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)



Should we lease more state land to the gas companies?

Lots of things to be concerned about in the budget with natural gas. One is whether or not to tax the oil and gas industries for the gas they are taking from PA state land. The second is where the money from leasing the state land to gas companies should go. A good rule of thumb would be to put that money back into the counties and state forest land where the gas is being taken from. If nothing else this puts some funding and ability into DCNR, DEP and other local authorities to help with possible clean ups or contamination issues due to gas wells. The other option would be to put it back into the general fund of the PA budget.

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — Some House Democrats want to amend the $27.9 billion state budget proposal to kill the idea of leasing more state forest land for natural gas drilling.

Such drilling “could devastate our state forests and the pristine streams that are in them,” Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, said yesterday. “There is no room for error in managing state forests. An error could haunt us forever. We would risk environmental scars and destruction just for short-term economic gain.”

Mr. Levdansky, chairman of the House Finance Committee, was joined by several colleagues at a news conference, calling for elimination of that revenue-raising idea, which is part of the 2009-10 budget proposal unveiled Friday by Gov. Ed Rendell and leaders of three General Assembly caucuses.

Mr. Levdansky said other legislators who weren’t at the news conference also oppose the forest-leasing idea. Leaders who crafted the budget last week expect to generate up to $100 million this year by leasing 200,000 acres of state forests in addition to the 600,000 acres already leased for natural gas extraction.

The forests sit atop huge underground areas of Marcellus shale, which contains valuable deposits of natural gas. To get the gas, large amounts of water have to be pumped under pressure into the shale, which can cause contaminated water to pollute underground water sources.

The new budget plan, which may be voted on next week, would take away the current authority of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to manage state forests, Mr. Levdansky complained. He also said the budget plan would shift $163 million from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Fund into the state’s general fund, so that money wouldn’t be available for improvements to state parks and forests.

Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, also criticized the proposed budget. He said it would cut the Department of Environmental Protection’s budget from $229 million last year to $173 million this year and hurt many important programs, including spraying to kill black flies and to fight the West Nile virus.

Other Democrats who oppose the forest-leasing idea include Reps. Steven Santarsiero of Bucks, John Siptroth of Monroe, Babette Josephs of Philadelphia, Bob Freeman of Northampton and David Kessler of Berks. If they all voted against the proposed budget, it would have difficulty passing the House.

That’s because House Republican leader Sam Smith of Punxsutawney said he’s sure that about 95 of the 97 Republicans now in the House will vote against the budget. (There are 99 total Republicans but two are away for a year on military duty.) Mr. Smith doesn’t like the $27.9 billion proposal, saying it’s $400 million too high.

If Mr. Smith is correct about the GOP votes, Democratic leaders would have to convince virtually all of their 104 members to vote for the budget. A bill needs at least 102 votes to pass the House.

Mr. Smith said, “It will be tough” to get that many Democrats to vote for the budget, which many groups are criticizing — either for spending too much, spending too little or raising too many taxes.

PA Land Trust Letter

Here is a letter I received from the PA Land Trust Folks. If anyone is motivated and wants to call or write there is some info in here to help you out with that.

Tell your state representatives and senators to vote against any budget deal that mandates leasing more State Forest land for drilling. Tell them to tell their leadership to keep leasing out of any budget deal. Tell them you want our State Forests to be responsibly managed for everyone. Tell them it is time to enact a tax on gas drilling to help offset the damages to natural resources and communities caused by gas operations.

Phone calls are the best way to contact your legislators and their staff; emails are okay. A call followed up by a quick email to reinforce your request is best! Go to http://www.legis.state.pa.us to find your state legislators. Use the box on the upper right corner of the page.

The proposed state budget deal is a gas corporation’s dream. It doesn’t include a severance tax on gas drilling even though every other major gas producing state has the tax. But it does open more State Forest acreage to gas drillers. This is wrong.

How could the General Assembly and Governor Rendell do things right? They could allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study the impact of Marcellus gas drilling on previously leased land and evaluate potential future impacts. They could allow the agency to determine appropriate lands to lease and under what conditions based on principles of responsible management and science. They could allow the agency to conduct hearings for the public to review the agency’s findings and express their concerns.

Instead the General Assembly and the Governor seem to be saying, “hey, we need $100 million, $80 million, $200 million [or fill in the blank]. Let’s keep leasing publicly owned State Forest until we hit the target. Impacts? What impacts?”


Without careful advance study and planning, we can’t know what additional drilling if any can occur on our publicly owned State Forest land without harming the forest’s environmental, economic and recreational values. We do know that massive leasing beyond the 660,000 acres already open for drilling would deeply constrain DCNR’s ability to manage the forest. It would threaten the forest’s wild and natural areas, old growth, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas as well as the recreational and other economic uses of the forest.

A massive amount of infrastructure would have to be developed to support drilling: clearing drill sites, developing roads and pipelines, settling ponds and treatment facilities. The fragmenting of wildlife habitat would be severe. It would seriously limit public access for recreation and have obvious impacts on forest aesthetics. The independent third party certification of the State Forest as sustainably managed likely would be lost. Water withdrawals for drilling and the handling of drilling waste would present potentially severe impacts on water quality and quantity. DCNR does not have adequate staffing now to monitor and manage existing drilling activity, let alone a massive expansion.

The Allegheny National Forest is seriously degraded and cannot be effectively managed because mineral rights are not controlled by the US Forest Service. Massive additional leasing threatens to create the same problems for our State Forests.

The General Assembly needs to exercise restraint in leasing our public lands for gas extraction. The impact of existing leases and potential impacts of additional leasing should be carefully evaluated before opening up more public land for drilling.

Check out http://landandwater.org and http://conserveland.org/features/GasLeasingNumbers for more information.

Andy Loza, Executive Director
Pennsylvania Land Trust Association

Foundation alleges rubber-stamping, challenges 2 gas-drilling permits

Here is an article from the Sun Gazette written by David Thompson. I find it very entertaining in a demented way that the comments Everett makes about miles and miles of state land that no one can get to, is the exact point and reason that some folks are against drilling in these areas! The other comment that caught my eye was the idea that we should allow these companies some time to get their foot in the PA door before we go taxing them. I’m no expert, but last time I checked the gas and oil industry was the only only one in this country that was making any money during this  period of  economic recession and I just can’t bring myself though any logical thought process to understand why we should give them a break on some taxes for a few years. Maybe Yaw and Everett are afraid these companies won’t be able to afford it and they’ll up and leave the state in search of another Marcellus Shale? Somehow, I highly doubt that they have any intentions of leaving before they have taken what they came for and the possibility of them not having the funding for it? Please, I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry over that one.

P.S. How come the Democrat has no timely response?

Foundation alleges rubber-stamping, challenges 2 gas-drilling permits

Environmental group PennFutures and Chesapeake Bay Foundation officials recently called for state lawmakers to abandon plans to lease state land to gas drilling companies and instead raise money for the state by implementing a severance tax on gas removed anywhere in the state.

At least two local lawmakers disagreed on both counts.

“I’m still unconvinced for the need for a severance tax,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy. “Maybe (it can be implemented) in a few years when the industry is up and running and producing something.”

Everett said he wants to see the industry gain a foothold in the state, then study the impacts the industry has on other types of taxes such as the corporate net income tax.

State Sen. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock, agreed.

The industry should be allowed to develop before such a tax is implemented, Yaw said.

“I don’t think there is any question that down the road when the industry is established that there’ll be a tax,” he said. “I’ve talked to people in the industry. They expect it.”

Yaw said if there was the potential for any other job-producing industry to move to the state, they would be offered incentives such as tax breaks to come here.

“You can’t have an industry come in and then tax them to death,” he said. “Now is not the right time.”

“There’s not really a huge industry to tax,” Everett said. “Basically, today a severance tax would hurt the shallow well business in the western part of the state.”

Both Yaw and Everett said leasing state land for gas exploration should be done and can be done responsibly.

“I think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t lease some state land,” Everett said. “There is a humongous amount of state land in Pennsylvania that can be developed responsibly and I think it should be.”

“I think some people get confused between (the words) ‘state forest land’ and ‘state park,'” he said. “There is just miles and miles and miles of state forest land that nobody sees. You can’t get to it right now.”

“There’s no question there is a lot of activity and a lot of equipment and a lot of things that go on for a couple months,” Yaw said. “Once drilling is completed, those sites are reclaimed. The ones I’ve seen are grass.”

Yaw said he understands concern about land disturbance related to the building of pipeline infrastructure, but added that pipelines should be installed, when possible, along pre-existing rights-of-way such as roads and power lines.

The foundation recently filed a legal challenge to the issuance of erosion and sediment control permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection to gas-drilling companies in Tioga County.

Fortuna Energy Inc. was issued a permit to move earth related to the installation of a pipeline in Jackson Township. Ultra Resources Inc. received a permit for drilling operations in Gaines and Elk townships.

The foundation contends the state is jeopardizing the bay watershed by “rubber-stamping” permits without proper review.

Foundation attorney Matthew Royer said the DEP should restore review responsibility to the county Conservation Districts. The agency took over permit review responsibilities from the districts earlier this year.

“Conservation Districts have the local knowledge and experience to review permits and manage the program,” Royer said. “What we see here is a clear failure by DEP to meet fundamental review obligations. DEP should restore (review) authority to Conservation Districts.”

“I didn’t understand why the Conservation District folks were taken out of the loop,” Everett said. “The explanation (by the DEP) was that there was uneven enforcement from county to county, but I think Conservation District folks can be trained to put an extra pair of eyes and pair of boots on the ground.”

“I don’t have a problem with the Conservation Districts,” Yaw said. “My experience is they did a good job.”

Yaw added that both the DEP and Susquehanna River Basin Commission have “been very responsive” in streamlining their permitting process “without compromising the environment.”

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, did not respond to the Sun-Gazette’s request for comment as of deadline for this report.

News on the CBF appeals to DEP and Water Pollution!

This is a must read article!

Group appeals DEP’s expedited permits for gas drilling
Thursday, September 10, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is challenging the state’s new expedited permitting process for Marcellus shale gas wells, claiming that it fails to police drilling and doesn’t protect streams from erosion and sedimentation runoff.

The foundation yesterday filed an appeal with the state’s Environmental Hearing Board of permits granted by the state Department of Environmental Protection to Fortuna Energy Inc. to drill in the Tioga State Forest in Tioga County.

Last week, the foundation filed similar appeals of two other DEP permits granted to Fortuna and Ultra Resources for Marcellus shale gas wells on private land in Tioga County.

All of those permits were granted by the DEP since April when it stripped County Conservation Districts of the authority to review gas well drilling erosion and sedimentation plans. The DEP, without public notice, also instituted an expedited permitting process that requires only an administrative review to determine if all permit paperwork has been submitted.

The new DEP permit requires no technical review of the environmental impacts on wetlands or streams by the state, which is illegal under state and federal clean streams law, according to Matt Royer, Chesapeake Bay Foundation attorney.

“The DEP is rubber-stamping permit applications without any independent environmental review,” Mr. Royer said. “And it’s putting Pennsylvania’s precious waters and streams at risk.”

He said winning the appeal would set a statewide precedent and require DEP to perform environmental reviews on each permit application.

Teresa Candori, a DEP spokeswoman, would not comment on the appeal.

When the DEP removed the Conservation Districts from the permitting process, it said the changes would consolidate permit review and inspection within the department’s regional oil and gas offices where 37 new inspectors had been hired to handle a flood of drilling permit applications for Marcellus shale wells.

But the Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water, a coalition of 36 environmental groups, immediately condemned the change as illegal because it was done without public notice and provided for no meaningful agency review of the drilling operations.

It’s estimated that Pennsylvania could have as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth as much as $1 trillion deep underground in the shale formations that underlie three-fourths of the state. The gas wells to tap those deposits are 5,000 to 8,000 feet deep and each uses up to 4 million gallons of pressurized, chemically treated water to crack or “frac” the shale and release the natural gas. The wastewater left over contains high levels of salts, dissolved solids and fracing chemicals.

Mr. Royer said the Tioga County Conservation District had approved an erosion and sedimentation plan for earth disturbance caused by construction of a single eight-acre well pad after doing field surveys of wetlands and stormwater runoff conditions in the state forest.

But in recent months the DEP has approved 13 amendments to that permit, including nine for additional well pads and three for impoundments for drilling waste water that authorized clearing 105 acres of timberland without conducting technical reviews of the plans or their cumulative effects on the forest or nearby streams.

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.