Tuesday, February 23, 2010
This Viewpoint, by Keith Oberg, Brackney, PA resident, is an eloquent reflection on the situation that lies ahead for communities of folks like you and me living on top of the Marcellus shale... a situation already facing residents of Dimock... Oberg's perspective gives us lots to think about...
February 23, 2010
Much has been written, and will continue to be written, about the Marcellus shale; on one side about how much money and jobs it will bring, and on the other, about how much environmental damage may result. But this battle of words, being waged by gas development's proponents and opponents, is mostly speculative. There is probably some truth as well as exaggeration coming from both sides, but the argument may be missing the point. Here in Susquehanna County we are beginning to experience the reality - and the reality is very disheartening.
If you own land to which you are not particularly attached, or which represents only an investment - something to log, or quarry, or exploit in some other way - the Marcellus is just another opportunity. But if you live in the country because you love the rural aesthetic, because you seek solitude, or the joy of experiencing the natural world, you are in for a very unpleasant surprise. You are going to be living in the middle of an industrial zone.
In Dimock over the past year, gas well pads have been installed or are being planned at a rate of one for every 80 acres or so, meaning roughly eight gas well pads per square mile. You will inevitably be within eyesight and ear shot of at least one gas well, and will have numerous well sites in and around your community. Each well pad is a prominent graveled work yard of three to five gated acres, including large pits, tanks, pipes, valves, generators and exhaust stacks. Each has a heavy-duty gravel access road, and each has a 30- to 40-foot-wide pipeline swathe going to the next well pad in a continuous network across the countryside. Your rural landscape will be transformed by bulldozers into an industrial complex. Everywhere you look you will see their handiwork.Once you and your neighbors sign leases, you will no longer be the masters of your lands. The gas exploration companies will take over, first with miles of wire and small dynamite charges every 100 yards to map the rock below, then with road building, pad development, pipeline clearing and drilling. Gas company employees will be polite, but firm about their rights to your land.
While the process of development and drilling goes on, you will be subject to the noise and vibration of a major industrial operation. The coming and going of work crews and the trucking of millions of gallons of frack water, waste water and miles of piping will dominate your roadways. When they flame off the new gas wells, the light from the huge roaring torches will brighten the night sky for miles around. You will feel like you are living in J.R.R. Tolkien's Mordor.
Your world will not return to normal for many, many years to come. They will not simply sweep through an area and then be gone. The gas companies will cap the wells, re-open the wells, re-drill the wells in different directions, add more wells at the same site, or build new sites around you for many years and perhaps decades to come, depending on the market and their own timetable. They will be here until the gas runs out.
Natural gas may be a great benefit to our local economy - and will make a lot of people a lot of money - but for the majority of us who revere the natural world, it represents the loss of the beauty and tranquility that brought us to the countryside in the first place. And for those who live on small rural lots or are tenants, there isn't even any compensation for their loss.We can argue forever about the pros and cons, but the reality is that our lives, our communities and our natural environment will never be the same.
Monday, February 22, 2010
February 22, 2010
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a live online town hall meeting on February 23, 2010, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST. Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, along with other EPA officials, will answer questions on how to reduce your carbon footprint. EPA will also engage viewers in the ongoing environmental justice discussion of the 2008 Definition of Solid Waste rule.
EPA is interested in hearing what citizens are doing to fight climate change and how the agency can help encourage this effort.
In January, EPA began requesting public input on a draft plan for assessing the potential impacts of hazardous waste recycling rule on low-income, minority and tribal populations. EPA will hold a series of public roundtables on this topic in January and February. The online town hall meeting offers another opportunity for the public to share their thoughts on the draft plan.
There are two ways to attend and/or participate in the town hall meeting:
Interested parties may access the live video stream of the meeting at www.epa.gov/oswer/videotownhall.htm. Participants are encouraged to submit questions and comments email@example.com before or during the meeting. The organizers of the event will select a representative sample of questions submitted and answer as many as possible.
Participants may also listen to the meeting toll free by calling 1-877-220-5073, conference code 51715371. Those attending by phone will have an opportunity to ask questions towards the end of the meeting. We will answer as many questions as possible.
More information on the video town hall meeting: http://www.epa.gov/oswer/videotownhall.htm
A caucus of 37 "green dog" and "hunting dog" legislators is barking mad about a Rendell administration budget proposal that would seek to raise $180 million by leasing more state forest land for Marcellus shale gas well drilling.
State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, said the pro-environment and pro-hunting Democratic legislators in the conservation caucus are strongly opposed to leasing what could be another 50,000 to 80,000 acres of the state's forests for deep gas drilling beginning in July and will not compromise that position in upcoming budget negotiations.
"We're doing everything we can to stop this," said Mr. Levdansky, a member of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and chairman of the House Finance Committee. "To me this could be the worst environmental catastrophe I've seen in my 25 years in Harrisburg."
In a Feb. 3 letter to the governor, the legislators called for a moratorium on state forest land leasing until the "long-term environmental, fiscal, economic and social impacts" are studied and reviewed and requested a meeting with the governor on the issue.
According to the legislator's letter, at least 100 wells already are slated for drilling in state forests this year. And another 1,500 well pads containing 5,000 to 6,000 wells could be drilled in the next 10 years on the forest land leased in the last two years.
Mr. Levdansky said the proposed widespread drilling will fragment the forests with a checkerboard of drilling pads, pipelines and service roads, make the forests more susceptible to disease, damage endangered species habitat and allow invasive species to enter the state's forest ecosystems.
"Our state forests are the envy of the other states in the nation, a wonderful system, and now the governor wants to open them up for a short-term revenue gain. It's a travesty," he said.
Last year the state leased almost 32,000 acres of state forest land for gas well drilling, raising $60 million for the general fund and $68 million to the oil and gas fund. In 2008 the state broke a five-year moratorium on forest land leasing and auctioned off 74,000 acres of drilling rights for $166 million.
All told, a total of 660,000 acres of the state's 2.1 million-acre forest system already have already been leased for both shallow and deep gas and oil drilling.
Gary Tuma, a spokesman for the governor, said the plan to lease more state forest land was part of a two-year deal on gas rights leasing agreed to by the state's Republican and Democratic legislative caucuses last fall to generate needed general fund revenues. He said the governor agreed to it after the Legislature failed to support proposals to increase the personal income tax and a severance tax on natural gas from the Marcellus shale.
"The governor wasn't excited about leasing the state forest land," Mr. Tuma said. "But the decision has been made absent some other alternative revenue source."
But Mr. Levdansky said that, although the governor asked for a second year of forest leases in last year's budget negotiations, House Democratic leaders did not agree to that.
"If the governor isn't excited about leasing more forest land he shouldn't do it," Mr. Levdansky said. "He has other options. Let's get serious about putting a gas severance tax in place, that according to the governor could bring in $160 million to $180 million next year."
The legislators' letter praised the governor for once again supporting a severance tax on natural gas pumped from the Marcellus shale and said they would "fervently support" enactment of that tax. Mr. Rendell originally supported such a tax early last year but dropped his support during budget negotiations in the fall. Thirty-nine other states impose such a tax.
About 1.5 million acres of the 2.1 million acres of state forests are in the "Marcellus Zone" above the 5,000- to 8,000-foot-deep shale layer that underlies three-quarters of the state and could hold as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply U.S. gas demands for 10 to 15 years.
Last month, Trout Unlimited, a national fishing and conservation organization, criticized Pennsylvania for last year's lease of 32,000 acres, calling it a "failure to protect public resources" that could have a detrimental effect on fish and wildlife habitat.
"We have already seen detrimental effects to water quality on our state forests and find this unacceptable," David Rothrock, president of the Pennsylvania Council of TU, said in a press release last month. "The state budget should not be balanced at the expense of hunters and anglers."
Statewide, approximately 2,500 Marcellus shale gas well drilling permits were issued from 2007 through 2009 by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which projects another 5,000 permits will be issued this year.
Developing the gas could bring billions of dollars into the state and create thousands of jobs, according to the gas industry and some state officials.
February 20, 2010 at 5:24 AM
by Aaron T. Evans
CLEARFIELD, PA – On Wednesday well over 100 people turned out to listen to testimony at public hearing held by the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee at the Knights of Columbus. The hearing was held to solicit testimony on the proposed House Bill 2213, which would amend the existing Oil and Gas Act of 1984. The purpose of the bill is to provide further protection to surface land and water supplies from natural gas drilling activities.
HB 2213 would:
-Require the DEP to inspect Marcellus well sites during each drilling phase;
-Extend to 2,500 feet, from 1,000 feet, the presumed liability of a well polluting a water supply;
-Require disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing – fracing – of the natural gas from the earth;
-Update bonding requirements to cover the costs of decommissioning a well;
-Clarify local governments’ traditional authority to regulate oil and gas activities.
The meeting opened with members of the committee giving comments on HB 2213, gas well drilling and Pennsylvania’s water system.
For complete article, CLICK HERE.
Inquirer Staff Writer
February 21, 2010
Pennsylvania's countryside was a smoldering moonscape 90 years ago, the hardwoods decimated for fuel and the hemlocks cut down for tannic acid to process leather.
From those ruins, Harrisburg assembled the Pennsylvania State Forests, now one of the nation's largest sustainable systems certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the gold standard for enlightened forestry practices.
But some officials in the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) fear the hard-fought "green" certification could be threatened by the rush to cash in on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
John Quigley, acting DCNR secretary, has questioned how much gas leasing can be tolerated on public lands after the latest auction put 32,000 more acres of forest into the industry's hands.
"Over time, as all this activity proceeds, we could very well jeopardize that certification," Quigley told The Inquirer. "That may not happen immediately, but it's something very important to us."
The debate no doubt will be replayed in the spring as legislators consider Gov. Rendell's $29 billion budget request, which counts on raising $180 million more from gas leasing in 2010-11.
Next year, Rendell's successor will likely face pressure to lease more acreage. Already, nearly half the 1.5 million acres of state forest that lie in the Marcellus "fairway" are leased to gas operators.
"A rush to drill threatens the certification of our state forests as sustainably managed," Quigley's predecessor, Michael DiBerardinis, e-mailed Rendell in March in a campaign that succeeded in slowing down legislators who wanted far more acreage leased.
The gas industry's defenders say the DCNR is capable of accommodating Marcellus exploration while sustainably managing the woodlands.
"Frankly, we don't think it's a major issue," said Patrick Henderson, a spokesman for State Sen. Mary Jo White (R., Venango), the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
Drilling opponents overstate the number of trees that would be lost to gas exploration, Henderson said. The most recent leases limit operators to 123 drilling locations totaling no more than 645 acres - about 2 percent of the 32,000 acres leased. The most sensitive timberlands are completely off-limits.
"It's not like they're clear-cutting 32,000 acres," he said.
The value of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification apparently is not universally appreciated.
"What does it mean beyond hanging a certificate on the wall that says you've done a good job?" Henderson asked.
Conservation and timber interests say certification is critical to the state's embattled forest-products industry, one of the nation's largest suppliers of hardwoods. The sector employs 70,000 people, down about 20,000 jobs since the housing market collapsed.
"The certification gives you market access," said Paul Lyskava, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association. "Certain end-users require FSC certification as part of their specs. If you have access to that timber, you have access to those markets."
Though the DCNR's 2.1 million acres account for only 12 percent of the state's woodlands - most forests are privately owned - they account for 88 percent of Pennsylvania forests certified by FSC.
That makes Pennsylvania a key timber supplier to a growing market for lumber and paper that carries a "green" imprimatur. Last year, state forests generated nearly $20 million from timber sales - about half the amount generated five years ago, when the market was robust.
"We want to let people know we're concerned about the environment, that we're not just in it to rape the land," said Marc Lewis, co-owner of the Dwight Lewis Lumber Co. Inc. in Sullivan County, which produces hardwoods used in cabinetry. His company bought timber worth $720,000 last year from the state forests.
"We're in it for the long haul," said Lewis, a third-generation lumberman whose company's 15,000 acres are also FSC-certified.
Though the Forest Stewardship Council is one of several "eco-label" agencies that certify forestry practices, its association with the Rainforest Alliance and other environmental groups gives a little more credibility to the industries that meet its approval. It brings a degree of peace from activists, who have disrupted logging in other states.
"Managing timber on public lands can be very controversial, and on the West Coast, they have wars over this," said James R. Grace, deputy secretary of the DCNR, who was the state forester when Pennsylvania received its certification in 1998.
"It keeps environmental groups satisfied that we're moving in the right direction," said Lewis Fix, vice president of brand management and sustainable-product development for Domtar Corp., a Canadian firm that advertises itself as "the sustainable paper company."
Domtar, North America's largest producer of "uncoated free sheet" paper, a segment that includes copy paper, says more than a quarter of its pulp is FSC-certified, double the amount from three years ago.
Most of its 11 mills are FSC-certified, including the Johnsonburg, Pa., plant Domtar acquired from Weyerhaeuser Co. in 2007.
"The sustainability piece has enormous resonance," John D. Williams, Domtar's chief executive officer, told analysts this month.
In the most recent examination of state forests, FSC auditors said they were monitoring Marcellus gas-drilling activity for any adverse effect on the most sensitive stands of timber. Though 1,000 Marcellus wells are expected to be drilled in the forests in the next decade, only six have been completed thus far. More than 30 well pads have been cleared.
State forestry officials say the deep horizontal-drilling technique used to reach the Marcellus Shale may be less disruptive to the surface than the shallow vertical-well drilling of the past.
A dozen or more shallow wells might be spaced evenly over a square mile - each well requiring an access road and a pipeline. But Marcellus operators can access the same area through multiple wells drilled from a single location.
In Sproul State Forest near Lock Haven, foresters decided to position the drilling sites next to existing roadways to minimize fragmentation. Though the practice is more environmentally sensitive, the wells are visible to the public.
State Forester Daniel A. Devlin said the continuation of the DCNR's certification depended on how the state managed the drilling. In the forthcoming budget, Rendell has included 12 more foresters to monitor the activity - a 20 percent increase of staff currently devoted to it.
One thing is certain, said the DCNR's Grace: "Gas drilling is clearly a major change in land management in rural Pennsylvania. Not just for the forests, for everything."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
February 20, 2010
ELMIRA HEIGHTS -- Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish, Texas, says New York is in a unique position when it comes to getting natural gas.
"What I'm proposing is you look at the negative impacts we've had and do it better here," Tillman told a crowd that packed the Heights Theater on Saturday morning for his address.
Tillman says he does not oppose drilling for natural gas. Rather, he supports using gas production and distribution methods that have minimal environmental impact.
"We have air quality issues in Dish," Tillman said before the presentation. "There's a lot of things that can be put in place ... that would eliminate a lot of those problems."
Tillman said the older technology compressor stations in and around Dish, which compress natural gas and remove impurities for transport through pipelines, would pollute less if they were updated.
A recent environmental study of Dish shows excessive levels of benzene and other carcinogens and neurotixins in the air, as well as chemicals associated with natural gas production in the water.
Tillman told reporters what he would do with natural gas in Texas if he could do it all over again:
"I would probably do what New York's doing and I would frankly just slow things down quite a bit and think about things and make sure that everything was done in a responsible, respectful and safe manner," Tillman said.
"We did the 'ready, fire, aim.' We didn't take our time and look at the whole process."
Tillman had many suggestions for what New York and Pennsylvania might consider as gas exploration increases.
Tillman said New York and Pennsylvania are the only two of the 32 states that have had gas exploration but do not charge a severance tax -- which measures the gas and taxes it when it is brought above ground.
Tillman said such a tax could generate funds to pay for road maintenance and hire regulators to watch the industry. Gov. David Paterson proposed such a tax this year.
He said stricter regulations likely will not chase away the gas companies.
Tillman also recommended taking the power to permit drilling away from the state, favoring local decision-makers instead.
"The further you go up in government, the less attached officials are," Tillman said.
"Your local officials don't need to ask for (permitting authority); they need to demand it."
Noel Sylvester, 62, of Cameron Mills, who has a gas lease agreement with Fortuna Energy, said he wanted to hear about Tillman's experiences in person.
Sylvester said he doesn't oppose drilling for natural gas if it can be done cleanly.
"If we think there's going to be an impact in the next generation or two, there's something wrong with the process. It should be cleaner than that and better than that."
Sylvester said he makes about $500 a year from his gas lease.
CLICK HERE for link to complete article.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
February 19, 2010
Two of the largest companies involved in natural gas drilling have acknowledged pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel-based fluids into the ground in the process of hydraulic fracturing, raising further concerns that existing state and federal regulations don’t adequately protect drinking water from drilling.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., who released the information in a statement Thursday, announced that the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which he chairs, is launching an investigation into potential environmental impacts from hydraulic fracturing.
The process, which forces highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into rock to release the gas and oil locked inside, gives drillers unprecedented access to deeply buried gas deposits and vastly increases the country’s known energy reserves. But as ProPublica has detailed in more than 60 articles, the process comes with risks. The fluids used in hydraulic fracturing are laced with chemicals — some of which are known carcinogens. And because the process is exempt from most federal oversight, it is overseen by state agencies that are spread thin and have widely varying regulations.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examined hydraulic fracturing and determined it can be safe as long as diesel fuel isn’t added to the drilling fluids. The agency based its decision in part on a non-binding agreement it struck with the three largest drilling service companies — Halliburton, Schlumberger and B.J. Services — to stop using diesel. But the agreement applied only to gas drilling in a specific type of geologic formation: shallow coal deposits. The EPA study has since been widely criticized.
The information obtained by Waxman’s group shows that B.J. Services violated that agreement and that Halliburton continued to use diesel in other geologic formations not governed by the agreement. All three companies acknowledged using other potentially harmful chemicals, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
A memo (PDF) released by the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday said B.J. Services acknowledged that between 2005 and 2007 it injected 2,500 gallons of diesel-based fuels into coal bed methane wells.
Jeff Smith, CFO for B.J. Services, told ProPublica the incidents in which diesel was used were isolated, and that the company has been vigilant in making sure that it has not been used since.
“The company has taken this very seriously,” he said.
The memo said Halliburton reported using more than 807,000 gallons of diesel-based fuel to fracture wells in 15 states during the three-year period. But in a statement released Thursday night Halliburton said any suggestion that it had violated the agreement was “completely inaccurate,” because none of the fuel was used in coal bed methane wells.
“Halliburton is firmly committed to full compliance” with the agreement, the statement said.
The information about the companies came from an investigation Waxman launched when he was chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during the last Congress.
As part of the new investigation by the Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman and subcommittee chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent letters to eight companies, including Halliburton, B.J. Services and Schlumberger, asking for more information about the drilling process and the chemicals it requires. The five other companies — Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corp. and Calfrac Well Services – are smaller companies that make up a growing share of the market. They are not included in the 2003 memorandum of agreement with the EPA.
“As the use of these technologies expands, there needs to be oversight to ensure that their use does not threaten the public health of nearby communities,” said the memo from Waxman and Markey.
The letters ask the companies for detailed information, including documentation of all the wells they hydraulically fractured from 2007 to 2009, the proximity of those wells to underground drinking water sources, the volumes and types of chemicals used in the process, and any health and environmental effects of the drilling. If the companies comply, the committee will have created the most complete picture to date of hydraulic fracturing.
Click for pdf files of the letters (LINK):
- Letter to Andrew Gould
- Letter to Roger Willis
- Letter to David J. Lesar
- Letter to Douglas R. Ramsay
- Letter to Darin MacDonald
- Letter to J.W. Stewart
- Letter to Dan Wilks
- Letter to David E. Wallace
Smith said B.J. Services will fully respond to the request. When asked if the company has used petroleum distillates and benzene in its drilling process, he said, “I’m not going to get into the details in terms of what the chemicals are.” He said that the information will be disclosed in the company’s response to the committee’s letter.
Halliburton also said it will respond to the committee’s request for information.
Schlumberger spokesman Stephen Harris said in an e-mail that officials at the company “have received the Committee’s request and are reviewing it,” but he declined to comment further.
Commentary in red and letter inserts by Splashdown.
Friday, February 19, 2010
(AP) The U.S. Forest Service wants a federal judge in Erie to reverse his December ruling which temporarily lifted a ban on oil and gas well drilling in the Allegheny National Forest.
U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin's ruling says Forest Service officials were wrong to ban drilling in April until an environmental assessment could be done. The Forest Service agreed to the ban to settle litigation brought by environmentalists.
Meanwhile, oil and gas companies who stood to lose millions of dollars under the ban have asked the judge to make his December order permanent.
McLaughlin has scheduled arguments on both requests March 9.
See Splashdown December 18, 2009 post: Erie judge ends drilling ban in Allegheny National Forest: Forest Service can't dictate forest's mineral-rights development!
Friday, February 19, 2010
CBF and TU Call For Ban On Marcellus Gas Wells In Floodplains After Incidents In Susquehanna & Lycoming Counties
February 18, 2010
In the rush to develop the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania, natural gas wells are being permitted and drilled in floodplains. Two such wells, one operated by Stone Energy along Wyalusing Creek in Rush Township, Susquehanna County, and one operated by XTO along Muncy Creek in Shrewsbury Township, Lycoming County already experienced flooding events.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Trout Unlimited (TU) call upon the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to remedy this clear environmental and public health hazard.
“The handling of fracking chemicals and highly contaminated drilling wastewater in floodplains is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. It has to stop,” said Matt Ehrhart, executive director of CBF’s Pennsylvania Office. “Permitting well pads in floodplains causes a very serious threat of pollution. We call upon DEP to use its authority under the Clean Streams Law to order the companies operating these wells to permanently cap and abandon them, and then reclaim the sites to their natural condition.”
While current regulations do not allow well pads to be located within 100 feet of streams or within the floodway without an encroachment permit, neither the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act nor its regulations prohibit siting wells in floodplains. Because horizontal drilling technology is used to drill into Marcellus shale, the gas underneath streams and floodplains can easily be accessed from a pad location in an upland area, avoiding risk of flooding and catastrophic pollution to Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. There is no reason to site wells in floodplains.In late January, heavy rains hit northern Pennsylvania and several streams and rivers experienced flooding events, including Wyalusing and Muncy Creeks. Both the Stone Energy and the XTO sites were flooded as a result of these events.
“This loophole must be closed immediately,” said Dave Rothrock, president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.
“The risk of pollution to our streams will increase exponentially in a matter of weeks,” said Rothrock. “As we head into the season of snowmelt and spring rains, there should be absolutely no more well drilling activity in floodplains anywhere in Pennsylvania.”
The Stone Energy site was permitted along Wyalusing Creek by DEP without the necessary encroachment permits. While DEP issued a notice of violation to the company the week before the flood, the agency should have never issued the well drilling permit in the first place. CBF has previously highlighted serious flaws in the fast track permitting process implemented by DEP since April 2009, where permit applications do not receive careful environmental review but are instead pushed quickly out the door....
“The Stone Energy site is yet another example of permits being issued without the necessary review,” said Ehrhart. “DEP should not have issued a drilling permit that close to the creek, plain and simple. If the agency was spending any time looking at the proposed location, it would have known that.”
Complete article: LINK
- Switchboard, Amy Mall's Blog
- Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, NRDC
- Posted February 18, 2010
Today Congressmen Henry Waxman and Edward Markey of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that they have sent letters to eight oil and gas service companies regarding the health risks of hydraulic fracturing.
The Congressmen issued a detailed memo explaining why they were sending these letters. They note that a consulting firm hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that 12 contaminant cases “may have a possible link to hydraulic fracturing, but, to date, EPA has insufficient information on which to make a definitive decision.”
Shocking news coming out of today’s memo is that two hydraulic fracturing companies have used diesel in hydraulic fracturing fluid since the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Waxman/Markey memo notes EPA’s concern that the “use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat” to underground sources of drinking water.
Read Amy's complete report HERE.
Write your Senators and Representative today! See the burning water drop in the sidebar at left.
Fox 40 WICZ TV
Friday, February 19, 2010
Mayor Calvin Tillman says town officials in DISH, TX, had big ideas about what natural gas wells like these could bring to the area.
"Jobs, prosperity -- most of the things the folks in the Marcellus Shale are probably thinking about right now," said Tillman.
Tillman says drilling into the Bartlett Shale has cost the town as much as it's gained.
DISH's web site provides information about about its noise problem and air quality study -- which found several toxins related to gas production.
Sixty percent of residents who filled out a health questionnaire reported symptoms known to be related to those toxins.
"Watery eyes, sore throat, severe headaches, nausea, neurological problems," Tillman said.
Tillman was invited to the area by the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition. He plans to talk to residents about urging state lawmakers to pass regulations to protect the environment if drilling is approved in New York.
A local environmental defense lawyer says getting these regulations passed depends on team work from both sides of the issue.
"The economy vs. the environment, landowners vs. everyone else -- these are false dichotomies, and there's one water table that everyone's drinking from," said Helen Slottje, a managing attorney with the Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
Above all, DISH's mayor says the Southern Tier shouldn't rush into drilling.
"Slow down," said Tillman. "Slow down and think about it. Think it through, make sure that you put every precaution in place you can before you start."
It's a lesson Tillman says his town learned the hard way.
Residents voted just this week for a 90-day moratorium on new drilling permits.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh
February 17, 2010
The boom in shale natural gas drilling has raised hopes the United States will be able to rely on the cleaner-burning fuel to meet future energy needs.A bill in Congress would require companies to disclose chemicals used in fracturing, and would give the Environmental Protection Agency more oversight of the industry. Industry spokesmen say more federal rules are unnecessary because states already do a good job of regulating gas drilling. Congress has asked the EPA to do a scientific study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.
But concerns about its impact on water quality could slow the industry's ability to tap this bountiful resource.
New York state has yet to allow drilling of high-volume, horizontal wells in the Marcellus Shale, effectively banning industry from the most efficient manner of extraction.
Some questions and answers:
WHY ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS CONCERNED ABOUT SHALE GAS DRILLING?
The natural gas industry says the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing is entirely safe, citing research that has yet to prove any link between it and water contamination that could cause illness.
Critics of the U.S. boom in shale gas drilling fear the practice contaminates the aquifers where many rural residents get their domestic water supplies, pollutes the air around gas rigs and compressor stations, and scars the landscape with drilling pads and new roads.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH WATER SUPPLIES?
Critics believe hydraulic fracturing chemicals are escaping into groundwater and in several states there have been reports of fouled water and increased illness since drilling began. In addition, naturally occurring toxic substances such as arsenic have been found at elevated levels near some drilling operations.
HAS ANYONE ACTUALLY FOUND TOXIC CHEMICALS IN WATER WELLS NEAR GAS DRILLING?
Yes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found 14 "contaminants of concern" in 11 private wells in the central Wyoming farming community of Pavilion, an area with about 250 gas wells. The August report did not identify the source of the contamination but the EPA is conducting more tests and is expected to reach a conclusion this spring. In Pennsylvania, at least two privately conducted water tests near gas drilling have also found chemical contamination. One set of tests is being used in a lawsuit by a landowner against a gas company.
HOW DOES THE INDUSTRY RESPOND TO THESE CLAIMS?
Companies say hydraulic fracturing chemicals are heavily diluted and separated from water supplies by layers of steel and concrete injected into the shale a mile or more underground and thousands of feet below aquifers. Industry officials say there has never been a documented case of water contamination from gas drilling.
WHAT'S THE EXPERIENCE OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE NEAR GAS DRILLING?
Residents complain of water that is discolored, foul-smelling, bad-tasting, and in some cases even black. Some say drinking it causes sickness and bathing in it causes skin rashes. In a few cases, water has become flammable because methane has "migrated" from the drilling operations to water wells. That migration was confirmed by regulators in Pennsylvania. Many low-income people who live near gas rigs drink bottled water, and some have their water supplied by the gas company.
IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH WASTE WATER?
Yes. Around a third of the millions of gallons of water used in fracturing comes back to the surface where it is either reused or trucked to treatment plants. In Pennsylvania, where the industry is rushing to exploit the massive Marcellus Shale formation, critics say there isn't enough capacity to remove toxic chemicals from waste water. As a result, some waste gets pumped into rivers and creeks with little or no treatment, critics say. Some residents have accused tank trucks of dumping waste water on rural roads.
HOW ARE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS DEALING WITH THE SHALE BOOM?
A bill in Congress would require companies to disclose chemicals used in fracturing, and would give the Environmental Protection Agency more oversight of the industry. Industry spokesmen say more federal rules are unnecessary because states already do a good job of regulating gas drilling. Congress has asked the EPA to do a scientific study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.
HAS THE EPA EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT THE SAFETY OF GAS?
Yes. The federal agency said on December 30 it has "serious reservations" about whether proposed gas drilling in the New York City watershed is consistent with high-quality water supply to the city's 9 million residents. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a ban on drilling, saying the city should not risk the purity of its renowned water supply, and that the consequences of allowing fracturing could be "severe."
Their concerns have opened a new front in the gas drilling wars, in which environmentalists and neighbors opposed to seeing gas wells in their back yards have put a drag on the exponential growth of onshore U.S. natural gas production.
A group of landowners who stand to earn a windfall from leasing their property to companies like Chesapeake Energy gathered in the town of Binghamton recently to push back against claims that drilling could pose health hazards.
"This is a very depressed area and this is something that will turn this whole community around," said Dan Fitzsimmons, 54, a leader of the Joint Landowners Coalition, which includes 17,500 families.
"If people are educated with the facts and not with environmental scare rhetoric, I think this thing will move along very quickly," he said.
Development of the massive Marcellus Shale in several northeastern states holds the promise of providing the United States with an abundant, relatively clean domestic energy source, but environmental concerns that shale gas drilling could contaminate drinking water have created regulatory risk.
New York City, for example, has urged a ban on drilling in its upstate watershed, an unfiltered system that serves 9 million people and accounts for 6 percent of the Marcellus Shale area in New York state.
Critics point to the rural Pennsylvania town where residents recently sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp, claiming the company's natural-gas drilling has contaminated their water wells with toxic chemicals and reduced their property values.
New York landowners see a flurry of drilling activity just over the border in Pennsylvania and wonder why it cannot happen in New York, where the state is trying to close an $8.2 billion budget deficit.
Industry sources privately express their exasperation with New York, saying they have all but given up on the state. (!!!)
At issue is a process known as hydraulic fracturing, in which 3.5 million gallons (13.25 million liters) per well plus sand and diluted chemicals are pumped into shale formations at high pressures, cracking the rock and freeing the gas.
"New York state, because of its great environmental laws, has a tremendous opportunity to be a national leader in how this process evolves," said James Simpson, a staff attorney at environmental group Riverkeeper.
"There's no question that hydraulic fracturing is here to stay throughout the country and New York state is positioned uniquely to do it right," he said.
NEW YORK TAKES ANOTHER LOOK
In 2008, Governor David Paterson ordered the Department of Environmental Conservation to study the impact of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a process that enables drilling in multiple directions from a single drilling pad.
Chesapeake, the second largest producer of U.S. natural gas, has leased the mineral rights for 1 million acres in New York state. The Oklahoma-based energy company says the process is already heavily regulated and there has never been a documented case of ground water contamination because of hydraulic fracturing.
"There has been a lot of non-factual information shared with the public," David Spigelmyer, Chesapeake Energy's vice president for government relations, told Reuters.
The company has fought new federal regulation including the proposed Frac Act, which would give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more oversight over natural gas drilling.
"We believe the states are much more ideally positioned to ... regulate this industry," Spigelmyer said.
Environmentalists -- including many that tout natural gas as a cleaner alternative to other oil and coal -- say the industry has been unwilling to meet them half way.
"As long as the natural gas industry continues to insist that these concerns, these environmental, economic, public health, landowner concerns, are not real... the more powerful this movement will grow," said Albert Appleton, who headed the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in the 1990s.
Earlier this month, the Onondaga County legislature -- which includes the city of Syracuse -- voted to ban hydraulic fracturing on county-owned land until impacts are studied.
Attitudes are different in Binghamton, a city of less than 50,000 people, where advocates of drilling point to boarded-up store fronts on Main Street.
"We stand on the edge of something here, when done correctly, that can change our area," said Bryant La Tourette, 47, a landowner who heads the Oxford Land Group. "I don't see right now any other business that can come here and make this much of an economic impact."
(Additional reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Daniel Trotta)Editorial comment by Splashdown in red.
16 February 2010
The Sierra Club is in the process of finalizing team charge approval for a new hydrofracking activist team. Our team’s goal is to address the environmental and health effects of hydraulic fracturing for gas. We will primarily work to research and report on these issues and help activists on the ground who are facing problems with hydrofracking. We will provide information and recommendations on hydrofracking policy internally to club leaders and are authorized to publically represent the Sierra Club on the issue of hydrofracturing technology and its effects.
I am serving as the team leader for the present, and am looking for activists with experience or interest in hydrofracking to join the hydrofracking team. We need a few good core team leaders and all the supporting team activists we can get. Every attempt will be made to have work done on an organized piecemeal basis, so I hope to have plenty of work for supporting team members and not overload the core members. I also would like to identify individuals to serve as the conduit for information with chapters and groups, particularly for areas with active or planned hydraulic fracturing activity.
Even if you are not personally interested or able to join, I would appreciate your passing this note on to others in hydrofrack areas.
Contact me directly with any questions. You can join our support team right now by going to:
See the basic outline of the planned database at:
February 17, 2010
Hydraulic fracturing has been the source of much anxiety and anger as drilling in the Marcellus Shales in New York and Pennsylvania picked up in recent years. A lack of direct federal involvement in oversight of the process and incidents of residential water supplies near drill sites becoming contaminated have been the main rallying points for opponents.
But one official at the Environmental Protection Agency says he's confident state regulators are doing a good job watching over fracking and that it has not yet been linked to any water contamination, reports Dow Jones:
It seems poor well completion work is also to blame in some of the instances where there has been contamination as well. That's a pretty important distinction to make because it narrows the possible areas where errors/accidents can occur and should focus people on what part of the process has the greater risks.
"I have no information that states aren't doing a good job already," Steve Heare, director of EPA's Drinking Water Protection Division said on the sidelines of a state regulators conference here [Washington]. He also said despite claims by environmental organizations, he hadn't seen any documented cases that the hydro-fracking process was contaminating water supplies.
In its 2011 budget, the EPA is seeking to spend $4 million to study the environmental impacts of the process.
Bill Kappel, a U.S. Geological Survey official, said contamination of water supplies is more likely to happen as companies process the waste water from hydrofracking. In some instances, municipal water systems that treat the water have reported higher levels of heavy metals and radioactivity.
"Treatment of the [waste] water hasn't caught up with the hydro-fracking technology," Kappel said.
But both re-injection of that waste water and water treatment at the surface is already regulated by the federal government under the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Acts.
Editorial comments by Splashdown in red.
February 16, 2010
Chesapeake Energy is withdraw its permit applications to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and [New York] state Department of Environmental Conservation for a wastewater disposal facility in the Steuben County town of Pulteney.
Chesapeake's plans to convert an abandoned natural gas well into a disposal site for wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing process stirred up stiff public opposition.
The company indicated last week it would not pursue those plans, but also noted that it wasn't going to withdraw permit applications with the EPA or state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In letters sent to both agencies, Chesapeake indicated it changed its mind not because of public opposition, but because it has better options available.
"This decision is based primarily on the fact that the state will not allow completion of Marcellus shale wells until the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is completed," the letters stated. "In addition, since initiating this project, we have advanced our operational capacity to reuse/recycle water produced in other areas of the Marcellus Shale, greatly reducing our current need for additional disposal facilities in New York."
Chesapeake's decision was applauded by state Sen. George H. Winner Jr., who opposed the plan to locate an injection well in Pulteney.
"It's the right decision, and I'm pleased that company officials have been more than willing to listen and give every consideration to the concerns of local leaders and local residents," Winner said in a news release.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Sat., February 13, 2010
NORTHEASTERN Pennsylvania once contained three-quarters of the Earth’s anthracite coal deposits and, at the turn of the 19th century, provided the United States with the fuel it needed for consumer heating and industrial production.
But the hard coal industry also violated a once beautiful region rich in evergreens and oaks, leaving black refuse piles. It polluted springs and creeks, leaving acidic waste and the stench of sulfur. Underground fires, cave-ins and mine subsidence haunted many local towns for generations.
Today, the region’s natural resources again are being exploited for financial profit. Companies contend that deposits trapped miles below the Earth’s surface hold enough natural gas to supply the entire United States for 15 years. Although these companies insist there is little risk to the environment, there is serious cause for concern.
The Marcellus shale is a low-density, carbon bedrock that lies a mile or more beneath the surface in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio. The shale contains an enormous volume of potentially recoverable gas, which has great economic significance for the United States at a time when we are seeking alternative fuel sources.
Gas is extracted from the Marcellus shale through a process called “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking,” in which up to 4 million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped into the shale at high pressure. The drilling not only breaks apart the shale to release the gas, but also discharges hazardous substances.
Gas companies claim that there is little risk, insisting that fracking is used safely in most oil and gas drilling operations. But last September, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that an estimated 8,000 gallons of fracking fluid spilled into a creek near Dimock, Susquehanna County. The spill was blamed on “faulty pipe work” and resulted in a significant fish kill.
Two months later, on Nov. 20, Reuters News Service reported that several of Dimock’s residents sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., claiming its natural gas drilling had contaminated their water wells with toxic chemicals, caused gastrointestinal sickness and reduced their property values. The lawsuit accuses Cabot of negligence and says it has failed to restore residential water supplies disrupted by gas drilling.
Dimock is not an isolated case. Hydraulic fracturing is the suspected source of impaired or polluted drinking water reported by residents who had gas drilling near their homes in southwest Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Despite the apparent risk, the state DEP continues to issue hundreds of Marcellus drilling permits and the current state budget requires the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to raise $60 million by leasing up to 10,000 more acres of public forestland to drillers within the year.
Gas companies are offering more than $1,000 per acre to some residents whose property overlays the Marcellus shale in order to continue the drilling. And they are protected legally for any liability.
In 2005, Congress, at the urging of then Vice President Dick Cheney, passed the “Halliburton loophole” to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The measure prevents the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the fracking process. Halliburton, which was previously headed by Cheney, reportedly earns $1.5 billion a year from its energy operations, which rely substantially on the hydraulic fracturing business.
Pennsylvania cannot allow financial profits to take precedent over environmental stewardship. Harrisburg can begin immediately by calling for a moratorium on gas drilling in the Marcellus shale until a detailed scientific study is completed on the fracking process.
In the meantime, we should demand that our state representatives establish legislation that creates buffer zones for drilling near water supplies, requires gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process and establishes strict guidelines for those companies to clean up the hazards created by their drilling.LINK
The Marcellus Memos: Privately, Rendell’s State Forest tsars expressed deep concern over leasing state forest for drilling
Philadelphia City Paper | the clog
posted by Isaiah Thompson
A few days ago, we reported (and the Inquirer re-reports today) that Governor Rendell is considering authorizing yet another lease of state forest land for drilling into the Marcellus Shale, a geologic structure containing billions (if not trillions) of dollars worth of natural gas.
If he does, it will be the third such sale in three years –before 2008, state land hadn't been leased for drilling since 2002.
There are a few reasons to ask whether this is a good move. For one thing, fully one-third of our state forest has already been leased for drilling. For another, while only four Marcellus wells are currently active on forest land right now, at least 40 wells are expected to be in production by the end of the year and DCNR officials say that we could see over a thousand in the next decade – all that on land already leased.
We have, in other words, barely begun to see what impact drilling will have on the state forests already leased – leasing even more of it now could be risky indeed.
But don't take my word for it: Rendell's own state forest officials have made their concerns very clear – albeit mostly in private.
Memos and emails obtained by City Paper show that both former DCNR Secretary Michael Diberardinis and Acting Secretary John Quigley have repeatedly cautioned Rendell against leasing additional state forest for Marcellus Shale drilling.
So, in a CP exclusive, we bring you excerpts from said documents in . . . The Marcellus Memos
Background: in 2008, Governor Rendell authorized the first leasing of state forest for gas drilling since 2002. He did so at the suggestion of then-Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who suggested leasing the land as a way of preventing the state legislature, hungry for revenue, from usurping the authority to do so from DCNR.
Perhaps to Diberardinis' surprise (he has declined comment), Rendell shortly thereafter asked DCNR to perform yet another leasing of state forest for drilling. On March 11, 2009, Rendell's office announced Sec. DiBerardinis' resignation. The following memo (abridged) was written just a week before Mr. DiBerardinis' last day of work.
Memo – March 27, 2009, Sec. DiBerardinis to Gov. Rendell
"Wholesale leasing will damage our State Forest landscape. It would scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest – especially the most wild and remote areas of our state in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Your years of work and investments in rural economic revitalization through outdoor experiences in the Pennsylvania Wilds could be erased."
" . . . A rush to drill threatens the certification of our State Forests as sustainably managed. . . Our ability to sustainably manage our State Forests is threatened by unplanned, excessive leasing activity."
". . . Finally, and perhaps most important of all is the environmental legacy you want to leave. I'm deeply concerned that your tireless work [for the environment] will be in jeopardy with large scale leasing."
"One hundred years ago, the land that would become the state's forests was a denuded landscape that was scarred by rampant resource extraction. Our State Forest system – the largest swath of publicly owned land east of the Mississippi River – grew from a visionary effort to reclaim this landscape and restore to Pennsylvania's citizens their natural birthright . . . A rush to drill places the state forest and all its benefits at great risk. . . "
Background: In this email, Acting Sec. Quigley says that DCNR is comfortable leasing only 40,000 more acres for Marcellus Shale drilling. As you'll see int he next email, within 2 days, Rendell's staff would ask DCNR to double that acreage.
Email – May 4, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Gov. Rendell
"It is important to emphasize that we cannot lease 620,000 more acres. We are approaching questionable territory with future lease sales. We are comfortable with a maximum of 40K acres for an additional lease sale . . ."
Background: Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of forests in the United States certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as a sustainable forest. Here, Acting Secretary John Quigley warns Rendell that that certification could be in danger if more state forest is leased.
Memo – May 6, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Scott Roy, Mary Soderberg (Gov. Rendell's office)
"You have asked DCNR to be prepared to offer at least a total of 80,000 acres of state forest lands for Marcellus gas development in 2009. . ."
"I want to be very explicit about the situation that this will place us in. These would likely be the last gas lease sales on State Forest land that we could manage within the context of our sustainable certification for the foreseeable future."
Saturday, February 13, 2010
By State Rep. Greg Vitali
February 12, 2010
Gov. Rendell plans to lease — perhaps as early as this spring — more Pennsylvania state forest land for Marcellus Shale gas drilling. This would be in addition to the almost 700,000 acres of state forest land already available for Marcellus drilling. No one knows what the impact of the anticipated drilling will be. That’s why I have introduced legislation to impose a moratorium on further leasing until we know more. The governor plans to raise an additional $180 million from state forest leasing for the 2010-11 budget. He needs no legislative approval to do this.
One-and-a-half-million acres of Pennsylvania state forest land sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation. With the leasing of 32,000 acres in January, 692,000 acres of state forest land is now available for drilling. Yet the governor wants to lease more.
Fracking a single well typically requires more than a million gallons of water. Several acres of land need to be cleared for the drilling pad. Access roads, a water sediment basin and other infrastructure need to be installed, and a high volume of truck traffic is required to transport drilling equipment and water to and from the drilling site. This activity impacts state forests and puts local water quality at risk.
Presently, there are only three Marcellus wells producing gas on Pennsylvania state forest land. About another hundred wells are being drilled. It is conservatively estimated that about 5,000 to 6,000 Marcellus wells will be drilled in the next 15 years. No one knows what the impact of this drilling will be on state forests or how it will affect the quality of drinking water in the Marcellus region.
We need to stop leasing state forest land until we can better assess the impact of this anticipated drilling. That’s why I have introduced H.B. 2235, The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act. This bill would impose a five-year moratorium on further state forest leasing. The bill also would require the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study the impact of drilling and provide an annual report to the governor and General Assembly.
Instead of leasing more state forest land to balance this year’s budget, Pennsylvania should impose a severance tax on gas drillers. Almost every other state that extracts natural gas imposes such a tax.
The citizens of Pennsylvania need to send a strong message to Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly that our state forests and the quality of our drinking water are too important to compromise.
Greg Vitali is a Democratic state representative from Delaware County and serves on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. He can be reached via www.pahouse.com/Vitali.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
February 10, 2010, 6:15 pm
Uncle Sam's chief environmental agency is launching a citizens' watchdog program to help track water pollution and waste disposal related to natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale.
It's called Eyes on Drilling, and it encourages people to report suspicious activity related to federal officials through a toll-free hotline. That includes location, time and date of problems; materials, equipment and vehicles involved; and observable environmental impacts, according to a press release issued this month.
The number: (877) 919-4372. Information about the program: www.epa.gov/region03/marcellus_shale/tipline.html.
David Sternberg, a spokesman for EPA Region 3, said large volumes of chemicals and waste handled at drilling sites, or en route to the sites, create spill hazards that can threaten surface and groundwater.
Effectively tapping natural gas trapped in shale, like the Marcellus, requires a process called hydraulic fracturing. Fracking for short, it uses millions of gallons of water and additives to break apart bedrock and release gas.
As a drilling function, it remains under the state's oversight. Yet because fracking involves handling copious amounts of chemical solutions over water tables, it has drawn the attention of federal regulators,
"EPA wants to get a better understanding of what people are experiencing and observing as a result of these drilling activities. The information collected may also be useful in investigating industry practices," Sternberg said. "The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources."
The Eyes on Drilling program is through the EPA's Region 3 office, encompassing the Mid Atlantic Region where much of the Marcellus drilling has begun. The hotline will also take complaints taken from Region 2 callers, including New York, and pass them along to appropriate officials for follow-up, Sternberg said.Additionally, problems with drilling or other spills can be reported to the New York State Department
Spectra Energy's Steckman Ridge Natural Gas Compressor Station sprayed up to 1,629 pounds of used lubricating oil onto fertile farmland and residential property in rural Pennsylvania; crops had to be burned to prevent toxic contamination of consumers. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been misinformed residents for the past six months that the oil residents found coating their blueberries, tomatoes, hay fields. is non-toxic Omala Oil RL 320, but laboratory tests indicate the oil is definitively *not* Omala Oil RL 320.
Spring water from Clearville in December, residents report it smells like motor oil (photo by Angel Smith)
A contamination report recently obtained by Philadelphia Indymedia states that up to 1,629 pounds of used gear-lubricating oil were spilled onto residences and farm fields in Bedford County, Pennsylvania this past August. Despite the presence of this report in Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) files, officials are maintaining to residents and the press that only 20 gallons of gear oil was released, additionally misleading the public to believe that the oil is non-toxic Omala Oil RL 320.
The Steckman Ridge Natural Gas Compressor Plant, "a small city" (photo courtesy of SpectraEnergy Watch Photo © 2009 by M. P. Benard)
On August 23, Spectra Energy's Steckman Ridge natural gas compressor station on Rock Hill Church road experienced an "emergency shutdown," 1,629 pounds of lubricating oil and 6,460 pounds of methane (including 1,151 pounds of volatile organic compounds) were sprayed into the air and estimated to have landed up to one and a half miles from the plant, coating a very fertile agricultural, fishing and hunting region of Pennsylvania with potentially toxic industrial gear oil.
"Wayne and I were sitting out on the back porch that Sunday and then we heard a big bang but didn't see anything flying out of the sky," said Angel Smith who lives half a mile from Spectra's compressor station. "The next day, a neighbour called saying that his fields were covered with oil so I went down and videotaped that. I also found that my fields were covered with oil too."
Within a week after the equipment failure, Spectra Energy issued reports stating that residents of Monroe and Clearville Townships in Pennsylvania should wash the oil off of their crops before consumption. Local Web sites such as Spectra Energy Watch and Clearville Times expressed outrage that their crops were destroyed, water contaminated and livestock affected, with little concern from agents at the DEP. Birth defects have been noted in livestock such as domesticated geese. Currently unknown are the future diseases or cancers which may afflict residents as the chemicals' mutations of the human cells eventually show their harmful results many years after exposure.
DEP Agents Misinform Residents
Officials from the DEP have stated repeatedly to residents and to Indymedia that the lubricating oil dumped over the Clearville valley by Spectra Enery Steckman Ridge Compressor Station is not a concern to human health, falsely claiming that the oil is a non-toxic substance called Omala Oil RL 320.
Laboratory reports obtained from the DEP show that tests of the spilled lubricating oil indicate the oil is not Omala Oil RL 320. Although Omala Oil RL 320 was shown to be similar to the spilled oil, the report noted significant differences between the Omala Oil RL 320 and the spilled oil.
Wilma Subra, a chemist who has worked with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on several hazardous waste projects, looked over the oil analysis lab report and confirmed that the report shows that the used oil contaminating nearby farm fields is not Omala Oil RL 320.
"The oil in the used material was not the same as the reference sample. The used material had one chromatographic pattern while the reference oil had two chromatographic patterns," said Dr. Subra in an email to me. Dr. Subra also stated that if the used oil tested is indeed a used form of Omala Oil RL 320, the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) indicate that such used oil may contain harmful impurities like toxic heavy metals, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. The MSDS sheet also stresses that "ALL used oil be handled with caution and skin contact avoided as far as possible" (capitalization retained from the original MSDS).
"According to the MSDS -- inhalation is not expected to be a primary route of exposure -- under normal conditions of use," explained Dr. Subra. "However, the material was released from the compressor station as a mist. The oil was airborne for thousands of feet from the facility and thus could have been inhaled by individuals and animals in the area of impact. Skin and eye contact was also possible due to the airborne oil."
Despite laboratory test reports which clearly demonstrate that spilled used oil was not the non-toxic Omala Oil RL 320, Pennsylvania officials (such as Lynn Langer, Assistant Regional Director for the DEP's Southcentral Regional Office) have consistently implied to residents that the spilled oil was non-toxic Omala Oil RL 320. These assertions are unfounded and dangerous for nearby residents who have no means to determine what precautionary measures they must take to protect their health and their farms. Although more extensive tests were later performed showing the used oil sample tested negative for volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, documents obtained from the DEP show that Spectra Energy failed to request the lab test for toxic heavy metals. The report also indicates the sample of spilled oil was taken by a Spectra employee, not a qualified independent sample collector, putting the validity of the sample and applicability of test results into question.
Any well-trained environmental scientist with a few spare minutes to read through the reports would notice quickly that the used industrial oil needed to be tested for heavy metals in order to safeguard the public health, and that the public needs to be informed of all test results promptly.
Citizens Pick Up the Pieces
The emergency shut-down in August was one of four equipment malfunctions that have occurred since the natural gas compressor station became operational last summer. Residents near other compressor stations which process raw gas frequently complain about the chronic and extremely loud "jet like noises" which industry officials admit are a normal part of plant operations. Chronic loud noise can cause birth defects, psychological problems and marked behavioral changes in young children as well as cardiovascular disease and vertigo in adults.
The DEP cited Spectra Energy as violating the federal Air Pollution Control Act and the Clean Streams Law, yet according to facility information provided by the DEP's e-facts website the agency still has not taken enforcement action or given penalties for these violations. Spectra Energy also received a Notice of Violation for not reporting the incident by telephone to the DEP within two hours and not submitting a written report within three days, as required by law. The equipment malfunction was reported to the DEP by terrified residents.
At a MarkWest compressor station in nearby Washington County, company officials also failed to notify the DEP of equipment problems until residents were already complaining to the DEP. Such situations make one wonder what happens when residents aren't watching and listening?
Craig Lambeth, a DEP oil and gas official, supports citizens doing the monitoring work for the DEP. Last fall at a public meeting hosted by the grassroots environmental protection group R.E.S.C.U.E. Northeast Pennsylvania, Mr. Lambeth told the 128 attendents that residents "should be the eyes and ears of the DEP." He stated that there is no possibility for the DEP to monitor every active gas site every day, as such monitoring would be prohibitively expensive to the gas industry and taxpayers.
Although the DEP recently announced they will be hiring an additional 68 gas well inspectors, the current oil and gas regulations promulgated by the DEP are weak. The rate of gas wells being drilled and fracked is rapidly accelerating; the new addition of employees will merely allow the DEP to monitor more wells, not improve the quality of regulation or increase the frequency of monitoring visits. Existing regulations and agency procedures must be changed in order to better protect the environment, until then, the daily responsibility of monitoring gas well activities, toxic waste water trucks and hazardous waste pits will continue to fall into the hands of residents who are not trained or equipped in a way that enables them to prevent catastrophes.
At the meeting in Forest City, when a resident asked Lambeth, "How do we protect ourselves from the drillers? Why isn't it the other way around? The drillers are not proving that its safe and we're depending on you [the DEP] [to protect us]." Mr. Lambeth replied, "You need to be the eyes in the woods watching." To which the resident responded with frustration, "I'd like a little more control than that."
An interview with chemist Dr. Wilma Subra about natural gas compressor stations and gas production can be heard at http://radio4all.net/index.php/program/36650
Documents referred to in this article can be accessed from http://www.archive.org/details/Spectra-Energy-Steckman-Ridge-Natural-Gas-Compressor-Station-files