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….

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

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.”

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

Heartbreaking Stories Warn New Yorkers of What May Be in Store if the State OKs Controversial Gas Drilling

Written by Maura Stephens

…Most of these Pennsylvanians told us they rue the day they signed the gas leases. Some of them “inherited” gas leases — or bought property on which there was a mineral rights lease they were unaware of — and now are paying the consequences.
Their stories were heartbreaking. This is some of what they told us, including several things not mentioned in other articles I’ve read about fracking:
1) There is no longer any privacy on their own property.
Posted signs are a thing of the past; there’s no way to guarantee that anyone would pay attention to them. The gas drillers have access to leased land 24/7, 365 days a year, because there is always something to deal with on a gas pad. The land owners no longer have privacy or the ability to walk at will on their own property. One woman told us she and her teenage daughter feel like prisoners in their home. They used to walk around in bathing suits or pajamas in the privacy of their 100-plus-acre farm. That’s no longer an option — they stay inside with the blinds drawn even on nice days because they never know when and where a stranger will be walking around the property.
2) The gas companies can pretty much do as they please.
There is no consultation with the landowners about placement or size of the pads, or the numerous roads that have to be cut into the property, or drainage fields, or pond sites, or planned building sites. One farmer, who had dreamed of this since his elder son’s birth in 1983, gave his son and new daughter-in-law three acres on which to build a house, on a lovely corner of his farm. The newlyweds were just about to begin building the home they’d designed when the gas company decided to drill on the very same spot. The family had no way of fighting the gas company, which refused to change its drilling location. The young man and his bride were forced to rent an apartment in town. Subsequently the drilling contaminated the well that provided drinking water to the family and farm animals. And although the site did not yield gas, the land is no longer usable for farming or placing a home. The farmer, incidentally, had bought the land in the early 1980s without realizing a gas company held mineral rights to it via a 1920s lien.
3) The gas companies do not respect the land.
The gas companies have in numerous documented cases torn out mature stands of trees — 20, 30, 60, 80 years old — leaving the tree carcasses scattered about the land. “These guys just don’t care,” one landowner told us, close to tears. “They treated my farm like a garbage dump. They moved their bowels in the woods and left their filthy toilet paper behind. They threw all their rubbish around — plastic bottles, McDonald’s bags, you name it. I used to always kept this place manicured. It’s been my pride and joy. But now, it’s a rubbish heap. I’m still finding junk they left around, long after the fracking ended.”
4) There’s light and noise nonstop.
“No amount of money can buy you sufficient sleep,” said a farmer. “It’s bright and loud, all the time. Not that I’d sleep anyway. All I do is worry about the land and the water and what we are going to do.”
5) Their property has lost its value.
“We can’t drink our water,” said the same farmer. “We can’t reclaim the land. They’re putting my farm out of business. The land is worthless. Nobody would want it, like this.”
6) They can no longer fish in their streams and ponds.
So many of these waterways have been poisoned by fracking waste, runoff, spillage, or dumping, that fishers are afraid to eat the fish they catch. One farmer, who told us he’d planned to stock his farm pond with seven varieties of fish that he would raise and sell to other landowners, has lost this income stream because his pond was polluted by fracking.
7) The water is dangerously unsafe.
“A primary reason we chose to live in this area,” says a woman from central New York, “is that is has abundant clean water. The western half or two-thirds of the United States, and the Southeast — the entire rest of the country — has precious little water. But we have always had plenty of fresh, safe, available water. Now we are threatened with gas fracturing, or ‘fracking.’ The contaminants released in the fracking process are carcinogenic (cancer-inducing) and even radioactive. Everyone around here depends on our wells for safe drinking water. Now how can we ever drink our water again? City water is no safer.”
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http://chenangogreens.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=0&Itemid=70&limit=9&limitstart=18