Corbett names pick for Conservation and Natural Resources

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

By Laura Olson and Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Corbett announced his pick for one of two remaining cabinet posts this afternoon, selecting Richard J. Allan to head the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Mr. Allan, 57, has spent his career working in scrap recycling. His family operates Allan Industries, a metal recycling facility, in Wilkes-Barre, and he has run his own energy consulting firm since 2005. The Cumberland County resident also is an executive director for the PA Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, and serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and biology from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

The conservation agency has gained attention for its oversight of the growing number of Marcellus Shale gas wells being drilled on state forestland. Cuts in DCNR funding in recent budgets have shrunk the department’s resources for drilling oversight, state park operations and forest management.

“Richard Allan is a proven leader and commands a wealth of knowledge and experience in environmental and energy issues,” said Mr. Corbett in a news release. “I am confident that his abilities and background will be a tremendous benefit to DCNR, especially during this critical time in the agency’s history.”

Mr. Allan is the nephew of Pat Solano, former Luzerne County Republican chairman and a power broker in the state’s northeastern GOP politics. His wife, Patricia, was recently named policy director for the Department of Environmental Protection. He contributed $2,150 to Mr. Corbett during the last campaign cycle, according to the Department of State’s campaign finance database. He also was a member of Mr. Corbett’s transition team for energy and environmental issues.

The department has been run by Acting Secretary Cindy Dunn, formerly a deputy secretary for the agency, since the Corbett administration took over in January. The remaining department without an announced secretary is Labor and Industry. Mr. Corbett said earlier this month that he had made offers to candidates for both of the unfilled positions.

Below are comments from Anne with the Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA). Definitely some things to think about and be concerned with.

COMMENTS:

I have highlighted parts of the above text in bold for emphasis.

Mr. Allan brings to the post of head of PA’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) an unusual background. Only time will tell whether one whose career has been in scrap recycling understands the depth and breadth of environmental issues facing Pennsylvania – particularly issues regarding deep shale natural gas extraction, processing and transmission.

Mr. Allan would be wise to listen carefully to DCNR’s experienced staffers, particularly its scientists and attorneys, whose training and daily work experience in environmental areas is more recent than Mr. Allan’s bachelors degree.

Besides the issue of adequate background for an understanding of PA’s environmental complexities, there are some other areas of potential concern. There’s the obvious one of whether campaign contributions, family and political connections fostered a political appointment. And, there are questions about Mr. Allan’s status within Allan Industries, including whether he continues to profit from this corporation and whether its activities are regulated by either DCNR, which he will head or PA DEP, where his wife holds a key position.

More important, however, is how this appointment may affect the relationships among regulatory agencies. When considering the long term and critically important connection that DCNR has had with PA’s Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), some may question the appropriateness of having DCNR’s head coming from the same household as PA DEP’s Policy Director. Both agencies have working relationships in such crucial areas as permit reviews. With budget cuts and mandates for expedited permit reviews coming from the new Governor, one can only hope that concerns of potential conflicts of interest will not materialize and DCNR’s role will not be further marginalized than it has been to date from its severe budget cuts.

Anne

Failing to Pass a Severance Tax…

Below some comments from the press and PennFuture about the state of the State’s budget sans a tax on drilling.

Inaction on drill tax has a bad odor to it
Sunday, October 24, 2010
By Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

…. Its [PA’s Legislature] latest gaffe is passing on collecting tens of millions of dollars in revenue from the oil and gas industry, which is making huge money in our state (and passing a good bit of it around Harrisburg). Nearly all of the nation’s natural gas comes out of the ground in states that have severance taxes, but we won’t have any….

Bill Holland is associate editor of Gas Daily, which covers the natural gas market in North America. He said, “Industry analysts have never been very concerned” about paying a tax in Pennsylvania. Even the House bill passed largely by Democrats last month wasn’t that big a deal, Mr. Holland said. “They expect a tax eventually — like there is everywhere else drilling occurs,” he said.

It’s not as if profit margins are low. Mr. Holland pointed to Chesapeake Energy’s recent statement that its break-even selling price for drilling Marcellus Shale gas is $2.45 per thousand cubic feet, and Friday’s closing price for gas futures was $3.35. Now drillers don’t have to worry about even a pin scratch on that pretty price spread….

To read the full opinion online, click here:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10297/1097325-155.stm

PennFuture’s Drilling Fact of the Day

October 22, 2010
The refusal of the Pennsylvania Senate leadership to consider a severance tax bill leaves Pennsylvania citizens in the lurch, with a $70 million hole in this year’s state budget, and with local communities holding the bag on covering the public safety and social costs that drillers bring with them….

To read the full PennFuture Drilling Fact of the Day, click here:

 

Neighbors take a stand on noise, odor of gas drilling

Sunday, March 14, 2010

By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mount Pleasant residents Dencil Backus, JoAnne Wagner and Bill Forrest stand near two “condensate” tanks, which are part of a compressor station complex in the village of Hickory , in Mount Pleasant , Washington County.

Just outside a fence enclosing a field on Debbie Hanes’ farm near Hickory in Washington County sits a noisy, smelly, two-story natural gas compressor station, running 24/7 and lit up at night like a minor league baseball park.

The rumbling noise of the four compressors in what’s known as the Fulton Station is audible a little more than 700 feet away at Ms. Hanes’ home in Mount Pleasant and to other residents of Washington Road up to a half-mile away.

MarkWest Energy Partners built the boxy, steel-clad building in 2008 for $4.4 million to collect gas from then-burgeoning Marcellus shale drilling and push it through a growing pipeline system to a processing plant eight miles to the southeast in Houston .

The station, which was expanded from two to four compressors last year without public notification, emits an industrial chemical odor into the bucolic countryside. At least once a day the operation produces a startling “belch” — a pressure release from valves located less than 50 feet from Ms. Hanes’ property line that is loud enough to spook humans, as well as her donkeys and horses in adjacent fields.

“We have farmland all around our property and the compressor station creates a huge change to the character of this neighborhood,” said Ms. Hanes, a member of a Mount Pleasant citizens committee that seeks more local input into future drilling operations. The committee has proposed an amendment to the local zoning ordinance aimed at regulating some of the noise, lighting, odor and air pollution impact associated with Marcellus shale gas drilling facilities.

Read the rest of this article here:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10073/1042737-58.stm#ixzz0iBughgSV

Pa. to lease forest land for gas drilling

Pa. to lease forest land for gas drilling
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will lease 31,967 acres of state forest land for deep gas well drilling, an amount that could meet a legislative mandate to raise $60 million from the sale of such leases in the 2009-10 budget year.

Department Secretary John Quigley said yesterday that offering leases on the forest land balances the state’s environmental and fiscal obligations.

“We chose these tracts of land after extensive environmental reviews to protect the health of the forest now and in the future, to allow for gas and timber extraction and public recreation, and to keep ecosystems intact that support a diversity of wildlife and plants,” Mr. Quigley said.

The six tracts proposed for leasing are located in the Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Susquehannock and Tioga state forests in Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Potter and Tioga counties.

The leases require a minimum bid of $2,000 an acre and royalties of 18 percent. If the state gets $2,000 bids on all the offered acreage, it would raise almost $64 million.

State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, who pushed for the sale of leases as chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said she is pleased the department moved quickly to implement an important part of the budget and is hopeful the offering will be successful.

Ms. White, in a statement released by her spokesman, also noted that responsible development of the Marcellus shale natural gas reserves was critical to avoiding a personal income tax increase as part of the recently passed budget.

According to state officials, the department has held 73 lease sales since 1947. The last, in 2008, brought in $190 million for 74,000 acres. But gas and lease prices have declined since then, and last spring the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council recommended that consideration of all new state forest land leases for drilling be put on hold.

Chris Novak, a DCNR spokeswoman, said a couple of recent lease agreements with large groups of private landowners in Susquehanna and Bradford counties indicates that gas drilling companies will still pay premium prices for desirable acreage.

In September, Fortuna Energy Inc. agreed to lease about 30,000 acres from a coalition of 600 property owners for $5,500 an acre. And Hess Corp. agreed to pay $3,500 an acre to another landowner coalition for drilling rights on 11,400 acres.

It’s been estimated that the Marcellus shale beds, 5,000 to 8,000 feet deep below three-quarters of Pennsylvania, could hold as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth as much as $1 trillion.

According to the DCNR, there are about 660,000 acres of state forest land under lease for gas production and 750 wells in production. If the just-proposed leases are successfully bid, the leased total would rise to 692,000 acres, about one-third of the 2.1 million acres of state forest.

Pre-qualified bidders may submit bids until 2 p.m., Jan. 12, at which time they will be opened publicly. The department said leases will be awarded based on the amount of the first year’s land rental. The primary lease term is 10 years and a lease covers annual land rental amounts and possible royalties.

For more information about state forests and gas leasing, visit the DCNR Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us or call 717-772-9101.

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

DEP should be ashamed of itself

Somebody please tell me WHY they gas industry is still drilling when we have all these problems popping up!?!?! Helen Humphrys comment about “a real challenge” is a terribly understated comment about polluted water!  I have been reading about the DEP’s findings and they are slowly realizing that they are going to have to create some new regulations and maybe change a couple of the old ones…and that will take effect in 2011, 2012. So what happens until then? What about the waste water from the drilling sites now?
At this point the DEP needs to step in and say NO DRILLING until this is resolved. I don’t understand why all of these public offices are treating the gas companies like we own them something. We don’t owe them anything! They owe the land owners and the state of PA and since the budget was signed with no severance tax we’re not even going to get that much out of them. If these companies want to continue to drill here then they should have to pay for all the waste water treatment facilities, all the water monitoring stations, heck they can pay for the state to hire more workers to keep tabs on all of this! If they want to drill here and take a resource that is going to make money for them then they should have to take the time and energy to make sure all the requirements are being met and the problem there lies in the the state of PA. PA has terrible regulations for their water and state land and as these problems arise they have done practically nothing to amend those regulations to make sure our water and forests are preserved and healthy. They’ll do but it will be too late. There is an awful lot of contamination that is going on and can go on between the start of the major drilling, about year ago, and 2012 when the new regulations actually take effect.
Okay, that’s my rant for the day. I used it up before noon…crap.
Levels of total dissolved solids spike in Monongahela
Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For the third time in the past 12 months, dissolved contaminants in the Monongahela River have spiked well above federal and state water quality standards for taste and odor, and the situation is expected to get worse.

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced yesterday that high levels of total dissolved solids, or TDS, in the river began showing up two weeks ago near the town of Crucible in Greene County. Since then, additional violations of the 500 parts per million TDS standard have been recorded in 46 miles of the river to Elizabeth in Allegheny County, where levels peaked on Saturday at about 600 parts per million.

“This is the second time we’ve noted high TDS levels this fall and that’s telling us that this is a problem,” said DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys. “We’ll be continuing to monitor the situation, but there’s no reason to think that levels will not go higher again. There’s no question we have a challenge before us.”

Last fall TDS levels exceeded water quality standards in more than 90 miles of the river and peaked at more than 900 parts per million.

The Monongahela River is the water supply for 350,000 people and the 11 public water treatment facilities that draw water from the river are not equipped to remove TDS, which is a measure of all elements dissolved in water, including carbonates, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

For most, high TDS levels will make the water smell and taste bad and spot dishes and glasses but do not make an affected water source unsafe to drink. But individuals allergic to sulfates can be sickened, and the DEP has once again advised concerned residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until river flows increase and TDS levels return to normal.

Sources of TDS include sewage treatment plants, drainage from abandoned and active mines, power plant scrubber and coolant water discharges and wastewater from oil and gas well drilling operations.