of getting unbiased science to use in decision-making is close to zero. See below my comment about the one professional scientist on the Commission – Terry Engelder. He’s a legitimate geologist with a credible academic track record of relevant research and publications. BUT, and this is a really big “but” – he should not be considered unbiased regarding Marcellus Shale matters because of his public statements and his funding sources.

The Commission needs more scientists – those without industry ties and those with expertise in environmental and health science. One industry-funded geologist is not enough for any good scientific input from this commission.  It’s a good thing that the representative from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation spoke up for the need to assess comprehensive and cumulative impacts. That’s something any good scientist would say right out of the gate. However, looking at impacts comprehensively and cumulatively should not be limited only to erosion and sedimentation issues.


(4) Here’s something to keep in mind about Michael Krancer, the chair of the working group on public health, safety and environmental protection – who also happens to be the acting head of DEP. His contribution to Mr. Corbett’s campaign for Governor and the Republican party was in excess of $200,000 (see: http://www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/contributor.phtml?d=22286044). Money buys influence and power.


(5) Don’t forget what constituencies make up the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. Here’s a copy of what I said in a previous email about this group. The subject heading from that email is: “Governor Corbett creates system to marginalize regulatory control over gas drilling – putting big business interests over public’s protection”, dated 3/13/11. I have added additional information below.


Commission members

Boldface type indicate members with business and/or gas industry ties that I know of (14). Underlined names are those who represent organizations with at least some environmental focus (4). DEP is not considered an environmental organization; it is a regulatory agency. There is only one scientist on this commission, Terry Engelder, who acknowledges receiving funding from the gas industry and has repeatedly supported the benefits of drilling, minimizing environmental impacts. Important environmentally-protective regulatory agencies noticeably absent from this commission are  Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and PA Fish & Boat Commission. It’s also noteworthy that there are several Corbett appointees to state positions, such as Patrick Henderson, Governor’s Energy Executive and Mike Krancer, Acting Secretary of DEP (see #4 above). One would expect these individuals to support the Governor’s perspectives.

Terry Pegula, who has no affiliation listed for him, used to own East Resources (a major drilling company in the Marcellus Shale). Pegula sold East to a Dutch Company – Royal Dutch Shell – but he’s still listed as an employee of East. Campaign contribution records show Mr. Pegula donated $100,500 to Governor Corbett’s campaign, and his wife, listed as an employee of East Resources (parent company Royal Dutch Shell) donated $180,500 to the campaign. For details, see:
and the links within this page:

It’s also noteworthy that Mr. Pegula has donated millions to Penn State and has been quoted when asked what the would tell Penn State Students: “

I would tell students that this contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed”(see:http://onwardstate.com/2010/09/18/pegula-marcellus-shale-development-good-for-students/). Studies touting the economic benefits from Marcellus Shale development that have been published under the aegis of Penn State and/or by Penn State faculty, have come under fire for inadequate data leading to faulty conclusions. See the following sites:

(2) Critique: (“Penn State Admits Gas Study Flaws”): http://www.northcentralpa.com/article/penn-state-admits-gas-study-flaws


It has also been said such publications from Penn State should be considered in the light of institutional bias toward the natural gas industry. If only the contributions from Mr. Pegula are considered here, there is certainly evidence that this could be the case.


Anne

Marcellus Hearing in Williamsport, PA

Anne Harris Katz attended the four-hour hearing on Marcellus gas impacts two days ago, in Williamsport.  Here are her comments:

“I was in the audience for the entirety of this hearing, the content of which is covered in the two articles below. Of all the public events I have attended on Marcellus Shale impacts, this one had the most balance among the perspectives of industry, regulators, and groups concerned about protecting the environment and economy.

The articles in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette do a reasonable job covering the approximately four hours of testimony and Q & A between testifiers and legislators. There was not time for questions or comments from the audience, but the legislators asked good questions and made useful comments. I take issue with referring to what went on in this event as a “lively debate”. This was a public hearing at which formal testimony was taken. In my estimation it was not a debate. It would be helpful for those who could not attend to have access to a transcript of everything said. ”   AHK


Here are the two links to the articles on the Sun Gazette that she mentions.

Gas industry’s potential impact on the environment discussed at public hearing

http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/542033.html?nav=5011


Impact on bay cleanup not known

http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/542034.html?nav=5011

Pennsylvania lawmakers say bill that halts drilling in Marcellus Shale aims to protect forests

By DONALD GILLILAND, The Patriot-News

March 28, 2010, 7:38PM

Pennsylvania lawmakers should learn from history and from Dr. Seuss, said Robert F. Davey Jr., a retired forester with 38 years of experience in Penn’s Woods. The state’s forests were decimated by rampant logging in the 19th century and a number of its streams were polluted by unrestricted mining, Davey said. He compared those scenarios to “The Lorax” by Seuss, the tale of a species of trees being nearly wiped out, with only one seed remaining.  Davey said lawmakers should be careful when profiting from the Marcellus gas boom “so that future generations won’t be saddled with mistakes we made because of a myopic view of natural-resource limitations or outright greed.”

To read the full article with comments, click here:

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2010/03/pennsylvania_lawmakers_claim_b.html

Floodplain well permit violation

Muncy Creek floodplain, north of Tivoli, flooded on January 25th.

By February 21st,  XTO had a well in full operation.

Last spring, under pressure from the gas industry to speed up the permitting process, DEP took the permitting for land disturbance and run off away from the county conservation districts.  It is quite doubtful if the county’s conservation district would have permitted this site.

Although DEP took over this function they didn’t have the man power to actually do it. To compensate, any disturbance less than 5 acres can receive a permit, sight unseen, by the developer submitting plans from their own engineers.  Most well pads are less than 5 acres.

When this well is fracked, 18,000 to 20,000 gallons of toxic concentrated chemicals, (hydrochloric acid, biocides, petroleum distillates, methanol, a variety of alcohols, ethylene glycol and much more) will be brought on to this floodplain and mixed. Any spillage will end up in the creek.  Do spills happen? Ask the 17 cows in Louisiana who died horribly last spring after drinking chemicals that spilled into their pasture from an adjacent well.

Below is an excerpt from a joint letter from Trout Unlimited and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation decrying the situation.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Trout Unlimited

Call for Ban on Marcellus Gas Wells in Floodplains

Hydrofracking in floodplains is an environmental disaster waiting to happen

(HARRISBURG, PA)  —  In the rush to develop the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania, natural gas wells are being permitted and drilled in floodplains. Two such wells, one operated by Stone Energy along Wyalusing Creek in Rush Township, Susquehanna County, and one operated by XTO along Muncy Creek in Shrewsbury Township, Lycoming County already experienced flooding events.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Trout Unlimited (TU) call upon the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to remedy this clear environmental and public health hazard.

“The handling of fracking chemicals and highly contaminated drilling wastewater in floodplains is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.  It has to stop,” said Matt Ehrhart, executive director of CBF’s Pennsylvania Office.  “Permitting well pads in floodplains causes a very serious threat of pollution.  We call upon DEP to use its authority under the Clean Streams Law to order the companies operating these wells to permanently cap and abandon them, and then reclaim the sites to their natural condition.” (excerpt RDA)

http://www.cbf.org/Page.aspx?pid=1651