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 Shale Drillers in Pennsylvania Amass 1435 Violations in 2.5 Years

952 Identified as Most Likely to Harm the Environment

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association has reviewed environmental violations accrued by Marcellus Shale drillers working in Pennsylvania between January 2008 and June 25, 2010.  The records were obtained via a Right to Know Request made to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). 

DEP records show a total of 1435 violations of state Oil and Gas Laws due to gas drilling or other earth disturbance activities related to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale in this 2.5-year period.  The Association identified 952 violations as having or likely to have an impact on the environment.  483 were identified as likely being an administrative or safety violation and not likely to have the potential to negatively impact the environment.

The report breaks the violations down by type. For example, of the 952 violations:

  • 268 involve improper construction of waste water impoundments
  • 10 involve improper well casing
  • 154 involve discharge of industrial waste
  • 16 involve improper blowout prevention

The report lists the 25 companies with the most violations as well as the 25 companies with the highest average number of violations per well driller.

View the entire report at conserveland.org/violationsrpt.

DEP needs to hear from you!

A Message from the RDA…
DEP needs to hear from you and your organization.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed new regulations for industrial wastewater that is high in total dissolved solids (TDS).

Natural gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale uses substances high in TDS for hydrofracturing (fracking) wells. The wastewater  that comes back out of wells (flowback fluid) after fracking is also high in TDS. The high levels of TDS in Marcellus wastewater is mostly in the form of salts and can be two to four times saltier than seawater.

Frac and flowback fluids can enter streams and rivers intentionally (legally by permit) or accidentally. The result can be a danger to health for all organisms – including humans. It can also make the water unfit for industrial use.

DEP needs the new regs to ensure that wastewater generated at Marcellus Shale gas drilling sites does not damage streams and rivers.

To read details about the proposed new regs, go to this link in the PA Bulletin: http://pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol39/39-45/2065.html

DEP’s  Environmental Quality Board (EQB) held several public hearings on the proposed new regs held across the state, and some of the testimonies given by members of the public can be viewed at this site:  http://www.northcentralpa.com/category/category/gas-drilling


DEP needs to hear from all who care about our environment, our heath and the businesses which depend on clean water.

Please consider having your organization send a letter or email to the EQB commenting on the proposed new regs. Feel free to craft comments based on the testimonies of others and/or from the talking points noted at the end of this message.

If individual members of your organization are willing to write letters or send emails to the EQB, that would be very helpful.

Natural gas industry representatives are lobbying very hard, backed by substantial funding, to prevent any strengthening of the existing regs. In fact, lobbyists are asking for the regs to be even weaker than they are now.


Send written comments by postal- or e- mail on the proposed rule NO LATER THAN FEBRUARY 10, 2010:

Environmental Quality Board
P.O. Box 8477
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477
regcomments@state.pa.us


Here are some talking points to make about DEP’s proposed changes to Chapter 95, Wastewater Treatment Requirements. These come courtesy of Clean Water Action.

1.  We need safe drinking water!  DEP’s proposal will go a long way towards ensuring that our drinking water supplies will not have unsafe levels of total dissolved solids (TDS).  DEP should not weaken their proposed discharge standard for TDS.

2.  We need these regulations to be in place as soon as possible to protect our rivers and drinking water.  DEP should stop giving out more drilling permits until wastewater rules are in place.  DEP should also stop allowing existing or proposed wastewater plants to pollute our rivers unless they follow these new rules.

3.  DEP should add discharge standards for those contaminants that are frequently found in Marcellus Shale gas drilling wastewater.  These would include bromides, arsenic, benzene, radium, magnesium, and possibly others.  Many of these contaminants are very difficult for drinking water systems to remove.

4.  DEP needs to ensure that all aspects of the generation of Marcellus wastewater are regulated.  Currently there are no requirements to track wastewater from drilling sites to treatment plants, and there is no oversight over the reuse of Marcellus wastewater.

What We Dont Know

http://www.propublica.org/feature/natural-gas-drilling-what-we-dont-know-1231

End of the year story from propublica.

Use your feet…

Here is an email from the Responsible Drilling Alliance out of Williamsport, PA. please follow the link at the end of the message for more info.

Use your feet to protect our rivers.

Have your feet take you to the hearing in Williamsport on December 16th to support, with your presence, the proposed new rule for Total Dissolved Solids for gas industry wastewater.  Gas drilling waste water is extremely high in TDS.  Under current rules they are allowed to discharge this TDS content directly into the river.  The new proposed rules would greatly limit new TDS discharges.

Not surprisingly these new proposed rules have come under quite a bit of pressure from a number of industries not just the gas drillers.  It is important to note that these new rules will not apply to existing water discharges so they will not put anyone out of business. Only new discharges or large modifications to existing plants will come under them.

This September, more than forty miles Dunkard Creek in western PA was cleared of almost all its fish and other aquatic animal life by the toxins of an invasive algae.  Golden Algae, the culprit,  needed high levels of TDS’s to thrive. Last summer, even before the fish kill,  the Monongahela  River exceeded the TDS standard for potable water intake and its bromide content level required a health advisory to be issued.

Strong public support is needed to counteract industry’s efforts to lower the proposed standards.    We all need to show up to the hearing and speak or send in written comments.  Instructions on how at bottom of this email.

December 16, 2009
5 p.m.
Department of Environmental  Protection
Northcentral Regional Office
Goddard Conference Room
208 West Third Street,
Suite 101
Williamsport, PA 17701-6448

http://pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol39/39-45/2065.html