Friday, January 29, 2010


Natural gas truck stopped on Bradford County road weighing 41.6 tons over weight limit
By Jason Whong •
January 28, 2010, 10:45 pm

The driver of a natural gas industry service truck that was more than 41.6 tons over the weight limit on a Bradford County road received more than $25,000 in traffic citations Tuesday, according to state police in Towanda.

Police said Kevin Parsons, 44, of New Albany, Pa., was the driver of the truck found parked on Covered Bridge Road in Burlington Township. The road has a posted weight limit of 10 tons.

"We've had so many problems lately with blatant (weight limit) violations," said Cpl. Roger Stipcak.
"We've tried ... to educate them about this stuff, but now we're going to start taking them forthwith to the magistrate," Stipcak said.

Police said the truck is owned by Hodges Trucking Co. of Oklahoma City, Okla., which Chesapeake Energy lists as a subsidiary on its Web site.

"It's only going to get worse with all these gas companies coming in," Stipcak said.

Police said they investigated the truck, which they said was parked illegally, at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and learned the truck's oversize load was being transported with an invalid permit.

Police then weighed the truck and saw it exceeded the road's 10-ton weight restriction by 83,208 pounds, or 41.6 tons, without a permit.

Police said they also learned of "numerous other permit violations" in the investigation. They did not provide a detailed list of the violations or the exact amount of the fines.

Parsons was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Timothy Clark, who impounded the truck and its load. Parsons pleaded guilty to the violations, police said.

Heavy trucks can damage roads that weren't built for heavy loads, Stipcak said.

"Take a look at some of the roads that these trucks are running on. They're clumping and breaking up," Stipcak said.

"With this last thaw we had, the roads are really starting to fall apart."


UPDATE on the Mysterious Death of 17 Cows in Caddo Parish, LA Last April

Chesapeake, Schlumberger receive penalty notices
By Vickie Welborn •
January 28, 2010

KEITHVILLE — Chesapeake Energy Corp. and contractor Schlumberger Technology Corp. could be penalized in connection with an inquiry into the deaths April 28 of 17 cows that ingested liquid spilled from a natural gas well site in south Caddo.

While the investigation is incomplete, the state Department of Environmental Quality noted three violations, according to Assistant Secretary Peggy Hatch's letter posted online.

  • The companies caused or allowed a regulated solid waste to be deposited without a permit, violating state law. After reviewing and discussing the necropsy report, veterinarians said the cows did not die within the time frame suggested by information from Chesapeake and Schlumberger.

    So the spilled material, which includes a proprietary blend of non-hazardous materials used for well fracturing, had been on the ground long enough to constitute solid waste disposal, DEQ alleges.

  • The companies failed to promptly notify the state Public Safety Department's 24-hour hazardous materials hotline of an unauthorized discharge that caused an emergency.

  • And the companies failed to submit a written report about the unauthorized discharge to DEQ within seven days as law requires. The report was submitted June 16.

    The penalty notices require Chesapeake and Schlumberger to submit annual gross revenue statements and a statement of monetary benefits of noncompliance for each violation. If no monetary benefits were gained, the assertion must be justified, Hatch says in the letter.

    DEQ may seek civil penalties and compliance for each violation. "We can't really determine right now what that would be," spokesman Tim Beckstron said Wednesday. "It's decided on a case-by-case basis "» and each scenario is different."

    DEQ issued the notices Jan. 15 and mailed them Jan. 19. Each company has 10 days to request a meeting with DEQ or submit comments prior to enforcement action. The timeline starts once the certified letters are received, Beckstron said. "We've not gotten a return receipt yet."

  • Chesapeake, which has received the letter, is deferring comment until it can review the notice in detail and meet with DEQ, Kevin McCotter, the company's senior director of corporate development in Louisiana, says in an e-mail to The Times.

    The cows died in a pasture Cecil and Tyler Williams own in Spring Ridge. Schlumberger was performing routine fracturing operations for well owner Chesapeake when some of the fluid leaked from the well pad then into the pasture after a rain.

    Elevated chlorides, a salt, as well as oil and grease and some organic compounds were detected in the liquid.

    A preliminary necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Medical Laboratory at LSU in Baton Rouge is among documents in DEQ's public records database. The report does not determine the cause of death and notes a toxicology report was pending.

    The report states the one cow tested suffered from severe pulmonary hemorrhage and edema. Witnesses to the cows' deaths described them as bellowing and bleeding before falling over dead.

    Earlier this month, DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallet said an in-house toxicologist reviewed the necropsy report, and a third veterinarian was to be brought in to verify the results.

    A Jan. 12 letter from Christine B. Navarre, an LSU AgCenter veterinarian, informs DEQ environmental scientist Wayne R. Slater that she studied the information included in a report Dec. 2 from Dr. June Sutherlin. "Dr. Sutherlin's report is very thorough and I concur with her observations," the letter states.



    Don't Frack with New York! Governor Patterson Poisons the Well to Balance the Budget

    Alison Rose Levy
    The Huffington Post
    January 28, 2010

    Former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer may have had his sexual peccadilloes but he knew how to stand up to corporate interests that threatened the public good. It was a big boost for oil companies, planning to despoil New York State, when the powerhouse Spitzer was replaced by his easily rolled-over successor.

    While belt-tightening throughout the state budget, Governor Patterson added $3 million to fast track harmful gas drilling practices--a quick fix economic solution with tragic long-range health, economic, and environmental consequences.

    On Monday, a statewide coalition of New York state residents, businesses, and environmental groups rallied in the state capital of Albany to ask legislators to oppose Patterson's plans to contaminate state-wide water supplies (including New York City's) by permitting a damaging form of gas drilling, known as "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing.

    Thanks to lobbying by Halliburton and other energy companies, under the Bush-Cheney administration, fracking got exempted from the Clean Water Act even though it releases large quantities of undisclosed carcinogens and toxic chemicals into the earth and water supply.

    According to a recent study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), just one drilling site deploys harmful chemicals sufficient "to contaminate more than 100 billion gallons of drinking water to unsafe levels ... more than 10 times as much water as the entire state of New York uses in a single day."

    The chemicals used in fracking "pose a serious threat to the nation's water supplies, but those risks have been largely ignored," says the report. "Drinking water contamination and property damage have been linked to hydraulic fracturing in four states--Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In one incident that polluted a Colorado creek, the drilling company is still trying to clean it up--four years later."

    Nor does the drilling create local jobs or business. Instead, companies bus in workers from Texas, housing them in "man camps," sites where reportedly alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual predation abound. While no one wants a "man camp" next door, a gas well also ruins the neighborhood. If one owner sells property for drilling, all neighboring land can be conscripted for leasing, with no rights of refusal. Fracking also releases chemicals into the air; an army of trucks must carry over roads and New York State highways up to four million gallons of contaminated water (per well)-- which amps up air pollution and costly highway repairs. There is currently no way to effectively decontaminate the high quantities of waste water produced by fracking.

    "We can't let the gleam of potential profits leave us with a legacy of polluted water and industrialized landscapes," said Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

    Last month, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection issued a report urging a halt to gas drilling since, "Natural gas drilling and exploration are incompatible with the operation of New York City's unfiltered water supply system and pose unacceptable risks for more than nine million New Yorkers in the City and State." They noted that drilling entails "invasive industrialization and creates a substantial risk of chemical contamination, and infrastructure damage."

    This week, Mayor Bloomberg chimed in, "The consequences are so severe that it is not a risk that I think we should run. I do not think that we should allow fractured drilling anywhere near our water supply."

    Although land can be fenced in, water can't be. It flows underground, it rises into clouds, it's borne by the winds, and released by the rains, far from its source.

    While the Mayor nobly aims to protect the immediate area surrounding the city's upstate water reservoir, so far no studies have investigated how far water-born contaminants from throughout the state could flow downstream to impact NYC, or it's water supply. Fracking originated in arid western regions, and its proponents don't know the extent of pollution possible in a region of interconnected rivers and frequent rains like New York and New England.

    In New York State, gas drillers hope to use fracking in the regions of the New York City Watershed, the Delaware River, the Finger Lakes, and upstate watersheds, the source of waters that flow downstate to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

    With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, it's unconscionable for a short-term Governor to short-sell a precious resource to balance his budget. Perhaps the soon to declare gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Cuomo, will like his popular father, Governor Mario Cuomo, become a successful champion.

    To take action, sign up with the Environmental Advocates NY Citizens for Safe Energy The Environmental Working Group proposes a national ban or better regulation. Or join No Fracking Way on Facebook. Or cut to the chase, and ask soon to declare candidate, Andrew Cuomo to make New York State a model for future-oriented policies, rather than a disastrous object lesson in the costs of short-sighted gain.


    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    12:45 p.m. Update:

    Chesapeake denies its well exploded
    Published: January 28, 2010
    The incident involving a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well this morning in Tuscarora Township [in Bradford Co., PA] was not an explosion, a company spokesman said early this afternoon.

    Brian Grove, Chesapeake's director of corporate development in Towanda, in a prepared statement, described what happened as "a brief but forceful uplift of tubing." He specifically denied that the phenomenon was an explosion.

    Three employees of a contract company were transported to a hospital, he said, but none had critical injuiries.

    "There was no release of any materials that could be harmful to the environment and the situation presents no danger to the public. This is all the information that is available at this time," Grove said in the statement.

    According to transmissions over Wyoming County 911 communications at the time of the incident, an explosion took place at the Mowry well site of Chesapeake Energy on Clapper Hill in Tuscarora Township.

    One person was thrown in the air 30 feet, and suffered back pain and injuries to his wrist and another individual sustained back pain, according to preliminary reports.

    Emergency crews were called out, according to the scanner transmission, but there was no visible fire. Laceyville Fire Chief Scott Fisher refused to comment at mid-morning, saying he wouild need to finish his report first.

    Jim Vajda, Bradford County's Emergency Management Agency director was reported on the scene and unavailable for immediate comment.


    Pennsylvania’s Gas Wells Booming—But So Are Spills

    Atlas Resources, M.R. Dirt, Chesapeake, Schlumberger, Range Resources, Cabot Oil and Gas... is there a PA driller missing from the list?

    by Sabrina Shankman
    January 27, 2010

    As more gas wells are drilled in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, more cases of toxic spills are being reported. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania's environmental officials fined Pennsylvania-based Atlas Resources after a series of violations at 13 wells, including spills of fracturing fluids and other contaminants onto the ground around the sites. And just last week the agency fined M.R. Dirt, a company that removes waste from drilling sites, $6,000 for spilling more than seven tons of drilling dirt along a public road.

    The reports come on the heels of a string of other incidents that have killed fish in one of the state's most prized recreational lakes and released toxic chemicals into the environment.

    The Atlas spills are significant because they are among the latest and because they happened repeatedly during the routine transfer of fluids. Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection fined Atlas Resources $85,000 for the offenses, which took place between May and December of 2009. Many of the spills were discovered by DEP inspectors.

    The violation cited by the DEP include spills of fluids from the hydraulic fracturing process at seven sites, and failure to report a spill at one of those sites. One spill was the result of a faulty pit liner, which is supposed to insulate the ground from hydraulic fracturing fluids after they are pumped out of a well.

    Atlas Resources controls more than half a million acres within the Marcellus Shale, the massive gas deposit that stretches from Tennessee to New York. The company, whose total revenue was $787.4 million in 2008, issued a statement acknowledging that it had entered a voluntary settlement with the DEP and saying that each of the incidents had been corrected. An Atlas spokesman declined a request to answer additional questions about the violations, or about the company's operations in Pennsylvania.

    "If you look at this series of violations -- it's not only that there are multiple violations," said DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys, pointing to the fact that the same three violations were turning up at each site. "This is a pattern, and it's a problem."

    The pattern, and the problem, extend beyond Atlas.

    In December the DEP fined Chesapeake and Schlumberger, two of the biggest operators in the Marcellus Shale and in gas development nationally, for spilling hydrochloric acid, which is used for hydraulic fracturing and is corrosive. Cabot Oil and Gas, a Houston-based energy company that lists T. Boone Pickens as one of its stockholders, was fined in November for a series of spills, including a fracturing fluid spill by its contractor Halliburton.

    In October Pennsylvania fined Texas-based Range Resources $23,500 for spilling nearly 5,000 gallons of wastewater, including hydraulic fracturing fluids, into a tributary of Cross Creek Lake, a protected watershed near Pittsburgh that contains some of the state's most robust fish populations.

    A DEP report on that spill said, "The creek was impacted by sediments all the way down to the lake and there was also evidence of a fish kill as invertebrates and fish were observed lying dead in the creek.”

    The Range Resources spill occurred on May 26, when the company was pumping fluids from the hydraulic fracturing of three wells through a six-inch pipe to a DEP-approved impoundment. Along the way, two screws along the pipe came loose, according to the Range Resources report on the incident, allowing thousands of gallons to spill onto the ground before the company was able to shut it down.

    Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the loosened screws were a result of vandalism and that the company responded by increasing security at its sites. The fish killed in Cross Creek amounted to less than a pound of minnows, he said.

    Just three weeks before the fines were announced, Range was penalized by the DEP for another accident -- this time for spilling more than 10,000 gallons of flowback water, which again resulted in a fish kill and a substantial cleanup effort. A DEP spokesman said he could not comment on that spill, because a settlement is still being decided.

    "We find both of these to be unfortunate and unacceptable," said Pitzarella, who said that neither spill had any negative impacts on health or property.

    Unlike previous spills -- including the recent Atlas spills -- the DEP has not issued press releases for either of the Range Resources spills, and a spokesman has not explained why.


    Red italic commentary by Splashdown.


    Group seeks severance tax support

    Anne Danahy-
    Centre Daily Times
    Jan. 28, 2010

    A statewide environmental organization wants to make sure the value of the land that holds natural gas doesn't get forgotten in the push to drill.

    PennFuture is holding a day-long conference Saturday at the Nittany Lion Inn to gather support for a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling and a moratorium on future leasing of state forests for drilling. The group also wants some of the money raised from a gas tax to go back to the land and municipalities where the drilling takes place.

    Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of PennFuture, acknowledged the cause is a “heavy lift.”

    “But we really need to organize our support and figure out what we need to do to help get that done,” Jarrett said.

    Drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania, including Centre County, has been on the rise since researchers found that the Marcellus Shale region — which stretches from New York to West Virginia — could contain vast amounts of natural gas. Pennsylvania does not levy a severance tax on the gas that’s extracted. Some legislators and organizations have been pushing for one, and Gov. Ed Rendell recently came out in support of a state severance tax.


    “The severance tax is important to help us pay for the cost of permitting and regulating the drillers and gas companies on both private and public ground. It is also important because as a significant source of income it will relieve the pressure to lease more public ground,” State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, said in an e-mail.

    “The moratorium will allow us to see the impact of drilling on the approximately one-third of public ground already leased,” he said. “We must ensure that the experts in (the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) and (the state Department of Environmental Protection) can assess the environmental impacts on ground currently being drilled to be sure we require the appropriate protections as we move forward with development.”


    Jarrett said PennFuture does not want all the money generated to go back to the state’s general fund. Instead, she said, some should go back to environmental stewardship and help municipalities cover costs for services such as emergency protection.

    (See Announcements in sidebar at right)

    Who: PennFuture, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future

    What: "Marcellus Shale Muster: The Campaign for a Severance Tax and Protection of Public Land"

    When: Saturday

    Where: Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State campus

    Info:Information is on the Web at

    Registration is required.

    Read more:


    Governor Rendell: PA Taking Aggressive Action to Protect Public, Environment as Marcellus Shale Drilling Operations Expands

    Directs DEP to Hire 68 Additional Staff to Bolster Inspections, Environmental Compliance New Regulations Planned to Improve Well Safety Standards
    Dept. of Environmental Protection
    Commonwealth News Bureau
    Room 308, Main Capitol Building
    Harrisburg PA., 17120


    Tom Rathbun, DEP

    HARRISBURG -- In order to protect Pennsylvania’s residents and environment from the impact of increased natural gas exploration across the state, Governor Edward G. Rendell announced today that the commonwealth is strengthening its enforcement capabilities.

    At the Governor’s direction, the Department of Environmental Protection will begin hiring 68 new personnel who will make sure that drilling companies obey state laws and act responsibly to protect water supplies. DEP also will strengthen oil and gas regulations to improve well construction standards. These critical upgrades are designed to prevent gas leaks that can pose risks to the public and water quality.

    “Interest in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation is greater than ever before and as natural gas prices continue to rise, that interest will only increase,” said Governor Rendell. “In fact, the industry has told us that they expect to apply for 5,200 permits to drill in the Marcellus Shale this year -- nearly three times the number of permits we issued in all of 2009. Given these conditions, an extraction tax is gaining widespread support across our state and I will again ask the General Assembly to enact such a levy. It is fair and affordable to drillers. They know it, and so do members of the House of Representatives who voted for it last year.

    “The actions I am announcing today, however, are about decisive, progressive protections for the people of Pennsylvania. We were able to hire 37 additional inspectors and permitting staff in 2009, but the industry’s projected growth in 2010 means that we need additional inspectors to ensure oil and gas companies follow environmental laws and regulations. As I’ve said all along, we want to encourage the development of this resource because it’s a tremendous economic opportunity for the state, but we will not allow that to happen at the expense of our environment.”

    DEP performed 14,544 drilling site inspections in 2009 and took 678 enforcement actions against drillers for violations.

    The 68 additional personnel will be funded entirely from money generated by new, higher permitting fees that were instituted in 2009—the first such increase since 1984. The new fees were put in place with bipartisan support from the General Assembly, industry and environmental organizations.

    The Governor noted that given the need for these additional health and safety personnel and the dedicated funding source that is independent of the state’s General Fund, these new hires are exemptions to the general hiring freeze he instituted last year.

    DEP’s work to amend Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations will strengthen well construction standards and define a drilling company’s responsibility for responding to gas migration issues, such as when gas escapes a well or rock formation and seeps into homes or water wells. Specifically, he said the new regulations will:

    • Require the casings of Marcellus Shale and other high-pressure wells to be tested and constructed with specific, oilfield-grade cement;
    • Clarify the drilling industry’s responsibility to restore or replace water supplies affected by drilling;
    • Establish procedures for operators to identify and correct gas migration problems without waiting for direction from DEP;
    • Require drilling operators to notify DEP and local emergency responders immediately of gas migration problems;
    • Require well operators to inspect every existing well quarterly to ensure each well is structurally sound, and report the results of those inspections to DEP annually; and
    • Require well operators to notify DEP immediately if problems such as over-pressurized wells and defective casings are found during inspections.

    “These new draft regulations, which were developed through open meetings with experts in the industry, are designed to give Pennsylvanians peace of mind by bringing our state’s requirements up to par with other major gas producing states or, as in the case of the well casing requirements, to a level that is even more rigorous,” said Governor Rendell.

    The new regulations will be offered for public comment on Jan. 29 before going through DEP’s formal rulemaking process.

    Interest in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation has been increasing. One third of the more than 6,200 oil and natural gas drilling permits DEP issued in 2009 were for drilling in the Marcellus Shale. By comparison, only four of the more than 6,000 permits issued in 2005 were for the Marcellus formation.

    For more information, visit


    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    More about EPA's "Eyes on Drilling" Tipline...

    PHILADELPHIA (January 26, 2010) - The U.S. Environmental Protection
    Agency ... announced the creation of the “Eyes on Drilling” tipline
    for citizens to report non-emergency suspicious activity related to oil
    and natural gas development.

    The agency is asking citizens to call 1-877-919-4EPA (toll free) if they observe what appears to be illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity. Anyone may also send reports by email to Citizens may provide tips anonymously if they don’t want to identify themselves.
    In the event of an emergency, such as a spill or release of hazardous material, including oil, to the environment, citizens are advised to call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
    Public concern about the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas drilling has increased in recent months, particularly regarding development of the Marcellus Shale formation where a significant amount of activity is occurring. While EPA doesn’t grant permits for oil and gas drilling operations, there are EPA regulations which may apply to the storage of petroleum products and drilling fluids. The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources.
    EPA wants to get a better understanding of what people are experiencing and observing as a result of these drilling activities. The information collected may also be useful in investigating industry practices.
    The agency works closely with state and local officials, as well as industry and public interest groups, to ensure that oil and natural gas drilling occurs in a manner which is protective of human health and the environment and complies with applicable laws. The agency is also counting on concerned citizens to report unusual or suspicious activity related to drilling operations.
    EPA is asking citizens to report the location, time and date of such activity, as well as the materials, equipment and vehicles involved and any observable environmental impacts.
    The Marcellus Shale geologic formation contains one of the largest mostly untapped reserves of natural gas in the United States. It underlies significant portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York, and smaller portions of Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky.
    Interest in developing Marcellus Shale has increased because recent improvements in natural gas extraction technology and higher energy prices now make recovering the gas more profitable.

    Operators produce this gas through a process called hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking requires drilling a well thousands of feet below the land’s surface and pumping down the well under pressure millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to fracture the shale.

    The process allows the gas trapped in the formation to flow to the well bore. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the fluid flows back to the surface. This “flowback” fluid consists of fracking fluid and brines which contain dissolved minerals from the formation.

    Operators are urged to recycle their flowback water for reuse in the fracking process, but some of the flowback is taken offsite for disposal. Chemicals used in the process are often stored on-site.
    Spills can occur when utilizing these chemicals or when transporting or storing wastewater, which can result in the contamination of surface water or ground water, which is used for many purposes including drinking water.

    Instructions for the tipline can be found at:


    Tuesday, January 26, 2010


    US sets up HOTLINE for natgas drilling complaints
    Tue Jan 26, 2010
    By Ayesha Rascoe

    WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set up a hotline to address public concerns that water supplies may be endangered by a drilling practice used to extract natural gas from rock formations, the agency said on Tuesday.

    The use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas production has drawn fire from environmentalists and neighbors of drilling operations who complain the method has contaminated well water and made people sick.

    "We wanted to make sure that we had a central point of contact where these calls can come in and make sure they're responded to and handled appropriately," said David Sternberg, a spokesman in the EPA's Mid-Atlantic office.

    Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to make oil and natural gas flow more freely. The practice is essential to tapping shale gas, which has significantly boosted U.S. gas output.

    The agency said citizens should call 1-877-919-4EPA if they see any illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity by oil and natural gas producers.

    Information collected from the hotline may also be "useful in investigating industry practices," EPA said.



    An Indepth Look at Marcellus Shale

    This article, by Sue Smith-Heavenrich, reprinted from Tompkins Weekly on "Notes from the Museum" (of the Earth)'s blog, offers a clear explanation of the geology of the Marcellus shale and the role of hydrofracking in extracting gas from that fine clay layer.

    Pick up a chunk of Marcellus shale and you immediately understand why energy companies are interested in it: it’s dark, like coal, and leaves a greasy smear on your hand. Like all sedimentary rock, the Marcellus shale was created by compressing layers of mud together for a long, long time. But unlike the shale you turn up in your garden, Marcellus doesn’t contain fossilized crinoid stems or brachiopods.

    Rob Ross, associate director of outreach for the Paleontological Research Institute and the Museum of the Earth, says that to understand Marcellus, you need to understand where our part of the world was about 380 million years ago. Back then all the continents were smooshed together along the equator, and seawater covered our part of New York. It was a dynamic place, Ross says, thriving with ancient life and suffering the occasional underwater landslide.

    When organisms died, they fell to the sea bottom and were covered with sediment. It was just like the mud in Cayuga Lake — a mix of clay and silt but low in oxygen. Over time more sediment collected, burying the Marcellus deeper. The organic matter, trapped in the shale and subjected to increasing pressure and heat, provided optimum conditions for the formation of natural gas, Ross explains. (You can read more at

    If you could slice through the earth, you’d notice that the rocks under New York are layered like a tall stack of pancakes — all 11,000 feet of them: sandstones, limestones and shales. And Marcellus shale is but one of the gas-bearing layers. Oriskany sandstone, located just below Marcellus, and Trenton- Black River, another four to five thousand feet down, also produce natural gas in this area.

    Unlike sandstone, Marcellus shale is composed of fine-grained clay particles so tightly packed that there are very tiny spaces, or pores, between the particles. And those very tiny spaces are where the natural gas is trapped. Not only that, the pores are not connected to each other, so gas can’t travel from one pore to the next. The only way to extract gas from a stone with such low porosity and low permeability is to break it apart using a process called hydraulic fracturing.

    Hydraulic fracturing seems like a modern invention, but it’s been used for thousands of years, says Tony Ingraffea. Ingraffea, a civil engineering professor at Cornell who studies fractures and spent a decade working with Schlumberger on the science of fracking. Ingraffea believes the Romans introduced water into cracks to aid in breaking rock. One way to frack with just water is to pour water into cracks in the rock and let it freeze, Ingraffea explains.

    A rock is strong when you push on it, Ingraffea says. That’s compression. But a rock is weak when you pull on it, or put tension on it. Engineers use water pressure to put tension on rock and take advantage of the weakness of the rock when it’s under tension.

    Initially hydro-fracking of oil and gas wells was used to open existing cracks. The process was called “stimulating” the well, and it increased the permeability of the rock mass by enarlging existing fractures. “As long as the pores in the rock are interconnected, you can get oil to flow,” Ingraffea says. But in shale the pores are not interconnected, which makes the rock impermeable to water. “This is good from a fracking point of view,” Ingraffea says,” because the water will create fractures without going into the rock.”

    Because the layer of Marcellus shale is only 50 to 250 feet thick companies developed horizontal drilling to expose more shale to hydro-fracking. Once the horizontal casing is in place, the driller uses a shaped charge to perforate the case.

    “There’s no explosion,” Ingraffea explains. A charge is fired electronically and releases a high temperature liquid that melts through the casing. The charge burns through the rock a few feet, leaving small holes. Each of those holes becomes a starting place for a fracture, when the water and sand are pumped into the well under high pressure.

    What people don’t understand is the extent of drilling required to extract the gas trapped in the rock, Ingraffea says. Hydro-fracking is just a small part of what Ingraffea describes as a “highly engineered and industrial operation.”

    “Gas wells won’t be dotting the area,” Ingraffea says. “They will be covering the area. For efficient extraction of the gas we will eventually end up with multiple wells every 80 acres,” he suggests, citing new research from Terry Engelder at Pennsylvania State University. “That will be a huge industrial impact in our area.”

    This industrialization will put added demand on an already strained infrastructure, Ingraffea says, explaining that the region’s roads and bridges are not suited for the heavy traffic anticipated with development of the Marcellus. The increased drilling activity and related activities not only raise the risk for accidents, such as valve failures, leaks, improper cemented casings, but also increase the risk of spills with the transportation of wastewater and brine. Extracting gas brings a complex system of inter-related activities and events, Ingraffea points out.

    “The question we should be asking is why now?” Ingraffea says. “Why is there a rush to develop the gas fields? Why don’t we have a national energy strategy that promotes energy development."



    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Forest Fragmentation and Natural Gas Development

    PA Environment Digest
    Daily Blog
    January 24, 2010

    Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Acting Secretary John Quigley told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee recently he was concerned thousands of new natural gas wells and thousands of miles of access roads and related collection pipelines could have a major impact on Pennsylvania's State Forests.
    The fragmentation of forest habitats has also been a concern of environmental groups like Pennsylvania Audubon.
    Until now it was hard to illustrate how natural gas and oil well development can affect a forest. Recently, however, the website Damascus Citizens circulated aerial photos of gas well sites from all over the country, including in Pennsylvania.
    An aerial photo of traditional oil and gas well development in Forest County, Pa in a portion of the Allegheny National Forest just north of the Clear Creek State Forest clearly shows how roads and drilling pads can fragment a forest.
    To see it for yourself, enter these coordinates in Google Earth-- 41 degrees, 30 minutes 47.77 seconds North, 79 degrees 11 minutes 16.13 seconds west.
    Marcellus Shale well development patterns are different because they use fewer well pads by drilling very deep vertical wells and then drill horizontal wells out in several directions in the natural gas producing strata.
    The aerial photo on Google Earth is part of the statewide series made available by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' PA Map Program, recently eliminated in this year's state budget.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Action needed to mitigate local housing shortage

    January 24, 2010

    There is an affordable rental housing crisis in Bradford County.

    Quality rental stock never was abundant here and about, but the situation has worsened with the influx of natural gas workers here to tap the bountiful resource of the Marcellus Shale, perhaps the world's largest natural gas play.

    Due to that influx, the rents for housing in the Bradford County area have doubled, tripled or gone up even higher, according to testimony Thursday at a state Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee hearing in the Towanda area. That means apartments that a couple of years ago were renting for $400 could now be costing $1,200 or more.

    Local families, by and large, cannot afford such steep rents. Worse, reports now are common about landlords who are evicting local tenants, some of them with long tenures, so that gas company workers who are willing to pay the boosted rents can move in.

    It is a development that has outraged many area residents, renters and non-renters alike, although some others have praise for the workings of the laws of supply and demand.

    But, when any system endangers the well-being of a community-at-large, as may be the case in the Towanda area, for example, the need for controls becomes imperative. Self discipline, of course, would be best, but clearly that is not happening universally at this time.

    There is no statewide rent control legislation in Pennsylvania although some cities have it. But, better than struggling to create such an additional bureaucracy would be for the free enterprise system to make way for entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace to build additional affordable housing.

    The gas industry is here for the long haul, decades according to industry experts. Surely, the circumstances are ripe for builders, bankers and others to take advantage of the possibilities.

    Plans could include providing tax breaks and incentives to businesses to build more housing. State Senate Committee member Gene Yaw, whose district includes Bradford County, said the state should help increase the amount of rental properties available.

    "If we could redirect what we're already spending and what we're doing into the areas that it really needs to go then we've made some tremendous steps forward," Yaw said.

    We agree and encourage him, Rep. Tina Pickett, whose district also includes Bradford County, another member of the committee, and the legislature as a whole, to move ahead on this vital issue. Time is of the essence.


    Gas Driller Fined $85,000 for Violations at 13 Sites

    -from the Pike County Courier
    Link at posterous
    January 24, 2010

    PITTSBURGH - The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Atlas Resources, LLC $85,000 for violations of the Oil and Gas Act, the Clean Streams Law; and the Solid Waste Management Act at 13 well sites in Fayette, Washington, and Greene counties.

    “Development of Pennsylvania’s natural gas resource is important to the state’s economy. However, that development need not -- and will not -- come at the expense of our environment,” said Southwest Regional Director George Jugovic Jr. “DEP will ensure that Pennsylvania’s gas resources are developed in an environmentally sound manner, consistent with the law.”

    The violations, which occurred between Dec. 8, 2008, and July 31, 2009, fall into three categories:

    • Atlas failed to implement and maintain erosion and sedimentation control measures to prevent off-site discharges of silt-laden runoff onto the ground at six well sites;

    • Atlas failed to restore two well sites by establishing the appropriate perennial vegetative cover within nine months of completion of drilling; and

    • Atlas discharged residual and industrial waste, including diesel fuel and production fluids, onto the ground at seven of the 13 well sites.

    For more information, visit


    Franciscan Sisters Focus on Hydraulic Fracturing

    from Franciscan Life
    Sr. Nora Nash, Director
    Office of Corporate Social Responsibilty
    Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia

    In the children’s book, The Arm of The Starfish, Madeline L’Engle wrote: “If we are going to care about the fall of the swallow, then we cannot pick and choose among the birds. We must stand for all of them.” The same is true for Corporate Social Responsibility. We must care about all the issues as we seek a more just and sustainable global community—whether it’s here in Pennsylvania or thousands of miles away in the Amazon.

    Over the past several months, the issue of hydraulic fracturing has become a very serious one for residents of several states, especially Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. The landscape is changing before our very eyes and as citizens we have an opportunity and a responsibility to challenge our legislators as well as oil and gas companies before there is a seismic crisis. Multi-national gas drillers from around the world are coming to Pennsylvania to extract one of our most valuable natural resources—the natural gas that exists in the vast Marcellus shale formation found under most of the commonwealth, especially the Western area of the state. The trade off is deeply troubling because the scars on the land and the contamination of our drinking water are inevitable.

    What is hydraulic fracturing, (hydro fracking or frac’ing)? It is a process used to extract oil and natural gas from tight rock formations. Under high pressure, a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is injected into the ground to create fractures through which oil or gas can then flow to be collected. Every time a well is fractured, it requires pumping massive volumes of water from our streams and watersheds—one to five million gallons per well. Hydraulic fracturing fluids are laced with chemicals known to include those that are toxic and carcinogenic. The process of frac’ing also generates millions of gallons of polluted wastewater and has the potential to contaminate enormous quantities of groundwater. While required to dispose of the waste, gas drilling companies are not required to release the components of drilling fluids. Disposal of wastewater has raised several new concerns, even for those not living in the areas being explored and fractured. Our local wastewater plant in Delaware County was a candidate for this waste until local citizens protested.

    The Energy Policy Act of 2005 hasn’t helped. It essentially deprives the U.S. EPA of its right to monitor hydraulic fracturing under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to the Washington Analysis Energy Update of October 2009, the EPA will begin a new study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and safe drinking water. However, according to Abrahm Lustgarten (Pro Publica, December 27, 2009), “The government faces stiff pressure from the energy industry to maintain the status quo—in which gas drilling is regulated state by state—as companies race to exploit the nation’s vast shale deposits and meet the growing demand for cleaner fuel. Just this month, Exxon announced it would spend some $31 billion to buy XTO Energy, a company that controls substantial gas reserves in the Marcellus—but only on the condition that congress doesn’t enact laws on fracturing that make drilling “commercially impracticable.”

    As of January 2010, we know that 2.1 million acres of state forest in Pennsylvania sit on top of the Marcellus shale and 660,000 acres have been leased to drilling companies. The impact on homeowners, roads, forests, and watesheds is not yet fully known but deserves our urgent attention. We urge you to please write to your governors, state legislators, senators, congress, and President Obama to encourage more scientific-based study on the damages of this industry. Our office and other Investor Environmental Health Network members are pressuring the major oil and gas companies for greater accountability and transparency, especially related to the chemicals being used.

    Daniel Ruben (Philadelphia Inquirer, (9/25/09) quoted Andy Losa, executive director of PA Landtrust, saying “Companies are going to come, they’re going to take gas, make a fortune and Pennsylvania will be left to clean up the mess for many decades and prehaps centuries to come. These woods belong to all Pennsylvanians.”

    As Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, if we’re going to care about “these woods” and the misuse of our precious resources, then we need to make this issue known in all our local communities and beyond Penn’s woods.


    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Don't Frack with Cornell

    By Tristan Fowler
    Campus Progress
    January 21, 2010

    Thanks to the work of environmental activism, Cornell University has put a moratorium on potentially hazardous natural gas drilling.

    The northern Appalachia region might be on the brink of a natural gas boom, but at Cornell University, students and faculty are advocating against the lucrative but potentially hazardous drilling. Cornell sits on the northern portion of a multi-state deposit of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas known as the Marcellus Shale.

    With pressure coming from students, faculty, and the community, the administrative leadership of Cornell announced on Dec. 23, that the university would declare a moratorium on any considerations to drill for natural gas. “The university will not agree to a process that we believe might constitute a threat to the environmental integrity of our property or that might adversely affect the quality of life of people living in the areas that would be impacted by such a process,” said a statement from the university’s Vice President of Communications Tommy Bruce.

    While faculty and student believe that Cornell wouldn’t consider leasing its land, they also believe that had they not voiced their concerns, Cornell wouldn’t have made a declarative statement against the drilling. Fil Eden, a Cornell senior and the former president of Kyoto Now!, a student group that fights climate change, led a campaign to prevent drilling.

    “A movement like this is happening on a community level,” Eden says. Cornell’s actions lend its support for the entire movement, he says.

    Cornell’s moratorium may guide thousands of other landowners, municipalities, and perhaps universities which are considering leasing their land. The Marcellus Shale is a deep underground rock formation buried under much of West Virginia, and portions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. Within the shale are trillions of cubic feet of natural gas; professors from Penn State University and SUNY Fredonia estimate that somewhere between 168 trillion and 516 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas is buried there. To put that into prospective, in 2008, the United States consumed 23.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas; this means that the Marcellus Shale could provide enough natural gas to supply the nation for 15 years at current rates of consumption.

    But the drilling process is complex and controversial. To extract the gas, energy companies drill vertically into the ground then horizontally underground. This horizontal section of the well is perforated by a small explosion. Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the well, and the pressure from the water causes cracks and fissures in the shale. These cracks allow the natural gas to be pumped out from the well. This process is called hyrdofracking, or fracking for short, and it is the focus of so much of the controversy.

    The chemicals used to frack the wells are a trade secret, and combined with the millions of gallons of water needed, the Cornell community is concerned about the environmental effects.

    “These fluids have been found in people’s well water,” says Linda Nicholson, a Cornell University professor of molecular biology and genetics. In December, the Pennsylvanian EPA fined Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. $120,000 because the drilling caused methane gas to leak into 13 area water wells. Homeowners could light the faucet water on fire, and there were reports of wells exploding.

    “It not only threatens the water, which I think is our most precious natural resource, but it also threatens the natural beauty of the region,” Nicholson says.


    “To me, this is a threat to our national security,” Nicholson says. “If someone were to take a vile of something really toxic and dump it into a river, would we call them a terrorist? That’s why our water is an essential part of our national security.”

    At the beginning of the semester, Eden and Kyoto Now! decided to begin another campaign to address this issue. ...

    “Cornell has a lot of weight in New York State as a land-grant college,” Eden says. “If Cornell thought this isn’t good enough for us yet, then maybe it’ll give pause to others in the state.”

    With support from local activist groups such as the Shaleshock Action Alliance, Kyoto Now! held a rally on campus on Dec. 1, a day before their meeting with the vice president of student and academic services and vice president of facilities.

    “The timing was critical,” Eden says. “We wanted to show force without being too aggressive.”

    At the meeting, Eden and a handful of other representatives explained how this could affect the drinking water of the community, and it may cost more to clean up than any financial benefit from leasing the land.


    Cornell will set up an advisory committee to investigate the current regulations and advise the university on actions in the future.

    “We don’t expect that Cornell will lease its land for gas drilling in the foreseeable future,” says Simeon Moss, deputy spokesperson for the university.

    For the complete article, CLICK HERE.


    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Clean Water Action Hearing on NEW DEP Standards for Dumping Frack Water in Bradford County

    Come and Speak your Mind!
    A Message from:
    Brady Russell
    Eastern Pennsylvania Director
    Clean Water Action

    As many of you know, DEP has proposed new wastewater discharge standards (aka, Chapter 95 standards) that would have a big impact on Marcellus Drilling. These standards would make it much, much harder for drillers to wreck our streams by dumping frack water at wastewater plants that can't really handle its water. There are shortcomings, though.

    Here's the Environmental Quality Board's Request for Public Comment:
    (scroll to the bottom). *Comments close on 2/12*

    If you want to register comment as an individual in a quick and easy way, Clean Water has an online action you can take:

    NOTE: If you're living in Northeast Pennsylvania, DEP did NOT do a public hearing nearby you. They did four, and a lot of people showed up, but the Northeast got left out. So Clean Water Action is organizing one. ... We'll be collecting verbal testimony at the hearing and also giving folks who come a chance to make written testimony. All of this will be hand delivered to DEP the next day.

    Basic info:
    Unauthorized Wastewater Hearing
    Thursday, 2/4/2010, 4:30PM to 6PM
    Bradford County Conservation District
    RR5, Box 5030C
    Towanda, PA

    We don't plan to do much of a program. Folks will just speak. Press will be invited. The amount of time that folks have to speak will depend on how many people sign up, but plan for 5 minutes. Written copies of testimony would be greatly, greatly appreciated, as we could deliver that to DEP along with the video.

    RSVP's aren't required, but they are helpful. Please email Brady Russell at if you plan to come. If you'd like to sign up to speak in advance, please indicate that. If you plan to bring others with you, please send me your best guess as to how many.

    Thank you!


    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    XTO-ExxonMobil Merger Talks/Commentary

    Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson faced questions about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing at a Capitol Hill hearing on his company's planned merger with XTO. Kevin Book, energy analyst with Clearview Energy Partners, joins Clean Skies News to talk about the implications of the merger.

    Source: Clean Skies News


    EPA Increases Transparency on Chemical Risk Information

    EPA News Release

    Dale Kemery

    Enesta Jones

    January 21, 2010

    Action part of continued comprehensive reform of toxic substance laws

    WASHINGTON — As part of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s commitment to strengthen and reform chemical management, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a new policy to increase the public’s access to information on chemicals. Starting today, EPA has announced its intention to reject a certain type of confidentiality claim, known as Confidential Business Information (CBI), on the identity of chemicals. The chemicals that will be affected by this action are those that are submitted to EPA with studies that show a substantial risk to people's health and the environment and have been previously disclosed on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Inventory. This action represents another step to use the agency’s authority under the existing TSCA to the fullest extent possible, recognizing EPA’s strong belief that the 1976 law is both outdated and in need of reform.
    “Assuring the safety of chemicals is one of Administrator Jackson's top priorities for EPA's future,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. “The American people are entitled to transparent, accessible information on chemicals that may pose a risk to their health or the environment. We will continue taking steps that increase transparency and assure the safety of chemicals in our products, our environment and our bodies.
    Under TSCA, companies may claim a range of sensitive, proprietary information as CBI. Under Section 8(e) of TSCA, companies that manufacture, process, or distribute chemicals are required to immediately provide notice to EPA if they learn that a chemical presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. The Section 8(e) reports are made available on EPA’s Web site. However, until today, companies would routinely claim confidentiality for the actual identity of the chemical covered by the Section 8(e) submission, so the public posting of the information would not include the name of the chemical. The new policy announced today ends this practice for chemicals on the public portion of the TSCA Inventory. This new policy will increase the amount of information available by granting the public access to the chemical identification information submitted, along with other health and safety data under Section 8(e).

    In the coming months, EPA intends to announce additional steps to further increase transparency of chemical information.

    EPA’s new policy on TSCA Section 8(e) submissions is being published in the Federal Register.

    More information on the new policy:

    More information on EPA’s principles for comprehensive TSCA reform:


    MARCELLUS SHALE: Submit your concerns to DEP

    Erika Staaf
    Clean Water Advocate

    More and more, Pennsylvanians are becoming aware of the many environmental threats posed by drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale -- an underground gas formation covering huge swaths of the state.

    In recent months, gas drilling in Pennsylvania has led to toxic pollution in nearby streams and rivers, and local communities' drinking water supplies being contaminated.

    We need to make sure that if gas drilling is taking place in Pennsylvania, it's done in ways that protect public health and our environment.

    Luckily, the public has an opportunity to have its voice heard on this important issue. Over the next month, the Department of Environmental Protection is asking for comments to see how gas drilling should be addressed in Pennsylvania.

    We need DEP to implement strong health-based standards for chemicals associated with drilling activities in Pennsylvania and the wastewater being produced. We also need these standards implemented as quickly as possible.

    Concerned citizens can submit comments to and can get more information at

    WRITE TODAY! A healthy Pennsylvania depends on each of us!


    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Hold the salt, if you please

    The snow was beautiful, so beautiful. The salt dumped on sidewalks and roads to de-ice it was dangerous, so dangerous. "Chloride concentrations are increasing at a rate that threatens the availability of fresh water in the northeastern U.S.," according to Dr. Sujay Kaushel, who will speak at an event open to the public at the Philadelphia Water Department, 1101 Market Street, 5th Floor, on Thursday, January 21st. His lunchtime presentation is at 12 noon this Thursday; doors open at 11:30 AM.

    This extraordinary salinization of fresh rivers and streams coincides with the ongoing drilling of the Marcellus Shale for natural gas. Marcellus Shale wastewater comes up from deep underground full of toxic contaminants ranging from arsenic and benzene to 2-butoxyethanol, methanol, and radium 226. It is also three to six times saltier than the ocean. Although Pennsylvania has no plan to treat this wastewater safely, drilling permits are being fast-tracked by the Department of Environmental Protection, which benefits from permit fees. It is currently legal to use Marcellus Shale waste brines to de-ice roads in Pennsylvania, according to the watchdog environmental group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability.

    Dr. Kaushel reports, "Increases in roadways and deicer use are now salinizing fresh waters, degrading habitat for aquatic organisms, and impacting large supplies of drinking water for humans throughout the region." Dr. Sujay Kaushal is a scientist with Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (no relation to the multinational energy corporation, Chesapeake Energy).

    "Our analysis shows that if salinity were to continue to increase at its present rate due to changes in impervious surface coverage and current management practices, many surface waters in the northeastern U.S. would not be potable for human consumption and would be toxic to freshwater life within the next century," concludes an online summary of the Laboratory’s findings. At the Thursday, January 21 event at the Philadelphia Water Department, Dr. Kaushel will also discuss new results "regarding the effects of increasing climate variability/change on road salt dynamics, and the effects of road salt on stream and river restoration efforts."

    More information, and pre-registration, regarding this event, "Increased salinization of freshwater in the northeastern U.S.," is available online from the American Water Resources Association at – go to "view events."

    Connecting The (Salty, Toxic) Dots

    Ordinary citizens are not invited to testify at the PA Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy hearing on Marcellus Shale waste treatment in Harrisburg on January 27, 2010 at 9 AM. Only the Marcellus Shale industry, state DEP officials, and one environmental group are invited to testify. However, this hearing is open to the public. It will be the last public governmental meeting to take place before the regulations which will determine Pennsylvania’s water quality standards for years to come are put into place. Marcellus waste also releases hazardous pollutants into the air. Citizens may attend the hearing and may also submit written [email] testimony to:

    Separately, the Department of Environmental Protection is also accepting written testimony regarding clean water standards in the state of Pennsylvania. The DEP does not plan to test for the majority of toxic chemicals present in Marcellus Shale wastewater (it may not test for any, depending on which standards it adopts). Marcellus Shale waste is exempt from federal environmental standards due to the "Halliburton Loophole" passed in 2005. The public comment period closes in early February; details are available from Clean Water Action.

    In the name of Life Itself, DON'T SIT IDLY BY!!! WRITE to the PA Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy AND to the DEP!


    Drinking Water Threatened by Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Drilling Chemicals

    Drilling Companies Skirt Federal Law Requiring Permits for Diesel in Wells Across the Country
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 20, 2010
    CONTACT: EWG Public Affairs: 202.667.6982

    Washington, D.C. - Companies drilling for natural gas and oil are skirting federal law and injecting toxic petroleum distillates into thousands of wells, threatening drinking water supplies from New York to Wyoming. Federal and state regulators, meanwhile, largely look the other way. The findings are part of a new report by Environmental Working Group titled Drilling Around the Law. (

    These distillates include kerosene, mineral spirits and a number of other petroleum products that often contain high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at even minuscule levels. Drillers inject these substances into the earth under extremely high pressure in a process called hydraulic fracturing that energy companies use to extract natural gas and oil from underground formations. The process, known as “fracking,” fractures the rock to allow additional gas and oil to flow to the surface. Fracking is currently used in 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells.

    The petroleum distillates used in a single well could contain enough benzene to contaminate more than 100 billion gallons of drinking water to unsafe levels, according to drilling company disclosures in New York state and published studies. That is more than 10 times as much water as the entire state of New York uses in a single day.

    Fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. An emergency room nurse in Durango, Colorado nearly died when she came in contact with a fracking fluid while treating a drill rig worker.*

    *CLICK HERE to see related Splashdown article...

    Despite the clear risks, Congress in 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing, except fracturing with diesel fuel, from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption followed lobbying by Halliburton and other energy companies. Diesel is the only substance for which drillers must seek a permit before it is injected underground and some companies have pledged not to use it in certain circumstances. Yet other petroleum distillates used openly by the industry contain the same toxic chemicals found in diesel at levels that can be much higher. Diesel itself is a petroleum distillate.

    "When companies say that they will not use diesel and then use other petroleum distillates, it’s a bit like promising not to smoke Marlboros and then lighting up a Camel,” said EWG Senior Counsel, Dusty Horwitt. “As far as the toxic components, the products are at least as dangerous.”

    Other petroleum distillates typically contain the same highly toxic chemicals as diesel: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Distillates disclosed in records analyzed by EWG have been found to contain up to 93 times more benzene than diesel but require no authorization prior to use.

    State and federal regulatory agencies surveyed in the report are generally not tracking fluids used in fracturing and some agencies, including the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), say the federal Safe Drinking Water Act completely exempts fracking – even with diesel. As a result, companies could easily be fracturing with diesel without a permit.

    The WOGCC was the only one of the five state or federal agencies contacted that reported tracking the chemicals used in fracking operations, and a Wyoming official who asked not to be identified by name said that drilling companies in the state commonly use diesel for fracturing. The other agencies contacted were in Pennsylvania, New York, Montana, and Texas.


    EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.


    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Sociologist taps in to drilling debate

    By Steve Reilly
    Staff Writer
    Morning Times
    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    TOWANDA — Questions over the possible environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing — whereby a 3.5 million gallon mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the ground to release natural gas locked thousands of feet beneath the surface of the Earth — are fueling a firestorm of debate that only escalates as drilling activity increases in Bradford County and the Marcellus Shale.

    While scientific controversy swirls about, Abby Kinchy, a professor at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute and native of Milan, Pa., has recently embarked on an ambitious research project to study the divisive issue through a much different lens: sociology.

    Kinchy attended Athens Area High School and received her Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007. Her specialty within the field is the study of public debates rooted in scientific uncertainty, a pursuit that has taken her to Mexico and Canada to study the debate over genetically modified foods and across the United States to study perceptions of nuclear power.

    Now, her focus has shifted homeward, where the energy industry is erecting dozens of new rigs each week in an area that hasn’t traditionally been host to oil and gas activities.

    The fact that questions over the science behind hydraulic fracturing have raised such heated tempers, she said, is not atypical of other conflicts she has studied.

    “I think that that’s not unusual in environmental conflicts,” Kinchy noted. “We see this in a whole range of different environmental issues where people are on lots of different sides, and everybody is trying to figure out what the science is, and what science can tell you.”

    Kinchy explained that she believes that since it is not science alone that is causing the debate, science alone isn’t capable of resolving the differences within communities stemming from questions about hydraulic fracturing.

    “(In) many controversies about environmental issues, the answers aren’t going to come from science,” she said. “Even if we have all the answers about water pollution, I don’t think that the controversy about gas drilling will go away.”

    Kinchy explained that her work will involve three phases. First, she will conduct interviews with various stakeholders, including representatives of oil and gas companies, industry workers and subcontractors, landowners, landowner groups, local and regional environmental advocacy groups, geologists, water experts, oil and gas engineers, and health researchers. The interviews, she said, will help her get a sense of the scope of the questions that surround the debate.

    Then, she said, she will begin conducting focus groups with a wider range of community members to get a sense of where each person stands on the issue.

    Finally, she will conduct a survey of area populations to test some of the hypotheses that she came up with about the reasons for the wide range of perceptions.

    “I want to be able to explain public perceptions on the impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling on water resources,” Kinchy explained. “I think that by understanding the underlying causes about the disagreement about the water impacts of gas drilling, decision-makers will be better equipped to reach more effective compromises on this issue.”

    Rather than personally or academically taking sides in the debate over hydrofracking’s impact on water quality, Kinchy said, she hopes, through her work “to be a translator between people who have very different ways of thinking and talking about the risks and benefits of shale gas drilling.”

    For complete article, CLICK HERE.


    DEP Finds Bradford Co. Company Negligent

    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

    DEP Fines M.R. Dirt Inc. $6,000 for Residual Waste Sludge Spill
    Seven Tons Spilled in Clinton County Last Fall

    WILLIAMSPORT -- The Department of Environmental Protection has fined M.R. Dirt Inc. of Towanda, Bradford County, $6,000 for a residual waste sludge spill last September at the Avis exit of U.S. Route 220 in Pine Creek Township, Clinton County.

    "M.R. Dirt was clearly negligent because a company employee drove away even though he observed that the seven tons of gas well drilling wastewater sludge had spilled from his vehicle,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell.

    A nearby PennDOT work crew witnessed the incident, contacted the county emergency management agency that, in turn, notified DEP.

    After investigating the spill, DEP requested M.R. Dirt to hire a cleanup contractor and the company complied.

    The fine was paid to the Solid Waste Abatement Fund that is used to pay for cleanups across the state

    For more information, visit, or call 570-327-3659.


    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Pa. wildlife management agencies seek more funds

    Associated Press/Times Leader
    Monday, January 18, 2010 7:06 pm

    The agencies that manage Pennsylvania's wildlife resources are struggling to maintain services even as their responsibilities expand, and one of them is considering raising fees.

    Officials at the Pennsylvania Game Commission and at the commonwealth's Fish and Boat Commission say they have been struggling to find alternative funding needed to maintain services. And Fish and Boat commissioners, expecting a deficit next year, are considering raising fees for fishing licenses.

    The wildlife commissions, unlike other state agencies, receive no money from the general fund, having relied since their founding a century ago on revenue raised from hunters and anglers. But officials say plans to expand management of nongame species, including goals in the Game Commission's new five-year plan, are not financially sustainable.

    And while a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey in 2006 found a decline in participation in traditional hunting and fishing, wildlife watching had become the fastest growing outdoors pastime, both nationally and in Pennsylvania.

    "Wildlife watchers are not funding what they're doing directly," said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. "And some of them don't even know it."

    "Eight percent of the population is paying for wildlife that is enjoyed by 100 percent of the population," Game Commission executive director Carl Roe said.

    Rick Garstka, president of the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skier's Association, said he had no idea that members of his group and other outdoor enthusiasts weren't helping to pay the cost of managing wildlife.

    "I've always assumed it was coming out of our taxes somehow," he said.

    The Game Commission's budget for 2009-10 is about $80.5 million, and in the 2008-09 fiscal year, about 51 percent of its revenue came from license sales. A federal excise tax on hunting equipment and ammunition brought in $10.5 million, and about 7.5 percent in 2008-09 came from gas and oil leases on 305 state game lands.

    "In our Diversity Section, biologists deal with 465 species including bats, songbirds and flying squirrels," Roe said. "We hunt 40 species."

    About 67 percent of the Fish and Boat Commission's $61 million 2009-10 operating budget comes from license fees, while about 15 percent comes from a federal sales tax on fishing equipment. Each agency received about $1.2 million annually in federal wildlife grants, with other grants are linked to specific projects.

    Fish and Boat Commissioner Leonard Lichvar said members are talking about seeking legislative approval to raise license fees.

    "By 2011, Fish and Boat will run a deficit _ we'll red line," he said.

    State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Allegheny, chairman of the House Finance Committee, last year tried unsuccessfully to have some state sales tax revenue transferred to the commissions. This year, he said he is focusing on trying to persuade lawmakers to impose a severance tax for the removal of natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation, which some geologists expect to become the nation's most prolific gas field.

    "Pennsylvania is the only state that produces Marcellus shale that doesn't charge a severance tax," said Mr. Levdansky. Some revenue would be directed to the wildlife commissions and to a fund to clean up waterways impacted by the release of dissolved solids in water used in drilling, he said.



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