Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oversight of chemicals used in gas drilling unclear... AND OUTRAGEOUS!

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Scranton (PA) Times-Tribune: Oversight of chemicals used in gas drilling unclear
Published: Monday, March 23, 2009 4:22 PM EDT

BRIDGEWATER TWP. — Cabot Oil and Gas began storing dozens of 55-gallon drums marked “methanol” on a Susquehanna County lot last winter about 100 feet and a crumbling fieldstone wall away from Matthew Nebzydoski’s backyard and his 4-year-old daughter’s swing set.
A resident recently contacted the county emergency management agency with photos of the drums, each of which is clearly labeled with a skull and crossbones, as well as several pictures of a barrel tipped over with a puncture through its side. The emergency agency forwarded the complaint to the Department of Environmental Protection, which generally regulates natural gas drilling in the state.
On March 12, DEP inspected the site and found no violations for spills, leaks or waste problems — the aspects of the site the department can regulate because the agency does not have oversight of chemical products stored in small containers, a spokesman said.
Despite the clean inspection, the barrels of methanol so close to a residential neighborhood raised questions about the toxic chemicals natural gas drilling is introducing in rural areas neither prepared nor zoned to deal with them.
Methanol, which gas operators use as an antifreeze in pipes, is considered hazardous by national and international fire, health and safety agencies. It is fatal to humans who swallow as little as 4 ounces; two teaspoons can cause blindness. But state and federal storage regulations for hazardous chemicals don’t bar companies from storing large quantities in open air without fences, even when small children live next door.
The methanol in the pipe yard next to Mr. Nebzydoski’s property also revealed uncertainty among state agencies about who regulates the storage of chemicals involved in gas drilling. Both county and state emergency management officials said they believe DEP regulates chemical storage at gas drilling sites, but an inquiry to a DEP spokesman about proper storage was forwarded to the Department of Labor and Industry.
A Department of Labor and Industry spokesman said, “DEP has specific requirements for storage of chemicals related to gas drilling, not PENNSAFE,” the Labor and Industry division that oversees the reporting of hazardous chemicals.
When asked whose jurisdiction the inspection of methanol storage in Bridgewater Twp. falls under, Mark Carmon, the regional DEP spokesman, said unless it violates a local ordinance, “I don’t know if it all falls under anybody. It’s an equipment storage yard.”

'You can see the poison labels from here'

Concerns about the chemicals used in the gas extraction process — particularly those chemicals mixed with water and sand and injected underground to fracture the gas-bearing Marcellus Shale — are often met with an insistence the chemicals make up a minute part of the millions of gallons of fracturing fluid used to stimulate each gas well.
But before the chemicals are diluted they are stored in concentrated amounts in places like the Cabot Oil and Gas Pipe Yard off Route 29.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Nebzydoski stood in his yard while his daughter, Maggie, played in a dirt pile and told herself a story about an imaginary garden.
Four years ago, when the middle school principal moved his family to the neighborhood — one of the rare residential developments in the rural townships just south of Montrose — the storage yard next door was a green field.
“You turn and look this way,” he said, glancing at the circle of tidy neighboring homes “and you see the perfect American dream-type neighborhood. You turn the other way and you see that.” He nodded at the dozens of black methanol barrels stacked against the side of a trailer, plastic totes of purple and yellow chemicals used in the process of drilling for gas and, to the left, storage tanks, construction vehicles and a pile of long teal pipes.

“You can see the poison labels from here,” he said.

Nothing but the fallen wall and a narrow strip of brush separates his yard from the industrial site — a concern in a neighborhood with about 20 children, he said. At the entrance to the pipe yard from Route 29 there is only a small sign, for the self-storage facility that shares the lot, that declares “absolutely no trespassing.”
Mr. Nebzydoski believes local ordinances and zoning districts might have prohibited an industrial storage yard from locating next door to his neighborhood, but Bridgewater Twp., like most municipalities in Susquehanna County, is not zoned.
The township is pursuing zoning, but some vocal residents have rallied against it, worrying it will stifle economic development, according to township Supervisor Charles Mead.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Fire Protection Association set protocols for how flammable and combustible liquids must be stored, they do not prohibit storage outside or without fences.
A Cabot spokesman said although there are dozens of drums marked methanol in the yard, a check Friday afternoon revealed only 11 were full. The other 59 were empty and waiting to be sent back to a supplier to be refilled. Cabot never stores as many as 24 full barrels in the yard at once, he said.
He also explained the storage yard is temporary and the company has for some time been working to establish a fenced, permanent storage yard and building farther south on Route 29.
“The plan has been all along not to have those drums there long term,” the spokesman, Ken Komoroski, said.

Rules only go so far

Federal and state regulations that address the storage of hazardous chemicals are meant to help communities prepare for toxic dangers in their towns, but natural gas development in the region has also revealed the limits of those rules.
Federal law dictates facilities that store hazardous chemicals above a certain threshold, usually 10,000 pounds, must report it to state and local emergency response agencies, including the local fire department.
Called the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the federal regulations are meant to inform emergency responders and residents about where hazardous chemicals are being produced or used in their communities.
But oil and gas operators have adopted generic reporting terms that allow them to disclose categories of chemicals, like “solvents” or “surfactants,” rather than specific chemicals stored at each site. Some states, including Texas, do not accept generic reporting.

In Pennsylvania, if oil and gas companies use generic descriptions, they still have to identify what chemicals are used and in what percentage, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industry said. Furthermore, companies in the state must submit site plans along with chemical inventory reports pinpointing exactly where at a facility chemicals are stored.

***But a review of Cabot chemical inventory reports submitted to the Susquehanna County Emergency Management Agency in the last three years revealed the forms are often vague and inconsistent.
None of the four chemical inventory reports the company has filed include site plans. On one form, Cabot indicates diesel fuel poses a fire hazard; on another it indicates it does not. Each of the forms is stamped with instructions to consult the generic hazardous chemical inventory for the oil and gas industry, which lists the “categories of hazardous chemicals rather than the trade names and specific chemical names.”

In total, the Cabot reports disclose “cement,” “diesel fuel,” “drilling mud,” “fracture fluids,” “produced hydrocarbons,” “proppants” and “associated additives” as the hazardous chemicals found in reportable quantities across 21 well sites.
The reports do not specifically list the presence of methanol because Cabot has never reached the reportable threshold for the chemical, Mr. Komoroski said.
“We receive barrels in and we send the barrels back to be refilled. We never exceed the threshold. We have never even approached that.”
He could not answer specific questions about how Cabot uses generic reporting because, he said, the company hires a “professional experienced consultant” to create its chemical inventory reports.
“We do believe that the company is fully complaint with its (chemical inventory) reporting obligations now,” he said.

(New contradictions?)
He also said Cabot conducts regular training sessions with the local fire company where information about hazardous chemicals is provided to first responders.
According to the local fire chief, Cabot has not submitted the reports to the Springville Volunteer Fire Company, the local fire department. On its reports for the county emergency management agency, Cabot listed the local fire company as “Dimock,” which does not exist.

Firefighters unprepared

In the last year, Chief Dan Smales, of Springville Volunteer Fire Company, has seen his small, country fire company called to industrial-type incidents as gas development has increased in the region.
He said the volunteer firefighters have learned on the job at each incident — a diesel spill, an accidental injury, gas flares — without specific training.
He also said the lack of chemical inventory reports sent to his department — and the lack of clarity on the ones submitted to the county emergency management agency — are cause for concern. For example, he said, the term “fracture fluids” on Cabot’s report does not clarify the risks for him.
“We have no idea what that stuff is,” he said. “We don’t know. They haven’t told us.”
That lack of information has defined much of his fire company’s experience with gas drilling so far. Most often, when the firefighters respond to a call, Cabot well tenders or contracted hazardous materials teams have already taken care of the problem, he said.
This week, Cabot is holding a dinner and training session for a few members of each area fire company, but although Chief Smales said Cabot has been “great to work with,” he does not know what he will learn at the training, or even what he would like to learn.

“I think the biggest thing is, what do we do if? What if a well does catch fire, is there a valve to shut off. How do you stop it? I don’t know.”

In the meantime, the firefighters want to protect the community and the community wants more information, putting first responders in a difficult position.
“I think there are a lot of questions and people want answers and I don’t have them,” he said.

Chemicals listed on DEP Web site

The state Department of Environmental Protection published a list of chemicals found in natural gas operators’ hydraulic fracturing solutions on its Web site for the first time Friday.
The list includes the vendor names of products used by the operators in the state and the hazardous chemicals, by weight, in each of those products.
The list can be viewed at

Contact the writer:

Copyright © 2009 - The Times-Tribune
(Editorializing by SPLASH)


  1. What a relief that:
    "only 11 [barrels of methanol] were full. The other 59 were empty and waiting to be sent back to a supplier to be refilled. Cabot never stores as many as 24 full barrels in the yard at once," said an industry spokeman. He also explained the storage yard is temporary and the company has for some time been working to establish a fenced, permanent storage yard and building farther south on Route 29.

    Oh, that makes all the difference in the world! Just a "temporary" toxic chemical storage area next door to a 4-year-old girl and her family. If this child ingests this chemical, will there be a "temporary" poisoning effect?

    “The plan has been all along not to have those drums there long term,” the spokesman, Ken Komoroski, said.

    So short term storage is OK. From what I have heard in Texas these short term plans often turn into long term arrangements. I guess it depends on one's definition of "short."

    This is a good example of how seriously the gas industry takes the safety of people and animals. We just do not matter to them. They will look you in the eye and tell you they do care, but they don't. Actions speak louder than words every time.

  2. What happened to the chemicals in the empty barrels? No matter how you look at this one, it's ugly.

  3. Splash,
    Great site to wake up a sleeping community (Great compliment to Texas Sharon's blog and reform page). I, like you, am extremely concerned over what is happening and what is about to happen. The devastation and pollution have already begun. I've embarked on a mission to educate as many of my friends and neighbors about the hazards associated with this unconventional drilling practice but most of them look at me like I'm nuts. Most don't have internet access let alone DSL, so I can't direct them to your blog. I've gone a step further and ordered 10 DVD documentary's from YogaBill on YouTube titled Rural Impact: What to expect from the gas industry in order to further the cause. What can we do locally to organize and get the word out? I live in Wyalusing and would love to organize a public forum at a firehall or church to educate our friends and neighbors about the real impacts. Any thoughts are welcomed.

  4. Dear "They'll never lease my 27 acres,"
    Bravo to you for posting here and sharing your strong feelings about gas drilling. You are not alone! My family summers in French Asylum. I for one would love to have an info event somewhere. Lord knows, the gas companies have had their info nights. You might even start with your friends and show "Rural Impact." I have that DVD, too, and it's good. Let's keep connected here and maybe in the future something can be arranged to help educate our neighbors. If people knew the truth, nobody would be for gas drilling on their land. I've thought I might contact the pastor at French Asylum United Methodist Church to see what her position is and maybe she would support a meeting there.

  5. Peacegirl,
    I will definately stay in touch. I thought of doing the same thing in our church or maybe even the Braintrim hall in Laceyville. If you haven't watched the 3 new videos on essential dissent from the March 17th meeting in New York (Crusaders from Damascus Citizens group holding informative meeting in Endicott, NY) it's worth watching.
    There are 3 parts. Ron Gulla, farmer from Hickory, PA, whose entire 141 acre farm was ruined by drilling speaks in the 2nd and 3rd video. Time is of the essence and the word needs to hit the streets ASAP. Keep in touch.

  6. Thank you all for your concern and informative comments! We are already making a difference... all we need now is more of us so we can make a bigger one!

  7. Dear "They'll never lease my 27 acres,"
    I have watched the Essential Dissent videos you mentioned. I watched them twice and the second time I took notes! Isn't it great that we're finding some of the same resources! It is time to share them with a broader audience. I think it is time for me to reinstitute a "salon" at my house. My husband and I hosted a salon at our house in Va. Beach, VA, which met every 8 weeks. It was called Salon for a Sustainable Future. I think I've got to get busy again. I live in Rochester, NY, and, of course, the gas industry is in our state, too, just not as far along as PA.

  8. Peacegirl,
    Glad you found the videos informative. Ron Gulla really puts it perspective and you can't ask for anyone better to convey the truth about hydro-fracing. I'm hopeful to rally concerned citizens in Bradford County and start something similar. I'm also hopeful that the 10 DVD's I purchased from Bill Sitkin (the rural impact series) will circulate as fast as a brushfire in March. BTW, I graduated from RIT with a BS in EE. Great place to live and central to so many natural wonders. Small world.

  9. I'll never lease my 27 acres-
    It is a small world! I will be in Bradford County off and on this spring and summer. I would like to band together with people to take a stand on gas drilling. So let us know if you plan anything.

  10. I too hope we can gather critical mass in our area and become an effective force for a sane and sustainable future. Spread the word
    about splashdown! Watch the announcments for upcoming meetings or plan one and submit it to be posted!
    Thank you for participating and adding to the body of knowledge shared

  11. Could we plan a film showing or two? I have Rural Impact (and so does "They'll never lease") and Dirty Ol' Town: The True Cost of Gas Drilling in Fort Worth Neighborhoods. And there are other videos, too. If we could find a couple of churches or other places that would let us have an event, we could invite the public. We could follow the film(s) with a discussion and perhaps invite people who are questioning the safety of gas drilling. I know Pastor Jean Montgomery of French Azilum UM Church and North Towanda UM Church. I thought I might contact her and see if this issue is important to her and her parishioners. She must have a few people in her congregations that have signed leases.

  12. Peacegirl,
    I'm all for supporting an effort such as this as I've thought along these same lines for a while. I'm still waiting on my 10 copies of Rural Impact from Bill in Colorado. In the meantime I've been including the links to the Rural Impact series everywhere I can for those that have a high speed internet connection.

    Rural Impact Series (6 parts in all)

  13. Thanks for the references They'l never... Look, I've posted the Rural Impact videos!

  14. SPLASH,
    Thanks for adding the links to the site. Great job with all the information you've provided and all the efforts you've put into the site. I also list links to this site, texas sharons site, the damascus citizens group, and the oil and gas accountability project. The latter is one you may want to add here as a link as well. See link below:

    Keep up the great work. My DVD's have arrived and are already beginning to be distributed. Will let you know when I ascertain a place to give a public showing.



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