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.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why Gas Leaks Matter in the Hydraulic Fracturing Debate

by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica, Aug. 2, 3:56 p.m.

Last week's article (see July 29 Splashdown post) about a hydraulic fracturing clause that was included in the Senate's drilling accountability bill sparked a lively debate on ProPublica's website about why methane contamination from drilling is relevant to a discussion of environmental risks of fracturing. In response:

Methane migration is a critical part of the discussions of underground contamination risks from drilling and hydraulic fracturing because it demonstrates that a pathway exists for contaminants to move through the substrata to the surface or into water supplies. In many of the cases described in ProPublica's articles, methane -- which was proved to be thermogenic and not from biological decay -- is believed to have moved from thousands of feet underground, or travelled several miles laterally, sometimes from the same layer of gas being exploited for energy.

Fracturing consists of injecting water and (usually secret) concoctions of chemicals deep underground, where it fractures the rock and releases the natural gas deposits. One of the most influential explanations why fracturing presents no risk hinges on the assertion that the deep isolation and many layers of rock and earth effectively seal off the fracture zone from the surface -- that it is impossible for chemicals, water, gas or anything else to move from thousands of feet below into shallow aquifers.

But the consistent and widespread detection of methane migration from unnatural causes -- in places including Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York -- shows that it is not impossible, that in fact there are underground pathways for such movement. And if methane can move, it's an indicator of other substances' ability to migrate as well.

Many of the methane migration cases have been traced to flaws in the cementing and casing of the wells, as many of our articles have explicitly explained. Research shows that others may have migrated directly through underground faults and fissures.

Scientists we ask about these issues consistently make two points:

1. The pressure of hydraulic fracturing inside a well structure exerts great force that can exploit cementing problems. In other words, a crack in the cement or casing might be fine until the pressure of hydraulic fracturing forces substances through it.

2. It doesn't matter whether contaminants reach aquifers through a spider web of geologic cracks created by hydraulic fracturing, or in the spaces alongside the well bore that was pushed through the earth. Contaminants are reaching water supplies as a result of the processes and pressures being exerted underground.

The question of whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for this contamination, and whether it is causing other contamination, remains unanswered. Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with, has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point. That is why the Environmental Protection Agency conducting two simultaneous studies of these issues -- one in Pinedale, Wyo., which will attempt to assess a specific pattern of contamination there, and another broad national study meant to evaluate the potential risks of fracturing. These are the first studies we are aware of that have engaged a scientific process to study these issues.

Two things are clear now, however:

1. Hydraulic fracturing is the only aspect of the complicated drilling process where basic standards for safe operations are not set by the federal government.

2. If fracturing were regulated, for instance, under the Safe Drinking Water Act -- the federal law that regulates every other type of underground chemical injection -- the law would likely require the sort of well integrity tests and localized pre-drilling geologic analysis to ensure that underground faults and fractures could not reach water supplies. It would also likely require that well casing and cementing be solid enough to withstand the pressures exerted by the fracturing process, and thus prevent the well from leaking methane, or chemicals, or anything else.


N.Y. Senate Approves Fracking Moratorium

August 4, 2010

The New York State Senate voted 48 to 9 Tuesday night in Albany to issue a temporary moratorium on a type of natural gas exploration that combines hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling and the injection of millions of gallons of chemically treated water underground. The aim of the measure is to ensure an adequate review of safety and environmental concerns.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing the environmental impact of drilling in upstate New York, where natural gas companies are buying up leases and applying for permits to tap the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest natural gas fields in North America.

The moratorium proposed in the bill would prevent new drilling permits from being issued for the Marcellus Shale until May 15, 2011. While the measure cannot become law before the state Assembly passes a similar bill, and that chamber is not expected to take up the issue until September, environmentalists said the vote was significant in that it buys state officials more time to examine safety issues. They noted that a new administration will be taking over after the November elections because Gov. David Paterson is not running for re-election.

“This is the first action in the country to put the brakes on this type of drilling to give New York the time we need to assess the risks if we’re going to move forward responsibly,” said Katherine Nadeau, a program director with Environmental Advocates of New York.

New York City officials, who oppose drilling anywhere near the watersheds that supply drinking water to the city, welcomed the vote. Councilman James F. Gennaro, head of the City Council’s environmental protection committee, called it “a historic victory for all New Yorkers.”

“Speaker Quinn and I urge the Assembly to follow the lead of the Senate and for Governor Paterson to sign this historic first-in-the-nation hydraulic fracturing moratorium bill,” he said, referring to Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker.

Officials with the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, a trade group, had no immediate comment on the vote. They have argued that delays and more regulation of gas exploration only serve to stifle an energy source that the nation sorely needs.

3:01 p.m. | Updated Brad Gill, the association’s executive director, said Wednesday that the moratorium is delaying the jobs, tax revenue and other benefits the state would attract with more drilling. “We have companies that want to come to New York, but in this regulatory and legislative climate and instability they’re going to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’re just losing out on this economic opportunity.”

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is controversial because of the chemicals and vast amounts of water it requires and the risks that opponents say it poses to groundwater. The Senate bill noted both the “risks of accidents” and “potential effects on the communities in which shale gas production is located, including traffic, noise and an influx of transient workers.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently holding hearings on the effects of hydrofracking as it conducts a national study.



Marcellus Shale drilling industry 'is not operating at an excellent level,' state official says

Wed., August 4, 2010

There are too many spills, too many leaks, and too much natural gas migrating into people’s drinking water wells due to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, said John Hanger, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Environmental Protection.

“The industry as a whole is not operating at an excellent level,” he said. “We are not demanding perfection, but we are demanding excellence.”

Hanger’s comments were made in response to a report from the Pennsylvania Land Trust that Marcellus Shale drilling companies had been cited for 1,435 regulatory violations in the last two and a half years.

“The report disproves the claim made by some that this industry is not regulated in Pennsylvania,” Hanger said. “All of those violations were written by DEP personnel and are an indication we are regularly at drilling sites.”

Hanger responded to criticism that his agency wasn’t doing enough and had been hamstrung by budget cuts.

“I don’t think the public knows a lot of what’s actually been happening,” he said.

Despite budget cuts, he said, the agency has actually more than doubled its oil and gas inspection staff. By the end of this month, DEP will have hired 105 additional oil and gas inspectors, for a total of 193.

“We have more inspectors than the state of Louisiana,” Hanger said. “There’s no state in the country that has come anywhere close to having our oil and gas staff.”

Money for those new hires has come from raising permit fees for Marcellus drillers from $100 to a sliding scale that averages between $5,000 to $10,000 per well, Hanger said. Those increased fees have generated $10 million so far.

He said DEP has opened new offices in Williamsport and Scranton to put inspectors closer to where the drilling is taking place. The agency has equipped them with better technology, like infrared cameras to better detect leaks.

An ongoing review of agency rules and regulations has resulted in new water quality standards that require drilling companies to treat wastewater to drinking water standards before returning it to a commonwealth stream.

Getting that regulation into effect has taken two years, during which time, “the industry has been looking at other options, and they now reuse a large proportion of drilling wastewater,” Hanger said.

“Range Resources publicly say they are a zero discharge company now. That’s major progress as a result of tightening the rules.”

More stringent rules for well construction are also in the works.

“It’s not the case we’re just starting today,” Hanger said. “We’ve been working at it for two years.”

Some of the violations in the report involved serious consequences for companies, he said, because sometimes it’s appropriate “to take out a regulatory two-by-four and hit companies over the head with it.”

However, it would have been helpful, he said, if the report had also included a top 10 list of companies with the least violations per well drilled.

“In attempting to move this industry to a standard of excellence ... It’s useful to identify companies that are doing it well,” Hanger said.

“This industry requires strong oversight; there’s no question about that,” he said, but the record of some companies — like Anadarko — “really points out it’s possible to operate in a manner that creates few problems.”

“At the end of the day, what’s really going to determine if the industry maintains public confidence or loses it entirely — and at best it’s shaky right now — is their safety record and their environmental record,” Hanger said.

“We are creating strong incentives for safe operations, but it’s absolutely true that the government doesn’t run these wells and doesn’t drive the trucks. ... There are limits to what government can do. The companies themselves are writing their own safety record, and that record in Pennsylvania is going to be public.

“This industry has a huge amount at stake to create a true culture of safety,” Hanger said.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Marcellus Drillers Amass 952 Violations Likely To Harm The Environment
August 2, 2010

Harrisburg, PA (8/2) The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association has reviewed environmental violations accrued by Marcellus Shale drillers working in Pennsylvania between January 2008 and June 25, 2010. The records were obtained via a Right to Know Request made to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

DEP records show a total of 1435 violations of state Oil and Gas Laws due to gas drilling or other earth disturbance activities related to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale in this 2.5-year period. The Association identified 952 violations as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. 483 were identified as likely being an administrative or safety violation and not likely to have the potential to negatively impact the environment.

The report breaks the violations down by type. For example, of the 952 violations:

  • 268 involve improper construction of waste water impoundments
  • 10 involve improper well casing
  • 154 involve discharge of industrial waste
  • 16 involve improper blowout prevention

The report lists the 25 companies with the most violations as well as the 25 companies with the highest average number of violations per well driller.

Download the report HERE.



DEP Fines Talisman Energy USA for Bradford County Drilling Wastewater Spill, Polluting Nearby Water Resource

Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120


Daniel T. Spadoni, Department of Environmental Protection Northcentral Regional Office

WILLIAMSPORT -- The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Talisman Energy USA Inc., of Horseheads, N.Y., $15,506 for a spill of used natural gas drilling fluids last November at its Klein gas well pad in Armenia Township, Bradford County that polluted a small, unnamed waterway.

The spill involved hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid, which is the substance that returns to the surface after a company injects the pressurized fluid underground to fracture, or “frack,” a geologic formation and extract natural gas.

“DEP’s investigation in late November 2009 determined that Talisman spilled between 4,200 to 6,300 gallons of fracking flowback fluids when a pump failed and sand collected in a valve,” said DEP North-Central Oil and Gas Program Manager Jennifer Means.

The fluids flowed off the well pad and toward a wetland, and a small amount ultimately discharged to an unnamed tributary to Webier Creek, which drains into the upper reaches of the Tioga River, a cold water fishery.

Talisman successfully completed DEP’s Act 2 process for spill cleanup activities.

The fine will be deposited into the fund that supports DEP’s oil and gas permitting and enforcement programs.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Department of Environmental Protection Unlawfully Permitting Water Withdrawals For Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling in Western Pennsylvania

Allegheny Defense Project
July 26, 2010
Contact: Cathy Pedler – (814) 454-7523
Bill Belitskus – (814) 778-5173
Ryan Talbott – (503) 887-7845

Only riparian owners can make use of water in streams and rivers

Natural gas companies have descended on Pennsylvania’s forests and farmlands to drill into the Marcellus Shale. Each Marcellus Shale gas well requires millions of gallons of water for the drilling process. That water is taken from Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers under the alleged authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP, however, does not have the authority to permit water withdrawals in Pennsylvania.

In central and eastern Pennsylvania, water withdrawalsare managed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Delaware River Basin Commission. Congress created the two commissions as federal interstate compacts with the authority to permit water withdrawals within their respective basins. The rest of Pennsylvania, most of which is in the Ohio River basin, is governed by riparian rights common law, which allows only the owner of property along a watercourse to withdraw water for use on their land. There is no state law regulating water withdrawals other than for municipal drinking water supplies.

In a letter sent to DEP Secretary John Hanger, the Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) outlined the current state of Pennsylvania law regarding water withdrawals and charged the DEP with operating an unauthorized water withdrawal program that allows natural gas companies to take water that they have no legal right to fortheir Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations. (LINK to source.)

“The fact is, the DEP has absolutely no authority to permit water withdrawals in Pennsylvania,” said Cathy Pedler, ADP’s forest watch coordinator. “Outside of the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds, water withdrawals are governed by riparian rights common law, which means only those who live adjacent to the water can make reasonable use of the water on their land. A gas company cannot take water that flows through property it does not own.”

Nevertheless, documents obtained by ADP reveal that the DEP is unlawfully authorizing water withdrawals from western Pennsylvania streams and rivers. On March 31, 2010 the DEP approved a Water Management Plan for Hanley & Bird, Inc. The Water Management Plan allows Hanley & Bird to withdraw 1.44 million gallons of water a day from the Redbank Creek in Jefferson County for five years.

Under the Water Resources Planning Act of 2002, the DEP is required to develop Water Management Plans for the entire state. That law, however, does not provide any authority to the DEP to authorize water withdrawals.

“The Water Resources Planning Act is just that, a planning act,” said Bill Belitskus, ADP’s board president. “That law provided no substantive authority to the DEP to regulate or permit water withdrawals from Pennsylvania’s surface waters. Each time the DEP approves a water management plan and tells a natural gas company that it can withdraw surface water for their drilling procedures, it is acting without authority and encouraging illegal conduct.”

Visit ADP’s website to see the documents we obtained from recent file reviews at the DEP’s Northwest Regional Office:



Saturday, July 31, 2010

As water worries mount, researcher says Marcellus Shale poses risk to air

Protecting watersheds in the Marcellus Shale region and forcing driller disclosure of fracking chemicals are the foremost demands of those concerned about potential environmental harm from natural gas activity.

The focused attention leaves out potentially greater threats, said Conrad "Dan" Volz, Ph.D., director and principal investigator of University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. The region's air could face a so far undetected threat, he said.

While a spill at a natural gas drilling site that contaminates water is catastrophic, air pollution can be a more insidious problem - one he said he feels is being overlooked.

While environmental groups and citizens scour lists of chemicals added to hydraulic fracturing fluid used to break up the shale formation, the greater threat may come from toxins that come to the surface as flowback, said Mr. Volz. He said state air-monitoring stations tend to be located in urban areas, away from rural areas where much of the drilling would be taking place.

He said the flowback is a slurry that can contain naturally-occurring benzene, strontium and arsenic. The flowback is often stored in uncovered fracking ponds where volatile organic compounds evaporate into the air. Condenser stations, wells and pipelines also discharge VOCs.

VOCs, both manmade and naturally occurring, are emitted into the air by certain liquids and solids. Some can adversely affect health in cases of chronic exposure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

VOCs emitted by a single well pad may not be that significant, and Dr. Volz said there's debate over the risk to air quality and health. But as drilling intensifies, however, air quality will become an issue, he said.

Dr. Volz delivered his comments at a rollout of his group's Marcellus Shale website,, to a group of stakeholders that included economic development officials, environmental groups and academics in Danville on Thursday.

He hopes will help inform policymakers on issues such as where to place permanent air-monitoring stations.

Compounding air quality unknowns is the lack of state Department of Environmental Protection air-monitoring stations in many parts of the Marcellus Shale region. The stations tend to be in urban areas with historically high industrial activity. Stations are in Swiftwater, Peckville, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke. None are in Wayne, Wyoming, Susquehanna or Bradford counties, where drilling activity is more common.

The DEP has a mobile air-quality lab collecting data around natural gas activity. The data has not been released, said DEP spokesman Mark Carmon. But Mr Carmon said it can provide a snapshot of the impact of natural gas activity on air quality.

Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy In Depth, an oil and gas producers' association, said open fracking pits are increasingly being replaced by closed loop systems such as one being used by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., reducing the release of VOCs.

He also said that unlike natural gas in Southwestern Pennsylvania, natural gas coming from the Northeast is so- called "dry gas," nearly pure methane, with fewer condensates and VOCs.

University of Scranton chemistry professor Michael C. Cann said thousands of different chemicals come out of the earth in fracking fluid, but without research or testing, it's hard to assess the impact of the process.

"Certainly there are dangerous, naturally-occurring volatile organic compounds, but without research and testing, there's no way to know the risk," Dr. Cann said.


Fracking With Food: How the Natural Gas Industry Poisons Cows and Crops

by Byard Duncan
July 30, 2010

Scientists, too, are grappling for information. Though there exists an increasingly comprehensive catalog of knowledge about water problems related to fracking, little work has been done to determine how the practice affects animals and crops.

“I see very little research being done on cows,” said Theo Colborn, founder of the non-profit Endocrine Disruption Exchange. Because animal testing with many chemicals known to be involved in fracking has historically failed to deal with instances of a) limited exposure and b) prolonged exposure, no one really knows what the potential health effects are – for cows or humans.

“It’s very difficult to deal with this problem,” Colborn said. “Who has the money? Who can perform the tests?”

Certainly not the federal EPA. Earlier this year, it announced plans to launch a two-year study of hydraulic fracturing’s effects on water. According to an EPA spokesperson, no part of that study will deal with plants or animals.

And yet, there is significant anecdotal evidence that suggests fracking can seriously compromise food. In April 2009, 19 head of cattle dropped dead after ingesting an unknown substance near a gas drilling rig in northern Louisiana. Seven months before that, a tomato farmer in Avella, Penn. reported a series of problems with the water and soil on his property after drilling started: he found arsenic levels 2,600 times what is recommended, as well as dangerously high levels of benzene and naphthalene – all known fracking components. And in May 2009, one farmer in Clearview, Penn. told Reuters he thought that gas drilling operations had killed four of his cows.

Occurrences like these aren’t just limited to the eastern U.S. In Colorado, a veterinarian named Elizabeth Chandler has documented numerous fertility problems in livestock near active drill sites, including false pregnancy, smaller litters and stillbirths in goats; reduced birth rates in hogs; and delayed heat cycles in dogs.

In another case, Rick Roles, a resident of Rifle, Colorado, reported that his horses became sterile after three disposal pits were installed near his home. Like those in Chandler’s study, Roles’ goats began yielding fewer offspring and producing more stillbirths. Roles himself suffered from swelling of the hands, numbness and body pain – symptoms, he said, that subsided when he stopped eating vegetables from his garden and drinking his goats’ milk.

Actual scientific studies are few and far between, but what’s out there paints a pretty damning picture. One, titled “Livestock Poisoning from Oil Field Drilling Fluids, Muds and Additives,” appeared in the journal Veterinary & Human Toxicology in 1991. It examined seven instances where oil and gas wells had poisoned and/or killed livestock. In one such case, green liquid was found leaking from a tank near a gas well site. The study’s authors found 13 dead cows, whose “postmortem blood was chocolate-brown in color.” Poisoning cases involving carbon disulfide, turpentine, toluene, xylene, ethylene, and complex solvent mixtures “are frequently encountered,” the study concluded.

Another study, this one conducted in Alberta, Canada in 2001, investigated the effects of gas flaring on the reproductive systems of cattle near active gas and oil fields. Its conclusions: “One of the most consistent associations in the analysis was between exposure to sour gas flaring facilities [as opposed to “sweet” ones, which contain more aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic hydrocarbons and carbon particles] and an increased risk of stillbirth. In 3 of the 4 years studied, cumulative exposure to sour flares was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth.”

'Rare Cases'

When questioned about fracking and food, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an organization composed of the nation’s leading gas production and exploration companies, neglected to get into any specifics. Instead, it offered this response:

“In rare cases where incidents have occurred, companies have worked with the appropriate regulatory authority to identify, contain and correct the issue, and to implement measures to ensure they don’t recur. ANGA member companies understand and respect people’s concerns about the safety of their water and air, and we are committed to engaging in dialogue with community members, policymakers and stakeholders to talk about the safety of natural gas production and the opportunities natural gas offers communities across our country.”

Environmental groups have a markedly different perspective on the issue. “There’s a lot of violations that happen out there that are never documented,” said Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

When we talked, Gillingham took out an enormous aerial photo of a drill rig. One disposal pit was surrounded by gray blotches of moisture: leaked fracking fluid. “The stuff that’s coming up – this stuff is getting into the environment,” he said, pointing at the blotches. “You’ve got heavy metals and normally occurring radioactive materials, all of which bioaccumulate in a grazer. That stuff is coming up in the grass where the grass is growing.”

So what sorts of concerns should people have about eating animals that have themselves ingested xylene, benzene, heavy metals, radioactive material? Gillingham, like so many farmers, federal officials and industry reps, can’t say for sure.

“It’s a serious issue in terms of potential contamination getting to market and nobody knowing about it,” he said. “It’s an important piece of research that needs to be done.”


Friday, July 30, 2010

UN General Assembly passes historic Human Right to Water and Sanitation resolution

Council of Canadians E-Newsletter
& Media Release
July 30, 2010

On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly agreed to a resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.”

After over a decade of hard work, the global water justice movement achieved a major victory today as the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of recognizing water and sanitation as human rights. The resolution – put forward by Bolivia and co-sponsored by 35 states – passed overwhelmingly with 122 states voting in favour and 41 abstaining.

For more than a decade the water justice movement ... has been calling for UN leadership on this critical issue. Right now nearly 2 billion people live in water-stressed areas of the world and 3 billion have no running water within a kilometre of their homes. Every eight seconds, a child dies of water-borne disease – deaths that would be easily preventable with access to clean, safe water. ...

While the resolution is a solid victory for water justice for people around the world, the battle is not entirely won.

“This resolution has the overwhelming support of a strong majority of countries, despite a handful of powerful opponents. It must now be followed-up with a renewed push for water justice,” says Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Project organizer. “We are calling for actions on the ground in communities around the world to ensure that the rights to water and sanitation are implemented.

Governments, aid agencies and the UN must take their responsibilities seriously.”

As a result of this vote, the human right to water and sanitation is now explicitly and formally recognized at the UN.


Shale's Shameless Shill

A Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial
July 30, 2010

Former governors can choose many career paths. Some of them become college presidents. Some go on the lecture circuit.

And then there's Tom Ridge, who is set to become a paid shill for the natural-gas drillers swarming his native state.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents natural-gas companies, has been negotiating to hire Ridge's lobbying firm. The industry wants the ex-governor's help with a campaign to educate the public about the benefits of drilling.

It's unclear how much Ridge will be paid, but he doesn't come cheap. The tiny impoverished nation of Albania, for example, reportedly paid Ridge nearly $500,000 per year to lobby for its membership in NATO.

Ex-governors are free to enrich themselves however they choose. But there's something obnoxious about a former governor talking up an industry that poses serious environmental risks, and has already spent millions on lobbying to forestall paying its fair share of state business taxes.

The industry does have a positive story to tell as well. It provides jobs at a time when jobs are scarce. Landowners have become financially secure from leasing to drillers. Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel, and the vast deposits beneath Pennsylvania should help this nation become less reliant on foreign oil.

Those factors argue in favor of proceeding with drilling in Pennsylvania. But the potential environmental hazards associated with hydraulic-fracture drilling, or "fracking," require a robust array of regulations to protect drinking water supplies. The state, which had outdated laws governing oil and gas drilling, is still trying to catch up.

In a new energy bill in Washington, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) has included a needed provision that would require drillers to disclose the chemicals used in fracking.

The oil and gas industry's safety record certainly needs improving. Pennsylvania ranks sixth with 114 significant accidents in the past decade, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Foundation. Most of them weren't caused by Marcellus drillers.

But fracking does carry risks, such as the methane pollution of 14 drinking wells in January 2009 in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. Cabot paid a $360,000 fine. And the state temporarily banned Cabot from fracking after three chemical spills at a site in Dimock polluted a wetland and killed fish.

So as the former governor prepares to tell a story for hire, let's all start on the same page: This industry bears greater oversight, not less.



Thursday, July 29, 2010

Drilling Accountability Bill Would Regulate Fracturing Too

by Abrahm Lustgarten
July 29,2010

Tucked inside the Senate bill aimed at cracking down on oil drillers after the Gulf spill is a long-sought measure to protect groundwater from natural gas drilling.

The bill, called The Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, would require that drilling companies make public a complete list of chemicals injected underground in proprietary formulas to break up rock deep underground and extract natural gas, a process called hydraulic fracturing.

It would not, however, reverse the exemption that prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the fracturing process like other forms of underground injection, another important regulatory change that was initially proposed in House and Senate bills last June along with the chemical disclosure.

That bill, called the Frac Act, was sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who pushed for its inclusion in the accountability bill now being considered.

(See flaming Splashdown sidebar at left. Write letters now!)

"Proper regulation is another essential element in protecting drinking water and public health. That is a battle that we still need to fight," Casey told ProPublica in an e-mail. But he emphasized that disclosing the chemical names "is an important step toward informing the public and building accountability for oil and gas companies."

A push for disclosure and stricter regulation of the fracturing process began in earnest last year after a series of articles by ProPublica reported more than a thousand cases of ground and surface water contamination in drilling areas where the process was being used. The articles examined drilling records in more than seven states, and found both a consistent pattern of water contamination in drilling areas, and a gap in scientific knowledge about the way hydraulic fracturing affects underground layers of rock and aquifers.

Problems were severe in Casey's home state, where fast-paced development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit quickly led to dozens of reports of drinking water well contamination in places where hydraulic fracturing had been employed. Residents reported flammable tap water, and state investigations found that methane had seeped into water supplies underground as a result of the drilling activity.

Investigating the cause of such incidents has been difficult in part because the EPA does not have the jurisdiction to regulate fracturing the way it does other injection processes, and because the chemical makeup of the fracturing fluids has been guarded as a trade secret.

Several states, including New York, Colorado and Wyoming, have recently passed disclosure laws of their own, and industry representatives have begun to support the notion. But the language of the Senate bill is the most specific, and would apply to all of the states where oil and gas is produced.

The disclosure proposed today would still allow companies to withhold the exact recipes they use, meaning they wouldn't have to disclose the concentrations to the public. But they would -- in case of emergencies -- be required to share that information on a confidential basis with doctors and hospitals responding to an accident.

It's not clear how far the bill will get in the face of Republican opposition. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who added the disclosure component to the accountability bill, has said he hoped to bring the bill to a vote next week. Even if it passes, it will need to be reconciled with a House version that does not include the fracturing disclosure language.



Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RED ALERT! Bad Water in Paradise!

Cain Chamberlin
July 29, 2010

Mike Phillips holds the contaminated water that he discovered in his well on July 12 in his left hand, and in his right hand a sample of bottled water. Phillips is concerned that the disturbance in his well is due to gas drilling operations that have taken place near his home.
Photo by Cain Chamberlin

Bad Water in Paradise? Terry Twp. Residents Await Answers

Click here for video of gas igniting from bathroom sink faucet at Phillip's neighbor, Scott Spencer's home.

When Michael and Jonna Phillips woke up on Monday, July 12, they expected it to be like any other day…until they turned on their water.

They noticed that it was an odd, murky, brownish color. For obvious personal safety and health reasons, they decided against tasting it to figure out why.

Since the Phillips’s home, located along Paradise Road in Terry Township, was built in 2002, they have never had any trouble with their water. Their well is approximately 140 deep. They had their water tested in April of this year, and the results came back clear of any contamination, so the sudden change seemed extremely peculiar to them.

The Phillipses were aware that their next-door neighbors, Jared and Heather McMicken, had the same disturbance in their water, although the discoloration of their water started in early June when no one else had the problem, making them think it was just bad luck. The McMicken well is at approximately the same depth as that of the Phillips’s. Soon after the McMickens started having water trouble, Scott Spencer, another nearby resident, made a major discovery in his water as well; he could light it on fire.

“Spit and Sputter”
“All the faucets started
to spit and sputter, so we were curious as to what was going on,” said Spencer.

A Chesapeake drilling site no further than a quarter-mile away from the three homes struck the curiosity of Phillips. Even though all three residents have signed on to lease their land to gas companies, none of their properties has been subject to any operations so far. It made Phillips wonder if the nearby drilling was the culprit.

Phillips finally reached Greg Garrison, an Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Field Specialist for Chesapeake Energy, after several attempts. Garrison brought a couple of cases of water to their home and looked at the problem for himself. Phillips said that after Garrison saw the disturbance with his own eyes, he told them that they should keep all their receipts dealing with any water purchases or testing and repairs to the well; if the DEP could prove that Chesapeake was at fault, they would be reimbursed.

“He told us that he or someone from Chesapeake would be back on a daily basis,” said Phillips. They have not seen nor heard from anyone at Chesapeake in over a week, while the McMicken family has only seen a Chesapeake representative twice since reporting their water problems.

A representative of the DEP ran a test in the water systems on both the Phillips and McMicken properties on July 15 and again on July 21. According to the DEP, the full results will not be available for about 40 days, but they immediately found rising levels of methane in the water. The reports show the Phillips’s water had minima
l amounts of methane in the first test, but rose to three percent six days later. The McMickens’ level rose from three percent to four percent in the same time period.

DEP Offers Advice
DEP advised them, as well as Scott Spencer and his family, not to drink the water. Heather McMicken, who was diagnosed with Lyme disease, had been drinking close to 25 glasses of tap water per day since the spring until her family’s water problems began. Her children were drinking several glasses every day as well, which concerns her deeply.

“Our kids’ health is number one priority,” she said.

Phillips contacted Thomas Dunn, a local water well specialist, who almost immediately after removing the well cap on July 18 told them that there was gas in the water. Once again, they were advised not to drink the water and told that there was a definite disturbance. According to Mrs. Phillips, who is due to have their second child in October, Garrison told her that she could bathe in the water, although the family doctor advised her not to.

She now has to take her twice-daily showers at a friends’ house about two miles away. Mrs. Spencer, who is also pregnant with their second child, has been bathing in the water because she has no other option. The DEP told the Spencers that the water did contain some effervescence but appeared to be fine, although they shouldn’t drink it, just as a precaution. According to Spencer, the DEP claimed that they would be stopping by on a weekly basis to run water tests but have yet to come back.

“Chesapeake told us that it could be from something five or six years ago that we didn’t realize was happening,” said Spencer, “Basically that the problem was just natural causes.”

Alternate Sources

The Phillipses have purchased a water cooler system, while the Spencers and McMickens are buying bottled water on a regular basis. The children in each family are getting very impatient wondering when they will be able to drink their own water or swim in their plastic kiddie pools again during the current summer heat.

“We don’t know if it will end soon or not, we don’t know what to expect,” Spencer said.

Last week, Phillips wrote several letters in order to address the situation of his family and neighbors. He contacted Chesapeake’s Director of Corporate Development Brian Grove, Sen. Gene Yaw, State Rep. Tina Pickett and Congressman Chris Carney, as well as an environmental lawyer from Washington, DC. Phillips says that he is determined to find answers and to make sure that his drinking water is restored to its original condition.

“No one is immune to this and this is ruining our beautiful place to live,” said Phillips, “All we wanted was a nice, peaceful community. These are young families in new homes, and we just want this problem taken care of.”

(Editor’s Note: Brian Grove, Chesapeake Energy’s Director of Corporate Development, responds to concerns expressed in this article in a statement released on Wednesday, July 28. That statement is published in this issue of the Rocket-Courier.)

Click here for video of gas igniting from bathroom sink faucet at Phillip's neighbor, Scott Spencer's home.

to article.
(BULLSHIT image for Splashdown post courtesy of Google.)


DEP has proposed tougher standards for Oil & Gas drilling

From the FORESTcoalition:

The Public Comment Meetings are finished and there are only about ten days to get in your comments by e-mail.

These regulations call for more stringent standards for O&G drilling operations.

These regulations are vital. They upgrade requirements for testing, well casing, welding, cementing and other steps to prevent blowouts, migration of gas and release of fluids which could contaminate our waterways and aquifers.

The public comment period will end on 8/09/10.

If you missed the hearings, please submit your official written testimony via

or via USPS at:
Environmental Quality Board
P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg PA 17105-8477

• Be sure to use subject heading “CH 78 Regulations”
and include your full name and address.

Talking points – Choose the topics most important to you:

• Safety - Marcellus depths and pressures are so far beyond what was “normal” in the 1980’s, we must upgrade the Oil & Gas regulations to ensure safety.

• Prevent stray gas migration [ contaminating local waterwells]

• Cementing – Use Texas standards
DEP’s definition for cement sets a 24-hour compressive strength standard of at least 500 psi; however, other states, such as Texas, have found that standard insufficient to prevent vertical migration of fluids or gas behind pipe. Texas requires an additional 72-hour compressive strength standard of at least 1,200 psi across critical zones of cement.

• Cementing – Upgrade the details
Ensure better cementing by documenting the chemical composition of the mixture. Expand the “cement ticket” definition to include:

(a) a requirement for the operator to test the mixing water pH and temperature and note it on the cement ticket (this is standard industry practice and aids in determining cement quality);

(b) a record of the Waiting on Cement [WOC] time, which is the time required to achieve the calculated compressive strength standard before the casing is disturbed in any way. Allow no shortcuts.

• Protection of Water Supplies -

DEP must clarify §78.51 to explain what constitutes an adequately restored or replacement water supply for homeowners. There should be a set timeframe for acting upon a complaint filed by a landowner.

Revise §78.51(c) to read: Within 24 hours of the receipt of the investigation request, the Department will send a technical team to the field site to examine the situation and determine whether immediate action is needed to shut down operations.

• Blowout Preventer –
Blowouts are very serious work safety, and environmental situations. Blowouts may result in human injury, fire, explosion, oil spills and gas venting. Suggestion: Require all wells to be drilled with a Blow-Out Preventer once the surface casing is installed and cemented. No exceptions.

§78.72 (c) requires BOP controls to be accessible during an emergency; this is logical. However, the regulation should also require that the operator to place the BOP controls on the rig itself. BOP controls need to be accessible both on the rig and at a location a safe distance away from the drilling rig. Recent accidents show the need for this.

“Safe” = absence of risk. While it is not possible to eliminate all the risks inherent in drilling, we have to ensure that the standards are as bullet-proof as we can make them. There should be no “weasel clauses” that allow misinterpretation, no omissions, no compromises because of industry arm-twisting or whining that DEP is “unfriendly”.

Your statements are needed so the IRRC can see strong public support for the new DEP CH 78 regulations.

Remember, it is the Department of Environmental Protection.


DEP’s proposed regulations are at:


Shale Report: PA considering new casing regulations

Current regulations set in 1989, state says industry is meeting expectations

July 28, 2010

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing blame it for spoiling water supplies. Proponents say the technology is separated from drinking water supplies by thousands of feet of impermeable rock. One possible link between those contradictory statements is well construction. In a poorly designed well, gas from below escapes into water from above.

That’s not the only way gas can migrate into water supplies, but it’s the main one the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is targeting with proposed changes to the regulations for oil and gas wells, recently released for public comments.

Many of the current regulations haven’t been updated since July 1989, according to the state. While Pennsylvania isn’t new to drilling — in fact, it’s been producing oil and gas longer than any other state — the current drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale is new.

The revisions would change how wells are constructed and inspected, and set guidelines for responding to gas migration and replacing water supplies spoiled by drilling.

“It was determined that many, if not all, Marcellus well operators met or exceeded the current well casing and cementing regulations,” the DEP said in its proposed regulations. “However, it was also determined that the current regulations were not specific enough in detailing the Department's expectations of a properly cased and cemented well.”

The new standards would bring Pennsylvania in line with other producing states, like Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, particularly for the amount of pressure allowed on surface casing, the shallow length of pipe that protects underground drinking water sources.

The standards require operators to inspect wells for pressure, corrosion and signs of escaping gas every three months and report the results to the DEP for five years.

If gas were believed to have migrated into nearby soils and waters, the proposed regulations would require the operator to immediately notify the state and begin an investigation, filing a report by phone within 12 hours and in writing within three days.

The proposed regulations also codify current case law on water supplies damaged by drilling. The regulations would require drillers to replace polluted water supplies to safe drinking water standards, unless the supplies didn’t meet those standards in the first place. It also requires drillers to pay for any increased operations and maintenance costs.

The Environmental Quality Board, an agency within the DEP, held five public hearings across the state on the proposed regulations and is taking comments through Aug. 9.


LINK to complete article.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Most speak out against shale gas production at Pennsylvania forum

Jim Magill
Pittsburgh, PA
July 23, 2010

Highlighting concerns over its possible effects on groundwater, most of the 150 speakers at a US Environmental Protection Agency forum in southwestern Pennsylvania spoke out against shale gas production in the state.

The meeting Thursday night in the small town of Canonsburg, which drew 1,200 people, was the third in a series of four to be held by the EPA in shale gas-producing basins across the US to gather public input ahead of a two-year study it plans to examine the impacts of hydraulic fracturing could have on groundwater.

The Pennsylvania meeting site sits in a region that in recent years has seen a boom of gas drilling targeting the Marcellus Shale.

While a handful of speakers -- most identifying themselves as being currently or formerly employed in the gas industry or representing pro-industry organizations -- defended the use of fracking as a safe and efficient technology for unlocking the gas trapped in shale, the vast majority -- mostly area residents, scientists and conservationists -- demanded greater regulation or, in some cases, an outright ban on the practice.

Many of the latter group called on the EPA to expand the study beyond just looking at the impacts of fracking and to study what happens to the water and chemicals used in fracking before, during and after the work is done. Others wanted the study to be expanded still further, to include impacts of gas drilling on air quality, vehicle traffic and quality-of-life issues such as crime.


Although a definite link has never been established between fracking and contamination of groundwater, dozens of speakers claimed to be victims of such a link. One woman who said her family buys drinking water because her well became contaminated with styrene, which she blamed on nearby gas drilling.

Another speaker, representing a local environmental group, Clearville Citizens for Sustainability, said it tested groundwater quality prior to the onset of gas drilling and found the water to be of good quality. "After drilling we have pollution," she said.

A member of the Steel Valley Trail Council, said when the gas industry came into the Marcellus Shale, drillers touted the benefits of clean-burning natural gas and "identified oodles of jobs" for local residents. "The jobs have gone to Texans," he said. Many of the speakers said they thought that a moratorium should be imposed on new in the Marcellus drilling in Pennsylvania, similar to the one called by the state of New York as it develops new drilling guidelines.

Several pro-industry speakers dismissed the complaints of the anti-fracking speakers as alarmist and called for the EPA study to "focus on science, not emotion." A speaker who identified himself as a Halliburton employee said the agency should limit the scope of the study to what Congress asked it to focus on and to "avoid wasting time" in expanding the scope beyond that congressional mandate.
"The EPA will find that fracking poses no significant threats to health," he said.


Lou D'Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, said fracking was "neither new nor controversial." He cited a study the EPA undertook during the Clinton administration on the impacts of fracking in coalbed methane wells, which found "no negative effects of fracking from coalbed methane drilling."

D'Amico added that most CBM wells are drilled to much shallower depths than Marcellus Shale wells, placing them that much closer to groundwater aquifers. The EPA should avail itself of the "huge database" of information available through industry players and state regulatory agencies in pursuing its study, he said.

EPA plans to continue the scoping process through the end of the year and begin the study itself in early 2011, the EPA officials said. Preliminary results of the study should be available by the end of 2012, they said.


E.P.A. Considers Risks of Gas Extraction

Published: July 23, 2010

CANONSBURG, Pa. — The streams of people came to the public meeting here armed with stories of yellowed and foul-smelling well water, deformed livestock, poisoned fish and itchy skin. One resident invoked the 1968 zombie thriller “Night of the Living Dead,” which, as it happens, was filmed just an hour away from this southwestern corner of Pennsylvania.

The culprit, these people argued, was hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas that involves blasting underground rock with a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals.

Gas companies countered that the horror stories described in Pennsylvania and at other meetings held recently in Texas and Colorado are either fictions or not the companies’ fault. More regulation, the industry warned, would kill jobs and stifle production of gas, which the companies consider a clean-burning fuel the nation desperately needs.


The Environmental Protection Agency has been on a listening tour, soliciting advice from all sides on how to shape a forthcoming $1.9 million study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on groundwater.

With the steep environmental costs of fossil fuel extraction apparent on beaches from Texas to Florida — and revelations that industry shortcuts and regulatory negligence may have contributed to the BP catastrophe in the gulf — gas prospectors are finding a cold reception for their assertions that their drilling practices are safe.

“The industry has argued there are no documented cases of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater,” said Dencil Backus, a resident of nearby Mt. Pleasant Township, at Thursday night’s hearing. “Our experience in southwestern Pennsylvania suggests that this cannot possibly be true.”

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, a Texas-based natural gas producer, acknowledged that the gulf spill had increased public concern about any sort of drilling activity. “However, when people can review the facts, void of the strong emotions the gulf elicits, they can see the stark contrast between high-risk, deep offshore oil drilling and much safer, much lower risk onshore natural gas development,” he said by e-mail.

In this part of the country, the potentially enormous natural gas play of the Marcellus Shale has many residents lining up to lease their land to gas prospectors. Estimates vary on the precise size of the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia across much of Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio and into the Southern Tier of New York. But by any estimate, the gas deposit is huge — perhaps as much as 500 trillion cubic feet. (New York State uses a little over 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.)

An industry-financed study published this week suggested that as much as $6 billion in government revenue and up to 280,000 jobs could be at stake in the Marcellus Shale region.

Fracking has been around for decades, and it is an increasingly prominent tool in the effort to unlock previously unreachable gas reserves. The oil and gas industry estimates that 90 percent of the more than 450,000 operating gas wells in the United States rely on hydraulic fracturing.

Roughly 99.5 percent of the fluids typically used in fracking, the industry says, are just water and sand, with trace amounts of chemical thickeners, lubricants and other compounds added to help the process along. The cocktail is injected thousands of feet below the water table and, the industry argues, can’t possibly be responsible for growing complaints of spoiled streams and wells. But critics say that the relationship between fracking fluids and groundwater contamination has never been thoroughly studied — and that proving a link has been made more difficult by oil and gas companies that have jealously guarded as trade secrets the exact chemical ingredients used at each well.

Several other concerns linger over fracking, as well as other aspects of gas drilling — including the design and integrity of well casings and the transport and potential spilling of chemicals and the millions of gallons of water required for just one fracking job.

The recent string of accidents in the oil and gas industries — including the gulf spill and a blowout last month at a gas field in Clearfield County, Pa., that spewed gas and wastewater for 16 hours — has unnerved residents and regulators.

“There is extraordinary economic potential associated with the development of Marcellus Shale resources,” said Representative Joe Sestak, Democrat of Pennsylvania, in a statement Friday announcing $1 million for a federal study of water use impacts in the Delaware Water Basin. However, “there is also great risk.” He said, “One way to ensure proper development is to understand the potential impacts.”

Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the scrutiny was long overdue. “I think it’s all helping to shine a spotlight on this entire industry,” she said. “Corners are sometimes cut, and regulations simply aren’t strong enough.”

Fears of fracking’s impact on water supplies prompted regulators overseeing the Delaware Water Basin to curtail gas exploration until the effects could be more closely studied. New York State lawmakers are contemplating a moratorium.

At the national level, in addition to the E.P.A. study, a Congressional investigation of gas drilling and fracturing, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee, intensified last week with demands sent to several companies for details on their operations — particularly how they handled the slurry of water and chemicals that flowed back from deep within a well.

A renewed, if unlikely, push is also under way to pass federal legislation that would undo an exemption introduced under the Bush administration that critics say freed hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Last month, Wyoming introduced some of the nation’s toughest rules governing fracturing, including provisions that require companies to disclose the ingredients in their fracturing fluids to state regulators — though specifically not to the public.

Gas drillers, responding to the increased scrutiny and eyeing the expansive and lucrative new gas plays in Appalachia, are redoubling their efforts to stave off federal oversight, in some cases by softening their rigid positions on fracking-fluid disclosure. Last week, Range Resources went so far as to announce its intent to disclose the contents of its fracking fluids to Pennsylvania regulators and to publish them on the company’s Web site.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” said Mr. Pitzarella, the Range spokesman. “There are probably no health risks with the concentrations that we’re utilizing. But if someone has that concern, then it’s real and you have to address it.”

Environmental groups welcomed that, but said that clear and broad federal jurisdiction would still be needed.

“Any one accident might not be on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Ms. Mall. “But accidents are happening all the time, and there’s no regime in place that broadly protects the health of communities and the surrounding environment where drilling is being done.”

That was a common theme at the meeting Thursday night.

“I can take you right now to my neighbors who have lost their water supplies,” Mr. Backus said to the handful of E.P.A. regulators on hand. “I can take you also to places where spills have killed fish and other aquatic life.”

“Corporations have no conscience,” he added. “The E.P.A. must give them that conscience.”




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