Thursday, April 1, 2010

Contaminated mud from Marcellus Shale gas drilling spills in state forest; Rendell may be changing mind on additional leasing

posted by Isaiah Thompson

Just a week ago, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget which relies on more than $100 million in revenue from new leasing of state forest for drilling in the Marcellus Shale (a third of the state forest has already been leased for drilling).

That decision, as I reported in February, ran contrary to the advice of former Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who warned shortly before resigning that further leasing would "scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest," as well as overburden the Department's limited staff.

Among the dangers associated with Marcellus Shale drilling is the potential for spills — a danger heightened by the rapid pace at which the industry has developed.

Yesterday, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported that 8,000 to 12,000 gallons of contaminated mud were spilled at Sproul state forest in Clinton County, Pa. — a site operated by Anadarko E&P Co. Inc. that was part of the governor's most recent lease of forest land for drilling, in January.

While about half of the mud spilled over the boundary of the well pad, it didn't spread far enough to contaminate any surface waters, ground water or wetlands in the area, said Mr. Spandoni. A contractor began cleanup work Friday night. DEP officials have taken mud samples to determine a proper disposal method.

The mud is used as a cooling agent in drilling operations. Since the mud that spilled is synthetic-based, it doesn't contain any diesel fluids as some other agents do, said Mr. Spandoni.

Comforted yet?

(Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Did he say DIESEL fluids???)

This certainly isn't the first case of "errors" resulting from hydraulic fracturing operations: There were 56 "illegal discharges" in 2008 and 2009.


These spills resulted in impacts to Alex Branch and Little Laurel Run streams, which are wild trout fisheries, and a freshwater spring used by local hunters.

Representative Greg Vitali, working with a coalition of environmentally-minded House representatives, has sponsored a bill calling for a moratorium on the leasing of more state land for drilling.

Despite what he says was a deal made between House "green dog" Democrats, who opposed such leasing, House leadership, and Governor Ed Rendell, the governor came out in favor of leasing additional land for this year's budget.

But, according to the Times-Tribune, he was singing a different tune yesterday:

Mr. Rendell expressed optimism Monday the state can meet next year's revenue target without leasing additional acreage of state forest land. He said more details will be forthcoming. Mr. Rendell also said for the first time he supports a moratorium bill.

If this is true, it's big news. Maybe Rendell has decided he doesn't want his legacy to have been pillaging the state forest to plug budget holes, after all.

(Or, Splashdown wonders... maybe he's catching on that it's pointless to try to play ball with an industry that doesn't play ball with anybody... maybe he feels had. Heh.)



  1. This whole debacle is so appalling and has been from the beginning. Isn't it "convenient" that so many states, like Pennsylvania, just happened to develop severe budget crises in the past few years just as the oil/gas companies were poised to move into Marcellus Shale gas drilling on a massive scale? It is particularly suspect, when you consider that the budget crises of many states, including PA, could have been largely averted were it not for two things: 1.) excessive debt load to Wall Street banks, via predatory state (and municipal, eg. Philadelphia) bond issues and 2.) skyrocketing costs for new prison construction and incarceration of a flood of new inmates, many of whom were incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. It is important to keep in mind that the same Wall Street banks who have already extorted money from taxpayers to bail them out of financial crises they created and brought on themselves, are also financing these oil/gas drilling operations as well as the construction of new prisons and state/municipal bond issues. It almost seems like a clever, subtle and indirect form of extortion. Have our states been set-up for this desperation play? Do you think Gov. Rendell would have done this unless he was desperate and felt his back was against the wall? I, personally, doubt that we would have. Let's not loose sight of who is profiting the most from all of this carnage. Naomi Klein described the phenomenon of "Disaster Capitalism" best in her book, "The Shock Doctrine". Perhaps it applies here. We need to keep our eye on the ball, on the big picture, and on who our most pernicious enemies are as this grand scheme continues to be played out at our expense. Our battle in the Marcellus Shale saga is part of a much larger battle and they are all connected. One thing is for sure, the stakes keep getting higher and higher.

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