Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DEP Fines Atlas Resourcs for Drilling Wastewater Spill in Washington County

Bloomberg Businessweek
Associated Press
August 17, 2010

- The state's Department of Environmental Protection has fined a natural gas drilling company nearly $100,000 for a wastewater spill that contaminated a southwestern Pennsylvania watershed.

The DEP on Tuesday announced the $97,350 fine against Atlas Resources. Environmental officials say Atlas allowed hydraulic fracturing fluids used to drill in the Marcellus Shale to overfill a wastewater pit and contaminate a tributary of Dunkle Run in Washington County.

DEP officials say the spill happened in early December 2009. Environmental officials say Atlas corrected the problem but failed to report it to the DEP.

Atlas Energy says the spill had no negative environmental consequences and the company has stepped up monitoring in response.



Meanwhile, back on Paradise Road...

This 1,100-gallon tank was purchased for Jared and Heather McMicken and their children to supply them with fresh water to bathe and do laundry until a solution is found for their contaminated water. Chesapeake provided these tanks for two neighbors as well—the Mike Phillips and Scott Spencer families—who are currently experiencing the same water issues as the McMickens. Photo by Cain Chamberlin.

Chesapeake Responds to Paradise Road Water Woes
Cain Chamberlin
The Rocket-Courier, Wyalusing, PA

A streak of bad luck seems to be lingering over Jared and Heather McMicken of Paradise Road in Terry Township.

It all started in early June, when the couple discovered a strange, brown discoloration in their tap water. They still do not know what exactly is causing the disturbance as they are awaiting water test results from DEP. However, the DEP testing done in mid-July did find rising levels of methane in the well, which has now led to something the McMickens never saw coming.

Both of their next-door neighbors, the Mike Phillips and the Scott Spencer families, have the same discoloration in their water wells, which started about a month after the McMickens made that discovery. They all believed that a nearby Chesapeake gas drilling site was responsible for the sudden dilemma. Even though Chesapeake denied the claims at first, they are now taking action in a joint effort with DEP to solve the residents’ water problems.

Because of the increasing levels of methane in the water of each home, DEP installed an alarm device in the basement of each home. These devices are specifically designed to detect high amounts of methane that could be hazardous.

“We were told that if the alarms ever went off, we should call 911 immediately,” said Heather McMicken.

Early last Wednesday morning, their alarm went off, and the McMickens were consequently evacuated from their home as a precautionary measure.

“We made the call, and in no time DEP and Chesapeake were here,” she said. Since then, the McMickens and their two children have stayed at a hotel and also at the home of her mother until they feel safe enough to move back. They do make occasional stops at their home to pick up more clothes and necessities.

Meanwhile, DEP and Chesapeake have been on the property nearly every day trying to find an answer to the current predicament.

“Both are still doing all kinds of testing for us, and we are willing to welcome a third party to do tests too,” Jared McMicken explained.

During a meeting held late last week between Chesapeake and the Paradise Road residents, the company offered to have replacement water wells drilled for each home and purchase them all a temporary water source that they could use for bathing and washing clothes.

Hoses from an enormous 1,100-gallon tank are run through the house, replacing the old existing water pipes.

“We are very happy that they are taking care of the water problem,” said McMicken, “We are just trying to take a breather and wait for the test results to come back.”

Next-door neighbors Mike and Jonna Phillips are waiting on paperwork to look over and sign for a new water well. Their water issues began on July 12, and they finally had the temporary tank hooked up on Saturday. Before that, Jonna, who is seven months pregnant, drove to a friend’s house every day to shower. She is thrilled that she can finally wash clothes and bathe in her own home and is anxiously awaiting a new well. “Chesapeake is certainly trying to accommodate us better than before,” she said.

At the meeting with Chesapeake spokespersons, residents were also informed that there is ongoing testing to determine where the gas is coming from, and it was noted that the affected wells appear to be fed by the same aquifer.

Geologists were present at the meeting in an attempt to help explain aquifers, the type of rock formations in the area and how it may all relate to the potential movement of gas beneath the earth.

The Rocket-Courier has been communicating over the past week with Chesapeake Energy officials on the Paradise Road situation, posing a number of questions.

As of press time, there has been no response or statement.


Friday, August 13, 2010

EPA delays final hearing on study of controversial process

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
August 13, 2010 5:06 p.m. EDT

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (CNN)
-- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on the hunt for a new location to hold its final public hearing on a planned study of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process used to extract natural gas from underground, agency officials say.

"We wanted a central location and wanted to keep it in the area where the drilling has been proposed. We're leaving no stone unturned," said agency spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara. "We are pushing to make an announcement as swiftly as possible."

In July, public hearings were held in Fort Worth, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, to help determine how the EPA will conduct the study.

A final public hearing was slated for Thursday at Binghamton, New York, but on Monday it was rescheduled for Saturday in Syracuse, New York, and on Tuesday it was postponed indefinitely, agency officials said. About 1,800 people had registered to speak for two minutes each, Alcantara said.

Both of the proposed venues, Binghamton University and Syracuse's Oncenter Complex, expressed concern about hosting an event estimated to attract 8,000 people.

"The last-minute change to Syracuse was caused by Binghamton University taking several actions to dissuade the EPA from holding the meetings at its campus, including increasing the cost from $6,000 to almost $40,000," the EPA said in a statement Tuesday.

The university issued a statement putting the cost at $32,000, which it said included "all of the estimated operational costs that the university believed it would incur in order to ensure that activities associated with these meetings would be carried out in a safe and orderly manner."

The EPA now is planning to hold the meeting in September at a location in upstate New York that will be announced as soon as it is confirmed, Alcantara said. The meeting is open to industry stakeholders and the general public.

Victoria Switzer, who registered to speak at Thursday's hearing, is among 15 residents of the northeastern Pennsylvania township of Dimock who filed suit in November 2009 against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., alleging it contaminated their well water. Cabot solicited Switzer for a gas lease in 2006, according to court records.

Changing the location and then postponing the meeting was upsetting but did not come as a total surprise, Switzer said.

"I had a feeling it was going to be big, but it's absurd," she said.

"Who's leading this pack?" asked Switzer, a former schoolteacher. "I am against drilling as it's going now. They need to step back, call a moratorium and do some serious geological studying."

Julie Sautner of Dimock planned to attend the EPA meeting with her husband, Craig, a cable splicer, and 17-year-old daughter Kelly. They also are a part of the lawsuit.

"We might seem small, but we're here, too, and we're fighting the industry not to pollute, and were fighting for the future generations," said Sautner, who added she has been unable to use her well water for nearly two years. "We're not mad at anybody but we're stuck here."

The EPA announced in March that it would study the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on drinking water, human health and the environment, agency officials said.

"People have raised important concerns that require our attention," said Jeanne Briskin, EPA liaison on hydraulic fracturing from the agency's the Office of Research and Development. "I've worked for EPA for a long time, I was here in the early '80s, this is a case that is unusual."

Hydraulic fracturing is used by gas producers to stimulate wells and recover natural gas from sources including coalbeds and shale gas formations, said Briskin. The process requires the injection of fluids -- generally water and chemical additives.

"We need to have a baseline to get an idea of what the effects of that are, and if you're doing monitoring you have to know what to look for," she said. "At the federal level there is no requirement that companies have to tell us what they use and what concentrations."

The EPA plans to complete the study design by September 2010, begin the study in January 2011 and release initial results by late 2012, she said.

"This is an expedited process; it usually takes longer," Briskin said of the timeline. "As we get results, we're going to be reporting them."



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

EPA hearings on hydraulic fracturing moved from Binghamton to Syracuse

A regional hearing to be held Thursday on a landmark Environmental Protection Agency study of hydraulic fracturing has been moved from Binghamton to Syracuse, N.Y., the agency announced Monday.

The hearings on the controversial natural gas drilling process, which are expected to draw as many as 8,000 participants and protestors, including many from Northeast Pennsylvania, will be held in the Exhibit Hall of the Oncenter Complex Convention Center in Syracuse, after the EPA and Binghamton University, the initial host site, disagreed on a venue.

The three, four-hour information sessions and hearings will be held at the same time they were originally scheduled: 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. The 300 speaking slots at the event are full, but the agency expects slots will open up because of the venue change. It will open registration for those slots by phone and online beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

People who preregistered to speak at or attend the event remain registered, according to the EPA, and others who would still like to preregister can do so by Wednesday morning. Walk-in attendees will also be welcome.

The venue was changed after the anticipated crowd size - and the cost of hosting the event - swelled.

Binghamton University released a statement Monday saying that the event is expected to involve 1,200 registered participants, but might have drawn 8,000 people to the campus. The university developed a price based on the expected crowd size "to ensure that the campus would remain cost neutral," it said.

Judith Enck, the administrator of EPA Region 2, criticized that price in a statement, saying it was "more than 500 percent higher than the University's original estimate" and "unacceptable." An EPA official familiar with the situation said the price increased from $6,000 to $40,000.

The venue was moved to Syracuse when an alternate location in Binghamton could not be found, she said.

The EPA announced in March that it will conduct a multiyear, $1.9 million study of the potential for hydraulic fracturing - the process of breaking apart gas-bearing rock with chemically treated water and sand - to harm water quality and public health.

The Syracuse sessions are the largest of four such events that have been held across the country this summer in Colorado, Texas and southwestern Pennsylvania to gather comment about the study's design.



Sunday, August 8, 2010

Marcellus Shale plan would OK extraction without leases

August 7, 2010

Don’t want natural gas companies drilling under your property?

Tough. They might be able to do it anyway.

The natural gas industry is asking legislators to allow them to take gas from Marcellus Shale under certain properties without a lease and against the owner’s wishes when the owner has neighbors who’ve agreed to drilling.

That’s how opponents see a provision, which they call “forced pooling,” about to be proposed in the state House of Representatives.

Companies would have to pay the owner a “fair” price for the gas extracted.

Nevertheless, a group of more than 30 environmental groups sent a letter to legislators calling the measure an expansion of eminent domain to benefit corporations.

That view is wildly skewed, according to those in favor of the measure, who call it “fair pooling protection.”

“By far and away the largest impact would be on the producers, not on the actual landowners,” said Matt Pitzarella, the public affairs director for Range Resources, an oil and gas firm. “We have not encountered a landowner that says, ‘I’m just fundamentally opposed to drilling.’ It’s a very, very rare occurrence.”

According to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a natural gas industry group, those who don’t want to lease “will not be considered leasees, nor will they see a rig on their property or an inch of their land disturbed. The only thing they will see? A check in their mailbox each month.”

Horizontal drilling technology allows companies to drill thousands of feet in multiple directions from one well pad, Pitzarella said.

Jan Jarrett, the president of the environmental group PennFuture, did not sign the letter to legislators opposing the plan because PennFuture sees potential for good in a pooling law.

“We weren’t willing to reject the concept out of hand,” Jarrett said. “It could have some benefits, but the devil will be in the details.”

Taking people’s resources without their permission “is an uncomfortable proposition,” even if rare, Jarrett said. And she’s waiting to see the legislation put forward to make sure those landowners “are treated quite fairly.”

Garth Everett, the Lycoming County Republican co-sponsoring the bill, agreed with Jarrett.

Everett said he’s interested in the issue from a property-rights perspective, and if the details of the legislation don’t “work out to be landowner-friendly, I’ll have to switch horses,” he said.

So what’s the benefit of pooling legislation?

“It is the single most effective device to ensure the orderly development of the resource,” Pitzarella said.

He said pooling creates a mechanism to force different drilling companies within a geographic area to cooperate and share resources, and that leads to fewer rigs, fewer tanker trucks, less land disturbance and more gas extracted.

If the companies can’t work out an agreement to “rationalize” the parcels through lease swaps, the gas never gets drilled, said Pitzarella, or else the companies want to drill it on their own, and landowners have the sense of being surrounded by drilling rigs.

Pooling would allow a maximum amount of gas to be extracted with a minimum of drilling pads and a minimum of environmental disturbance, he said.

“It’s more economical and less of an impact,” he said.

Many landowners support the measure, he said, because it makes it more likely their leases will produce royalties.

Everett agreed with that.

Companies are already creating pools through swaps and agreements, but “right now we don’t have much in the way of rules and regulations in Pennsylvania for how that can be done.”

“The gas companies are not my constituents,” said Everett, and “many of my constituents are very unhappy with how it’s being done right now.”

“It seems to be a very secretive process right up until [the companies] announce it” by filing in the local courthouse, he said.

Everett said his primary interest is in better regulating the pooling process for the benefit of landowners.

In the few cases of landowners opposed to their resources being taken, he said, “We will have to have a lot of very positive things on the consumer side” to justify it.

Pitzarella said that for those who don’t want to lease their land, “We’d rather that person be as pleased as possible — he’s not going to be happy with three drilling locations around his house with three different companies.”

Some environmental groups are suspicious of the claims that pooling would be better for the environment because it would result in fewer drilling rigs.

“There is no evidence that forced pooling diminishes environmental impact,” said Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.

The letter Arnowitt and others sent to legislators claims “the design of forced pooling is simply to ensure full gas extraction at the lowest cost to the gas companies. ... Forced pooling provisions put all landowners at a disadvantage when trying to negotiate with gas companies. Why negotiate protections for landowners when you know that you can force them to sign a lease in the end?”

Everett said the bill is being written and he’s not sure when it will be introduced.
For the complete article, CLICK HERE.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Pa. DEP chief fires back at New York lawmakers over Marcellus Shale oversight criticism

Associated Press

SCRANTON, PA. — Pennsylvania's top-ranking environmental official suggests New York could stop buying natural gas produced in the Keystone State if its legislators are so concerned about the environmental consequences.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger fired back Thursday at criticism from Pennsylvania's northern neighbor over regulation of drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.

New York lawmakers held Pennsylvania up as an example of what not to do during discussion of a bill that on Tuesday imposed a nine-month moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Known as "fracking," the drilling practice has drawn criticism for endangering water supplies.

Hanger says New York is riding a moral "high horse" while consuming Pennsylvania gas. He says Pennsylvania has strengthened enforcement standards and hired more staff to monitor drilling activity.



Thursday, August 5, 2010

RED ALERT! Trouble in Paradise Redux!

Residents evacuated yesterday (Aug. 4th) on Paradise Road.
CLICK HERE for related Paradise Road post.

5:30 p.m. Update: Paradise Road Family Still Out of Home
Rocket-Courier Reports:

Paradise Road residents, Jared and Heather McMicken and family, were still reportedly out of their Terry Township home and staying with friends or neighbors Thursday.

The unconfirmed word is that they were advised by DEP or another agency monitoring the methane levels that it was potentially unsafe to stay there. They moved out of the residence sometime Wednesday, A neighbor reported this morning that they were still out of their house and had turned the electricity off. Look for a full story in next week's print edition and possible updates on our web page.



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