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

By DAVID THOMPSON dthompson@sungazette.com

POSTED: April 14, 2010

While few people are questioning the enormous economic impact of developing the natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale, the gas industry’s potential impact on the environment is generating a lively debate.

That debate came to Lycoming College Tuesday during a public hearing by the state House Democratic Policy Committee.

The event, which mostly focused on environmental issues related to gas exploration, and to a lesser extent, the Chesapeake Bay, was co-chaired by state Reps. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.

Also sitting on the panel was state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven. Hanna said he supports a moratorium on leasing state land until the full impact of the gas industry is known.

A diverse group of speakers provided testimony regarding the Marcellus Shale during the near four-hour session.

Read it all here:

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

Is Wasteater Discharge into the Susquehanna River Possible?

Opposition expressed to wastewater treatment facility

By DAVID THOMPSON dthompson@sungazette.com

Nearly all those who testified Wednesday during a public hearing regarding a proposed gas drilling wastewater treatment facility spoke in opposition.

The hearing, held at the northcentral regional office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, was held to gather public testimony regarding an application by TerrAqua Resource Management of Williamsport for a permit to discharge treated gas drilling wastewater into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

The company, a subsidiary of Larson Design Group, wants to treat and discharge up to 400,000 gallons per day of gas drilling wastewater into the river.

However, many in attendance had concerns regarding the impact the treated water will have on the river, including its ecosystem and the people who use it as a source of drinking water.

Others expressed concerns about how gas exploration will impact the entire state.

Fairfield Township resident Anne Harris Katz, a scientist, asked how the DEP will make sure treated water does not contains harmful toxins when it is discharged into the river.

Katz questioned the department’s ability to monitor those toxins and determine their impacts once they enter the watershed.

She also questioned the agency’s role in the Marcellus Shale Wastewater Partnership, which she said was comprised of the DEP and industry organization the Marcellus Shale Committee. Katz said the partnership should contain more stakeholders, such as local residents, scientists, and environmental and planning organizations.

“However, it still remains questionable in my mind that a regulatory agency should be part of any partnership involving a group whose activities it regulates,” she said.

Don Williams of Harleysville said allowing the gas industry to gain a foothold in the state would set back environmental improvement efforts decades. Williams compared “the Marcellus Shale frenzy” to making a pact with the devil.

“We are once again striking a Faustian bargain at the expense of our natural resources, degrading the quality of our land and our waters in exchange for the false promises of jobs and the fleeting economic prosperity for a limited few,” he said.

“I am fully opposed to the further degradation of the Susquehanna River … and I am respectfully requesting this application be denied,” Williams said.

Williams added that until the gas industry provides full disclosure of all chemicals used in the hydrofracturing process, action on all gas drilling wastewater treatment plant applications be suspended.

The draft permit for the proposed facility allows the discharge into the river of between 54,000 and 522,000 pounds of total dissolved solids per day. That equates into 15.7 million pounds of solids being discharged into the river every month, he said.

If additional plants are built, “what will our watershed … look like next year, or five years from now?” he asked.

Several people who testified, including Jon Bogle and Mark Szybist of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said the company’s application should be resubmitted.

Szybist said the application no longer is valid because the company plans to use a different treatment process than originally was stated in the application.

A new application should be submitted and the public should be given time to review it and comment on it, he said.

Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action agreed that a new application should be submitted because of the new technology the company is proposing.

Sooy argued that because of uncertainties in the toxicity of the wastewater the facility will receive, the DEP should institute a stringent testing tool called Whole Effluent Toxicity Testing, or WETT.

Sooy also expressed concern that the method the company plans to use to treat the water through evaporation results in significant air pollution and hazardous waste disposal issues.

Former county planning department chief Jerry S. Walls said properly designed and well-run treatment plants are essential if the region is to realize the full economic impact of development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale.

“We need these treatment facilities, but we also must respect and use the best science available to avoid yet another cycle of natural resource extraction followed by decades of publicly funded pollution cleanup,” he said.

Walls added that he had concerns about the cumulative impact of 10 or more treatment facilities on the west branch of the river and the Chesapeake Bay.

He suggested that in addition to civil and sanitary engineers, scientists, such as health physicists, nuclear scientists and others, are needed to design methods that adequately can treat the substances contained in gas drilling flow back fluids.

Walls also expressed concern over the way in which naturally occurring radioactive material found in flow back water will be disposed of.

Local businesswoman Barbara Jarmoska said that in 30 years of working in the natural health field, she has seen increased levels of breast cancer in women and autism in children. Jarmoska said she was concerned about the agency’s ability to test for all potential toxins that could be present in the water.

Pointing to the agency’s inability or unwillingness to post permit applications and other public records online, John Kesich suggested the DEP may be involved in a conspiracy to prevent the public from receiving adequate information about gas drilling-related permits.

Ralph Kisberg, also of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said the gas drilling boom in the region “has gone way too fast.”

Kisberg said a slower approach is needed to allow technology to catch up with the industry’s need to treat wastewater.

Caleb Banas said that to maintain the integrity of the river’s ecosystem, “it is very important that nothing other than water goes into the system.”

Salt, the main pollutant of treated gas drilling water, should not be allowed in the river, he said.

Alliance member Robbie Cross said the DEP’s philosophy on the gas industry runs counter to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s definition of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The DEP will accept written testimony through the business day on Oct. 7, said Robert Hawley of the DEP.

New Jobs For Who?

There is a lot of talk about the positive side of gas drilling in PA to counter the negative side. One of these points is the amount of jobs that will be created in the drilling areas. There seems to be two sides of that though. The Gas companies and often local commissioners and folks involved with local politics keep reminding everyone about the job boom that will happen in our area, but most of the current workers on these sites and rigs are from places like Texas and Oklahoma. Why? Because the local folks are not trained or do not have the knowledge or certifications to work on natural gas sites. This industry is new for PA residents and while there may be a lot of jobs being created by this gas boom, the people getting the jobs may not be the folks who live in the Marcellus Shale region unless PA schools are able to offer more specific training for possible employees.  I think the natural gas drilling in PA will change the state  in more ways that people are considering. The obvious changes which are visible to the casual viewer are environmental changes in land and roads and creeks and the views as you travel historic Route 6, but there will be other changes as well. Our economy may change and with more career opportunities available in places which have historically had slim to no career opportunities there may need to be changes made in our school systems at some point as well.

This article talks a bit about the job opportunities and some of the steps that the local college is taking to help make sure locals can get the training needed to fill these jobs.

By DAVID THOMPSON

The development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale is “a once-in-100-year opportunity” that will exceed – on an economic level – previous resource booms, such as the lumber industry, economist John C. Felmy said Wednesday.

“This town was built on a boom. This is an opportunity that could be every bit as big, but it could last for decades instead of a short time,” Felmy, a chief economist with the American Petroleum Institute, said during a community meeting hosted by the Marcellus Shale Committee at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Klump Auditorium.

About 200 people attended the meeting, which was held to update local residents about activity in the Marcellus Shale, according to Louis D’Amico, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association.

The committee, which was formed in 2008 from members of the association and Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, held 16 meetings throughout the shale region prior to Wednesday’s event.

Larry L. Michael, Penn College’s Workforce and Economic Development executive director, said a recent study performed by the college in conjunction with Penn State Cooperative Extension shows that job opportunities are likely to increase dramatically in the northcentral region of Pennsylvania due to natural gas development.

“Most of those jobs will be blue collar,” Michael said.

Over the next five years, gas development will create about 8,000 full-time direct jobs in the region, he said.

“That is a significant impact on our region,” Michael said.

Jobs will be short-term – the pre-drilling and drilling phase of development – and long-term – the production phase of development, he added.

However, because of the massive size of the Marcellus Shale region and the length of time it will take to fully develop it, the short-term phase could last decades, Michael said.

To prepare workers for employment in the gas industry, the college has begun to offer courses for on- and off-road CDL licenses, welding and metering, among other jobs.

According to D’Amico, gas exploration in other parts of the nation have slowed significantly, while increasing in the Marcellus Shale – in spite of wholesale gas prices that fell from about $13.50 per thousand cubic feet last year to the current price of about $3 per thousand cubic feet.

“We’re drilling way more wells than other areas of the country,” D’Amico said.

D’Amico said the development of the Marcellus Shale in the near future will be driven by market forces such as gas prices and the recovery of the nation’s economy, particularly in the industrial-manufacturing sector, which uses large quantities of natural gas.

D’Amico discussed the industry’s future use of water for hydrofracturing and drilling, which he said only will be a fraction of the water used by other sectors, such as power generation, public water systems and mining.

Currently, the area’s frac water treatment needs are adequate, but as the industry progresses, there will be a need for advanced treatment technologies, he said.

D’Amico added that any time an area has a commodity in abundance, it attracts other industries that need that commodity to the area, thus creating additional jobs.

The industry could create up to 174,000 jobs by the year 2020, he said.

D’Amico agreed with Michael that many of those jobs will be blue collar.

“Everybody doesn’t have to be a petroleum engineer or geologist,” he said.

D’Amico also discussed the industry’s impact on local roads, which were not meant to handle the heavy loads carried by gas industry vehicles, he said.

“We take many, many loads over roads designed to handle the occasional milk truck or a school bus,” he said.

According to D’Amico, some roads will have to be improved simply to be able to accommodate heavy loads. Others will have to be repaired periodically.

In the long run, he said, many roads will be left in better shape than their previous condition.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a panel of industry representatives fielded questions that covered a wide range of subjects from gas royalties to gas leases to potential issues with pollution.

D’Amico called “unacceptable” a recent incident in which a gas company was cited three time for frac fluid spills.

“That said, any type of human activity will have problems,” he said.

Tom Metarko, a geologist with XTO Energy of Pittsburgh, said the amount of money it costs to drill a gas well – an average of $3 million – does a lot to weed out fly-by-night gas drilling operations.

“Most are very reputable, environmentally conscious,” Metarko said. “It is very different than it was a long time ago.”

Doug Mehan, assistant manager of environmental, health and safety for East Resources, said his company is working to use less fresh water for hydrofracturing by recycling flow back from previous fracing operations.

According to Mehan, about 50 percent of frac water is recoverable. That water is mixed with fresh water and used in other operations until it no longer can be used. Then it must be treated.

John Snedden of Hart Resources and Technologies, a company specializing in the treatment of brine and frac water, said his company is looking for technologies that will economically remove salt from frac water.

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.