Aug 19: Fouled Waters: Woodlands Residents Search for Ways to Survive Without Clean Water
<<<<<< Kim McEvoy and her daughter, Skylar Sowatsky, 3, load empty jugs into the car so Ms. McEvoy can refill them with clean water at work. The family has been without running water since January. "This is America 2012. Look at what's happening. We have all this technology but no water," she said. Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette
Fouled Waters: Woodlands residents search for ways to survive without clean water August 19, 2012 12:09 am
Living without water By Erich Schwartzel / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If Janet McIntyre needs to shower and can't drive the 11 miles to her son's house, she steps outside and undresses. Her husband puts on a rain poncho and pours three gallons of water over her as she hides behind a shower curtain hanging between two cars that sit in their yard. Before Kim McEvoy watched her home value plummet and moved to one with public water, she went behind rhododendron plants to urinate. Her fiance used bushes along the other side of the house -- the "men's room." And when the time comes to refill the tank that provides clean water to her home, Barb Romito waits to see if her anonymous donor has pulled through once again and paid the $125 fee needed twice a month to keep her faucets flowing. These and other lifestyle adjustments started in the Woodlands neighborhood about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh after January 2011, when residents started calling each other with the same story: Water from their wells was running brown or black with floating pieces of solid material in it, and it smelled awful. When they showered, they got rashes. When they drank, they threw up. The farm show rabbits Russ Kelly keeps behind his house even stopped drinking the water. It was a major disruption in a quiet neighborhood. The community of homes sits several miles off the main drag of Zelienople in Butler County, a grouping of trailers and ranch houses that share bumpy, dirt roads and large yards that sometimes look more like campsites. Gas drilling had begun near the Woodlands, though some originally thought the tall rigs built to access Marcellus Shale gas thousands of feet below the ground were cell phone towers. They called Rex Energy, the gas company that had drilled at least 15 new wells in the Zelienople area from July to December 2010, and they called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "Next thing you know, the water buffaloes are sprouting up like mushrooms" across the neighborhood, said Ms. McEvoy's fiance, Peter Sowatsky. If a resident contacts a gas company with suspicions of water contamination, it is typically company practice that an alternate source of water -- usually in the form of a large tank called a "buffalo" -- must be provided within 48 hours. Many residents used the water buffaloes provided by Rex, replacing the private wells they'd depended on for decades, while Rex and the DEP conducted tests. But when both test results came back, the Woodlands neighborhood residents who'd noticed unmistakable changes in the look and taste of their water were told nothing was wrong. "There are no noticeable differences in water chemistry in pre- and post-drill water quality of the water wells in question," stated a report by Rex Energy based on testing done by a third-party firm hired by the company. DEP test results in February 2011 couldn't link contaminants in the water to the Rex Energy drilling. The company declined comment for this story, referring questions to the report. Pre-existing conditions Pennsylvania, home to some of the most active gas drilling in America, has the second-highest number of private wells in the country. Yet it is one of two states where no regulation exists for how those wells are constructed or maintained -- an issue advocates say has taken a backseat to other concerns over drilling. When residents call with suspicions of contamination, analysts examining the water must grapple with scattershot information about how the well was built. Compounding the problem, experts and legislators say, is a lack of understanding over how shale drilling operations could affect land already perforated with holes from private water wells, coal mining, and shallow oil and gas drilling. "In Pennsylvania, we have a lot of pre-existing conditions," said John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, and a professor conducting his own tests on the Woodlands water. The DEP, which recently updated its tracking system to specifically chart Marcellus Shale complaints, has received 198 drilling-related complaints from residents since 2009, and 51 of those were related to water concerns. But the vast majority of DEP tests do not implicate the oil and gas firm, the agency said. Thousands of Pennsylvania residents live in scenarios similar to the Woodlands, where their water, for whatever reason, isn't trusted. With no clear cause of their water problems, neighbors in the Woodlands have moved on without one resource and leaned on another: the community. Neighbors helping neighbors For a while, residents protested, marching on the local Rex offices and sending YouTube videos to the Environmental Protection Agency. For a while, it seemed the Woodlands might become the Western Pennsylvania analogue to Dimock, the Eastern Pennsylvania town where some residents said water supplies were ruined because of poor well casing on nearby Marcellus wells. The EPA cleared the Dimock water to drink last month, though as in the Woodlands, many residents there still refuse to use their wells. Eventually, the Woodlands residents tired of the blame game. When called to attend a recent anti-drilling protest in Washington, D.C., they didn't go, opting to send jugs of their dirty water in representation. Now, an assembly of anti-drilling activists and empathetic churchgoers drive a caravan of F-150 pickup trucks and Jeep Cherokees once a week to deliver gallons of water from house to house. Mrs. McIntyre leads the group she organized. "I felt myself becoming very bitter" when the water buffaloes went away, she said. To channel her frustration, she organized the water drive, which deposits between 25 and 35 gallons of water weekly at about a dozen homes. Some residents, like Sherry Makepeace, need special fluoridated water for infants. Others immediately give half the supply to their farm animals. The group has become more organized in the past few weeks, handling water donations through White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church and setting up a checking account to accept monetary donations. Many of the homes receiving gallon jugs once had water buffaloes provided by Rex Energy. When the company came to remove the tanks in February, residents stood with angry out-of-town protestors and journalists who watched the trucks haul them away. That same month, the Associated Press reported that Rex Energy had casing problems on at least two nearby gas wells -- violations that were not reported by the company or the DEP. Water buffaloes were removed from all but three homes. Two are refilled with help from money that comes from an anonymous donor. The owner of the buffalo company, Wagner Trucking of Saltsburg, told residents he can't financially justify sending refill trucks for any less than three clients. When one home can't afford the twice-a-month payment, all three risk seeing their fresh water supply stop. "You know that expression, 'they got us over a barrel?' " said Mrs. McIntyre. "Well, they got us over a buffalo." Detective work Along with the water deliveries, Mrs. McIntyre stops to chat with each neighbor in her unofficial capacity as Woodlands mayor. When the gas company started setting off seismic explosions to prepare for drilling, her answering machine received 17 messages from neighbors asking what was going on. She and a neighbor also contacted Mr. Stolz, and told him about their colored water with the sulfur smell. When he heard the description of the Woodlands, Mr. Stolz thought "it could be as good a survey sample as you could find" for testing changes in water quality. The neighborhood is isolated, and gas drilling is the only industrial activity around the farmland. He sent a questionnaire to residents in October asking: l Do you have well water? l What kind of well is it (e.g., artesian, rotary, cable tool)? l Have you noticed any change in water quality (taste, smell, color) in the last year and if so, when? l Have you noticed any change in the water flow or quantity? l Where is your well located? l Do you know how deep the well is? l Have you noticed a change in this depth? l Have you had the water tested and would you be willing to share those results? More than 130 homes out of the Woodlands' 200 responded, and about 50 reported water problems ranging from minor to significant. Mr. Stolz's questions allude to the many variables in trying to detect changes in well-water quality across a neighborhood. Wells in the Woodlands are drilled to various depths, ranging from 125 feet to more than 600 feet, and many are near old oil and gas operations or abandoned mines. "Two neighbors living next to each other could be drawing water from two different sources, and one is affected and one isn't," he said. Without a baseline test conducted before drilling began or thorough documentation on their specific well construction, it can be difficult to track any changes that may have occurred after the rigs went up. Many residents were frustrated with the Rex and DEP test results, which both absolved the gas firm of wrongdoing but didn't test for the same exact list of elements. Results may have shown the water to be safe to drink, but Mr. Stolz said even the "cosmetic" issues of orange-tinted water or floating bits of floculant warrant more testing, often at the landowner's expense. "Even if it's from a cosmetic point of view, you're not going to bathe in that water, you're not going to drink that water, you're not going to use it to make your tea," he said. With tests already done by the company and DEP, it's up to the Woodlands residents to find others who might figure out what's wrong. Mr. Stolz took samples of the water, and expects results from his own tests to come later this month. Regulating water wells The confusion isn't unique to the Woodlands. Researchers at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, an agency created by the General Assembly in Harrisburg, found "there is no standard list of parameters for which the companies must test," so three drillers operating near the Woodlands could theoretically conduct three different tests. More than 3 million Pennsylvanians drink water from a private well, and about 20,000 new wells are drilled each year, the report found. "A well can be drilled using any materials, and the driller does not have to follow designated guidelines," wrote the researchers. At the same time, water well constructors don't answer to universal standards or documentation requirements, which can complicate matters when homeowners near shale operations want to get their well water tested. Legislators have recently tried to impose statewide regulation of water wells, but it's considered a quixotic mission by some who think government regulation will never find support in rural Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended statewide regulation. In January, Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, introduced legislation that proposes standards for all stages of a water well's life cycle, from construction of the casing to treating it when the well is abandoned. The bill is in committee, and Mr. Miller hopes to see movement on it this fall. "The Marcellus Shale has highlighted the fact that a lot of wells were not installed properly," he said. He said push back comes from the nature of Pennsylvania, which is divided into scores of individual municipalities, and from the nature of Pennsylvanians, who don't want legislators telling them what to do in their literal back yards. "Any water well that is drilled into the surface is like tapping a wound on your body," he said. "It opens the surface and allows contamination in." Some drilling technology exists that might clarify well water problems, said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. Mr. Horwitt said colleagues have asked for mandatory "tracers" in fracking fluid that show themselves if found in private water supplies. Others call for "gas fingerprinting" that would test whether gas found in water supplies was coming from shallow formations or deep underground rock like shale. Those ideas haven't been fleshed out, said Mr. Horwitt, as advocates continue to focus less on the water well issue and more on concerns about establishing mandatory buffer zones around drilling operations and demanding greater transparency about the fluids used in the fracking process. Lives reinvented While experts and legislators debate how to treat water wells, some residents in the Woodlands took drastic measures to escape the problem altogether. Ms. McEvoy decided to move. She bought her three-bedroom home in the Woodlands 16 years ago for $68,000. Without water, the house on the market got one offer for $15,000, and even that fell through. Her new home, bought this summer with her fiance's retirement fund, is about 20 minutes away. The new neighborhood is a far cry from the Woodlands, where her daughter Skylar could sit on a neighbor's porch, no questions asked, and no one seemed to mind if a neighbor stowed five rusty boats in his front yard. She's taking some habits from a life without water with her. "I find myself not flushing the toilet," she said. Mr. Sowatsky, her fiance, has left the Woodlands behind, but not his paranoia over water supplies. He still loaded 25 bins of empty jugs into a U-Haul truck on a recent summer day. He'll fill them and keep them on hand in case the public water is shut off, he said. "It's a culture shock," said Mr. Sowatsky. "I keep looking for the gallon jug." Others, like Mrs. Romito and her husband, Dave, want to stay in the Woodlands home they moved to in 2000, and even plan to pass the house onto their granddaughter. "She might not be able to live here because of the water," said Mrs. Romito. "But it's hers." On a recent weekday in July, water was running low, and she hadn't gotten word from Mrs. McIntyre about whether the donor had pulled through. Then Mrs. McIntyre came by with the news that the $125 check had again made it to the buffalo company, and they'd be out to fill her tank. Mrs. Romito started to cry. Mrs. McIntyre, who had written that check and the several that came before, put her arm around her neighbor but didn't say anything else.
by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica, March 20, 2012, 2:42 p.m.
When the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that tests showed the water is safe to drink in Dimock, Penn., a national hot spot for concerns about fracking, it seemed to vindicate the energy industry’s insistence that drilling had not caused pollution in the area.
But what the agency didn’t say – at least, not publicly – is that the water samples contained dangerous quantities of methane gas, a finding that confirmed some of the agency’s initial concerns and the complaints raised by Dimock residents since 2009.
The test results also showed the group of wells contained dozens of other contaminants, including low levels of chemicals known to cause cancer and heavy metals that exceed the agency’s “trigger level” and could lead to illness if consumed over an extended period of time. The EPA’s assurances suggest that the substances detected do not violate specific drinking water standards, but no such standards exist for some of the contaminants and some experts said the agency should have acknowledged that they were detected at all.
“Any suggestion that water from these wells is safe for domestic use would be preliminary or inappropriate,” said Ron Bishop, a chemist at the State University of New York’s College at Oneonta, who has spoken out about environmental concerns from drilling.
Dimock residents are struggling to reconcile the EPA’s public account with the results they have been given in private.
“I’m sitting here looking at the values I have on my sheet – I’m over the thresholds – and yet they are telling me my water is drinkable,” said Scott Ely, a Dimock resident whose water contains methane at three times the state limit, as well as lithium, a substance that can cause kidney and thyroid disorders. “I’m confused about the whole thing… I’m flabbergasted.”
The water in Dimock first became the focus of international attention after residents there alleged in 2009 that natural gas drilling, and fracking, had led to widespread contamination. That April, ProPublica reported that a woman’s drinking water well blew up. Pennsylvania officials eventually determined that underground methane gas leaks had been caused by Cabot Oil and Gas, which was drilling wells nearby. Pennsylvania sanctioned Cabot, and for a short time the company provided drinking water to households in the Dimock area.
This January, the EPA announced it would take over the state’s investigation, testing the water in more than 60 homes and agreeing to provide drinking water to several of families – including the Elys – in the meantime.
Then, last Thursday, the EPA released a brief statement saying that the first 11 samples to come back from the lab “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.” The agency noted that some metals, methane, salt and bacteria had been detected, but at low levels that did not exceed federal thresholds. It said that arsenic exceeding federal water standards was detected in two samples.
But Dimock residents say the agency’s description didn’t jibe with the material in test packets distributed to them, and they voiced concerns about why the EPA had passed judgment before seeing results from nearly 50 homes. Several shared raw data and materials they were given by the EPA with Josh Fox, the director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “GasLand,” who shared them with ProPublica.
EPA press secretary Betsaida Alcantara said the agency was trying to be forthcoming by giving the tests results to Dimock residents and is now considering whether to release more information to the public about the water samples. “We made a commitment to the residents that we would give them the information as soon as we had it,” she said. “For the sake of transparency we felt it was the right thing to do.”
However preliminary, the data is significant because it is the first EPA research into drilling-related concerned on the east coast, and the agency’s first new information since it concluded that there was likely a link between fracking and water contamination in central Wyoming last December. The EPA is currently in the midst of a national investigation into the effects of fracking on groundwater, but that research is separate.
As the agency has elsewhere, the EPA began the testing in Dimock in search of methane and found it.
Methane is not considered poisonous to drink, and therefore is not a health threat in the same way as other pollutants. But the gas can collect in confined spaces and cause deadly explosions, or smother people if they breathe too much of it. Four of the five residential water results obtained by ProPublica show methane levels exceeding Pennsylvania standards; one as high as seven times the threshold and nearly twice the EPA’s less stringent standard.
The methane detections were accompanied by ethane, another type of natural gas that experts say often signifies the methane came from deeply buried gas deposits similar to those being drilled for energy and not from natural sources near the surface.
Among the other substances detected at low levels in Dimock’s water are a suite of chemicals known to come from some sort of hydrocarbon substance, such as diesel fuel or roofing tar. They include anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene and benzo(a)pyrene– all substances described by a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as cancer-causing even in very small amounts. Chromium, aluminum, lead and other metals were also detected, as were chlorides, salts, bromide and strontium, minerals that can occur naturally but are often associated with natural gas drilling.
It is unclear whether these contaminants have any connection to drilling activities near Dimock. The agency says it plans further testing and research.
Many of the compounds detected have not been evaluated for exposure risk by federal scientists or do not have an exposure limit assigned to them, making it difficult to know whether they present a risk to human health.
Inconsistencies in the EPA’s sampling results also are raising concerns. EPA documents, for example, list two different thresholds for the detection of bromide, a naturally occurring substance sometimes used in drilling fluids, opening up the possibility that bromide may have been detected, but not reported, in some tests.
“The threshold that it is safe, that shouldn’t be changing,” said Susan Riha, director of the New York State Water Resources Institute and a professor of earth sciences at Cornell University. “For some reason … one was twice as sensitive as the other one.”
The EPA did not respond to questions about the detection limits, or any other technical inquiries about the test data.
A spokesman for Cabot declined to comment on the water test results or their significance, saying that he had not yet seen the data.
The Department of Agriculture is considering requiring an extensive environmental review before issuing mortgages to people who have leased their land for oil and gas drilling.
Last year more than 140,000 families, many of them with low incomes and living in rural areas, received roughly $18 billion in loans or loan guarantees from the department under the Rural Housing Service program. Much of the money went to residents in states that have seen the biggest growth in drilling in recent years, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana.
The program is popular because it generally requires no down payment. As its financing has grown and credit markets have tightened in recent years, the program’s loans have roughly quadrupled since 2004.
The decision, agriculture officials say, would also affect the department’s Rural Business and Cooperative program, which issued more than $1 billion in loans and grants last year to about 15,000 rural businesses.
Home mortgages and rural business loans from the agency have been allowed to avoid such reviews, except under unusual circumstances.
The proposal by the Agriculture Department, which has signaled its intention in e-mails to Congress and landowners, reflects a growing concern that lending to owners of properties with drilling leases might violate the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires environmental reviews before federal money is spent. Because that law covers all federal agencies, the department’s move raises questions about litigation risks for other agencies, legal experts said.
Drilling for gas has become more common using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, which breaks up rock deep underground using water and chemicals under high pressure. The drilling has been an economic boon — creating jobs and reducing dependence on foreign energy. But it has raised concerns about contamination of water wells, air pollution and above-ground spills.
Over the last year, some banks and federal agencies have started revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values.
“We will no longer be financing homes with gas leases,” Jennifer Jackson, program director for rural loans in the Agriculture Department’s New York office, wrote in an internal e-mail this month, citing several factors, including the costs of conducting such reviews.
In e-mails sent to landowners and Congress, agriculture officials said that environmental specialists at the agency believed that the reviews were legally necessary and that leased properties should not be given special exemptions. But when asked about the notice, the Agriculture Department said its secretary, Tom Vilsack, is still reviewing it.
Legal experts said that the agency’s notice would have broad repercussions.
The environmental reviews being proposed by the Agriculture Department would give the public a fuller accounting of the potential environmental risks of drilling, the experts said. Such reviews would also help protect the agency from litigation from environmental groups — a cost that would ultimately be borne by taxpayers.
But the Agriculture Department’s notice would also mean that landowners who had already signed leases to allow drilling on their land would face hurdles if they applied for federally backed mortgages.
Full environmental reviews from the Agriculture Department or other agencies would also add new wrinkles to President Obama’s plans to expand domestic drilling, the experts said.
Asked for comment, department officials declined to answer specific questions about the notice or about the e-mails, which were sent in February and March by officials from the Agriculture Department’s regional offices and its headquarters.
Other Agriculture Department officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said that the notice was technically not a policy change but a clarification of existing rules. The notice was being issued partly in response to growing questions from state offices about whether agency loans for properties with drilling leases complied with federal environmental law, they said.
Officials in some offices, especially in the West, where drilling has been occurring for decades, said they had historically given categorical exclusions to properties with drilling leases. But officials in state offices in the East, where drilling has expanded rapidly in recent years, said they wanted more guidance on whether bypassing environmental reviews was legal. Next month’s clarification from agricultural officials in Washington is meant to settle that dispute.
Edward Lloyd, an environmental law professor at Columbia, noted that billions of dollars worth of home loans are made directly or underwritten each year by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration. He said those lenders might feel compelled by the Agriculture Department’s decision to study their own policies.
Professor Lloyd and two other legal experts predicted that rather than assessing the impact from each oil and gas lease separately, the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies may instead prepare a blanket environmental review of drilling that applies to all of their lending programs.
Kevin T. K. Bailey, a Congressional liaison with the Agriculture Department, said in e-mails sent to Representatives Maurice D. Hinchey and Carolyn B. Maloney, both Democrats from New York, that the agency was willing to conduct such a review, but there was no money in the budget for it, so lending would need to stop until the matter was resolved.
Agriculture officials said the notice was in response to an article in The Times in October that described how leases often allowed certain activities, like storing hazardous waste on a property, that were expressly forbidden by mortgages because they could harm resale values.
“There is substantial controversy over the extent, range, and issues associated with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for gas,” Mr. Bailey wrote in a March 8 e-mail to members of Congress, adding that “for a number of years” the loan program typically had considered its mortgages exempt from environmental review. But the agency notice will clarify that this is not the case for properties with drilling leases.
Requiring environmental reviews for such properties will be slow but will allow the public to have more say in the matter, he added.
“Approval of such leases would allow for a number of potential impacts to possibly occur which would need to be analyzed in a NEPA document that would be reviewed by the public for sufficiency,” he wrote.
“The overall environmental effects of such development have not been addressed in any NEPA document by any federal agency,” he said, adding that allowing people with drilling leases on their properties to qualify automatically for mortgages from the Agriculture Department “places the Agency at risk of NEPA related litigation.”
<<<<<< Testing of deep injection wells at this now abandoned gas facility in Avoca caused a series of small to moderate earthquakes in 2001. / PRESSCONNECTS FILE PHOTO
Written by Steve Orr, 11:06 PM, Nov. 15, 2011
ROCHESTER -- In early 2001, people living in northern Steuben County experienced something that many of them had never felt before -- a series of earthquakes, the largest of which was more powerful than any naturally occurring tremor in New York in a decade.
Damage was minimal but nerves were jangled. Because the epicenters were in an area not known to be quake-prone, officials looked for an explanation. They found one that might seem improbable.
The earthquakes were man-made, New York officials suspected -- the result of test injections of millions of gallons of water into two-mile-deep disposal wells built as part of a natural-gas storage operation being developed in the Town of Avoca.
State officials ordered a halt to the well tests. The elaborate gas storage facility was never finished and the site eventually abandoned.
The incident, which largely went unnoticed outside of Avoca and neighboring Cohocton, has been given fresh currency today because of the growing controversy in New York and nationwide over the natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.
The surge in hydrofracking has meant a surge in injection wells to dispose of drilling wastewater -- and those disposal wells are increasingly being linked to small earthquakes. Clusters of "induced" quakes in the Dallas-Forth Worth area and in Arkansas are prominent recent cases.
"There's a long list of examples," said Robert Ross, a geologist and associate director for the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca. "There's no question that small earthquakes can be induced."
And now there is a smattering of evidence that small earthquakes can be caused by hydrofracking, in which water is injected underground to free up natural gas for extraction. A drilling company in England took responsibility two weeks ago for causing a pair of small quakes there earlier this year, and a geological study in Oklahoma suggested the same happened there.
Some speculate the quakes 10 days ago in Oklahoma -- including the largest ever in that state -- could be linked to wells. Some media reports have found no link between wells and the big Oklahoma quake, however.
None of the quakes that experts have connected to underground fluid injection have been close to catastrophic. No injuries and little significant damage have been reported.
But some experts say there is no certainty that won't happen.
"Earthquakes triggered by humans pose a significant hazard," said Leonardo Seeber, a Columbia University seismologist who has studied induced quakes. "Liability concerns by powerful commercial entities are promoting a state of denial about the issue of triggering earthquakes. This is rather unfortunate because it prevents use of available knowledge and more research to understand the processes involved and minimize the hazard."
New York's proposed gas-drilling guidelines say that routine seismic checks done by drillers before they sink a well is sufficient to guard against the "remote" chance of a fracking-induced quake.
To ensure the integrity of new injection wells, federal regulations require a review of known underground faults before they're built -- though the study done for Avoca failed to detect the fault that was implicated in the quakes.
Federal and state officials say they saw no need to order seismic reviews of the six other injection wells in New York after the Avoca experience. The science
Some geologists warn not to overstate the hazard.
"Of all the various impacts and risks that are at least potentially associated with hydraulic fracturing, induced seismicity is probably way, way down the list of concerns," said John Conrad, a hydrogeologist and member of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, a leading industry group. "The occurrences are few and far between, and the potential for damage is minimal."
Earthquakes stem from the movement of masses of rock in the earth's crust. Sometimes the masses of rock catch on each other at fault lines, with stress building up at the point of contact until the rock springs free. That creates earthquakes.
It's now widely accepted that injecting large volumes of liquid deep into the rock can increase stress on faults and lubricate them, sometimes inducing earthquake.
"If you inject fluids and you have a lot of faults you don't know about, or just joints or fractures ... then you can have the chance of an earthquake. I don't say it's going to happen every time," said Richard Young, a geology professor at the State University College at Geneseo.
An early case of small induced quakes occurred in 1971 near the Wyoming County hamlet of Dale, where a company was mining brine -- salt water -- for industrial use. Water was pumped down a deep well to dissolve salt deposits. The resulting brine was pulled out through adjoining shafts.
Columbia geologists noted a swarm of dozens of small quakes around Dale, some strong enough to be felt by local residents. The scientists later reported the earthquakes stopped shortly after the mining injections did.
In a research paper, they wrote that the wells had been sunk very near the Clarendon-Lyndon fault, a well-known, active fault. They said the data "strongly suggest" the injections had triggered the quakes. The Avoca tremors
In the early 1990s, a development company planned a $200 million natural gas storage facility deep under Avoca's Mackey Hill in caverns carved from salt deposits.
The caverns would be created by dissolving salt and the resulting brine would be injected into other wells that went down 10,000 feet.
But the company found the target formations were too dense to accept all the brine that would be created, and it ceased operations in 1997.
Two years later, a Texas firm resurrected the project, saying it could make the injection wells work.
It couldn't. On January 22, 2001, several days after testing began, a magnitude 2.4 quake occurred, its epicenter just south of the Village of Cohocton. Over the next 12 days there would be four more quakes nearby, culminating in the largest, a magnitude 3.2, centered just a mile north of the injection wells.
These did not go unnoticed. "I definitely remember that incident. We had some storm windows that were broken from that," said Michael Saxton, who lives on the slope of Mackey Hill below the storage project. He heard of others who also suffered broken windows from the tremors.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the company to halt testing until seismic monitoring could be arranged. That was never done. The project was abandoned again. The wells were permanently capped last year.
Alpha Environmental Consultants, which assisted DEC with its hydrofracking guidelines, concluded in 2009 that it was "likely" the quakes were caused by prolonged testing of the injection wells.
Nicole Foley Kraft, who oversees the regional injection well program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said federal officials consider the connection unconfirmed.
The agency requires applicants for an injection permit to submit seismic information, but field testing or monitoring are not routinely required.
"We can't predict seismic activity," she said.
She and DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said their agencies did not review data related to the six injection wells that remain in use in New York. Three of them -- in Caledonia, Livingston County; Pembroke, Genesee County; and Aurelius, Cayuga County -- are used to dispose of brine collected from natural gas wells. Three others -- in Greenwood, Steuben County; Bath, Steuben County; and Independence, Allegany County -- are to dispose of brine collected from gas storage facilities.
They are used intermittently, federal records show. There is no suggestion any of them have triggered quakes. Looking ahead
If large-scale hydrofracking begins in New York, hundreds of new gas wells could be drilled and fractured annually.
State guidelines allow for new injection wells to dispose of the huge quantity of brine those fracked wells would generate, though opinions differ as to whether any would be built. Chesapeake Appalachia, a large Oklahoma driller that operates the injection well in Cayuga County, tried to site a new one in Steuben County last year but withdrew its permit applications amid fierce public protest.
Seeber, the Columbia seismologist, said fracking may cause earthquakes but they would be small and localized because the quantity of fluid and duration of well pressurization are relatively minimal.
Deep injection wells typically involve much more fluid and have the capability to trigger larger earthquakes, he and others said. Their size is the same as quakes that would occur naturally in any given place, he said.
The largest quakes recorded in New York have been between magnitude 5.0 and 6.0 and include two 20th century temblors that caused considerable damage near Attica and Batavia.
Young, the Geneseo geologist, said he believes drilling-related quakes are almost inevitable.
"There's enough asymmetry in rocks, like fractures and faults, there's no way you can predict what's going to happen when you drill," he said.
But Conrad, the hydrogeologist and member of the industry association, disagrees. "There are 170,000 ... brine disposal wells in the United States, and only a couple of cases of seismicity have been linked to them," he said. "It certainly is not out of the question that there could be faults that are not known.
"The protocol is to do the best job you can ... to avoid faults of the types that could become active," he said.
By Lindsay Nielsen November 15, 2011 Updated Nov 15, 2011 at 6:23 PM EST
(WBNG Binghamton) With the DEC hearing in Binghamton this week there's a call to scrap the DEC's revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement. While others will call to press forward with natural gas drilling in New York's shale areas.
More than three thousand people have signed a letter calling upon Governor Andrew Cuomo to withdraw the DEC's revised draft report.
Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan penned his signature on the letter too.
In a statement to Action News Mayor Ryan says "I've signed onto this letter to protect our citizens, our environment and our economy. This is undoubtedly the most important decision that we will make as a community in the next hundred years, and we have to make it properly."
President of Toxics Targeting Walter Hang wrote the letter to Governor Cuomo.
He believes the DEC is ignoring major issues with hydrofracking.
President of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce and member of Clean Growth Now, Lou Santoni disagrees.
"It's good for the community, the DEC has done their due diligence, the time really now is to act," says Santoni.
"To say that there have never been hydrofracking problems in New York is just factually incorrect and that's one of the main reasons why I believe the revised draft SGEIS is a dishonest document, it's a sham," says Hang.
The DEC public hearing in Binghamton will be held on Thursday at the Forum Theater from 1 to 4 pm and another session from 6 to 9 pm.
The DEC says they will review the comments made on the revised draft SGEIS and prepare responses to be released with the final SGEIS.
by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica, Nov. 10, 2011, 1:10 p.m.
As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residents have long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.
A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.
Last year -- after warning residents not to drink or cook with the water and to ventilate their homes when they showered -- the EPA drilled the monitoring wells to get a more precise picture of the extent of the contamination.
The Pavillion area has been drilled extensively for natural gas over the last two decades and is home to hundreds of gas wells. Residents have alleged for nearly a decade that the drilling -- and hydraulic fracturing in particular -- has caused their water to turn black and smell like gasoline. Some residents say they suffer neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain they associate with exposure to pollutants.
The gas industry -- led by the Canadian company EnCana, which owns the wells in Pavillion -- has denied that its activities are responsible for the contamination. EnCana has, however, supplied drinking water to residents.
The information released yesterday by the EPA was limited to raw sampling data: The agency did not interpret the findings or make any attempt to identify the source of the pollution. From the start of its investigation, the EPA has been careful to consider all possible causes of the contamination and to distance its inquiry from the controversy around hydraulic fracturing.
Still, the chemical compounds the EPA detected are consistent with those produced from drilling processes, including one -- a solvent called 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE) -- widely used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. The agency said it had not found contaminants such as nitrates and fertilizers that would have signaled that agricultural activities were to blame.
The wells also contained benzene at 50 times the level that is considered safe for people, as well as phenols -- another dangerous human carcinogen -- acetone, toluene, naphthalene and traces of diesel fuel.
The EPA said the water samples were saturated with methane gas that matched the deep layers of natural gas being drilled for energy. The gas did not match the shallower methane that the gas industry says is naturally occurring in water, a signal that the contamination was related to drilling and was less likely to have come from drilling waste spilled above ground.
EnCana has recently agreed to sell its wells in the Pavillion area to Texas-based oil and gas company Legacy Reserves for a reported $45 million, but has pledged to continue to cooperate with the EPA's investigation. EnCana bought many of the wells in 2004, after the first problems with groundwater contamination had been reported.
The EPA's research in Wyoming is separate from the agency's ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing's effect on water supplies, and is being funded through the Superfund cleanup program.
The EPA says it will release a lengthy draft of the Pavillion findings, including a detailed interpretation of them, later this month.
Aug 3: A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More
Drilling Down A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More By IAN URBINA NY Times Published: August 3, 2011
Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, has said that there are no reported cases of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.
“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.
It is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.
But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.
Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.
“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.”
Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, dismissed the assertion that sealed settlements have hidden problems with gas drilling, and he added that countless academic, federal and state investigators conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.
“Settlements are sealed for a variety of reasons, are common in litigation, and are done at the request of both landowners and operators,” Mr. Wohlschlegel said.
Still, the documented E.P.A. case, which has gone largely unnoticed for decades, includes evidence that many industry representatives were aware of it and also fought the agency’s attempts to include other cases in the final study.
The report is not recent — it was published in 1987, and the contamination was discovered in 1984. Drilling technology and safeguards in well design have improved significantly since then. Nevertheless, the report does contradict what has emerged as a kind of mantra in the industry and in the government.
The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, W.Va., referring to it as “Mr. Parson’s water well.”
“When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson’s property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well,” according to the agency’s summary of the case. “This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water, rendering it unusable.”
Asked about the cause of the incident, Mr. Wohlschlegel emphasized that the important factor was that the driller and the regulator had not known about the nearby aquifer. But in comments submitted to the E.P.A. at the time about the report, the petroleum institute acknowledged that this was indeed a case of drinking water contamination from fracking.
“The damage here,” the institute wrote, referring to Mr. Parsons’ contaminated water well, “results from an accident or malfunction of the fracturing process.”
Mr. Wohlschlegel cautioned however that the comments provided at the time by the institute were not based on its own research and therefore it cannot be sure that other factors did not play a role.
In their report, E.P.A. officials also wrote that Mr. Parsons’ case was highlighted as an “illustrative” example of the hazards created by this type of drilling, and that legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements prevented access to scientific documentation of other incidents.
“This is typical practice, for instance, in Texas,” the report stated. “In some cases, the records of well-publicized damage incidents are almost entirely unavailable for review.”
Drilling Down Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush By IAN URBINA Published: June 25, 2011
Natural gas companies have been placing enormous bets on the wells they are drilling, saying they will deliver big profits and provide a vast new source of energy for the United States. But the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.
In the e-mails, energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves. Many of these e-mails also suggest a view that is in stark contrast to more bullish public comments made by the industry, in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.
“Money is pouring in” from investors even though shale gas is “inherently unprofitable,” an analyst from PNC Wealth Management, an investment company, wrote to a contractor in a February e-mail. “Reminds you of dot-coms.”
“The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work,” an analyst from IHS Drilling Data, an energy research company, wrote in an e-mail on Aug. 28, 2009.
Company data for more than 10,000 wells in three major shale gas formations raise further questions about the industry’s prospects. There is undoubtedly a vast amount of gas in the formations. The question remains how affordably it can be extracted.
The data show that while there are some very active wells, they are often surrounded by vast zones of less-productive wells that in some cases cost more to drill and operate than the gas they produce is worth. Also, the amount of gas produced by many of the successful wells is falling much faster than initially predicted by energy companies, making it more difficult for them to turn a profit over the long run.
If the industry does not live up to expectations, the impact will be felt widely. Federal and state lawmakers are considering drastically increasing subsidies for the natural gas business in the hope that it will provide low-cost energy for decades to come.
But if natural gas ultimately proves more expensive to extract from the ground than has been predicted, landowners, investors and lenders could see their investments falter, while consumers will pay a price in higher electricity and home heating bills.
There are implications for the environment, too. The technology used to get gas flowing out of the ground — called hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — can require over a million gallons of water per well, and some of that water must be disposed of because it becomes contaminated by the process. If shale gas wells fade faster than expected, energy companies will have to drill more wells or hydrofrack them more often, resulting in more toxic waste.
The e-mails were obtained through open-records requests or provided to The New York Times by industry consultants and analysts who say they believe that the public perception of shale gas does not match reality; names and identifying information were redacted to protect these people, who were not authorized to communicate publicly. In the e-mails, some people within the industry voice grave concerns.
“And now these corporate giants are having an Enron moment,” a retired geologist from a major oil and gas company wrote in a February e-mail about other companies invested in shale gas. “They want to bend light to hide the truth.”
Others within the industry remain optimistic. They argue that shale gas economics will improve as the price of gas rises, technology evolves and demand for gas grows with help from increased federal subsidies being considered by Congress. “Shale gas supply is only going to increase,” Steven C. Dixon, executive vice president of Chesapeake Energy, said at an energy industry conference in April in response to skepticism about well performance.
Studying the Data
“I think we have a big problem.”
Deborah Rogers, a member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, recalled saying that in a May 2010 conversation with a senior economist at the Reserve, Mine K. Yucel. “We need to take a close look at this right away,” she added.
A former stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, Ms. Rogers said she started studying well data from shale companies in October 2009 after attending a speech by the chief executive of Chesapeake, Aubrey K. McClendon. The math was not adding up, Ms. Rogers said. Her research showed that wells were petering out faster than expected.
“These wells are depleting so quickly that the operators are in an expensive game of ‘catch-up,’ ” Ms. Rogers wrote in an e-mail on Nov. 17, 2009, to a petroleum geologist in Houston, who wrote back that he agreed.
“This could have profound consequences for our local economy,” she explained in the e-mail.
Fort Worth residents were already reeling from the sudden reversal of fortune for the natural gas industry.
GRANTHAM - United Methodists representing 950 churches across central and Northeast Pennsylvania passed a resolution calling for a temporary halt in gas well drilling in the Marcellus Shale as well as an impact tax on those places where drilling already has taken hold.
The issue dominated about an hour of discussion Thursday at the Susquehanna Annual Conference meeting, which runs through today at Messiah College near Harrisburg.
Karen Weiss, a lay member from St. Paul's Church in State College, who is also an environmental engineer, said she had a hand in being part of a design team for a pair of wastewater treatment plants that took fracked water.
She said she was surprised that what chemical compounds some companies said they used in fracking often understated what was actually used.
"We were discovering that the water at the end of the treatment plant's recycling process wasn't as clean as it should have been because other things had been added we weren't prepared for," Ms. Weiss said. "That's just not acceptable."
The Rev. Wayne Bender of Shope's Church in Hummelstown said he was disappointed that the Susquehanna Conference was not addressing what he considered more important issues that the Marcellus Shale activity had wrought on the region - particularly an influx of new workers coming into the region and what he called the "new homelessness" created because rents were being driven up in certain communities.
But, Joan Carey, a lay member from Clarks Summit, said she has a doctorate in biology, and "the bottom line was that if we don't have clean water, we're done."
During the four-day conference attended by as many as 1,500 United Methodists about evenly divided between clergy and laity, the body also supported mental health ministries, envisioned an AIDS-free world by 2020 and openly discussed sexual ethics and reinforced the church's mechanisms for accountability.
Celebrations also occurred in honor of retiring clergy and in memory of those deceased.
Bishop Jane Middleton presided over the body, and in her opening remarks Wednesday said those gathered needed "to stand in the water and choose life."
She said individuals needed to be willing to give up anything that is not essential to their survival and challenged the conference to give up everything that is not essential to its mission "so we may go where God leads."
On Friday, the body voted to cut back on its number of geographical districts from 11 to seven effective July 1, 2012, and reallocate resources that could better be directed at training and deploying transformational leaders.
The body also elected seven laity and seven clergy to represent the Susquehanna Conference at next year's quadrennial meeting of the worldwide United Methodist Church, which would be meeting next spring in Tampa, Fla. Among the clergy elected was Scranton District Superintendent the Rev. Beth Jones.
The Susquehanna Conference includes 160 United Methodist churches in Northeast Pennsylvania that until a year ago were in the former Wyoming conference.
<<<<<< The band Dutch Bucket System performs Sunday at Recreation Park in Binghamton during Binghamton Big Splash, an anti-fracking event organized by the Finger Lakes Clean Waters Initiative. / GEORGE BASLER / Staff Photo
<<<<<< New York Residents Against Drilling staff a booth at Binghamton Big Splash Sunday in Recreation Park. Music was the focus of the day, with 10 local bands performing. / GEORGE BASLER / Staff Photo
Written by George Basler
BINGHAMTON -- Some people came for the music. Others came for the message. Others just wanted to get out of the house on a warm late-spring day.
Their destination Sunday was Recreation Park for Binghamton Big Splash, a one-day concert coordinated by the Finger Lakes Clean Water Initiative designed to raise awareness about natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The 10-hour concert followed the Southern Tier Clean Waters Symposium, a day-long conference held Saturday on the possible health effects of hydraulic fracturing, leasing issues and other concerns about drilling.
"Music is a good way to get the message out because it brings people together. It's a good way to protest," said Jocelyn Blizzard, 30, who came to the event from Ithaca.
The concert featured 10 local bands, including the Burns Sisters and Yolk, on two stages. Organizations also set up information booths under a big tent.
But while the day's message was clear, organizers said they wanted the concert to be free of preaching and polemics. The atmosphere was mellow, laid back and relaxing.
Some in the park said they were there just to have a good time.
"I came to hear the music more than anything else," said Terry Walker, 54, of Binghamton.
"I'm not real up on fracking," he added. "Enough people have an interest in it. I don't have to add my two cents."
Dave Thomas, 40, of Binghamton, doesn't think hydraulic fracturing is the answer. But he probably wouldn't have been in the park Sunday except for the music.
"Music was the bait that got us to come," he said.
And not everyone at the concert could be classified as a drilling opponent. The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York set up an information booth at one entrance to the park.
The group was there to make sure more than one side was represented and because "there is a lot of misinformation being put out there that shouldn't be," said Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the coalition.
"A lot of people have thanked us for being here," he said.
Still, buttons and T-shirts opposing hydraulic fracturing were in evidence. And most people questioned were opposed to the practice.
"I hope it's an outreach to people who are still unaware of the issue facing our community," said Yvonne Lucia, of the Town of Binghamton, who helped staff a booth set up by New York Residents Against Drilling. "You'd be surprised how many people are still not educated."
One concert listener, Jeff Martinez, 28, of Apalachin, grew up in a coal-mining area of Pennsylvania.
"I like New York, and I don't want to leave," he said.
But if hydraulic fracturing becomes a reality, that's just what he'll do because he doesn't want his 9-month-old daughter exposed to what he sees as the potential dangers, Martinez said.
Zac Tompkins, 21, of Vestal, said he is against hydraulic fracturing while other members of his family support it, so there have been some heated discussions. But on Sunday, he was more focused on hanging out with friends and listening to music.
"We need more events like this in Binghamton," he said.
David Burkhart and Leanne Avery, of Binghamton, danced energetically under the tent to the music of Dutch Bucket System.
"I hope this gets the message out," Burkhart said.
<<<<<< The outside of a natural gas drill site owned by Chesapeake Energy in Leroy Township, Pa., is shown on Wednesday . A blowout at a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water Wednesday, contaminating a stream and forcing the evacuation of seven families who live nearby as crews struggled to stop the gusher. Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of the well site near Canton, in Bradford County, around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Tainted water continued to flow from the site Wednesday afternoon, though workers finally managed to prevent any more of it from reaching the stream. No injuries were reported, and there was no explosion or fire. / Associated Press
ALLENTOWN -- A blowout at a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water Wednesday, contaminating a stream and forcing the evacuation of seven families who live nearby as crews struggled to stop the gusher.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of the well site near Canton, in Bradford County, around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Tainted water continued to flow from the site Wednesday afternoon, though workers finally managed to prevent any more of it from reaching the stream.
No injuries were reported, and there was no explosion or fire.
"As a precautionary measure, seven families who live near the location have been temporarily relocated until all agencies involved are confident the situation has been contained. There have been no injuries or natural gas emissions to the atmosphere," Chesapeake spokesman Brian Grove said in a statement.
Chesapeake said a piece of equipment failed late Tuesday while the well was being hydraulically fractured, or fracked. In the fracking process, millions of gallons of water, along with chemical additives and sand, are injected at high pressure down the well bore to break up the shale and release the gas.
State environmental regulators were taking water samples from the unnamed tributary of Towanda Creek on Wednesday but did not report a fish kill. Towanda Creek is stocked with trout.
Officials advised a neighboring farmer to prevent his cows from drinking surface water, according to DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh.
She said reports from the scene indicate that fracking water was gushing from the wellhead, pooling on the pad, then escaping containment.
"Discharge of fluids to the unnamed tributary appears to be stopped," she said.
The blowout comes amid a natural gas-drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale formation below Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Fracking allows affordable access to gas supplies that once were too expensive to tap. Critics complain that the chemicals used in fracking may be contaminating water supplies.
April 13: Meet the families whose lives have been ruined by gas drilling
by Environment news, guardian.co.uk, April 13, 2011
Cassie Spencer said she nearly “had a cow” when she returned home one day and saw her yard sprinkled with little red flags, like land mine markers in a war zone. Her 5-year-old daughter was playing in the midst of them. The family property had become a methane field.
Cassie believes Chesapeake gas wells 3,000 feet away that she never saw and doesn’t profit from had somehow been sending methane onto her property and into her water, and onto her neighbors’ properties on Paradise Road in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Testing by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) traced the methane to Chesapeake wells but the company has denied responsibility.
The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead. Next to the doorway, a huge “water buffalo” storage container, a signature imprint of the collateral damage brought on by gas drilling, sits like a bloated child’s pool, filled with water, not fit for drinking.
“We moved here because we love the woods. We wanted to stay here our whole lives,” Cassie said, speaking of her family, her husband Scott and their two small children. “We’re not asking for a lot and now they’re taking it all away. In a million years, I never would have thought that people could do this and get away with it.”
All the damage occurred before the wells had even been “fracked,” which is set to happen later this year, and could make things even worse. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting a slurry of toxic chemicals, water and sand underground to release gas.
Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett, and most of the state’s politicians have embraced gas drilling and the tandem practice of fracking as a terrific boost for the economy and a “clean” alternative to foreign oil. Water well contamination, spills, truck diesel emissions, migrating methane, and radioactivity waste leaked into rivers, have generally been dismissed as minor concerns or isolated problems. There is pressure to keep the picture positive despite more than 750 violations issued by DEP last year alone. A new directive supported by the gas industry now requires inspectors to first get approval from Harrisburg before writing any violations, a move considered unprecedented in the agency’s history.
Recent visits to Bradford County, the heart of the Marcellus Shale region, tells a different story of the widespread human impact from gas drilling, not to mention a colossal reshaping of the natural environment. And more information is emerging about the dangers of fracking. A new report about to be released from Cornell University contends that fracking contributes to global warming as much, or even more, than coal. The research undermines the gas industry’s long-standing claim that natural gas is a clean energy source. But people who live in gas-drilling areas already have concerns.
Quiet roads and designated bicycle routes are now major thoroughfares for gas industry trucks. A blue haze can be seen between trees. Trucks routinely carry weight that exceeds limits leaving small rural roads busted and dangerous. Roads are sprayed with drilling waste as a cheap ice suppressant in the winter and dust control in the summer. The waste eventually makes its way back into streams. Accidents, overturned vehicles and speeding violations are everyday occurrences. At night the landscape is transformed as bright lights from drilling rigs appear like mini skyscrapers. Red lights from a long line of trucks, their engines running, pinpoint water intake centers, the lifeblood of the fracking industry. Across from a daycare center and down the road from Wyalusing High School, smoke from a fire at TranZ, a bulk material supply operation for the gas industry, spews filthy odors into the morning sky.
Not far from Paradise Road, methane bubbles percolate from the riverbed, drifting down the Susquehanna River. Residents in the community known as Sugar Run set up an entrapment tarp last fall when the bubbles were discovered, clicked a lighter and then watched flames shoot up the riverbank.
Up the road, in the path of the bubbles, Carl Stiles’ home sits abandoned, inches of snow left untouched on the front steps. He left with his fiancé in mid-November after their blood tests showed high levels of barium and their home had radon levels three times the limit. They had been experiencing a myriad of health problems for months.
“I had tremors on my right side, constant headaches, numbness. We both had heart attack symptoms, ” said Stiles, 45. Water tests in his well showed high levels of methane. A hole erupted in their front yard and spewed out a mysterious froth. Chesapeake gave the couple bottled drinking water but denied responsibility. Stiles said visits to local doctors were frustrating. He believes they discounted the possibility of chemical poisoning and he fears there was a conflict of interest because Chesapeake gives so much money to area medical centers. Finally, a toxicologist in Philadelphia told them to stop drinking their water and leave their home. They haven’t been back since.
“Between the drill site and our house, there are so many people in Sugar Run who have water buffaloes, and they have a family up a mile away and he has two little kids and the same symptoms as me. Pennsylvania is going to be a wasteland. It’s going to be so contaminated no one is going to live there,” said Stiles who now lives in an apartment in Cambria County, where drilling is just getting started. He had to quit his job when he left and was just diagnosed with colon cancer. He wonders if the water caused it. As for his $75,000 house in Bradford County, “I couldn’t give it away,” he said.
All over the region, residents are trying to figure out how to get out.
Adron and Mary Delarosa, two young organic farmers, put all they had into building a one room home and starting an organic farm. One month after they settled in, a well pad went up, then another and another. A compressor station is planned. They’re concerned about how the diesel fumes from all the trucks were affecting their 2-year-old daughter. They don’t know what to do. They’re getting water tests.
Joe Shervinski has a 12-acre spread in Wyalusing, with a windmill, solar panels, some cows and three domestic turkeys. He’s trying to figure out whether he should sell now while his water is still good and move out of state, but he doesn’t know where to go. Each month he fills a water jug and tries to light it as a DIY water test.
Down the road from him, George and Charlene Miller, two retirees from New Jersey, thought they had found the perfect spot: 16 gorgeous acres with a brook, three ponds, space for gardening. George, a disabled veteran, built 40 birdhouses. A sign at the entrance to their home reads “Journey’s End” and Charlene spoke of wanting her ashes spread across the woods. “Then, one day I went out to get my mail, and all the trees were gone,” she said.
Soon she’ll be looking at a huge rig, and the first round of drilling will last 26 days. The noise will be constant. Trucks carrying water, equipment, men and machinery will pass by her home. Another well is planned across the street in the opposite direction. “We’ll likely have to get a water buffalo,” she said. They’ve spent $1,000 on a private water test. Next they’ll test their pond as a kind of insurance policy in case the drilling ruins it.
“We moved out here to get away from all of this, and it caught up with us quicker then we thought, ” she said. She seems more resigned then surprised. She already supplies water to her son, his wife and two young children who live in Montrose, about an hour away, surrounded by gas wells. The young family moved from Michigan to be close to her and George. They’re renting a home with an option to buy, but their water went bad and the landlord isn’t doing anything. He sends Charlene photos of flaring wells, and trucks with radioactive signage. “They’re being crushed, ” she said.
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
The new kid on the energy block, shale gas, may be worse in climate change terms than coal, a study concludes.
Drawn from rock through a controversial "fracking" process, some hail the gas as a "stepping stone" to a low-carbon future and a route to energy security.
But US researchers found that shale gas wells leak substantial amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
This makes its climate impact worse than conventional gas, they say - and probably worse than coal as well.
"Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon, and is comparable over 100 years," they write in a paper to be published shortly in the journal Climatic Change.
"We have produced the first comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas," said lead author Robert Howarth from Cornell University in Ithaca, US.
"We have used the best available data [and] the conclusion is that shale gas may indeed be quite damaging to global warming, quite likely as bad or worse than coal," he told BBC News. "We should not proceed to view shale gas as a 'transitional fuel' to be used over the next few decades to replace other fossil fuels”
Greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas are predominantly down to two things: carbon dioxide produced when the gas is burned, and methane that leaks out while the well is being exploited.
Figures from the US government and industry indicate that at least a third more methane leaks from shale gas extraction than from conventional wells - and perhaps more than twice as much.
Extracting the gas involves a complex sequence of processes including drilling down and then sideways along a shale bed, cracking the rock with hydraulic pressure or explosions (fracking), placing plugs in the shaft and then "drilling out" these plugs.
Coal, by contrast, is associated with a much smaller methane release during mining; but burning it produces about twice as much CO2 as burning natural gas.
Molecule for molecule, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2; but it lasts for a much shorter time in the atmosphere.
Figures from this research team indicate that over a 20-year period, the net warming impact of using shale gas is worse than coal - and, perhaps more surprisingly, that conventional gas may be worse than coal as well.
Over a 100-year timeframe, conventional gas is almost certainly better than coal - but shale gas could be worse.
The precise numbers depend most on leakage rates. Dr Howarth's group used "best practice" estimates; in the real world, therefore, the leakage and the climate impact could be even worse.
"No-one knows for sure to what extent industry uses best practices; and unfortunately, at least in the US, industry does not want government or the public to know," he said. Shale gas rig Some communities see shale gas as a route to local riches, as well as energy independence
"The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules that would require industry to report methane emissions, but several companies have sued the EPA to try to prevent such reporting."
With greenhouse gas emissions resuming their rise as societies emerge from recession, and with growth in fossil fuel use expanding at a faster absolute rate than renewables, some analysts and even climate campaigners have seized on the option of expanding gas use as a "transitional fuel" on the way from high-carbon coal-burning to low-carbon alternatives.
The new US analysis suggests this may not be a sensible strategy, given that the total carbon footprint appears bigger - especially if the gas comes from shale formations.
Current projections suggest that within 25 years, half of the US natural gas output will come from shale, while many other countries are also pursuing the technology.
The first trial fracking in the UK took place last month, in Lancashire.
Euan Nisbet, a geologist who runs several methane monitoring and research programmes from Royal Holloway, University of London, suggested the detailed balance might vary between geological formations.
"By trying to evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas extraction, Howarth and his team are asking important questions about this new bonanza," he said.
"I suspect the debate on this will be long, and the answers will be different for each shale gas formation; but it is important that we tackle this debate."
"We also need to be very careful to account fully for the greenhouse footprint of conventional gas piped over long distances, for instance in the import of Asian gas to Europe, or Norwegian gas to the UK. The energy choices are not easy."
The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is preparing to issue more fracking licences around the country, and a spokesman said it would "closely monitor developments and consider the need for additional research to improve our understanding of the implications for policy".
Robert Howarth, however, was less equivocal.
"We should not proceed to view shale gas as a 'transitional fuel' to be used over the next few decades to replace other fossil fuels, but rather work harder to move towards truly green renewable fuels as quickly as possible, such as wind and solar."
Hundreds of people were at the Capitol Monday to rally against hydrofracking. While opponents say the environmental consequences of hydrofracking in New York could be disastrous, others say the dangers aren't as serious as some believe. YNN's Steve Ference reports.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- "In New York State, no more drilling for fossil fuels."
They came from all across New York State.
"We want New York to lead the nation with change."
More than 40 environmental groups - around 500 people - in one of the largest protests against the process of hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
"Protect our water. We must protect our water. That's not a resource you can quick turn around and buy. You can't drink gas," said Ann Gunther of New Paltz.
They're saying land and water could be harmed by chemicals used in the process, and chemicals extracted in the process.
"We know that there are glycol ethers, there are betex chemicals, ethyl benzene...But you also have to understand that even if they pump water and sand down these wells, what comes up is very toxic," said Sierra Club Legislative Director Roger Downs.
The reason so many came to the Capitol on this day - because they want lawmakers to hear their arguments and because big decisions about the process are coming. The Department of Environmental Conservation will release a report in the next few months that could determine whether the drilling permit process will move forward after a state moratorium ends May 15th.
"Although we're in a unique position, we've got a de facto moratorium on drilling, there are still signs that the state would like to rush ahead with making it happen. We're here to say, don't let that happen," said Kate Sinding, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney.
"Follow the money," said Rema Loeb of Afton. "Who is going to get rich off this? And I'm not talking about the poor farmers."
"No one wants to pollute," said Jim Smith, of the Independent Oil and Gas Drillers Association of NY. "We all drink the same water. We want to operate safely in New York, and that's our message to the Legislature and governor."
Smith says drilling would be far safer than the protesters believe.
"What the industry is saying today in its letter to the governor and to all 212 members of the Legislature is to rely on the science of hydraulic fracturing, rely on the DEC's findings before making any decisions or passing any harmful legislation," he said.
This, as a group of downstate senators have introduced a package of legislation that they hope will add more regulations if passed and perhaps slow down the process going forward.
Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan said, "In fact, the process of hydrofracking can cause enormous dangers and risks to the environment, most relevantly our water supply."
An issue with major implications for the environment, the economy, energy policy, and a debate where both sides say the science is on their side.
April 8: Residents: dozens of wells in Bradford County have been contaminated
<<<<<< Carol French says a number of residents along Paradise Road section Terry Township have seen the value of their homes plummet to one-tenth of what they were, due to contamination problems. Review Photo/JAMES LOEWENSTEIN
BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN (Staff Writer) Published: April 8, 2011
TOWANDA - At the Bradford County commissioners' meeting on Thursday, several local residents said dozens of Bradford County households have had their well water contaminated by gas drilling.
There were among the residents who filled the conference room at the courthouse on Thursday to tell the commissioners about problems related to gas drilling, including traffic congestion, high rents, and contamination issues, and ask the commissioners to help address them.
Towanda resident Diane Siegmund, who has been a local activist on environmental issues, and Sheshequin Township resident Carol French told the commissioners that between 70 to 100 households in Bradford County have had their water wells contaminated by gas drilling.
Joe Shervinski of Terry Township told the commissioners that the number of Bradford County residents with water contamination problems from gas drilling is five times more than was the case in Dimock in Susquehanna County, which became a national news story. Siegmund said that 13 household in Dimock had contamination problems.
"Newly industrialized Bradford County is bearing an enormous burden from unsafe air, due to methane, and water (contamination)," Siegmund told the commissioners. "I've spoken to people who have barium in their systems, people who want to get out (of their homes) but can't sell their house," Siegmund said.
French quoted McLinko as telling Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale advisory committee that while the county has had instances of water wells being contaminated by migrating methane in Bradford County, it is not as widespread as some people portray it to be.
Siegmund said she believed the number of contaminated wells is at least 70, based on her conversations with people who had contamination problems. She said the number also reflected the number of contamination sites that had been placed on a map, which was given to a Time magazine reporter who had visited the county a few weeks ago.
Siegmund suggested that a government-sponsored website be created where Bradford County residents would be able to report their contamination problems.
After the meeting, she said the intent of the website would be to document the extent of contamination problems in the county.
At the meeting, McLinko agreed that such a site should be established.
"We have to find out where the affected wells are, and we'll go and help these people," McLinko said.
French also urged the county to begin reducing the assessments on people's homes who have been affected by gas well contamination, as she said they are financially strapped.
She said there are residents along Paradise Road in Terry Township, where there have been contamination problems, who have seen value of their homes drop dramatically, as reflected by recent appraisals.
"Their properties are worth one-tenth of what it was before gas drilling started," French said.
She also said residents along Paradise Road have had to face skyrocketing electricity bills from having to heat the water in their water buffaloes to keep them from freezing and from running water filtration systems at their homes.
She said that one household saw its monthly electric bill increase from $130 to $450, while another household's bill increased from below $150 to $520.
"This (increase in electric bills is occurring) through Bradford County," French said.
McLinko said, "We'll start the discussion" on creating guidelines for reducing assessments due to contamination issues, but predicted that the formulating those guidelines "won't be quick."
<<<<<< Gas company employees must test this temporary vent to see if it’s safe for Nick Kellington and his family to visit their home. The Kellingtons were evacuated after gas from a nearby abandoned well caused a small explosion in West Mifflin, Pa. (Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica)
by Nicholas Kusnetz ProPublica, April 4, 2011, 1 a.m.
In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence. Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky., and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.
In 2008, gas from an abandoned well leaked into a septic system in Pennsylvania and exploded when someone tried to light a candle in a bathroom, killing the person, according to a 2009 draft report by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. That report also documented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells "communicated" with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home.
In February, methane from an old well made its way into the basement of a house in West Mifflin, Pa., triggering a small explosion. Two families were evacuated and have not yet returned home.
Such incidents rarely receive much attention outside the states and neighborhoods they affect. But as the nation's latest drilling boom continues, abandoned wells have begun attracting more attention, particularly in states where the earth is already pock-marked with holes left by earlier waves of extraction. New wells sometimes disturb layers of rock and dirt near fragile old wells, leading to new cases of contamination.
The most recent effort to count the nation's unplugged wells was a survey published in 2008 by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate agency made up of regulators and industry representatives. It found that states had located nearly 60,000 wells that needed to be plugged -- and estimated that as many as a million more may be out there. In Pennsylvania alone, regulators estimate that 184,000 wells were drilled before records were kept. Many of those wells were plugged with stumps, rocks or nothing at all.
"The fact that there are thousands of these out there that need to be addressed, it's a problem, and it's a problem common to all states" with a history of drilling, said Bradley Field, who heads New York's Division of Mineral Resources.
The task of finding, plugging and monitoring old wells is daunting to cash-strapped state governments. A shallow well in good condition can sometimes be plugged with cement for a few thousand dollars. But costs typically run into the tens of thousands, and a price tag of $100,000 or more isn't unusual.
In the last decade, New York has managed to plug only about 125 of its estimated 40,000 deteriorating wells. It has taken Kentucky more than two decades to plug about 4,000 wells -- and it has a waiting list of almost 13,000 more. Even Texas, which has invested heavily in abandoned wells, is years away from plugging all of its open holes. Since 1984, it has plugged more than 30,000 wells. But almost 10,000 are still open, and more are found and added to the list all the time.
Some regulators fear that the number of abandoned wells will grow when the current drilling boom runs its course. Last year, oil and gas operators drilled almost 45,000 new wells across the United States, and that number is expected to hold steady or increase as the nation tries to wean itself from foreign oil. If even a small fraction of those wells is eventually abandoned, states will be left with the bill, just as they were when the last boom ended in the mid-1980s.
To prevent that from happening, states require energy companies to post bonds before they begin building their wells. But the bonds are often so low that it can be more economical for a company to forfeit its bond rather than plug its wells. In Pennsylvania, for instance, an energy company can cover hundreds of wells with a single $25,000 bond.
John Hanger, who until January headed Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, called the bonds "scandalously low."
"There are some choices you shouldn't put in front of even good companies," Hanger said. "I'd like to think the companies would do the right thing, but we know that just isn't always the case."
The Birthplace of an Industry
One of Pennsylvania's worst cases of gas migration occurred in the Borough of Versailles, a small, working-class community just outside Pittsburgh. From 1919 through 1921, more than 175 gas wells were drilled in the town. Residents put wells in their backyards to heat their homes, packing them into the 25-by-100-foot lots.
The boom dried up when most of the wells proved unproductive. But in the 1960s, pockets of gas began leaking into homes. Some houses were condemned and demolished, and Versailles eventually became a case study for federal scientists trying to locate old wells.
Researchers studied old maps and walked the grounds with magnetometers, which detect the magnetic field from metal casings in the wells. If casings were never installed or had been removed, they could test the soil for hydrocarbons that might be leaking to the surface.
Some of the old wells were plugged. But more often vents were installed to direct gas away from the homes. Today, dozens of pipes pop out of the ground in yards, behind garages and through houses, slowly leaking methane and hydrogen sulfide so the explosive gases don't accumulate. In 2009 Versailles received a $368,600 federal grant to maintain its aging vents. About 50 methane alarms have also been installed in the town.
Two vents allow natural gas to escape from the property bought by James Fleckenstein, the mayor of Versailles, Pa. Fleckenstein says the vents, which can be found throughout the town, are just a part of life in Versailles. (Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica)
Two vents allow natural gas to escape from the property bought by James Fleckenstein, the mayor of Versailles, Pa. Fleckenstein says the vents, which can be found throughout the town, are just a part of life in Versailles. (Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica) The vents and alarms are just part of life in Versailles. The mayor, James Fleckenstein, recently bought a house with two vents on the property and an alarm in the kitchen.
"We've been living with this problem forever," Fleckenstein said. "People would have a vent in their yard burning 24 hours a day all year long, a one-inch pipe sticking out of the ground. People would put a coffee can and light it and it would just burn all the time."
There's no longer enough pressure in the gas formation to make the vents flammable, Fleckenstein said, and the town hasn't had any problems with migrating gas for a couple of years. But that could change at any time, said Fred Baldassare, who for years oversaw gas migration cases for the Department of Environmental Protection and now runs a consulting business. Old wells can deteriorate or become clogged, he said, and conditions underground can change.
In February, gas from an abandoned well caused a small explosion just across the river from Versailles, in West Mifflin, Pa. The gas company evacuated the house where the explosion occurred, as well as the house next door, where Nick Kellington lived with his wife and four children.
"I said 'How long are we packing for?' and he said 'I don't know,'" Kellington said. "Somebody tells you that, what do you do?"
Kellington said the DEP, which declined to comment about the case, used old maps to identify a nearby well that may be the source of the gas. The Kellingtons are renting a townhouse while they wait for a state-hired contractor to fix the problem. Baldassare has been hired as a subcontractor.
Every time the Kellingtons visit their former home, a gas company employee must first test the temporary vent that sticks out of their basement window. Even then, Kellington has to leave his cell phone outside, lest a spark ignite a pocket of gas.
Finding and plugging an old well can be risky, because nearby wells may be disturbed and begin releasing gas. So, the Kellingtons' home is being fitted with a system that pumps air under the house, creating a high-pressure zone that would prevent the gas from leaking indoors.
Kellington said that even if the system is installed successfully, he may try to sell the house and move.
<<<<<< A Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County. (Ralph Wilson/AP Photo)
by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica, March 30, 2011, 6:46 p.m.
Oil and gas inspectors policing Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania will no longer be able to issue violations to the drilling companies they regulate without first getting the approval of top officials.
That’s according to a directive laid out in a series of emails received by the Department of Environmental Protection staff last week and leaked to ProPublica. The emails  say  the new edict applies only to enforcement actions related to Marcellus Shale drilling and that failure to seek prior approval “will not be acceptable.”The memos require that each of the hundreds of enforcement actions taken routinely against oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania each month now be approved by the department’s executive deputy secretary, John Hines. The memos are raising concerns that the state’s environmental inspectors can no longer act independently and that regulations could be overridden by the political whims of the state’s new governor, Tom Corbett.
“What this apparently is saying is that before any final action, the inspector must get approval by two political appointees: the secretary and the deputy secretary,” said John Hanger, who headed the DEP until January under former Gov. Ed Rendell and worked to strengthen the state’s oil and gas regulations. “It’s an extraordinary directive. It represents a break from how business has been done in the department within the Marcellus Shale and within the oil and gas program for probably 20 years.
“It’s on its face really breathtaking and it is profoundly unwise. I would urge them to rethink and rescind.”
Corbett has made no secret of his support for drilling and has stated repeatedly that regulatory reforms can help spur job creation. Last month he gave C. Alan Walker, a former coal industry executive and longtime opponent of environmental regulations, authority to overwrite permitting decisions at the DEP in order to encourage economic development.
A spokeswoman for the DEP told ProPublica Wednesday that the initiative is not political, will not interfere with enforcement, and is intended to clear up confusion and inconsistency in the agency’s regional offices. The spokeswoman, Katy Gresh, said there is no connection between the DEP directive and Gov. Corbett’s economic initiatives.
“It isn’t meant to be an interference,” Gresh said. “It’s meant to be a benefit to our constituents and would quite frankly streamline operations.
“There are times that NOVs (violations) have been issued when there is a pop can lying on a site. Yet maybe other things are being missed, thing that are truly detrimental to the environment that we want to take action on.”
Hanger, however, says that DEP inspectors need to have breathing room to do their jobs and that forcing a senior review of their actions will only increase skepticism about their enforcement decisions.
“It will cause the public to lose confidence entirely in the inspection process. The oversight process must be professional and independent,” Hanger said. “Inserting this level of review means the secretary, if he is going to take this seriously, probably has no time to do anything else.
“I do not believe this is coming from John Hines,” Hanger continued. “This is an enormous change in policy and it’s impossible for something like this to be issued without the direction and knowledge of the governor’s office.”
“The governor’s office is not behind this,” she said. “The governor charged (DEP) secretary (Michael) Krancer with bringing about consistency in his agency. This was a decision made at DEP in order to affect positive change.”
<<<<<< Wells for extracting natural gas, like these in Colorado, are a growing source of energy but can also pose hazards. Photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times
By IAN URBINA Published: February 26, 2011
The American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new wells and drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this century’s gold rush — for natural gas.
The gas has always been there, of course, trapped deep underground in countless tiny bubbles, like frozen spills of seltzer water between thin layers of shale rock. But drilling companies have only in recent years developed techniques to unlock the enormous reserves, thought to be enough to supply the country with gas for heating buildings, generating electricity and powering vehicles for up to a hundred years.
So energy companies are clamoring to drill. And they are getting rare support from their usual sparring partners. Environmentalists say using natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil. Lawmakers hail the gas as a source of jobs. They also see it as a way to wean the United States from its dependency on other countries for oil.
But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.
With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.
While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.
Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.
The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.
But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.
In other words, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water taken in by all these plants is safe.
That has experts worried.
“We’re burning the furniture to heat the house,” said John H. Quigley, who left last month as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “In shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, we’re trying for cleaner air, but we’re producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste.”
The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000. The level of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water. While people clearly do not drink drilling wastewater, the reason to use the drinking-water standard for comparison is that there is no comprehensive federal standard for what constitutes safe levels of radioactivity in drilling wastewater.
Drillers trucked at least half of this waste to public sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2009, according to state officials. Some of it has been sent to other states, including New York and West Virginia.
Yet sewage treatment plant operators say they are far less capable of removing radioactive contaminants than most other toxic substances. Indeed, most of these facilities cannot remove enough of the radioactive material to meet federal drinking-water standards before discharging the wastewater into rivers, sometimes just miles upstream from drinking-water intake plants.
PITTSBURGH -- It's invisible to the naked eye, but caught on tape with a special infrared camera. A startling video shot by the government shows what nearby residents are breathing at a Marcellus Shale natural gas plant.
Team 4 investigative reporter Jim Parsons said that the tape has never before been released to the public. What follows is a transcript of Parsons' report.
----It has been great for the local economy. But there is still a raging debate over what impact the Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom may be having on our health.
Remember, the American Lung Association says the air particle pollution problem in our region already is one of the worst in the nation. Could this make it even worse? And what are regulators doing about it?
The tape tells the tale. This is video of a Marcellus Shale gas compressor station in Greene County. Not much to see.
But watch what happens when the camera switches over to infrared video. Now, suddenly, there is a lot to see: Plumes of unfiltered pollution wafting out of a tank and into the air.
Team 4 is the first to obtain this tape, shot last summer by regulators at the state Department of Environmental protection. The DEP says it doesn't know exactly what is being emitted in this video, but it does know it isn't just steam.
Nick Lazor, DEP: "That is some sort of hydrocarbon. Again, that is not quantitative, nor does it speciate. It just tells you, you have some sort of hydrocarbon."
In other words, pollution.
What the DEP video of the plant on top of this hill doesn't show is the proximity to nearby homes. At least a dozen of them within a couple of hundred yards, some of which you can see right along Route 21 down here. What do folks who live here have to say about the infrared video obtained by Team 4?
Kristen Judy: "It's incredible to think that's what we're breathing."
Pam Judy: "It is stunning to see, but knowing how we've been feeling for the past couple of years, it isn't surprising."
Pam and Kristen Judy say they've been getting headaches, sore throats and nose bleeds ever since this compressor station was built next door. DEP air monitoring in the Judy's yard last year found evidence of methane, benzene, toluene, acetone and 12 other compounds.
But the DEP's five-week study of air emissions at the Judy's house and 16 other locations in southwest Pennsylvania, "…did not indicate a potential for major air-related health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale's natural gas activities." The Judys disagree.
Pam Judy: "They're telling me this doesn't hurt me. I don't believe them. I don't believe them, I already know how sick we've been."
The DEP study also carries a disclaimer: "Due to the limited scope and duration of the sampling...the findings...do not represent a comprehensive study of emissions."
In an interview in October, then-DEP Secretary John Hanger admitted his agency needed to study the cumulative impact of dozens of compressor stations and thousands of wells in our area.
John Hanger, DEP: "The total numbers, once we get to 40,000 wells in this state, of air emissions, unless the industry uses the cleanest technology, will be a problem."
And here's one reason why, the federal government already classifies southwestern Pennsylvania as a non-attainment area for ozone and particle pollution. That means we've failed to meet federal goals for reducing the stuff that can lead to asthma and heart and lung disease.
Joe Osborne, GASP (Group Against Smog & Pollution): "We have an existing problem that we're working very hard and making some real progress at fixing, and here comes an industry that given the exact kinds of pollutants that they produce. It's perfectly designed to take an existing problem and make it worse."
by Nicholas Kusnetz ProPublica, Feb. 9, 2011, 2:32 p.m.
The EPA has proposed examining every aspect of hydraulic fracturing, from water withdrawals to waste disposal, according to a draft plan the agency released Tuesday. If the study goes forward as planned, it would be the most comprehensive investigation of whether the drilling technique risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.
The agency wants to look at the potential impacts on drinking water of each stage involved in hydraulic fracturing, where drillers mix water with chemicals and sand and inject the fluid into wells to release oil or natural gas. In addition to examining the actual injection, the study would look at withdrawals, the mixing of the chemicals, and wastewater management and disposal. The agency, under a mandate from Congress, will only look at the impact of these practices on drinking water.
The agency’s scientific advisory board  will review the draft plan on March 7-8 and will allow for public comments then. The EPA will consider any recommendations from the board and then begin the study promptly, it said in a news release . A preliminary report should be ready by the end of next year, the release said, with a full report expected in 2014.
A statement from the oil and gas industry group Energy in Depth gave a lukewarm assessment of the draft.
“Our guys are and will continue to be supportive of a study approach that’s based on the science, true to its original intent and scope,” the statement read. “But at first blush, this document doesn’t appear to definitively say whether it’s an approach EPA will ultimately take.”
The study, announced in March , comes amid rising public concern about the safety of fracking, as ProPublica has been reporting  for years. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports  around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008. In September 2010, the EPA warned residents of a Wyoming town  not to drink their well water and to use fans while showering to avoid the risk of explosion. Investigators found methane and other chemicals associated with drilling in the water, but they had not determined the cause of the contamination.
Drillers have been fracking wells for decades, but with the rise of horizontal drilling into unconventional formations like shale, they are injecting far more water and chemicals underground than ever before. The EPA proposal notes that 603 rigs were drilling horizontal wells in June 2010, more than twice as many as were operating a year earlier. Horizontal wells can require millions of gallons of water per well, a much greater volume than in conventional wells.
One point of contention is the breadth of the study. Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, said he understands the need to address any stage of the fracking that might affect drinking water, but he’s skeptical that water withdrawals meet the criteria.
“The only way you can argue that issues related to water demand are relevant to that question is if you believe the fracturing process requires such a high volume of water that its very execution threatens the general availability of the potable sources,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The EPA proposal estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually, or about the same amount used by one or two cities of 2.5 million people. In the Barnett Shale, in Texas, the agency estimates fracking for gas drilling consumes nearly 2 percent of all the water used in the area.
The EPA proposes using two or three “prospective” case studies to follow the course of drilling and fracking wells from beginning to end. It would also look at three to five places where drilling has reportedly contaminated water, including two potential sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and one site each in Texas, Colorado and North Dakota.
Feb 4: Anatomy of a Gas Well - What Happened When a Well Was Drilled in a National Forest
<<<<<<< From USDA Fernow Experimental Forest pipeline report: Foliar injury of trees damaged by aerial release of drilling ﬂuids on May 29, 2008, from the B800 well. Pit containing drilling ﬂuids is shown in the foreground. Photo taken June 11, 2008. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
by Nicholas Kusnetz ProPublica, Feb. 4, 2011, 3:51 p.m.
A new report  by the U.S. Forest Service offers one of the most detailed accounts yet of how natural gas drilling can affect a forest – in this case the Fernow Experimental Forest, deep in the mountains of West Virginia.
The report traces the construction and drilling of a single well and an accompanying pipeline on a sliver of the 4,700 acre forest that federal scientists have been studying for nearly 80 years. It found that the project felled or killed about 1,000 trees, damaged roads, eroded the land and—perhaps most important—permanently removed a small slice of the forest from future scientific research.
The report said the drilling didn’t appear to have a substantial effect on groundwater quality. The scientists did not monitor the forest’s most sensitive ecosystems, including extensive caves, and did not evaluate the operation’s impact on wildlife. The authors also did not test for any of the chemicals added to drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluids.
The report, and the well in question, hints at a larger story of the tensions that have emerged as drilling expands across federal lands in the eastern United States. The B800 well, as it’s called, drew controversy  within the Forest Service when it was planned and approved in 2007. In a letter  obtained by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, three Forest Service scientists criticized the decision to approve the well, saying it threatened endangered bats and the interconnected caves where they live. The scientists also said the well threatened the long-term research performed in the forest. The employees requested a legal opinion on the matter, but were reportedly rebuffed  by their superiors.
The report, whose authors include the three scientists who criticized the decision, notes that some of the scientists’ worst fears, including that turbid water would fill the area’s caves, did not occur. Instead, the greatest impacts of drilling were unexpected. A planned release of wastewater killed scores of trees, and drilling trucks proved much more damaging to the roads than normal logging traffic.
Tom Schuler, a forest researcher who signed the letter and worked on the new report, said it is one of the first published studies to observe the entire course of drilling and preparing a well for production.
“It really opened up this new area that’s very pertinent to what’s going on in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the whole northeast United States,” he said. “It opened up the sort of first chapter to that.”
The need for that research is great, Schuler said. Drilling in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, which hosts thousands of wells, has drawn concern  for years . In 2009 there were 73 active gas wells in the Monongahela National Forest, which contains the Fernow research area. A 2006 Forest Service report  said 75 percent of the total area of the forest may sit above a gas reservoir.
There have been other controversial leases in the Monongahela National Forest as well. Last year, the Bureau of Land Management cancelled plans  to lease land for gas development after environmental groups said drilling would threaten endangered bats, as well as local fisheries and water supplies.
In much of the East, national forests were created from privately owned land, and in many cases the mineral rights remained private. The result is a legal gray area. The documents unearthed by PEER include a legal memorandum  from an Interior Department solicitor saying that while the government cannot prevent a leaseholder from developing the gas, “the Forest Service may exercise its discretion in approving the location of structures on the surface to establish reasonable conditions and mitigation measures to protect federal surface resources, including endangered species.”
PEER brought attention  to this legal problem in 2009, saying the Forest Service was not prepared to handle mineral rights across 34 eastern states and, in the case of the Fernow gas well, avoided addressing the legal uncertainties.
“In the face of ambiguity, they just got out of the way,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, told ProPublica. Ruch said the documents PEER found showed that Forest Service administrators had more authority than they were ready to acknowledge.
The Fernow well is a vertical well and did not require the high volumes of hydraulic fracturing fluids that are commonly injected into the horizontal wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of West Virginia. The Fernow well was fracked, but with much less fluid.
According to the report, a well blowout  accidentally sprayed that fracking fluid onto surrounding land and trees, browning leaves and killing ground cover. After drilling was complete, Berry Energy, which owns the well, also sprayed some 80,000 gallons of wastewater into the forest. The briney liquid shocked about 150 trees into shedding their leaves. A year later, half of those trees still had no foliage. This disposal method, called land application, is legal in West Virginia with conventional wells, Schuler said, but is not allowed for wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale.
Schuler said the scientists were surprised that the trees lost their leaves. Drillers normally spray the waste over a larger area but the scientists asked Berry to contain the application, which meant spreading the salts and chemicals on a smaller piece of land. The soil in that area was left with high levels of chloride, calcium and sodium. Animals were attracted to the area, likely because of the high salt content of the soil.
Workers drill for natural gas in Hickory, Pa. The industry claims shale gas extraction is safe, but problems at wells in Quebec are worrying officials. Photograph by: Jeff Swensen, NYT
Official calls well leak 'very, very worrying'
By Kevin Dougherty, Montreal Gazette January 28, 2011
QUEBEC - An Environment Department official calls an uncontrolled gas leak at a shale gas well near St. Hyacinthe "very, very worrying," and fears the leak "could lead to contamination of underground water."
The well, operated by Calgary-based Canbriam Energy Quebec Partnership, is giving off methane gas that could threaten "the life, health, safety, well-being or comfort of human beings," the Environment Department says in a notice sent the company.
"We ask you to proceed immediately with the necessary corrections to stop these emissions," the notice adds. "As well, safety measures at the site should be established to ensure the protection of persons and property."
After Environment Minister Pierre Arcand said last week Quebec's budding shale-gas industry was "not in control of the situation," inspectors from his department issued infraction notices to Canbriam and to Talisman Energy Inc. for a leak at its Leclercville well.
Canbriam spokesperson Donna Phillips said from Calgary yesterday that there are no water wells near the La Présentation site and the amount of gas - 2.5 cubic metres a day - is "very small."
"There is absolutely no risk," Phillips said.
But Pierre Paquin, spokesperson for the Quebec Environment Department on shale gas, called the La Présentation leak "significant."
"For us, La Présentation is the most worrying now," Paquin said.
He explained that the gas, released after fracking operations to free the gas from shale rock formations, is escaping from deep in the ground. The gas is under so much pressure that it has found its own way to the surface. Paquin noted that the industry offers assurances that concrete and tubing installed as a well is drilled will prevent leaks. It also claims there can be no contamination of groundwater because the water is near the surface, while on average shale gas is found below 2,000 metres of impermeable rock.
"There is a problem of conception and a problem of a gas leak around the well in La Présentation," Paquin said. "The well is not leak-proof and the gas is rising to the surface."
The La Présentation leak cannot be compared with BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, Paquin said, but it shows that shale gas wells can leak. "If the natural gas in the ground spreads there is a potential danger that it could reach water wells and water pools as well," he said.
The environment department said in its infraction notice to Talisman, over the methane leak from its Leclercville well, that the remedial measures the company has proposed have not worked. It calls on the company to continue its work and states there is a potential risk of contamination of the water table.
"We asked Talisman to document the situation," Paquin said, noting the problem was first spotted in November.
"They explained to us there was a pressure problem, so there were major emissions."
The infraction notice calls on the companies to correct the problems.
Paquin said the department stepped up its inspections in October.
Before the two notices this week, the department issued four previous notices to Gastem, Canadian Forest Oil, with an additional two for Talisman due to problems at wells at Gentilly, near Trois-Rivières, and Ste. Gertrude, near Drummondville.
André Belisle, president of the Association Québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, said the infraction notices reinforce the position of his association that shale gas exploration should stop immediately.
Belisle said he would expect the Canbriam spokesperson to minimize the risk. "They always say there is no problem," he said.
Belisle said shale-gas drilling is going on around the world and is touted by its promoters as a less-polluting alternative to oil and coal, but the leaks are adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN (STAFF WRITER) Published: January 26, 2011
NORTH TOWANDA TOWNSHIP - As a result of the increased traffic on roads in the Towanda area, the number of traffic accidents last year on the "Golden Mile" in Wysox Township more than doubled, and the increased traffic congestion is delaying firefighters from getting to the scene of emergencies, two fire chiefs said Tuesday.
The increased number of motor vehicle accidents in the county and the breakdown of gas industry trucks are driving up the number of calls that area fire departments are responding to, North Towanda Fire Chief Terry Sheets said at a summit held Monday on traffic and road issues, which took place at Bradford County's 911 center.
Last year, for example, the North Towanda Fire Department last year responded to 197 calls, up from 134 the year before, Sheets said. And the Wysox Fire Department responded to over 200 calls last year, whereas it would on average respond to 130 in a year, Sheets said.
"I think every fire department in the county is taxed because of (the need for) manpower and the (delayed) response time because of the traffic," Sheets said.
The summit, which was organized on behalf of the Bradford County commissioners and the Bradford County Department of Emergency Services, was also attended by officials from the state police, the state Department of Transportation, several gas drilling companies, all three Bradford County commissioners, the Troy and Towanda police chiefs, the Wysox fire chief, and representatives from the Bradford County Emergency Services Department and Bradford-Susquehanna EMS Council.
Sheets said firefighters are being delayed as they try to get through congested traffic to their fire stations, where they transfer to fire trucks. "It's just about impossible to get through" U.S. Route 6 in Wysox Township (the Golden Mile) to get to local fire stations, Sheets said.
"People don't yield to the caution lights" on the firefighters' personal vehicles as they drive to the fire stations, Sheets said. "It's delaying the response time (to get to emergencies) because people can't get to the station in a timely manner," Sheets said.
The traffic congestion on Route 6 in Wysox Township between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and state Route 187 is so bad that "ninety percent of the time it takes 20 minutes to (drive) those two miles," Wysox Fire Chief Brett Keeney said. On that two-mile stretch of road, there were 120 motor vehicle accidents last year, up from the approximately 40 to 50 accidents a year that would normally occur on that section of Route 6, Keeney said. And he said the 120 accidents only represents the ones that the fire department was called out to. The fire department is not called out to minor accidents, such as rear-end collisions where no one is hurt and the vehicles involved can pull off the road, Keeney said. Keeney estimated that, in total, there are now over 200 accidents a year reported through 911 on that two-mile stretch of Route 6.
Bradford County Public Safety Director Gary Wilcox has said that the advent of the gas industry has resulted in a lot more vehicles on the roads in Bradford County. And with more vehicles on the road, there is an increased likelihood of accidents, he said.
Sheets said another problem is that firefighters "are being called out constantly for trucks being broken down." "We spend two, three, four hours doing traffic control for disabled, broken-down vehicles in the road," Sheets said. "Our people have lives, too," Sheets said. "We're being burdened to take care (of this)."
Still another problem is that firefighters are being called out because traffic on local roads is being impeded due to trucks that have run out of fuel. He said the problem is that the companies that own the trucks will only allow them to refuel once a night. The trucks "can sit there for two hours" while they wait for another truck to arrive on scene to refuel it. But state police Cpl. Roger Stipcak said that the state police could order the trucks towed immediately to clear the roadway, so that firefighters wouldn't have to wait for the refueling truck to arrive.
Bradford County Commissioner John Sullivan said he was concerned about the increased call volume that fire departments are experiencing because it is a burden for the volunteers in the fire departments. Eventually, he said, there are going to be volunteers who quit because they need to spend more time with their families or on their jobs, he said. "Whatever we can do to ease that callout volume is something we want to look at," Sullivan said.
<<<<<< Ed Bidlack stands by the vent pipe that releases high levels of methane from the water well he can no longer use. Every morning he says he pulls the pipe and puts his ear to the shaft to hear the bubbling below. Behind him is the buffalo tank that is refilled every week to keep his household supplied with water. Photo by Wes Skillings.
by Wes Skillings - 12/2/2010
Ed and Candy Bidlack made the biggest investment of their lives more than seven years ago when they built their dream house on the old Gooseneck road just off Route 2010 at the foot of Welles Mountain. Their wooded property includes a garage and office for Bidlack’s business, Ed’s Heating Company. The Bidlacks had rented for years until they built this place, and Bidlack remembers putting up with the sulfur in his drinking water there.
“After we drilled our well here and I took my first sip of water, I couldn’t believe how good it tasted,” he recounts, his face brightening at the memory.
That all changed a little over a month ago when Bidlack drew some water from a spigot in his house and, in his words, “It was fizzing and foaming like Alka-Seltzer.” By the next day, it was dirty and discolored. “I had no idea what was going on,” he recalls, noting that he changed the filter, but it didn’t make any difference. A few days later he wasn’t getting any water at all. The pump was history, kaput, apparently due to the muddied water it was struggling to extract from his well.
It happened almost a month to the day after some property owners along the river in Sugar Run reported methane bubbling at several locations along the banks there, with subsequent testing revealing its presence in well water supplies. Bidlack went to one of those neighbors, Don Pickett, who now had a buffalo tank and a vent to draw methane out of his well. He told Bidlack that a representative of Chesapeake Energy was coming around that day and he’d send him over.
Loaded with Gas
Chesapeake, through a contractor, Amec, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) both checked out Bidlack’s once pristine well water and it was loaded with gas—methane gas, that is.
It wasn’t long before Bidlack had his own 1,100-gallon buffalo tank and a vent out of his well. At least once a week, usually twice, a milk tanker, bringing water from Canton Borough, stops to fill the buffalo tank sitting at the corner of his house. They don’t drink that, but use a water dispenser and bottled water, again compliments of Chesapeake, for that purpose. The buffalo tanks take care of the flushing toilets, washing in the sinks, taking showers, washing dishes and doing the laundry. The Bidlacks say they use about 400 gallons a week, and there are no more hoses and pressure washings for vehicles and equipment.
The pump that used to be in the well is no longer needed there. Now one sits in the basement under their bedroom to pump the water in from the tank, which took some getting used to. Not long after the buffalo tank was brought in, Ed went to use the dishwater and it froze up on him.
“It was like everything was falling apart,” he said of those first couple of weeks starting in late October.
Bidlack hasn’t heard from anyone in weeks, though Chesapeake was very pro-active, initially, he says, and he remembers being told by one of them that “all you need to do is make a phone call and Chesapeake will take care of you.” He’s got some numbers to call if he needs something or in case of an emergency, for both Chesapeake and DEP. He hasn’t heard from either.
“You’d think they’d just touch base with you once in a while to show they’re interested,” he says as we stand on his well-manicured lawn nestled in the woods. What looks like a towering lawn ornament with a revolving metallic top is a vent pipe from the well that will probably never be used again. It draws the methane out of the well, and you can actually hear the bubbling if you put your ear to the shaft. Every morning Bidlack takes out the vent pipe and listens. It never stops. Sometimes, he says, it hisses as if the water has fallen below where the gas is emerging. The water table has gone crazy, too, he says, because that 300 feet of well has always had a reservoir of about 75 feet of water. Lately, it has been a lot higher, an estimated 225 feet, or less than 100 feet from ground level the last time they pulled the 30-foot sections of pipe.
He happened to learn they were installing heating devices and insulating buffalo tanks nearby. The last thing he needed was for the water to freeze when winter arrived. He called one of the numbers.
“The fellow stopped by and apologized for forgetting about me,” he says.
Amec, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, monitors the methane every day. Bidlack isn’t sure if they are hoping it will go away and they can give him his well back, or they’re making sure the methane levels don’t get so high it will become explosive. He’s not sure where to go from here or what they’ll do.
One time, DEP and Chesapeake agreed to pull the broken-down pump out of the well, because they couldn’t test the water if they couldn’t get it out of there.
“All of a sudden the Amec guy pulls up and says, ‘Don’t pull it,’” Bidlack recalls. “He says you don’t realize the volume of gas coming out of that well. One spark could set it off.”
He finally agreed, after checking with someone from Chesapeake, that they could do it. Just be careful, he cautioned.
“It was really scary,” says Bidlack, who concedes that this is always on his mind. There doesn’t seem to be any resolve, and he’s not getting any useful advice.
Up the road and over the hill, some homeowners on Paradise Road have gone through all of this and more. They’ve got the buffalo tanks, vents and, in one case, a methane separator system in the basement. New wells were drilled, but they are reportedly just as contaminated as their predecessors. Those buffalo tanks aren’t such a rare sight anymore in Terry and Wilmot Townships.
Ed Bidlack is mostly worried about the future. This place is an investment, and he is afraid its worth will dissolve. They built it all from scratch, thinking in 20 years or so, when he was ready to retire, it would be like money in the bank.
“I’m looking around, up on Paradise Road and down in Sugar Run, and I’m wondering if anyone will want to live here.”
A temporary moratorium on natural gas drilling in New York is headed to the governor's desk.
The drilling moratorium bill wasn't on the agenda Monday in a special session called by Governor David Paterson, but after that meeting wrapped up, the Assembly opened a regular session to vote on it.
The State Senate passed the moratorium in August, so it now heads to Paterson for a signature.
The moratorium puts a hold on hydraulic fracturing until May. The idea is to give the state more time to understand the impacts of hydro-fracturing.
But Assemblyman Cliff Crouch says many of his constituents do want drilling to move forward. "We have an opportunity here with an energy source that's relatively clean. It's a fossil fuel, but it's still relatively clean, and done correctly, can do a good job for New York State at creating jobs," says Crouch.
The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York estimates that New York State itself could make $1 million every year issuing drilling permits.
Drilling supporters also say inviting gas companies to the area would invite 5,000 jobs.
Nov 18: Broome County Legislature rejects Inflection's $7.8M gas offer
<<<<< From left, Binghamton University students Bobby DeMarinis, Garrett, and Marguerite Christine protest before the Broome County Legislature meeting Thursday. Garrett did not wish to give his last name because "gas companies are shady," he said. (JON CAMPBELL / Staff Photo)
A $7.8 million lease offer for the natural gas rights to thousands of acres of Broome County land was overwhelming rejected Thursday night by the Broome County Legislature.
In a decision that was expected to be much closer, Broome lawmakers voted 10-3 to defeat a resolution that would have allowed the county to lease 3,200 acres of gas rights to Inflection Energy, a startup natural gas company based in Denver. The legislature also defeated a separate resolution that would have allowed the county to conduct a state-mandated environmental review on a "generic" lease rather than each individual offer.
This was the second time in four months that an offer from Inflection has been rebuked by the county.
"I really think we need to wait for the (state Department of Environmental Conservation) to come out with the regulations for drilling," said Jerry Marinich, R-Town of Chenango. "I'm going to wait for the scientists to tell me this is OK, not the lawyers."
Marinich was among the majority of legislators to vote the deal down. Mark Whalen, D-Binghamton; Gene LaBare, D-Endicott; and Suzann Butcha, D-Johnson City were the only legislators in favor of the deal. Binghamton Democrat Joseph Merrill and Wayne Howard, a Port Crane Republican, were absent, while four others were forced to recuse themselves because of ties to landowners coalitions.
The offer would have paid the county $7.8 million up front, and 20 percent royalties on any gas produced, minus a share of post-production costs. It included an option to extend the offer for the same terms after five years.
"We weren't voting on whether or not to drill," LaBare said. "That's not up to us; that's on the DEC. I just want to make sure that Broome County taxpayers get a cut of the pie, that's why I voted for it."
Drilling in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale is effectively on hold as the DEC reviews its permitting regulations.
Inflection's offer was backed by County Executive Barbara J. Fiala, who is a drilling supporter and has pointed to the economic relief the deal could have provided.
"Next year and the 2012 budget are going to be devastating as we continue to climb out of this deep economic hole," Fiala said in a prepared statement. "This lease would have brought some much needed financial support as we continue to try to recover."
The thumbs down ended two months of debate on the lease offer, which was held over from the legislature's October session. Wednesday, Inflection extended the offer until Dec. 17 to give lawmakers the opportunity to push back the vote another month, but a motion to table the resolution failed by a single vote.
Marchie Diffendorf, a Republican from Kirkwood, ignored a request from the legislature chairman and county attorney to refrain from discussing the offer on the floor. Diffendorf, the head of the Kirkwood Gas Coalition, urged his colleagues to wait until local landowner's coalitions begin signing deals before the county considers one of its own.
"You can add this to my list of ethics charges," he said.
Inflection CEO Mark Sexton did not return a call for comment. J. Scott Zimmerman, the company's vice president, would not speculate Wednesday if Inflection would make a third offer.
Prior to the meeting, about 100 people gathered outside the Broome County Office Building, holding anti-drilling signs and urging legislators to vote "No." Many of them crowded inside the legislative chambers once the meeting was underway, though a dozen or so were turned away once the room was at capacity.
"I'm delighted," New York Residents Against Drilling board member Karen Glauber said after the meeting. "I'm touched and hopeful that people are starting to think about the specifics of what will happen to our community, and all of us will continue to work as a team with the legislators."
In a separate vote, a resolution that would have allowed the county to lead an environmental review required with signing a lease was defeated. The resolution, which was criticized for having too narrow of a scope, had seven voting for it and six against, but did not receive a majority of 10.
Those voting for the resolution were LaBare, Whalen, Buchta, Richard Materese, Joseph Sanfilippo, Donald Moran, and Barry Klipsch. Mario Nirchi, Matthew Pasquale, Jason Garnar, John Hutchings, Daniel D. Reynolds and Marinich voted against it.
School is usually a place where children go to learn. But in some Texas districts, school is also a place children go to get sick.
Several schools—located on a figurative gold mine over the gas-rich Barnett shale formation—are accepting money from drilling companies itching to tap deposits beneath and around their land (hat tip: Environmental Working Group). In one case, in return for leases that allow Hillwood and Williams Production to drill exploratory gas wells around Texas's Argyle High School, the district has already received $680,000 in payments.
But while that money may be used to pay teachers' salaries and run down a district deficit, the payoff for students is far less clear.
Since drilling recently began recently, kids have reported suffering asthma, nosebleeds, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and noxious smells, according to The Denton Record-Chronicle. The article focuses on one family that relocated to Argyle to escape pollution from oil refineries. Now, 15 years later, their daughter is back in harms way—twice she was forced to leave marching band practice because the field had filled with fumes.
A local activist organization, the Argyle-Bartonville Communities Alliance, has organized in the last year to collect health data and raise awareness in the parent community. The drilling of dozens more gas wells is already set to proceed on two sites within a half-mile of not only the high school but also the intermediate school and—getting them while they're young—the elementary school as well.
Argyle, of course, isn't the only community or school district experiencing the health effects of drilling in Texas or, for that matter, in Pennsylvania or Wyoming, or other states where the shale gas boom has marched forward largely unchecked. The Alliance cites a study by Cook Children's Hospital that found that 25 percent of children in the North Texas Barnett shale area suffer from asthma, compared with 7 percent in the rest of the state.
Already, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has responded to complaints by taking air samples, but the results are still "pending." Previously, natural gas production in North Texas has been linked to volatile air emissions that include benzene, toluene and formaldehyde.
In Argyle, the parents know the school can no longer stop the drilling. All permits have been approved and documents signed. What the school board can do is make sure to make sure TCEQ is aware of every single cough and every single dizziness attack on the site. It can also make sure it takes emergency precautions and informs parents of the risks. According to The Denton Record-Chronicle article, the Argyle school board president said she "listened very intently" to a recent parents presentation, but declined to make any public statements about these kids getting sick.
Help from the higher authorities has been slow to come. EPA is working on new oil and gas regulations, but that will come way too late for the kids at Argyle High. TCEQ, the state agency, meanwhile, is notorious for its lax approach to environmental regulation.
<<<<<< This marked the second time a runaway truck has ended up in Camptown residents Rich and Hope Minyon's front yard. They live along Route 409. Photo by David Keeler
Camptown residents Rich and Hope Minyon are starting to feel like they’re part of a demolition derby. Last summer a truck carrying gas exploration equipment flipped over in their front yard just missing their home. And it happened again around 8:30 tonight when a runaway water tanker flipped upside down outside their house. The Minyons live at the bottom of a steep hill on Route 409 near the intersection with Brewer Hollow Road.
“I called PennDOT just three days ago and told them they need to get these trucks off 409 and back onto Route 6 Minyon said. “This hill is too steep and too dangerous for these trucks.”
Meshoppen Transport owns the water tanker. The driver who has not yet been identified was injured but somehow survived. Sources at the scene said his injuries appeared not to be life threatening. He was transported by ambulance for medical attention. The truck appeared to be totaled.
“I could smell his brakes and I knew he was in trouble,” Brian Kerperien of Spring Hill said. Kerperien, who himself manages a fleet of trucks and has been in the business over 20 years, was following the doomed water tanker down Route 409 when he watched it start to pick up speed about a mile from the crash site. “I knew he was on a ride,” Kerperien said.
Before ending up in Minyon’s yard the truck flipped on its side, slid down the roadway, took out a long section of guardrails and flattened small trees before careening over a small embankment in front of Minyon’s house.
“I was afraid the truck was going to catch on fire,” Kerperien said. “So I pulled the driver out of the truck. He was trapped inside. He was dazed but seemed okay.”
Linda Talbert of Elk Lake said she was also following the truck into Camptown. “He was riding his brakes down the hill and I could smell them,” she said. “He just kept going faster.” Talbert said she could hear the sound of the crash when the truck flipped over.
Minyon said the crash pushed a tree through the side of his home, broke windows and knocked out power, but he and his wife were unharmed. “I’m not sure what sort of damage we’ll find in the morning,” he said.
“I knew what it was as soon as I heard the sound,” Minyon said. “I ran to the other side of the house.”
It was last June that a truck carrying a forklift on a trailer ran onto Minyon’s yard and flipped over. The driver said he was forced off the road by a water tanker headed in the opposite direction. Kerperien said the tractor-trailer he watched crash was probably carrying about 80,000 pounds of water.
“My biggest fear was the next truck coming down the hill,” Kerperien said. “I was worried that the next truck down the hill was going to slam into this one.”
Oct 29: State orders partial shutdown of gas drilling
Two firms lacked permits for collecting water from nearby streams to be used in drilling.
MARTHA RAFFAELE Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania environmental officials ordered a partial shutdown Friday of natural gas drilling operations by two companies in the state’s northcentral region, saying they lacked permits for collecting water from nearby streams to be used in the drilling.
Neither Range Resources-Appalachia nor Chief Oil & Gas took steps to ensure the streams would be protected from pollution or other harm before conducting exploratory drilling at two sites in Lycoming County, said Robert Yowell, director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s northcentral regional office.
“We need to ensure that bodies of water involved ... are protected for the residents of Lycoming County and the entire Susquehanna (River) watershed,” Yowell said in a statement.
The two companies are exploring for gas below the Marcellus Shale, a layer of rock about 6,000 feet down that extends from western New York, across Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio and parts of West Virginia.
As part of their work, they have been diverting tens of thousands of gallons of water daily from streams into storage areas, Yowell said. That water is used in a drilling process where fissures are blasted into the rock formation with pressurized water and sand to release trapped gas into a well.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission also issued cease-and-desist orders against the companies Friday for collecting stream water without the commission’s approval.
Both companies said they planned to meet with the DEP and the commission next week to discuss how to resolve the dispute.
“We realize that this type of natural gas drilling is new to the Commonwealth and we will continue to work with all the regulatory agencies and the local authorities to find the balance needed to develop the natural resources underground,” Kristi Gittins, spokeswoman for Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas, said in a statement.
Range Resources-Appalachia officials believed they did not need a permit to withdraw water from Big Sandy Run Creek in Cogan House Township, said Rodney Lawler, a spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based parent company Range Resources. The company is continuing its operations using an alternative water source, Lawler said.
“Lycoming County is an area in which very little drilling has been historically done,” Lawler said. “We’re all working to clearly understand what are the rules in different jurisdictions.”
A spokeswoman for Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.
The DEP is closely monitoring gas companies’ compliance with environmental regulations as interest in natural gas drilling has grown in Pennsylvania, agency spokesman Neil Weaver said. The department issued more than 7,200 gas drilling permits last year, and more than 2,500 have been issued so far this year, he said.
“We have very specific and very strict guidelines as far as environmental integrity and water resources, and we are not willing to bend on those for anyone,” Weaver said. “That being said, this is something that’s new. ... We’re hoping this is not an issue, that (the companies) understand what can and cannot be done.”
Oct 28: Shale gas - Abundance or mirage? Why the Marcellus Shale will disappoint expectations
Shale gas plays in the United States are commercial failures and shareholders in public exploration and production (E&P) companies are the losers. This conclusion falls out of a detailed evaluation of shale-dominated company financial statements and individual well decline curve analyses. Operators have maintained the illusion of success through production and reserve growth subsidized by debt with a corresponding destruction of shareholder equity. Many believe that the high initial rates and cumulative production of shale plays prove their success. What they miss is that production decline rates are so high that, without continuous drilling, overall production would plummet. There is no doubt that the shale gas resource is very large. The concern is that much of it is non-commercial even at price levels that are considerably higher than they are today.
Recent revisions to SEC rules have allowed producers to book undeveloped reserves that questionably justify development costs based on their own projections in public filings. New reserves are being booked at the same time that billions of dollars in existing shale gas development costs are being written down because the projects are not commercial. Concerns about the logic of ongoing gas-directed drilling while prices collapse have been partly diffused by a shift to liquids-rich plays like the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. These new ventures, however, produce significant volumes of gas which is partly why gas prices continue to fall.
Shale Company Cost, Debt and Undeveloped Reserves
Shale gas operators have consistently told investors that their projects are profitable at sub-$5/Mcf (thousand cubic feet) natural gas prices. Yet company 10-K SEC filings show that this is untrue. They have invented a new calculus of partial-cycle economics that excludes major capital draws for land costs, interest expense and overhead. They justify these disclosure practices because excluded costs are either sunk or fixed and, therefore, supposedly should not affect their decisions to drill. Their point-forward plans are made at shareholder expense since the dollars spent were very real at the time, and their costs cannot be charged to a profit center other than the wells that they drill and produce.
A multi-year evaluation of production costs for ten shale operators indicates a $7.00/Mcf average break-even cost for shale gas plays in the U.S. taking hedging into account (Figure 1). In other words, shale gas plays are not low-cost but comparable to conventional and other non-conventional projects. Despite claims to the contrary, the gas-price environment has been favorable over this period, in part because of hedging, and poor performance cannot be blamed on price. Over-production has changed this dynamic and hedging will not benefit operators in the second half of 2010 or in 2011, and possibly not for several years forward. This emerging trend will test the shale gas business model and show that it is unsustainable. The same ten companies that we evaluated have cumulative debt of more than $30 billion of which three have combined debt of more than $20 billion.
U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey said he hopes to draw a clear line between his stance on slickwater hydraulic fracturing and that of his opponent, George Phillips, in the race for the 22nd Congressional District.
Hinchey on Wednesday joined more than 10,000 others in signing a letter urging Gov. David Paterson to withdraw a draft environmental impact statement on oil and gas drilling in the state. Hinchey signed the letter, drafted by local environmental activist and president of Ithaca company Toxics Targeting Walter Hang, at an event on The Commons.
Hang said he was glad to see Hinchey join the coalition of residents who signed the letter.
"We can't regulate this activity until the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) is fixed," he said.
Hang said it's been a long fight to get to 10,000 signatures, and especially to get local politicians to sign on.
"I think when they saw (recently fired DEC Commissioner) Pete Grannis get sacked it really had an effect," he said. Grannis was fired over a leaked memo, which he said he did not leak, that was critical of impending layoffs in the department. The letter also urged the governor not to cut DEC staff or pollution control programs further.
Phillips has expressed opposition to Hinchey's plan to federally regulate the industry under the Clean Drinking Water Act, from which drillers are now exempt. He has touted the economic potential of natural gas development and said he doesn't have many concerns about the process.
Hinchey said Wednesday he will continue to push for strict environmental regulations before hydrofracking is permitted in New York.
"After the massive oil spill in the Gulf, which wrecked that local economy and caused irreparable harm to the environment, we just can't afford to move forward with reckless, unsafe drilling just because the drillers say it will be safe," Hinchey said.
"Let's not make New York another example of what happens when we let the 'Drill, baby, drill' crowd run roughshod over the environment," he said.
Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 8:09 PM by Casey Seiler
ALBANY -- Pete Grannis, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation since 2007, was fired Thursday by Gov. David Paterson. A state source said it was due to “poor performance and insubordination.”
A front-page story in Tuesday’s Times Union described one likely cause: the leak of a memo sent by DEC to the Budget Division that laid out in stark terms the possible consequences of the planned layoffs of more than 200 agency employees.
The unsigned, undated memo warned that fewer polluted sites would be cleaned up, fewer regulators would be available to oversee the potential natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale, and stocking of game fish could halt.
In order to avoid cuts to programs that protect human health or address immediate environmental damage, the memo suggests the most logical places for deep cuts would be outdoor recreation and sports — including skiing, fishing, hunting, camping and hiking.
“Many of our programs are hanging by a thread. The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas,” the memo stated. “DEC is in the weakest position that it has been since it was created 40 years ago.”
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook confirmed the dismissal but would not comment. DEC spokesman Yancey Roy also declined comment.
A long-serving former Assembly member from Manhattan, Grannis was appointed to the top job in DEC by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007. Grannis’ bio on the DEC’s website notes that he began his career in public service at the agency in the early 1970s, when he worked as a compliance counsel.
Update: In an interview Thursday night with TU environmental reporter Brian Nearing — who wrote the article on the leaked memo — Grannis said that Larry Schwartz, the governor’s top aide, called him about 4 p.m. Wednesday to demand his resignation over the memo becoming public.
”Here I am being called on the carpet for doing what we were supposed to do, for being asked to tell the administration what the cuts they want meant,” Grannis said. “Apparently facts don’t sit well with this administration.”
Grannis protested that the memo was not leaked with his knowledge, and left two telephone messages with Paterson, one Wednesday evening and another Thursday morning, seeking a chance to make his case. “Larry Schwartz said the governor would not talk to me,” Grannis said.
Calling Schwartz a “hatchet man” and a “thug,” Grannis released a harsh email exchange between himself and Schwartz during Wednesday and Thursday.
In one email, Schwartz wrote, “Avoiding me is not going to change the outcome. Either you cooperate with regards to your resignation or a release will go out saying you have resigned by the end of the day. All the calls that you are having people make is not going to change the decision. You can either do this in a cooperative fashion or a hostile fashion. That is up to you.”
Schwartz followed that with an email that stated, “It’s unfortunate that you have not contacted me tonight as we discussed in my office earlier today. This is to remind you that you are not to report to work tomorrow. If I don’t hear back from you by 10am tomorrow a press release will go out without your input. Failure to comply with this request and what I discussed with you today will result in your immediate termination tomorrow morning and the press release will reflect that.”
Grannis countered on Thursday:
In response to your ultimatums (set forth below), I will not resign from my position. As you know, I would have liked to discuss this with Governor Paterson directly, and was surprised that you would not permit me to speak with him. Your suggestion that I am being fired because a memo outlining the consequences of further cuts to DEC (which I was asked to provide), leaked to the press, is absurd. I’m not concerned about the threat in your note that this will move forward in a “hostile fashion.”
Grannis said Schwartz was using him “as a very convenient excuse” after a number of environmental groups and others began calling Paterson’s office after the layoff memo became public. He said he was not sure what he was going to do next, but he did note that because he was fired, that state ethics laws prohibiting his appearance before agencies that he was involved with as DEC commission would not apply.
Big Flats, N.Y. - A Southern Tier neighborhood hasn't been able to drink their well water for a month after methane was found in it. The problems arose just a couple of weeks after a nearby drilling site had capped their well. But Department of Environmental Conservation officials says there's no reason to go blaming the gas company yet.
When one of those neighbors, Joe Todd, puts a flame near his water, it bursts into flames. He says he discovered he had methane in his water after his washer wasn't working properly. He noticed grimy water and heard a bubbling sound, like Alka-Seltzer.
“I’ve been here 22 years. I’ve never had any issues like this before. If I had those issues when I walked in their house, like that, I would never have bought the house,” said Todd.
Todd isn't alone. He says in mid-September, nine other homes, on four streets near him in Big Flats, have been experiencing the same issues that he has. D.E.C. officials say they are investigating the neighborhood's water supply. They say the issues could be coming from a drilling site not too far from the neighborhood, or they say, it could just be natural causes.
To help alleviate the problem Todd has been buying bottled water, going to the laundry mat, and has inserted a filter.
“It’s supposed to last three months but I’m getting 2 days worth out of it. I have to wash them out and it gets pricey,” said Todd.
All of these homes use wells for their water. But if the problem doesn't go away, that might change. Todd is working with the town of big flats, to get the neighborhood on municipal water. In order to do so big flats officials say the majority of neighbors need to sign a petition. The town would then come up with a plan. But the neighbors would have to foot the bill. It’s a price Todd says he's willing to pay.
“Yes it would, it would be worth it. Look what I’m paying now to have work on my well, bottled water,” said Todd.
The D.E.C. tested the water. They’re waiting for the results to come back. The near-by drill site is operated by Anschutz Exploration Corporation. We tried to reach them for a comment. But our phone calls weren't returned.
October 17, 2010 - By CASEY JUNKINS CAMERON - When Jeremiah Magers moved his family into a new home along Fish Creek in Marshall County last year, he had no idea his drinking water well would soon be contaminated by methane. Magers now believes the methane in his well - in addition to some gas found bubbling up in the stream - has been released because of Marcellus Shale natural gas activity at a nearby Chesapeake Energy drilling site.
"As soon as they 'fracked' those gas wells, that's when my water well started getting gas in it," Magers said regarding the process of hydraulic fracturing that drillers use to break the underground rocks to release the natural gas. Amid confirmed reports of drilling-related explosions, fires and gas leaks throughout Marshall County during the past few months, Magers now believes fracturing is responsible for making his water well useless.
"It is about 1,200 feet from their gas wells to my water well," he said. "I am right across the creek from that drilling site. ... I first noticed it when we ran out of water. When I looked down the well, I could see the bubbling." In addition to plugging up his water well, Magers said the methane can sometimes be seen bubbling up in the creek. He made a video of the bubbling, while also holding a flame against portions of the creek bank to check for flaring.
"Somebody's got to do something about this," he said. Magers said he called the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas to investigate the problem. Office Chief James Martin said his department has investigated Magers' problems. "We have been to his residence. Comparisons were made between different water samples," Martin said, noting he cannot yet pinpoint the cause of the methane release. Faced with these continuing problems, Magers hired Moundsville attorney Eric Gordon, who then employed an Elkins, W.Va., firm by the name of EEI Geophysical Earth Science Consultants to investigate his environment.
Magers said an oil and gas official told him the release of the methane was probably due to coal mining that had taken place in the area. However, the report compiled and signed by EEI Adjuster John Hempel notes that it is, "unlikely that the mining taking place 3,500 feet from the emission point has in any way caused the migration, or the generation of the gas being emitted from the Magers' water well."
"The contamination of the Magers' well may come directly from the production of the oil and gas around the home," Hempel's assessment continues. "It is also unlikely that mining could have caused the bubbling up of methane in Fish Creek ... ," Hempel's report adds. On the final page of the report, Hempel wrote, "It is likely that the cause of the gas venting at this home originates either with the new oil and gas drilling around the home, or from gas escaping from the Columbia Gas storage field." A Columbia official was unable to comment regarding the potential of the gas being released from the field last week.
Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating Chesapeake for reports of bubbling water on the Susquehanna River. However, the wells suspected of leaking the methane had not been fractured before the gas seeped into the water, leading officials to believe the methane is seeping from a more shallow level of ground. Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak, responding via e-mail, noted Chesapeake has addressed the issues at Magers' property. "Chesapeake collected water samples from Jeremiah Magers' water source more than a year ago. We let him know that dissolved methane gas was detected in his water sample, and that methane gas may be generated from various sources," Brodak said.
Magers said Chesapeake supplied him with free water from June to August last year when the company was evaluating the methane problem. "They gave us the free water for a while, but then pulled the tank. Now, I have to buy water and put it in a cistern," he said. Brodak said Chesapeake withdrew their water supply from Magers' home because, "Our test results, from a third-party lab, indicated that the methane present the water sample did not match the gas from our oil and gas operations."
At this point, Magers wants Chesapeake to help restore his drinking water well, but Brodak denies her company is at fault for his water problems. "I just want them to fix what they screwed up - all I want is a new water well," he said.
Magers also addressed a problem that he and many other surface property owners in Marshall and Wetzel counties are having. He said because they do not own the mineral rights, the natural gas drilling does nothing for them. Dave McMahon, co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization, previously said drillers can do anything "fairly necessary" to extract the minerals, regardless of the surface owners' wishes. This means while some folks are earning up to $3,600 per leased acre with as much as 18.75 percent of production royalties, residents like Magers are out of luck.
"We aren't getting a thing out of this because we don't own the mineral rights. We just get the headaches from it," he said of the natural gas activity.
Oct 16: Third party gubernatorial candidates push for ban on hydraulic fracturing
While no major party gubernatorial candidates in either state have carried the banner for a hydraulic fracturing moratorium, both New York and Pennsylvania have fringe candidates who have made the fight against the natural gas drilling technique one of their top priorities.
New York Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, a Syracuse resident and former Marine, is advocating for a permanent ban on hydrofracking.
"Some of the environmental groups and the industry itself say natural gas is the bridge to the future," Hawkins said. "I think that bridge is out and I think that road goes right over a cliff."
Hawkins, who previously has run for U.S. Senate and mayor of Syracuse, said the state should be investing resources in renewable energy, and that he has a "science-based, 10-year timeline" to convert the state to carbon-free energy.
In Pennsylvania, a woman who received a leaked Homeland Security report that showed the state department was tracking anti-fracking groups has since launched a write-in campaign for governor. Virginia Cody, a former Air Force captain from Wyoming County, said she wants to see a timeout on all natural gas extraction until an extensive, peer-reviewed study proves it is safe.
"There isn't a single peer-reviewed, scientific study done on this process in the Marcellus Shale that says it is safe," said Cody, a registered Republican. "There's nothing that says it isn't safe, either, but there are an awful lot of problems in the way things have been carried out."
While both candidates said they are in it to win, both said they look at their campaigns as a way to spread a message that may otherwise be ignored.
"We're trying to change the debate to things on the table that are not being discussed, like a stock transfer tax and a ban on hydrofracking," Hawkins said. "We want to become central to the narrative of New York politics, not a sidebar. Win or lose, we're going to be pushing our program."
We need energy -- but not at the cost of clean water Essay - October 12, 2010 by Louis Meeks My wife, Donna, and I have lived for 32 years on our ranch in Pavillion, Wyo., a lush agricultural area surrounded by the Wind River and Owl Creek mountains. In this dry region, we’re lucky to have an irrigation district that delivers clean water from the Wind River to the several hundred farmers and ranchers in the area.
We’ve worked hard to develop this place, raise our two kids and tend to our cattle and horses. I’m a Vietnam vet and Donna works in our local school district. At this stage in life, I thought I’d have time to enjoy our 4-year-old granddaughter as she learns how to ride a horse like her granddad does. Instead, I’m watching everything we’ve worked for poisoned by the oil and gas industry. I’m even reluctant to have my grandchild visit because of the chemical contamination in our water, soil and air.
We’ve lived around natural gas development in Pavillion since 1998. But 10 years ago, the drilling ramped way up to 100 or more wells, one large compressor plant and a smaller one. That same year, our neighbors began having problems with their water wells. Not long after Encana, a natural gas company from Canada, drilled a gas well near my neighbor's house, his water well began to produce black, nasty water that smelled and tasted like gas. My neighbors talked to Encana and got help to install a reverse osmosis system to treat their water.
In 2004, Encana drilled a well about 500 feet from my house and even closer to my drinking water well. In the past, we always had clean, fresh water, but soon our water began to taste and smell like gas and the well began producing less water. Encana agreed to test the water and chlorinate it, and during testing the company hauled water into a cistern for us.
About seven months later, I decided to drill a new well since I was pretty sure the old one was contaminated. While drilling the new well, we hit gas, our new water well blew out and we were forced to evacuate our home. The state Homeland Security force and local firefighters closed off all roads to our home until we could get the gas contained without igniting it. You could hear and smell the plume, blowing 30 feet high under tremendous pressure. Encana cemented the well shut, and it was three days before we could return home.
We continued to haul in drinking water, only using the well water for household use and showering. It was during this time that we started having strange symptoms -- our mouths were dry and Donna’s eyes kept stinging.
We had a hydrogeologist and drilling experts come out. They told us hydraulic fracturing had caused methane to migrate and collect underground. That meant that the fracturing chemicals were also moving around.
At first, Encana worked with us, but the more questions we asked -- about what the "non-detect" levels really meant and what the extent really was of the contamination in our community -- the more they treated us like backward troublemakers: "Don’t you want the country to be able to produce energy?" "Do you want to live naked in a tree and eat nuts without any modern conveniences?"
At least eight of my neighbors have problems with their water, and now, Encana has admitted to the state that there is water contamination from three pits that were dug on their well sites. But I’m overwhelmed at the imbalance of power between ordinary citizens and the gas companies. We have formed a community group, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, because we want to ensure that our decision-makers strengthen and enforce the laws that are supposed to protect us.
The Environmental Protection Agency warns people in Pavillion not to drink from their water wells once tests find fracturing chemicals. That is hardly enough. We need our regulators and elected officials to conduct air monitoring and provide blood and urine testing for people who have already become sick. A community health survey found that 94 percent of the folks surveyed reported health problems that most likely can be attributed to these fracturing chemicals.
Encana needs to get the gas out, but the company has an obligation to do it right. We need to protect the people and the water for future generations. The energy industry has made such a mess that Wyoming may never be able to clean it up. Yes, we need energy to live good lives. But we can’t survive a day without clean water. Can you?
Louis Meeks is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Pavillion, Wyoming.
PAVILLION, Wyo. – The residents of Pavillion, a rural community on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming have been told by federal agencies not to drink their water and to use fans and ventilation while bathing or washing clothes to avoid the risk of explosion.
The warnings came in early September after a second set of testing and analysis by Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, metals, naphthalene, phenols, methane and other contaminants in groundwater and in area wells. “It’s a concern,” said Mitchel Cottenoir, acting tribal water engineer for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, whose tribal government in Fort Washakie is some 30 miles from Pavillion. “The Tribal Water Quality Commission is looking into it and is working closely with the EPA.”
Many of Pavillion’s residents blame hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique used for nearly all of today’s natural gas extraction in which dangerous chemicals, mixed with millions of gallons of water and sand are injected at high pressure thousands of feet underground to create fissures in the rock and release the gas. Cottenoir said the EPA hasn’t proven that fracking is the cause. The EPA is currently investigating whether extraction and drilling activities are the source of the contamination. The agency found that at least three water wells contained a chemical used in the fracking process.
The study is the first undertaken by the EPA, but it is made harder because gas companies can conceal the chemicals used in the process as trade secrets. The gas company that owns most of the wells near Pavillion is paying part of the cost of supplying drinking water to residents, while not accepting responsibility for the contamination.
Natural gas drilling is rapidly expanding across 31 states, and complaints like the ones from the residents of Pavillion have arisen across the country. New York has blocked drilling within New York City’s watershed. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., told a federal hearing in mid-September that the EPA must regulate hydraulic fracturing.
In Pennsylvania, 13 families have filed lawsuit against a drilling company that is blasting fluids deep underground for allegedly leaking toxic fracking fluid into the groundwater, exposing residents to dangerous chemicals and sickening a child. Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security contracted with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, who in part tracked anti-drilling activists, reporting them for such activities as screening the critical documentary “Gasland.” Local news reported that ITTR also reports anti-drilling activities to private energy firms, to which a Sierra Club representative responded has “a chilling effect” on the environmental community. After Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell learned of the tracking through news articles, he apologized to the citizenry, and terminated the ITTR contract.
In 1988, the EPA ruled that oil and gas wastes, even if toxic, were exempt from the hazardous waste provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The EPA exempted hydraulic fracturing when it assessed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005. But last March, after Congress ordered the agency to conduct a fracking study to address concerns that the process may impact ground and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health, the agency announced it will conduct a comprehensive research study to investigate potential adverse impacts.
The EPA is also pressuring the energy companies to provide information about the chemicals used in the fracking process. As it is now the agency doesn’t know which chemicals to test groundwater for. The oil and gas industry argues that their costs from federal regulation would cripple their business, and that state regulations are already strong. A few states have regulations, but they vary.
HUGHESVILLE - Route 220 from Main Street to Lime Bluff Road was closed for much of Friday after borough police stopped a low-boy trailer that was leaking an undetermined amount of non-corrosive frack fluid, according to Police Chief Jason Gill. The spill may extend as far east as 30 miles or more into Columbia County along Route 118, Gill said.
Unbeknowst to the driver, the fluid was leaking from one of about a dozen 100-gallon containers on a trailer that was en route to Williamsport from Dimock, Gill said. The 911 center was alerted to the leak as the trucker was making his way into the borough, and Gill caught up with it shortly after it turned off Main Street on to Route 220 South. The officer stopped the truck at Broad Street about noon.
The containers on the trailer were secured by straps, and one of the straps broke, Gill said. "When it did, a hook on the strap punctured one of the containers," he said, calling the incident "a freak accident." The trailer is owned by Frac Tech Services of Williamsport, Gill said.
"They have been very professional, and they were very quick to respond with a team to help with the clean-up effort," Gill said of the company. The state Department of Transportation and Minuteman Towing and Repairs Inc. also had several personnel assisting with recovering the liquid.
"It's not hazardous at all until it mixes with water, then it becomes as slippery as ice," Gill explained, adding that the clean-up crews want to get the substance off the road as soon as possible. "It will probably be daylight before they (the crews) are out of the borough," Gill said late Friday night in a telephone interview.
Volunteer fire police from the borough and Picture Rocks assisted in detouring motorists around the affected area. No information was available on what traffic detours were going to be needed today as the clean-up continued east along Route 118.
"The entire stretch of the spill could be 35 to 40 miles," Gill said. He said it was unknown how much liquid leaked because all of the containers on the trailer contained various amounts of different substances.
Sept 30: PA insists Cabot pay for $11.8M water pipeline for Dimock residents
<<<<<< A group holds signs Thursday at a press conference in Dimock, pleading for municipal water supplies to be provided to Pennsylvania communities that have experienced water issues. (JON CAMPBELL / Staff Photo)
DIMOCK, Pa. -- If Pennsylvania has its way, an oil and gas company will pay $11.8 million for a 12.5-mile municipal water pipeline that will service homes whose water wells were ruined by the natural gas drilling process, the state's top environmental official announced Thursday.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said his office would "go after" Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation in court if the company refuses to pay for the project, which is expected to begin in early November and run between a water treatment plant on Lake Montrose and Dimock.
"We have had people here in Pennsylvania without safe drinking water at their homes and properties for close to two years," Hanger said. "That is totally, totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible." Hanger spoke before a lively standing-room-only crowd at the Dimock Baptist Church, just around the corner from the water wells affected by highly elevated levels of methane.
Pipeline construction will be overseen by Pennsylvania American Water. The new line initially will service 18 homes and extend from the public utility's Lake Montrose Water Treatment Plant along State routes 29 and 2024 before servicing homes on Carter, Greenwood and Meshoppen Creek roads in Dimock. It also will require multiple pressure-regulating stations and a water-treatment facility that Project Manager Daniel Rickard said would likely be built on state land and without the need for easements.
"I am very pleased the DEP is taking a forceful action against this private industry that has bored into this state and taken over," said Victoria Switzer, a member of one of 20 families who have sued Cabot for damage to their wells. "(Hanger) had to do his job, and he did it. It's been a long road to get here, and it's been very difficult, but I'm proud to be here."
Hanger began the press conference by reading extensive passages from a pair of orders signed by Cabot officials that say the company is to blame for the methane found in the water wells. Cabot, however, seemed unwilling to go along with the pipeline project, sending a 29-page letter to Hanger earlier this week blasting the plan and claiming the consent orders signed by company officials were signed "under duress" when the company faced the threat of having its statewide operations shut down.
"There are some questions to the validity based on the duress that was taking place under the singing of those documents," Cabot spokesman George Stark said outside the church. "We think today there is overwhelming scientific proof and historical proof that proves we were not the source of this methane migration." In the letter, the company said it has drilled a new water well in the area successfully, and that drilling new wells or refurbishing the existing ones is a more cost-effective solution.
Hanger said he doesn't buy Cabot's claims about the consent orders.
"The discussions with Cabot were certainly hard and they were certainly fair, meaning I had counsel and (Cabot CEO Dan O. Dinges) had counsel," Hanger said. "Last time I checked, Mr. Dinges is not a 90-year-old widow sitting in a nursing home and is incompetent to sign a legal document."
A clash between the state's environmental regulators and gas driller Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. over the cause and solution for contaminated water wells in Dimock Twp. escalated on Tuesday, with the Cabot CEO accusing the Department of Environmental Protection of waging "a public war against us."
The late- day salvo - in the form of a press release and 29-page letter from Cabot CEO Dan O. Dinges to DEP Secretary John Hanger - came hours after Mr. Hanger described as "very unfortunate and false" an advertisement by Cabot published Tuesday morning in area newspapers that criticized his department and its plan for replacing the contaminated private water supplies in Dimock. Mr. Hanger could not be reached on Tuesday night to respond to Cabot's letter.
In the advertisement published in The Times-Tribune and the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Cabot challenged a state plan to compel the natural gas driller to replace the contaminated wells with an estimated 7-mile-long, $10.5 million public water line from Montrose, calling the proposal "unreasonable, unprecedented and ... unfair."
An official announcement of the water replacement plan will be made by Mr. Hanger on Thursday along Carter Road in Dimock, where the department found that Cabot contaminated 14 water wells with methane during its Marcellus Shale drilling operations. Mr. Hanger said Tuesday he would not detail the plan, which he will explain on Thursday, but he said he was "disappointed" in Cabot's statements in the ad. "Cabot would do better spending its money on fixing the problems it caused than buying ads," he said. "Frankly, the families in Dimock and the people of Pennsylvania deserve much better."
Mr. Hanger found "particularly false" Cabot's statement that the department has a "concerning" tendency "to communicate through the media instead of with the Company." The secretary said he and his senior team have had weekly calls with Mr. Dinges and other company leaders about the water replacement issue since April. When Mr. Dinges was on vacation and unreachable by satellite phone during a crucial period in the discussions, Mr. Hanger and his advisers communicated with a Cabot team "fully about all these matters" in his absence, Mr. Hanger said.
DEP suspended portions of Cabot's extensive Marcellus Shale operations in Susquehanna County in April after it found that 14 of the company's gas wells in Dimock were improperly constructed or overpressured and were causing methane to seep into water wells. The company has paid more than $360,000 in fines and was ordered to fix the affected water supplies, but at least 11 of the 14 families refused Cabot's proposed solution - methane elimination systems to be installed in each of the homes - saying the systems are inadequate to address the problems. DEP is also conducting comprehensive testing of the well water in 34 homes in the Dimock area for a wide range of contaminants, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and glycol, after a private testing firm hired by residents detected many of those chemicals in their water, including some at levels above federal drinking water standards.
In its ad on Tuesday, Cabot said it does not believe it caused the contamination and "intends to fight these allegations through its scientific findings." It also criticized the logic of DEP's water replacement plan. "No private business model would support such an investment (in excess of $10 million) for so few users," Mr. Dinges wrote in the ad. He said the water line is being planned without any study of the economic viability of the project, its physical impact on the route and how long it will take to install.
In the press release and letter distributed late in the day, Mr. Dinges went further with his criticisms, calling the department's behavior toward Cabot "arbitrary and unreasonable" and saying that the department has ignored evidence "proving (Cabot) is not responsible for methane gas migration into local water wells ... preferring instead to base unprecedented and costly mandates on biased and unscientific opinions and accounts." In support of its position, the company said it drilled a new water well for a resident who lives in the 9-square-mile area identified by the department as affected by the methane contamination and did not detect any gas in that water, Cabot spokesman George Stark said.
In its press release, the company also cites local emergency response officials who said they found no evidence that an explosion blasted a concrete slab off a resident's water well on Jan. 1, 2009 - the incident that first spurred the department's investigation into methane migration. Asked what else might have broken and tossed aside the slab, Mr. Stark said, "We don't have a theory as to how or why. What we do have is, when you have an explosion, there are certain tell-tale signs. And we didn't see any of those."
The attorney for Dimock families who have sued Cabot for damaging their water, property and health could not be reached Tuesday evening after Cabot released its letter. In a statement released earlier in the day, attorney Leslie Lewis said she applauded the "courage and decisiveness" shown by the governor and Mr. Hanger on the water replacement issue and called the state's plan to provide centrally sourced water to the residents "a considered and necessary one." She also criticized Cabot's advertisement Tuesday, calling it "just another example of Cabot's cynical attempts to divide the community, pitting neighbor against neighbor on the gas development issue."
"The issue is whether Cabot has contaminated residents' well water by their operations," she said. "The unequivocal finding of the DEP and PA government is 'yes'."
Japan seeks to improve energy security with offshore drilling but environmentalists fear a leak of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times the potency of carbon dioxide
By Michael Fitzpatrick guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 September 2010 09.22 BST
In a bid to shore up its precarious energy security Japan is to start commercial test drilling for controversial frozen methane gas along its coast next year.
The gas is methane hydrate, a sherbet-like substance consisting of methane trapped in water ice – sometimes called fire ice or MH – that is locked deep underwater or under permafrost by the cold and under pressure 23 times that of normal atmosphere.
A consortium led by the Japanese government and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) will be sinking several wells off the south-eastern coast of Japan to assess the commercial viability of extracting gas from frozen methane deep beneath local waters. Surveys suggest Japan has enough methane hydrate for 100 years at the current rate of usage.
Lying hundreds of metres below the sea and deeper still below sediments, fire ice is exceedingly difficult to mine. Japan is claiming successful tests using a method that gently depressurises the frozen gas.
Tokyo plans to start commercial output of methane hydrates by 2018. At present Japan imports nearly all its gas and is heavily dependent on oil imports. In a desperate attempt to secure more oil, for example, Japan recently did a deal with the United Arab Emirates. In exchange for using Japan as a base for Asian oil trading Japan now has priority to purchase rights to up to 4 million barrels of immediately accessible crude.
Methane hydrates could make Japan energy independent. "Japan put a lot of R&D into this project because of course the less energy it imports the better. Whether they can commercialise methane hydrates remains to be seen," said Lucia van Geuns, an energy analyst at the international energy programme of the Clingendael Institute. "If it does succeed, and that's very much a long shot, it will have a huge impact – equivalent to the use of gas shales in the US."
Japan's ministry of trade, which is behind the scheme, has requested a budget of ¥8.9bn (£667m) for the drilling to start next spring. The huge budget reflects the difficulties of drilling deep offshore. In Japan, hydrates in the Sea of Kumano are found about 30km offshore in about 100 metres of water and at a depth below the seabed of 200 metres , making it difficult to mine the unstable hydrates.
Concerns had been raised that digging for frozen methane would destabilise the methane beds which contain enough gas worldwide to snuff out most complex life on earth. Methane itself is a greenhouse gas with 21 times the potency of carbon dioxide and any leakage from wells could be an environmental problem .
Professor Gerald Dickens, of Rice University in Texas, thinks accidental releases can be avoided."The only potential issue in regards to drilling would be if there is greatly over-pressured gas immediately beneath the gas hydrate. However, there is growing belief and rationale to suggest that this cannot occur in nature. So, as far as drilling there should be no issue."
Environmentalists , however, are concernedabout the burning of more earth-locked hydrocarbons. Methane may be cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal or oil but will still release many tons of CO2. Jogmec acknowledges the problems, admitting mining of methane ice could lead to landslides and the devastation of marine life in the mining areas. "There are many other technological problems to overcome," says the Jogmec website. "Not least that when you drill you create heat which turns the frozen methane into gas, which could then leak uncontrollably through the sea to our atmosphere."
The US, China, Canada and South Korea are among other countries seeking to develop commercially viable extraction technology and each is now exploring the mining of methane hydrates from their own sea beds.
"Some commercial production of methane from methane hydrate could be achieved in the United States before 2025," says a US government report on the subject.
Toxic emissions force family to leave home By Brandon Evans | Published Thursday, September 23, 2010
They call her the canary.
For more than a year, a range of random illnesses plagued Lisa Parr. "I started to get a little sick," she said. "I thought I was getting the flu. I was just tired and achy and started going through some little problems. "Then I started breaking out in a rash. It literally covered my entire body - my scalp all the way down to the bottoms of my feet," Parr recalled. "I made multiple trips to the emergency room. I had six doctors working on me, and they couldn't figure out what it was." Today, her arms and legs bear pock-like scars from rashes.
Lisa first felt sick in fall 2008. As the immense trees across her 40-acre homestead droppd pecans, Lisa accumulated a host of unexplained ailments. The typical remedies didn't work. "I had nine rounds of steroids in six months," she said. "They just blew me up and didn't get rid of the problem."
In May 2008, Lisa married Bob Parr on golden-colored stone steps at his country home in east Wise County in the Allison community. The back porch overlooks a picturesque setting. Horses and cows graze lazily in a green pasture. Denton Creek winds along the back of the property, bringing with it a lush river of trees along either side. It seems impossible such a scene would provide the backdrop for the poisoning of the Parr family by a laundry list of industrial neurotoxins.
Lisa was treated by eight different doctors over the course of a year. A source of the sickness was never determined. In June 2009, after exhausting everything he knew medically, her internal specialist suggested that something in the environment might be causing her various ailments. In early fall 2009, she visited an environmental doctor who confirmed the presence of neurotoxins in her blood that matched chemicals used in natural gas production.
Medical tests confirmed the toxins in Lisa's system matched toxins found in the atmosphere in an air-quality investigation conducted by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) at a nearby gas well site.
On the evening of July 25, 2010, the Parrs smelled a strong odor emanating from a frac tank at a site operated by Aruba Petroleum of Plano. They reported it to TCEQ. Investigators arrived within hours to capture air samples. Odors were detected up to a quarter-mile from the well site. The investigator, Damon Armstrong, reported that a "plume" wafting from the tank was "visible with the naked eye." The petroleum-like odor was so intense the investigator himself felt sick in the short time he was there, noting dizziness and sore throat.
The analysis found five compounds that exceeded safe values for short-term health effects, and another 20 exceeded safe levels for long-term effects. The investigation found elevated levels of ethane, pentane, hexane, octane, xylene and nonane, all potentially toxic chemicals. Four days later, a medical test discovered the same chemicals inside Lisa. "The environmental specialist ran numerous tests on me," Lisa said. "I had about 20 of the chemicals they use in the oil and gas industry in my tissues and in my blood system. Never in my life had I been so sick."
Aruba operates many of the 21 gas wells surrounding the Parr home. TCEQ has received dozens of odor, spill and nuisance complaints from Allison residents in the community over the past year. Enforcement actions are pending against two nearby Aruba sites, one for nuisance and another for violations without authorization. The company has been fined more than $30,000 in the past year by TCEQ for operations in the Allison area. The July 25 report recommended that Aruba receive two more violations. One was for "contaminants being in such concentration and of such duration ... to be injurious to or to adversely affect human health or welfare, animal life, vegetation, or property." A second was for failure to claim authorization for a facility emitting air contaminants.
No gas wells are on the Parrs' 40 acres. The wells in question surround their land, hundreds of yards removed from the home. But their location makes it a natural pocket for collecting heavy toxins. "We live below a ridge, in a little valley," Bob said. "At night when the wind dies down, anything down here sits and settles. Some of these chemicals and toxins are heavier than the air."
The symptoms continued to worsen. "I was pretty much losing my memory," she said. "I couldn't walk straight, and I kept falling down. I started shaking uncontrollably. My face drew up. I was stuttering very bad." At one point the lymph nodes on her neck swelled as big as pecans. A doctor suspected she had lymphatic cancer, but it was only a reaction to toxins. "Waiting on those results was two days of emotional trauma," she said.
Her husband and her 7-year-old daughter, Emma, felt sick as well. "My daughter began having severe nosebleeds," she said. "She'd wake me up at 6 a.m., crying, covered in blood." Emma was just diagnosed with asthma. She'd never had any respiratory problems. Emma also started breaking out in rashes and having stomach problems. Bob also suffered from nosebleeds. "I'm 50 years old and probably haven't had more than three or four nosebleeds in my entire lifetime," Bob said. "All of a sudden I'm getting them three times a week. It was odd."
"I hired someone to do water and air sampling at the home," she said. "The methane level in my daughter's room was at asphyxiation levels. And it was barely lower than what it was outside our home." She showed the results to her doctor, who told her to leave her home within 48 hours. "The doctor told me right then," she said, pausing as her voice cracked and a tear streamed across her left cheek, "I had to move immediately. Because if I did not, we would have to spend more time and money on hospitalization, on chemotherapy and morticians for my whole family."
On Saturday, Aug. 28, the Parrs said goodbye to their formerly idyllic home and moved into Bob's office in Denton. They don't know how long they'll have to stay. "What we are going through is one of the worst things a family could have to go through," she said. "Having to leave this house and explain to my 7-year-old daughter that we've been run out of our house."
Bob and Lisa Parr aren't the sickly type. Bob built his home in 2001. He's enjoyed a long career in stone masonry and raising cattle. His home reflects the rugged, outdoor lifestyle he enjoys. Walls bear the trophies of big-game hunting in the wilds of Alaska. Black bear, mountain lions and elk are mounted on high wooden walls.
"We love it here," Lisa said while sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the back porch and gripping her husband's hand. "We're secluded, private. We just wanted to be left alone, and we've been run out of our house. It's not right. What's even more not right is we thought TCEQ would come out and help us - they would clean up this mess.
"We've had no help. We have someone who is contaminating our air. It has affected our cattle. We've lost pets. We've lost chickens. We're all sick, and we've gotten no help," she said. "I want them to fix it so we can come home. I just want to come home."
Tony Walker, regional director for TCEQ, said his agency can't shut down polluting facilities. However, it can set the wheels in motion to do so. "We don't have the authority to shut down (a facility)," Walker said. "But if we have to we can contact the attorney general and ask them to step in." He said TCEQ might do so if a company has a history of non-compliance and "if there is an eminent, substantial endangerment to the public." The term public "can be only one person." He said he can't comment specifically on this case because the investigation is ongoing.
Several doctors had told Lisa for some time she needed to leave her home, but she couldn't convince herself to do it until the symptoms began affecting her husband and daughter. "It had only been affecting me, so we stayed," Lisa said. "They thought I was super-sensitive. They called me the canary. "I told them, 'That wasn't funny because eventually the canary died.'"
Other people in the Allison community have suffered adverse health effects similar to the Parrs. Several residents are working to get a comprehensive health survey, similar to one conducted at DISH in Denton County.
Sept 20: Inflection makes second offer for Broome mineral rights
BINGHAMTON -- Exactly two months after an initial deal was rejected, Broome County received a new, slimmed-down $7.8 million offer for the mineral rights to some county-owned land, County Executive Barbara J. Fiala announced Monday.
The offer is from Denver-based Inflection Energy LLC, the same company that made the July offer that was rebuffed.
The deal, if approved by the legislature, would pay between $2,250 and $2,750 per acre up front -- the $7.8 million -- for the rights to 3,200 acres of county land, with a company option to extend the lease by five years for an additional bonus payment. That's down from $3,000 an acre that was offered in July for 5,610 acres, but much of Broome's most valuable and geologically favorable property near the Pennsylvania border was withheld from the current offer, Fiala said.
"I'm absolutely pleased" with the offer, Fiala said. "It opens up potential for the other acreage, which will bring possibly a larger price per acre."
The county also would receive 20 percent royalty payments, minus a share of post-production costs capped at 30 cents per thousand cubic feet of gas produced.
Aqua-Terra, Hawkins Pond, Greenwood and Cole parks are all excluded from the new offer, County Attorney Joseph Sluzar said. Some other county parks are included, but their surface rights were withheld, meaning Inflection could not set up a drill rig on the property but could capture gas underground from pads at other sites.
Inflection also agreed to drill at least two wells within two years as part of the current offer, and all wells would have to use a closed-loop system, which eliminates the need for a disposal pit for drilling waste. The company also would pay for an "environmental monitor" to be hired and supervised by the county. The county legislature has until Nov. 30 to respond to the offer.
"It's highly unusual to have an offer out there with a 10-week deadline, so we're giving people plenty of time to evaluate the deal and come to their own conclusions," Inflection CEO Mark Sexton said. "We think it's a good deal for Broome County, and hopefully it's a good deal for Inflection."
Legislature Chairman Daniel Reynolds, a Democrat from Vestal, said Monday he was surprised to see a new offer come down "right on the heels of the last offer."
"My first impression is that it is very similar to the one we saw less than two months ago, but not as good of a deal," said Reynolds. "I don't know how the legislators are going to react, but I suspect that many of them will be unhappy with the proposal."
The offer will be subject to legislative committees before it is put to a vote, and Reynolds said he would provide opportunity for public input on the proposal. The offer will likely be added to October's legislative agenda, Reynolds said, since September's schedule has already been set.
The bonus payment would not be contingent upon the state Department of Environmental Conservation's ongoing review of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, a document that will guide the permitting process for horizontal drilling in the state's portion of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. High-volume hydraulic fracturing -- a controversial drilling technique in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals is blasted deep underground to break shale and release natural gas -- is effectively on hold until the review is complete.
If approved, the majority of $7.8 million bonus payment would be deposited in the county's general fund, with a portion reserved by law for the Greater Binghamton Airport since part of its land is included. A total $5 million dollars in projected revenue from natural gas drilling had been included in each of the past two county budgets, but will not be included in Fiala's 2011 proposal when she gives her budget address on Thursday, she said.
Inflection's July offer was widely panned at a public hearing, where people slammed the deal as unacceptable and some questioned the company's size and integrity. Fiala, who supported the deal, pulled it when it became apparent it did not have enough support from the legislature.
"Last time, there was a highly charged political element to the process," Sexton said. "We've had a chance to examine the allegations and respond to the allegations, and the people in the know are aware there was a political process and have been made aware of the truth regarding our company."
County Attorney Joseph Sluzar said the county has properly vetted the company.
"There was a lot of false information that was spread, and it was unfortunate the company was not there to defend themselves, but we have vetted the company," Sluzar said.
Despite a pair of offers in two months, Fiala said she believes it may be the last one the county sees for some time.
"I think that if this isn't accepted, we won't see an offer for a lot of years to come," Fiala said.
SCRANTON – Local union leaders blasted the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry Thursday at a hearing of the House Labor Relations Committee.
Vern Johnson, council representative for the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters, told the committee that union officials have tried “every conceivable way” to get union contractors work with every gas company in the Northern Tier counties with little or no success.
“Most of these companies will make us chase our tail until we’re right back where we started; others will give our contractors the opportunity to go through the process of completing a takeoff and submitting a bid within hours of receiving blueprints for a project, only to find out that the project has already been started by non-union, out-of-state companies with unqualified employees – workers from New York,” Johnson said.
He said unions aren’t looking for handouts, nor do they feel they automatically should be awarded jobs. “All we are asking for is an opportunity to competitively bid,” he said.
Gas companies paying $10 to $12 per hour on jobs with 12-hour work days, seven-day work weeks and no overtime or benefits “is severely driving our work and safety standards down in the commonwealth,” Johnson said. He said companies don’t want to hire local professionals who care about the environment here, but rather out-of-state employees who don’t.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said he knows local union members are well-trained and would be an asset to the natural gas industry.
“What bothered me is that the industry has been saying for a long time ‘There are no employees, we don’t have any qualified employees.’ What it appears … (to be) is, ‘We don’t have any qualified employees that are willing to work for that amount of money,’ ” Pashinski said.
State Rep. Kevin Murphy, who hosted the hearing and served as chair, asked Ralph Tijerina, Marcellus Shale Coalition Safety Committee co-chairman, if the industry opposed a significant increase in performance bonds and fines to deter drillers from cutting corners.
Murphy, D-Scranton, said his constituents “want to make sure there is going to be a significant financial risk for companies that cut corners. If you’re going to do the right thing, you shouldn’t be afraid to post an increased performance bond,” he said after the hearing.
Marcellus Shale spokesman Travis Windle responded that as responsible development of the Marcellus Shale continues to expand, “so too will opportunities for every segment of the commonwealth’s work force.”
Sept 16: Private lab finds toxic chemicals in Dimock water
by Laura Legere (Staff Writer) Published: September 16, 2010
Water testing by a private environmental engineering firm has found widespread contamination of drinking water with toxic chemicals in an area of Dimock Twp. already affected by methane contamination from natural gas drilling.
Reports of the positive test results first came Monday when Dimock resident Victoria Switzer testified at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, N.Y., that the firm Farnham and Associates Inc. had confirmed ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and toluene were present in her water.
The firm's president, Daniel Farnham, said this week that the incidence of contamination is not isolated. Instead, he has found hydrocarbon solvents - including ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene - in the well water of "almost everybody" on and around Carter Road in Dimock where methane traced to deep rock formations has also been found.
The chemicals he found in the water in Dimock generally have industrial uses, including in antifreeze, gasoline and paint - except propylene glycol, which is also used in food products.
All of the constituents are also frequently used as chemical additives mixed with high volumes of water and sand to fracture gas-bearing rock formations - a crucial but controversial part of natural gas exploration commonly called "fracking."
Mr. Farnham's findings could cast doubt on the safety of the practice, which state regulators and the gas industry say has never been definitively linked to water contamination during the 60 years it has been used.
Critics say compelling anecdotal evidence, like that from Dimock, indicates otherwise.
Mr. Farnham stopped short of attributing the contamination to natural gas activity.
"Do I have enough information to say that this stuff came from fracking? I can't prove that," he said. "I don't think anybody can. But it certainly is interesting."
Residents in Dimock began raising concerns about their water nearly two years ago, when they began to notice changes in odor, color, taste and texture.
The Department of Environmental Protection determined that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. allowed methane from a deep rock formation to seep into 14 residential drinking water supplies through faulty or overpressured casing in its Marcellus Shale gas wells.
But the department also determined in March 2009 that hydraulic fracturing activities had not impacted the water wells after it tested for indicators of fracturing impacts, including salts, calcium, barium, iron, manganese, potassium and aluminum.
In April of this year, Mrs. Switzer and two of her neighbors who live at the bottom of a valley along Burdick Creek noticed that their water ran soapy.
"It would foam up and leave like a beer foam on the top," she said.
A DEP specialist came to test the water three days later, she said, but by that time the foam was gone.
"It disappeared as quickly as it came," she said.
DEP results from its April tests for ethylene glycol and propylene glycol found no trace of the chemicals, DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun said.
But over the spring and summer, with routine testing, Mr. Farnham noticed a pattern of troubling spikes: "After a heavy rain, certainly these things seem to crop up as the aquifer is disturbed," he said.
"What I found was hydrocarbons - ethylbenzene, toluene - in almost everybody who was impacted in the area," he said. "Oddly enough, if I were to go due east or due west of the affected area, I found nothing."
In August, Mr. Farnham shared the results with Cabot during a meeting concerning a lawsuit many of the affected families have filed against the company.
During a second meeting that month with the families in Dimock, Mr. Farnham told DEP Secretary John Hanger and Oil and Gas Bureau Director Scott Perry what he had found.
Mr. Rathbun, the DEP spokesman, said the agency is currently testing for toluene throughout the affected area and will be able to evaluate Mr. Farnham's findings once its own widespread round of testing is done.
"To date, DEP's lab analyses do not support his findings," he said.
Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. said pre-drill testing performed by Mr. Farnham when he was contracted by land agents of the company in May 2008 showed the hydrocarbon solvents and glycols preexisted in some wells.
"The things he is saying now exist he showed us existed in '08," Cabot spokesman George Stark said. "That's why you do the pre-drill (test)."
Mr. Farnham said Wednesday he never tested for the constituents in 2008, let alone detected them.
"If that had been the case, I would have said this is a moot point," he said.
"We didn't test for that stuff. I don't know how else to say it."
Mr. Stark said the company does not want to release the 2008 water tests because they contain private information about landowners, but we said, "We have the information and we stand by it."
Mr. Farnham's investigation into the contaminants is ongoing: He has more samples to analyze and more spikes in the test results to research and confirm. But he is certain that his findings so far are correct.
"I double- and triple-checked everything to make sure the evidence is irrefutable," he said.
<<<<<< Donna Every of Endicott attends an anti-drilling rally outside The Forum in Binghamton on Monday before the start of a public meeting on hydro fracturing held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (REBECCA CATLETT The Associated Press)
Jon Campbell • Gannett News Service • September 14, 2010
BINGHAMTON — More than 600 people on Monday afternoon attended the first session of the long-awaited final public meeting on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's hydraulic fracturing study. Meeting attendees cheered and groaned as public officials and stakeholders spoke to their concerns or support for the hydraulic fracturing process. The process is a controversial drilling technique in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals is blasted deep underground to break up rock structures and release natural gas. After a 45-minute presentation from the EPA, 100 speakers expressed their thoughts about how the agency should proceed with its study, which was ordered by Congress earlier this year.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, Ulster County, was first at the microphone. He urged the agency to take a comprehensive approach to its study, which is supposed to examine the potential effects hydrofracking has on groundwater. Hinchey, who has sponsored a federal bill that would require natural gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use during the drilling process, called fracking an "unconventional, harm-causing drilling technique." "The results of this study will guide the federal government's policies, and perhaps, governments abroad," said Hinchey. "This study needs to be comprehensive, and it has to look at all of the different ways drinking water supplies, and non-drinking water supplies, can be impacted."
About 1,600 people registered to attend the meetings, which were split into four sessions — two each on Monday and Wednesday. Sessions on Wednesday are scheduled at noon and 6 p.m. Several speakers touted a 2004 EPA study that found the fracking process to be safe. Critics say the study was wrought with political influence and have widely panned the results.
The drilling issue has gained attention across the state, with environmental groups fearful of the impact of drilling on water supplies. Most of the drilling would occur in the Marcellus shale, a vast subterranean formation that also covers much of Pennsylvania. Paul Rush of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection noted that half the state's population, residing in New York City and its environs, depends on unfiltered water from the Catskills-Delaware watershed that is in the Marcellus shale region.
Advocates say the drilling will be a boon for upstate New York. "Billions of dollars in economic impact on New York and its citizens is at stake here," said Brad Gill of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, with drilling promising more than 60,000 jobs in New York alone. "There are almost 14,000 producing wells in New York state, many of which have been hydrofracked," Gill said. "Despite claims to the contrary, there hasn't been one case of groundwater being contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process."
Speakers were urged to keep their comments centered on the scope of the EPA's study during the agency's initial presentation, though most took the opportunity to express their concern or support for natural gas drilling. High-volume hydrofracking is on hold in New York as the state Department of Environmental Conservation reviews its policies and regulations.
Before the hearing began, a few hundred protesters from both sides of the natural gas drilling debate made their voices heard in front of The Forum theater in downtown Binghamton, where the event was held. Opposing rallies were restricted to barricaded areas on opposite ends of the street. Emotions were high. Binghamton police, which provided 12 officers and two supervisors at a cost of about $13,000 to the EPA, reported no issues. Concerns about rallies are what led in part to the moving and subsequent postponement of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for Aug. 12 at Binghamton University and then Syracuse's Oncenter Complex.
"Kids can't drink gas" and "Protect our water. Stop fracking America," were some of the signs carried by opponents. Supporters, including union workers eager for jobs, carried signs that said "Yes to science, no to paranoia" and chanted "Pass gas now!"
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has halted issuing drilling permits until it draws regulations to govern the process. Complaints of well water contamination and surface spills of post-fracking water have forced revision of state rules in Pennsylvania, where more than 1,600 wells have been drilled in the Marcellus shale and more than 4,000 permits have been granted. EPA earlier held hearings in Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Sept 5: Pennsylvania's bucolic countryside life is now quite a gas - CBS News Report
Sept 2: DEP testing bubbling water at Sugar Run
<<<<<< Testing the bubbling water in the Susquehanna in Sugar Run are two DEP geologists and a representative from Chesapeake Energy (back to camera closest to shore). The testers had little to say, and advised the news media to contact the Williamsport Regional DEP office for more information. Photo by Wes Skillings
DEP Geologists Test for Methane in Sugar Run - by Wes Skillings - 9/2/2010 - Rocket-Courier, Wyalusing, PA
Geologists from DEP and Chesapeake Energy were testing bubbling water in the Susquehanna River along Route 187 in Sugar Run on Friday morning, but they had nothing to say to the news media, advising them to contact the regional office in Williamsport for further information. At issue is what is believed to be escaping methane at various locations in the river there, which was reported to Rocket Bulletin subscribers early Thursday afternoon, with photos and video footage of what appears to be escaping gas.
Two of the four DEP specialists at the scene were identified as William J, Kosmer, a licensed geologist, and Caleb Woolover, a geologic specialist, from the business cards they handed to several local residents. The Chesapeake representative chose not to give his name. Although they were mum on the results of the testing and even the reason for being there, Fred Saxer, who is the Emergency Management coordinator for Wilmot Township, confirmed that he had alerted DEP Thursday evening about the suspected methane release.
“There is no question that we are talking about methane here,” said Saxer, “and if it is in the river where you can see the bubbles, you know it is coming out of the ground where you can’t.” Suspected methane bubbles up near the shoreline on river access owned by Don Pickett.
Steve Reichard, who lives in that vicinity, pointed out one bubbling section of the shoreline upstream from where the geologists were testing. There the bubbles were even more active and you could actually hear what he is convinced is escaping gas. Reichard had been asked by the DEP testers to take them out on his boat to other locations along that section of the river Friday.
Saxer received a call from the DEP official he had originally contacted about the situation late Friday morning while the Rocket-Courier was at the scene in Sugar Run.
“I’m wondering about the whole darn village of Sugar Run,” the DEP official stated in his conversation with Saxer, asking him, among other things, whether the local fire chief had been notified and stating concerns about similar methane emissions across the river in the Wyalusing area and whether they should be monitored.
Saxer is also the EMA coordinator for Wyalusing Borough and the townships of Terry and Asylum. Methane gas emits no odor. The odor is injected when it is pipelined for home and industrial use as a safety measure.
Residents there, including Reichard, Don Pickett, Tony Adams and Don Palmer are to be provided with monitors at no cost to determine whether there is methane escaping into their homes and water wells. Palmer said that if they avail themselves of a water testing service offered, it will cost about $500. He noted that this may not be of much help in potential legal actions unless it can be proven that methane, if it is present in the water, was not pre-existing.
Pickett has bubbling activity in his water well and has changed filters more frequently because of sediment. Palmer said that he normally changes filter from his water supply every three months but has been doing it on almost a weekly basis lately.
In the meantime, the word from DEP’s Williamsport office is that it may take at least a week to receive confirmation that there is a methane problem in Sugar Run and, if it is, whether it will be regarded as an emergency situation.
Fred Saxer (left) is the township EMA coordinator who notified DEP about concerns about migrating methane in Sugar Run. At right, is Don Pickett who says that there are also bubbles in his water well.
A twelve megawatt solar farm on over 80 acres in Wyandot County was recently launched. It is generating enough electricity to power 9,000 homes. Governor Ted Strickland said, “Today we are flipping the switch on Ohio’s largest solar farm. But we’re really flipping the switch on the future.” He also noted the project was good for the state’s economy because the panels were manufactured locally. Also the construction was undertaken by mostly Ohio workers. 159,000 solar panels were installed in an area which had been producing soybeans and corn just one year ago.
The solar farm is owned by PSEG Solar Source. They have been in business for decades, and today employ about 10,000 people. Diana Drysdale, from PSEG said, “We’ve very much enjoyed and liked our experience in Ohio, and we support the approach that Ohio is taking to renewables of all sorts and all along the value chain. So we’re looking seriously at future projects in Ohio as well.” Juwi Solar was the engineering contractor and developed the solar plant. They have several hundred employees focused solely on solar.
While states like Arizona and Texas may seem like the first choice for solar, the new farm uses thin film technology which generates electricity even at lower sunlight levels seen during Ohio winters.
The state’s new law, SB 221, requires a minimum of 12.5 percent of total power production to be from renewable sources by 2025, says a news article. However, the state legislature’s website purports a much larger percentage: “By 2025 and thereafter, an electric distribution utility shall provide from alternative energy resources… That portion shall equal twenty-five per cent of the total number of kilowatt hours of electricity sold by the subject utility or company.”
Environment Ohio commented on the law and suggested the 12.5 minimum be increased. They also noted that renewable energy costs are declining, so much they could be less than energy from nuclear and coal: “Cost estimates from a 2003 study by MIT found that electricity from a new nuclear power plant could cost 6.7 cents per kWh while the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the per kWh cost of a new wind farm would be around five cents per kWh.”
Aug 20: Public hearing to be conducted for proposed natural gas pipeline
A proposed natural gas pipeline in Broome County and northern Pennsylvania will get a public hearing in New York, the Public Service Commission announced this week.
About 9.6 miles of the 30-mile pipeline, proposed by the Laser Northeast Gathering Co., would be in the Town of Windsor and southern Broome County. Since the pipeline portion in New York would be less than 10 miles, it was subject to a streamlined approval process by the PSC with a decision due by late September. But a flood of public comments called for a hearing, and the commission ultimately granted that request and indefinitely extended the decision deadline.
"In a pipeline of this size, a public statement hearing is not required," commission spokesman James Denn said. "But given the fact that there is public interest in the project, a decision was made to hold a hearing."
The pipeline would run from Forest Lake Township in Susquehanna County northeast through Great Bend, Pa., before crossing into southern Broome County and connecting to the Millennium Pipeline in Windsor. Millennium connects to larger markets in the Northeast. The PSC's order did not specify a location or date for the hearing, and Laser will be required to send notification to all homeowners within 150 feet of the proposed pipeline site.
Laser's application to the PSC calls for two compressor stations in Pennsylvania and one in Windsor. Town Supervisor Randy Williams said the town has reached an agreement with the company on ordinances that would limit noise from the station and truck use on local roads.
"We have a very good working relationship with Laser," Williams said. "The only request that I have is that a public hearing is held in Windsor so that all parties, whether they are for or against, can come in and speak."
Still, some are concerned about the noise emitted from the station and the pipeline in general.
"Plans indicate that the pipeline will cross forested areas in a pattern that will fragment wildlife habitat and compromise natural systems," Nadia Steinzor, a regional organizer for the EARTHWORKS Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said in her comments. "A possible reason for this poor planning could be to keep the pipeline plan under 10 miles and fast-track the application -- an approach that the PSC should not allow."
The pipeline has its opponents in Pennsylvania, where Laser has applied for public utility status, which would give it the ability to claim land for the project through eminent domain. A pair of contentious public hearings were held last month, and the company will make its case in front of an administrative judge in Harrisburg next week.
If approved in New York, the project would receive Article VII status, which means there is a public need for the project and it is environmentally friendly. The company would have to apply for eminent domain powers in state Supreme Court, but Laser president Chip Bertholet said last month the company had not considered the action as of that point.
Laser had right-of-way agreements with about 30 percent of landowners along the pipeline's proposed path in New York at the time of its application, but has since come to an easement agreement with the Windsor & Colesville Oil & Gas Lease Coalition, which represents a large portion of the remaining path.
Aug 20: The Marcellus Effect: Roads Crumbling to Dust under Heavy Truck Traffic
At the beginning of August I took a field trip to Bradford County, PA through the towns of Ulster and Towanda. Lots of drilling activity going on there: tankers pumping water from the Susquehanna, construction crews preparing impoundments and well pads, and a few wells.
According to my local guide, Marcellus drilling has just started in the area. But already there has been a lot of road damage. We drove along one road (shown in photo) which, until the drilling had begun, was paved. There was not a lick of asphalt to be seen, however; it had been ground to dust. But there was a continuous train of dump trucks hauling dirt and gravel, and road machinery to grade and roll the surface so that the residents had a smooth dirt road to drive on.
A similar thing happened closer to home. Epsilon Energy drilled three wells in the neighboring town of Van Etten (Chemung county, NY). Prior to drilling, the company entered into an agreement with the town board that, 30 days after a well was completed, they would fix the roads. So in mid-to late-March they began moving the heavy equipment in, and preparing the drill pads and by the beginning of April the roads were in bad condition (you can read earlier post here)
By May the drilling was pretty much done and residents figured that the road repair would be happening soon. A road construction company did eventually put down a layer of crushed gravel, but the road was never completed. "They told our highway superintendent that they wanted to put off completing the road repair till they had drilled into Marcellus," said Van Etten Town Supervisor George Keturi. Problem is, Epsilon won't be drilling into Marcellus anytime soon - maybe as long as another year before they get those permits.
That's not good enough for the people who live there and whose children ride the school bus back and forth on that road. So at the August 12 town board meeting one of the residents told the board to force the company to repair the road. As of yesterday Epsilon has agreed to do the repairs.
Meanwhile, Epsilon's failure to take their promises to fix roads seriously has sent the wrong sort of message to the town board. While neighboring town boards are sending resolutions to the State Legislature urging them to refrain from voting on a drilling moratorium, Van Etten's town board has not. Says supervisor Keturi, "Because of what happened, our town board will not be signing any resolutions supporting gas drilling."
Aug 14: EPA considers expanding fracturing study to air quality
Recently retired Environmental Protection Agency environmental engineer Weston Wilson is best known for criticizing his employer’s 2004 finding that hydraulic fracturing poses little or no risk to domestic groundwater.
Now, the Denver EPA whistleblower is encouraged by the agency’s interest in studying the natural gas development procedure’s potential impacts on air quality as well.
“I’m proud of EPA now,” not just for undertaking the study, but indicating it may expand the study’s reach beyond water, Wilson said.
His position puts him at odds with the oil and gas industry. At a Denver EPA meeting this summer, several industry representatives argued the study should be limited, as directed by a congressional committee, to the relationship between fracturing and groundwater. “And certainly not air quality,” as Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance put it.
But one of a number of Garfield County residents who say their health has been affected by drilling says he supports the idea of the EPA considering whether fracturing creates airborne health concerns as well.
“I think they should look at all aspects that affect public health,” Ron Galterio said.
He and several other Battlement Mesa residents say they’ve suffered ill effects from fumes from recent nearby fracturing operations by Antero Resources.
Josh Joswick of the San Juan Citizens Alliance told the EPA during its Denver meeting, “I don’t think you can study water without studying air.”
Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into wells under high pressure to crack open formations and facilitate flow of gas and oil. The process has been key to developing gas in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, where gas is mostly locked in sandstone formations until fracturing occurs.
“Simply put, without hydraulic fracturing, western Colorado’s natural gas activity would virtually cease to exist,” Doug Flanders, director of policy for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, told the EPA at its Denver meeting.
But the process has raised fears that, in addition to drinking water aquifers, it could contaminate air when fracturing fluids and gas are brought to the surface.
Wilson, who obtained whistleblower protective status when he sent a report to Congress questioning his agency’s 2004 findings on fracturing, said part of the argument for looking into air-quality effects of fracturing arises from a health study conducted for Garfield County.
He said that study showed “mixed results” about what dangers gas development might present, but one disturbing finding involves benzene. The study said airborne benzene could exceed acceptable non-cancer health-risk levels within 250 meters downwind of well-flowback operations that don’t include gas recovery. It recommended use of “green” well completions to reduce this risk.
The report said neurotoxicity, depressed bone-marrow function, an impaired immune system and blood disorders are among the non-cancer risks of benzene, which also is a carcinogen.
“If that is an effect of oil and gas drilling, of fracking, it’s systemic, it’s endemic,” Wilson said. “It’s evaporating from the reserve pits and the condensate tanks. It’s not as if the current state of the art protects the public health from those volatile organics.”
Benzene is one of several volatile organic compounds associated with gas development. It can be contained both in fracturing fluid and the gas itself. Fracturing fluids also can contain numerous other toxic substances, which aren’t required to be disclosed to the public.
Some Battlement Mesa residents, including Galterio, recently complained of nausea, dizziness, coughing, burning eyes and other ill effects of fracturing by Antero just outside their community. They say the situation adds to their fears about what will happen if Antero proceeds with plans to drill 200 wells within Battlement Mesa.
Over the years, other Garfield County residents living near gas development have complained of similar symptoms from fracturing and other operations.
Disposing of hazardous wastewater is proving to be quite a challenge for companies that drill for natural gas. So when three tractor trailers carrying “residual waste” passed through Schuyler County this week, journalist Peter Mantius followed them to see where they dumped.
By Peter Mantius
BURDETT, Aug. 14 -- One morning this week, as I was driving south on Route 14 into Watkins Glen, I was alarmed to see three gas drilling wastewater trucks caravanning north. Each one had Pennsylvania plates.
Were they empty or full? Were they carrying hydrofracking waste from across the border or some less toxic concoction?
Where were they going to dump?
I made a quick U-Turn to follow them and find out. Knowing the extreme steps gas drillers sometimes take to get rid of their fracking flowback, I was curious.
Tractor trailers that haul gas drilling wastewater are fairly easy to spot. Typically, they are long narrow cylinders -- often red -- plainly labeled “residual waste.” I’ve seen them by the dozen around the heavily hydrofracked hills of northern Pennsylvania.
But they’re much less common in the Finger Lakes because the process known as hydraulic fracturing is still banned in New York State.
The process, in which millions of gallons of water are blasted with sand and chemicals into shale, is the key to unlocking the gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale formation, the richest natural gas source in the region.
Hydrofracking differs in two important ways from conventional gas drilling, which has been conducted locally for decades without serious problems.
First, hydrofracking requires up to 5 million gallons of water per well, and then it produces up to 1 million gallons of toxic flowback. Conventional drilling requires a tiny fraction of that water, and it produces a tiny fraction of the flowback. (It also yields far less gas.)
Second, hydrofracking involves the use of special, dangerous chemicals that aren’t used in conventional drilling. Drillers aren’t required to share the exact contents of this chemical mix, so they don’t.
Both hydrofracking and conventional drilling produce hazardous flowback. Both are extremely salty, and are laced with heavy metals and may be radioactive. But hydrofracking flowback is especially toxic because it also includes the special fracking chemicals.
Gas drillers claim they recycle most fracking flowback. Where does the residue from repeated recycling go?
Mostly it’s held in lined ponds next to fracked wells. Sometimes it’s trucked away. Where to?
Almost any back road will do, according to Pat Farnelli of Dimock, Pa., where hydrofracking is particularly intense. She told me she’d watched wastewater truckers dump their loads on Carter Road, the gravel byway that passes in front of her house.
“It smelled like diesel fuel and dead bluefish,” Farnelli said. “It was bubbly. It slicked the road. Its bubbles had rainbows and they didn’t pop quickly like water bubbles.
“They seemed to always dump right before it rained. They told us it was for dust control. After (the HBO documentary) 'Gasland' mentioned it, they stopped doing it.”
In fact, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has issued 154 citations since early 2008 for the illegal dumping of drilling waste in streams and fields and on roads.
The agency also quarantined 28 head of cattle in June after they came in contact with fracking wastewater that had leaked out of a holding pond in a farmer’s field. “Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,” the DEP explained. Since 2008, the agency has issued 268 citations for faulty fracking wastewater ponds.
Each of the many hundreds of wells that have been hydrofracked in Pennsylvania over the past two years produce up to one million gallons of toxic flowback. To move all the wastewater from just one well would require a caravan of some 200 trucks.
As I tracked my three-truck convoy along the west side of Seneca Lake past Dresden north toward Geneva, I recalled that earlier this year, Chesapeake Energy Corp. had sought permission to dump some of its fracking flowback from Pennsylvania into an abandoned gas well next to Keuka Lake. But after residents of Pulteney and several Keuka Lake winery owners exploded in protest, the company dropped the project.
So, I mused, if that stopgap plan had failed, was my small convoy part of some other industry dumping plan?
When we reached Geneva, the trucks -- one red, two white -- turned onto Routes 5 and 20, heading east.
I suspected that their destination was the Seneca Falls landfill only a few miles to the northeast. Nope.
They continued heading east. Good thing I had plenty of gas and didn’t need a bathroom stop.
A scheduled Thursday hydro-fracking forum that was abruptly moved to Syracuse from Binghamton on Monday has been postponed. The Environmental Protection Agency will delay the forum from its original Aug. 12 date, said Sandy Baker, vice president of sales and marketing at the Oncenter.
Oncenter representatives said the Thursday date was too close to accommodate the expected crowd for the fracking forum. "We have a beautiful convention center here that can easily accommodate 1,000 or 1,200 people, but in the last day we continued to get calls about additional people, and that number is easily growing to more than 5,000,” Baker said. “In order to accommodate all of the safety issues, we need more time to plan this.” Baker said Oncenter representatives met with officials from Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse and the Syracuse Police Department this morning about the meeting before it was postponed.
The EPA said it is still committed to holding a hearing in New York., but it is apparent that expected crowds at fracking meeting has caused some concern among those offering venues for the forum. Details on the new date for the forum are unavailable, but it could be rescheduled in September.
The action follows the announcement on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency had moved the marathon public meeting on its multi-million-dollar hydraulic fracturing study to an exhibit hall in Syracuse's Oncenter Complex Convention Center after it was originally scheduled to take place Thursday at Binghamton University
Thursday's EPA's public meeting on hydraulic fracturing was set to be a marquee event in the country's debate over natural gas drilling, and it was set to happen in Binghamton. Anti-drilling groups organized a rally featuring everyone from U.S. Reps. Maurice Hinchey and Michael Arcuri to actor Mark Ruffalo and a band called Sophistafunk. Pro-drillers were flying and driving into Binghamton from across the Eastern Seaboard. But when the venue changed Monday, just three days before the event, all were sent scrambling.
The public meeting on hydraulic fracturing being held by the Environmental Protection Agency has been moved to Syracuse, officials in that city said. The event will begin at 8 a.m. in the Oncenter Exhibit Hall, which is part of the Oncenter Complex Convention Center, an EPA official said. The exhibit hall is 65,000-square-feet.
Binghamton University came under sharp criticism from the EPA for being uncooperative in arranging the forum. However, university representatives said they were merely trying to protect itself from absorbing costs involved with the forum. "In July, Binghamton University agreed to host public meetings on EPA's study of hydraulic fracturing. As such, EPA relied on this negotiated agreement and announced that this important public discussion would take place at the Binghamton University campus," said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator, Region 2. "Since that agreement, the University has taken several actions to dissuade EPA from holding the meetings. First, they changed the meeting's location to a room that is not air conditioned - making the location a threat to public safety. "When we pushed back on this change, they agreed to allow us to use an air-conditioned room, but at a cost to American taxpayers of more than 500 percent higher than the University’s original estimate. We considered this unacceptable. EPA has looked for alternative facilities in the city of Binghamton and was not able to find an appropriate space. Therefore, we are announcing that the public meeting will now be held in Syracuse, New York, at the Oncenter Complex Convention Center.
"It is regretful that Binghamton University has put EPA - and more importantly, thousands of people on both sides of the issue who had planned to attend this meeting - in this inconvenient and difficult position. Universities are places where civic participation should flourish, especially on a major environmental topic like Hydraulic Fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water. The Oncenter Complex Convention Center provided a contract with acceptable terms and conditions and will provide ample space at a cost that is fair and reasonable for taxpayers.
Both sides in the drilling debate were disappointed with the late relocation of the fracking forum. “I think the move to Syracuse reflects that too many people in the Southern Tier are engaged in the issue, and the EPA and BU did not feel they could safely accommodate a hearing there,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Associate Roger Downs, who had been negotiating with BU about where to place a rally that was scheduled to be held by a number of environmental groups. “We've invested an enormous amount of time - lining up speakers, lining up bands, investing in buses to bring people in - and that's all lost now
BInghamton University representatives said they tried to accommodate the needs of the parties involved, but the demands of the event and the potential costs were too great. "As a public institution of higher education dedicated to robust debate on public issues, Binghamton University was pleased to have been considered as a site for the meetings on gas drilling," said C. Peter Magrath, interim president, Binghamton University "However, the EPA informed us today that another venue has been selected."
Aug 4: Anti-drilling protesters greet gubernatorial candidate in Binghamton
<<<<<< Afton resident and an opponent of drilling for natural gas Kim Michels, left, gets a short audience with New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo following a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the State Office Building in Binghamton. (DIOGENES AGCAOILI JR. / Staff Photo)
BINGHAMTON -- About 50 people gathered outside the State Office Building Wednesday, demanding answers from Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo on where he stands on drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. They left unsatisfied.
Cuomo was in town to announce an investigation into predatory health care lenders and finances, of which his office has received numerous complaints as the economy turned sour. The protesters, however, were more interested in the Attorney General's take on one of the biggest issues in the Southern Tier. Cuomo's appearance came the day after the state Senate passed a bill that would place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until May 15, 2011.
The state has already put high-volume hydraulic fracturing -- a practice in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals are blasted deep underground to break up the shale and release natural gas -- on hold as the state Department of Environmental Conservation reviews its regulations on the process. The DEC is expected to release those regulations -- known as the supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (sGEIS) -- by the end of the year. "Andrew Cuomo has not taken a sufficiently strong position on this matter," said Walter Hang, an Ithaca database specialist who organized the impromptu rally. "We want him to withdraw the draft sGEIS. We want him to do more than say it ought to be studied before it happens. We want him to come back to the (Southern Tier), meet with citizens, and talk with them about their concerns."
Speaking after the press conference, Cuomo told reporters he believes gas drilling can be practiced safely, but said the state shouldn't move forward until it "knows all of the facts." "I think, on the hydro-fracking issue, there is a potential for economic development for the Southern Tier of New York, and that has a lot of people excited," Cuomo said. "This state needs jobs desperately, and getting jobs back to the state, getting the economy running, is very, very important. At the same time, we want to make sure that whatever we do we do it safely, we do it efficiently, we do it effectively."
Cuomo did not offer his position on the Senate bill because there "is a possibility for lawsuits" and he wants "to be careful about offering a personal opinion that may conflict with a legal opinion," he said. He did say, however, that he "agrees with the concept of moratorium." "Let me say this: Before we drill, should we make sure we are doing it safely? Yes. That's what they mean by moratorium," Cuomo said. "Moratorium by May? I don't know if May is the right date. May may be too early. May may be too late. That's why they call it May."
That wasn't enough for Kim Michels, an Afton resident who was one of seven protesters who went inside for the press conference, anti-fracking signs in hand. Michels approached Cuomo after the event and asked for his position on the Senate moratorium. "He didn't exactly give me an answer," she said. "I think if he was for it, he would have said so. But I sort of got a wishy-washy answer from him, and I told him how I felt about (the bill)."
By Nick Reisman •Albany Bureau • August 4, 2010, 11:45 am
ALBANY - Opponents of natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier's Marcellus Shale formation today are cheering the state Senate's approval of a short-term moratorium late Tuesday night. The measure sailed through the Senate, 48-9. If approved by the Assembly and Gov. David Paterson, permits to drill for natural gas in the formation would be delayed until May 15, 2011. Now focus turns to the Assembly, where supporters of the drilling moratorium believe it could be taken up soon.
"I think it has overwhelming support in our house," said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Bablyon, Suffolk County. "We were waiting to see the Senate move the bill forward." State Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, voted against the measure. Sweeney said the Democratic-led Assembly could return to Albany in September to take up the measure.
The process, known as hydraulic fracturing, uses a mixture of water and chemicals to blast through rocks in order to access the gas. Proponents believe the drilling is safe and would be lucrative to the economically depressed region. Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobby group, blasted the moratorium.
"Our lawmakers would rather raise taxes and fees than generate some real revenue," Smith said. He added that the bill goes further than intended and would hinder drilling projects that have already been approved. "We're hopeful that the Assembly will take the more objective and scientific approach to this discussion," Smith said.
Those opposed to drilling in the Southern Tier are concerned the process will wreak environmental havoc. "This is a huge step forward to protecting our water in New York state from the dangers of natural gas drilling," said Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates of New York. "We're very excited for the Assembly to take it up."
Lawmakers who backed the moratorium believe a delay in granting permits will allow state leaders and the new governor time to learn more about hydraulic fracturing and develop restrictions designed to maximize safety. "Last night was an opportunity to say that we need to give the next governor to come in and also that we need to look at what legislative actions that need to take place in New York," said Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, the main supporter of the moratorium in the Senate. Thompson attributed the passage of the bill in part to the explosion of an underwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and passionate support from environmental groups.
The New York State Senate overwhelmingly voted to impose a moratorium on shale gas drilling yesterday. Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania report released yesterday found that Marcellus shale gas drillers there have racked up more than 1,400 violations since January 2008.
Drilling in the Marcellus shale, a rock formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland, uses a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells.
Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
In New York, where the Marcellus shale region encompasses the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water, a virtual moratorium on gas drilling has been in existence since 2008. However, it’s expected to be lifted this year, and new drilling will commence unless the legislature acts.
The Thompson/Sweeney bill (S.8129B), which would place a moratorium on granting new drilling permits until May 2011, has bipartisan support, but the leadership of both the Senate and Assembly have stalled in bringing the legislation to a vote. Up until a few days ago, it was considered all but dead.
Yesterday, however, the legislature convened for a rare summer session, and the Senate voted by an overwhelming margin – 48 to 9- to approve Thompson/Sweeney. The bill goes next to the state Assembly, where it also has bipartisan support. However, it is unclear if the Assembly will vote on it during this special session.
Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, a report by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association said the state has identified 1,435 violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies since January 2008. Of those, 952 were identified as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. Those included 100 violations of the state Clean Stream Law, 268 for improper construction of waste water impoundments; 277 for poor erosion and sedimentation plans during well pad, road and piping construction; 16 for improper blowout prevention; and 154 for discharging industrial waste, including drilling waste water containing toxic chemicals, onto the ground or into streams.
THE DEBATE over extracting natural gas though horizontal hydraulic fracturing — also known as hydrofracking, or just fracking — has some elected officials urging the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take their time in developing rules that will aim to avoid energy industry disasters.
Republican state Sen. John Bonacic said on Friday that the Democratic-controlled Senate should take the opportunity of being in session for budget matters to vote on a proposed one-year moratorium against issuing fracking permits.
“The bill, if it comes before me I am going to support it,” said Bonacic, of Mount Hope in Orange County. “Democrats control what comes to the floor for a vote. The environmental lobbyists have been up there for the past month pushing to put the bill out on the floor. I personally think there’s more than enough votes for the bill to pass.”
Bonacic said Department of Environmental Conservation officials should “take all the time (they) want, get it right, because the gas isn’t going anywhere.”
Bonacic, who long has chided New York City officials for not providing information about the impact its aqueduct system has on local water sources, said property owners in the region are cautious about such issues as fracking based on a history of groundwater being contaminated by agencies that he said have sought to avoid responsibility.
New York City environmental officials oppose fracking in the vast Marcellus Shale formation, part of which is in the city’s upstate watershed, fearing possible contamination of the city’s water supply.
“I like the idea of energy independence, I like the idea creating jobs. ... But at the same time, protection of our water is No. 1,” Bonacic said.
“Water is our most precious commodity to everyone,” he said. “The people upstate that want economic vitality, they want the jobs, (but) they don’t want the water contaminated either.”
Bonacic also said the HBO documentary “Gasland,” which takes a dim view of drilling for natural gas, is important in understanding how drilling for natural gas has affected other states.
“What it (the film) did for me was raise concerns that we have to be cautious and move slowly and get it right, and we should not go ahead unless we get it right,” the senator said. “One thing that jumped out at me, I was a little upset that the gas-drilling process was exempt from the (federal) Clean Water Act. I don’t think that should be so. I think any drilling company, gas company or otherwise that wants to engage in a process has to make sure they don’t contaminate our water.”
Bonacic said area residents are becoming leery of energy industry offers of money for drilling rights, as well as the passion of fracking opponents.
“I think there is a marketing war going on right now,” he said. “You have the HBO documentary people showing one side of it, and you have the lobbyists of the gas drilling showing the big money, the jobs, the economic vitality, no harm to the environment. Most people, including myself, are concerned that they don’t know enough about hydrofracking and what may be totally true or false.”
State Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, said energy industry efforts in his district have included taking advantage of poor economic conditions by offering money to property owners in exchange for drilling rights.
“There were landsmen scouring this region even before this became a public issue,” Lopez said. “They were already trying to lock up contracts. There was already a buzz throughout the community. It was very low key about a year to two years ago — that their land and their resources had value. So regardless of the scale, if you’re a diary farmer losing thousands of dollars a month or a business that’s failing or a property owner who’s losing their home in the midst of a recession, any buzz of economic activity runs like wildfire throughout the community.”
Lopez said the dealings were “behind the scenes, under the radar until (the issue) reached a broader public perception.”
Lopez said the energy industry’s techniques have been like offering a “feast to a starving person.”
“The comparison with the feast is a function of (landowners saying), ‘Hey, somebody just gave me a contract for so many dollars for royalties and a certain number of dollars for value. Holy cow! I’m a starving landowner. This is like manna from heaven above,’” the assemblyman said. “I think the numbers got bigger as the public discussion got broader.”
Lopez said the technique created a “gold rush” in which energy industry officials could use political clout to minimize problems and divert attention when environmental concerns have been raised.
“Certainly any company, if they see a resource and they feel it’s worth investing in, they are going to do public relations, they are going to do whatever they can to seek the outcome that they want as long as they feel they can justify the expense for the benefits they hope to accrue,” he said.
“A smaller company that doesn’t have big pockets doesn’t even come near this, particularly with the levels of regulations and all the concerns about environmental sensitivity and liability issues,” Lopez added. “I would think that a smaller company without that wealth probably wouldn’t even go near it because there’s a high cost to the barriers of entry.”
Lopez said he considers energy companies to be important, but he objects to the “industry trying to take a ‘trust us’ stance” regarding materials used in the drilling process.
“I don’t trust the industry implicitly. None of us should,” he said. “Do I want to vilify the industry? No, because we need the industry.”
“For example, and this is one I took personal offense to, they are not going to tell you what ‘solvents we use when we inject into the well. That’s proprietary information,’” Lopez said. “My answer to that is that this is not Colonel Sanders’ seven secret herbs and spices. This is not a proprietary recipe to put on someone’s chicken. This needs to be a matter of public record and public analysis.”
Lopez, who said he trained to be a park ranger, has been upset over how adversely the BP oil disaster has impacted states along the Gulf of Mexico. And he said lessons from the spill apparently have not been learned by energy industry officials.
“The industry is still standing there saying, ‘We’ll start drilling (for natural gas) as soon as DEC starts permitting’” he said.
The most compelling testimony of this morning’s hearing on emergency response at gas well sites wasn’t about an emergency, per se. It came from June Chappel, a slight woman who lives in Hopewell Township in a house she and her husband occupied for 23 years before his death from kidney cancer in February.
Chappel described months of worry and nuisance as Range Resources, one of the most active Marcellus drillers and the busiest in Washington County, drilled wells, built an impoundment, laid down gathering pipes all within a few hundred feet of her house. Here is an excerpt from her testimony:
“The wastewater impoundment smells like gasoline and kerosene, and the wind blows across the impoundment right into my back yard. I tell people that the wastewater impoundment is bigger than a football field. The location had been a mix of woods and field prior to the gas company’s purchase of the land. The gas company had a logger come in and clear the woods around us. When they drilled the wells, my house vibrated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it was pretty horrific. When the drilling was done, the gas company began the fracking of the wells. This was nine days of heart pounding noise. That is what I called it, with all the compressors that were over there, it was constant 24 hours a day for nine days. In early September 2009, when the gas company was done with the fracking, the flaring started...”
Each loud noise and sight of flares terrified her, Chappel said, because the gas company wasn’t communicating what was happening. When she called 911 or the Department of Environmental Protection, the general sense was that no one knew what was going on, Chappel said.
“Those are some things that we’ve learned,” said Ralph Tijerina after the hearing. Tijerina is director of safety at Range who sat immediately to the left of Chappel as she broke into tears during her testimony.
The company is changing some of its strategies after the experience, he said.
“We are trying to be open — identify a focus point within communities whose whole purpose in life” would be addressing concerns from residents,” he said afterwards.
July 26: Unsettling Glimpse of Tier's Future
<<<<<<<<<< Protestors outside the Penn-Wells Hotel, Wellsboro, PA
This time next summer odds are that hydro-fracking deep below the earth's crust and perhaps dangerously near Southern Tier aquifers will be a reality, one that many in the Southern Tier fear. A recent foray into Pennsylvania near Wellsboro gave me a glimpse of the drilling future of the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes.
I didn't like what I saw or heard.
What hits the onlooker instantly is the noise, the smells and the never-ending stream of truck traffic that has transformed beautifully quaint Wellsboro into a miniaturized Times Square environment. Replace New York City's cars and cabs with dump trucks and tanker trucks, odors peculiar to large cities with the smell of diesel, tar, gas and drifting mini-clouds of dust, and you get a picture. The quaintness is still there but it is no longer memorable.
Drive south a few miles and take nearly any rural byway in the shadows of Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon, once pristine, now rutted with dusty, muddy byways, depending on the weather. Along the way you'll see dozens and dozens of roadside signs: No Stopping, Keep Driving, No Dumping, Do Not Discharge Waste Here, Keep Out and the occasional No Frack signs. You get the feeling that not everyone is happy with the drilling.
The actual drilling sights are often heard rather than seen. Deep from behind conifers and firs come the incessant, steely sounds of heavy machinery working away as surely and as constant as the ticking of a clock: a very large, noisy clock.
Round a roadway bend on a high plateau, now denuded of trees and shrubs, in large-acreage-blocks and you'll see long rows of bright blue steel boxes. Another row contains a dozen or so of the ubiquitous white pickup trucks. Workers in white coveralls swarm the site even as the temperatures push into the high 80s.
Back in Wellsboro my wife and I stop at an attractive restaurant and hope for some real answers from a "townie," usually a bartender or a waitress. They are reticent to speak about the drilling and the drillers until they get a sense of your feelings.
"We see and hear a lot," a waitress confided, leaning close over the table and speaking in hushed tones. "Things here have changed. There is a lot that happens, bad things, that never get into the newspapers or on the TV news," she confides. "A lot of illegal dumping goes on and unless you see it or report it, nothing happens."
I don't push her. Her sadness comes pouring forth. "Some of the rural people have lost their well water. Forever, I guess. It just isn't drinkable anymore. Even some of their farm animals have mysteriously died."
She does admit that business has picked up at the restaurant, and in fact, at most town businesses. "You can't find a camping site or a motel room that isn't taken up by the roughnecks," she added.
I foresee an abrupt end to the near tranquility of Southern Tier roadways coming. I hear the sounds of unseen drilling pads working 24/7 and sense the faint odor of diesel and tar and gas exhaust fumes, and wonder if our roadway surfaces will become even worse than they are now. I fear for the Finger Lakes and our great wine industry. Most of all, I sense the loss of a way of life in the relative tranquility of the Southern Tier.
Yes, the money will come and there will be jobs for some. But at what price?
Ronald L. Tarwater of West Elmira is a retired newspaper journalist and a former deputy press secretary in New York governor's office.
BINGHAMTON -- The deal is off. Lack of support from Legislature, public blamed.
In a surprise move late Tuesday afternoon, Broome County Executive Barbara J. Fiala pulled a gas drilling rights deal off the table, effectively killing the controversial proposal that had been highly criticized by landowners and environmentalists. The deal, offered by Inflection Energy of Denver, would have paid the county $3,000 an acre -- or $16 million -- up front and 20 percent royalties for drilling rights to 5,610 acres of county-owned land over five years. The company would have had the option to extend the deal for an additional three years and another $3,000 an acre plus the same royalty payments. Inflection and other gas companies want to drill in New York's portion of the Marcellus Shale, a mile-deep rock formation said to be rich with natural gas. Drilling has already occurred in other states, like Pennsylvania, using a controversial practice called hydraulic fracturing, in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals are blasted deep underground to break up the shale and release the natural gas.
Fiala said she pulled the proposal, which she supported, because by her count only four members of the county legislature would have definitely voted in favor of it. Ten votes were needed for the deal to be approved, and four of the 19 legislators were barred from voting because they had signed a lease with a natural-gas company or had ties to a landowners' coalition. Now the county may have to resort to layoffs and reductions in services by the end of the year and tax hikes in 2011, Fiala said. The 2010 county budget had called for $5 million in revenue associated with natural gas drilling. "There is not enough support on the legislative side, and therefore it just makes sense that we take this off the table," Fiala said. "We will begin to deal with the budgetary challenges as we always have: putting our taxpayers first. But ... I continue to caution that this is going to mean job loss and it is going to mean services impacted."
Nearly 200 people attended a public hearing Monday night on the proposal, with the vast majority of speakers opposing the deal for various reasons, including environmental concerns and the belief the county may not have been getting enough money for its land. Both Fiala and legislature Chairman Daniel Reynolds said the meeting had convinced several legislators to withdraw their support for the deal. The Legislature had been set to take up the deal at its Thursday night meeting, but Reynolds said it would have been tabled. "One of the main concerns that was expressed at the public hearing was that we need more time to consider such an important decision," Reynolds said. "That was what I took away from the hearing: that we shouldn't rush into it. So I think it's the right decision to put the brakes on." Inflection had set a firm deadline of July 30 for the county to accept the deal, and Thursday's legislative session was the last meeting before time ran out.
The county informed the company of its decision via conference call on Tuesday. Mark Sexton, CEO of Inflection, said members of the county administration "conducted themselves very professionally." "It appears that public encouragement of drilling in the area has been put on hold. We will continue our discussions with private landowners," Sexton said. "When they're ready to do a deal, they ought to give us a call."
Marchie Diffendorf, a legislator and chair of the Kirkwood Gas Coalition, said pulling the deal was the right thing to do. Diffendorf was one of the four legislators barred from voting or discussing the proposal. Several landowners spoke at the hearing Monday, urging the county to hold off for a better deal that would pay a higher rate. "I guess you would say it's kind of unfortunate that we don't have a deal, but this was not the right deal for the county, in my opinion and apparently several others," Diffendorf said.
Members of New York Residents Against Drilling also praised Fiala's decision, but said the legislators need to do more to educate themselves on gas drilling. "Through this whole process, it became obvious to me that our legislators aren't fully aware of the extent of the possible effects of gas drilling," said Yvonne Lucia, co-chair of the anti-drilling group. "I really would urge all of them during this timeout to educate themselves by reading and listening to materials on the subject that are not connected in any way to people with ties to the industry."
Barry Klipsch, a Democratic legislator from Vestal, said Fiala made the right move and will allow the legislature to focus on how to try to minimize harm during the budget process. Klipsch was one of the legislators who had previously supported the deal but changed his position after the Monday hearing. "It does take some pressure off of legislators. This is an election year, to be honest about it," Klipsch said. "Now we have to knuckle down and work on the budget and do the best we can to impact the public the least as possible."
July 11: How Drilling Companies Won't Take No For an Answer
<<<<<<<<<< Nick Riolo stands by his truck next to a drilling field behind his property in Lebanon. "There's nothing you can do to stop it," said Riolo, who was forced to have two 5-acre parcels integrated into the drilling area. He gets about $350 a month in royalties from the gas company. Photo by Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard
Published: Sunday, July 11, 2010, 8:39 AM Updated: Sunday, July 11, 2010, 3:39 PM Article by Glenn Coin / The Post-Standard
Nick Riolo didn’t want gas drilling beneath his property in the Madison County town of Lebanon, but he had no choice. Under what the law calls compulsory integration, a gas company can drill under land without permission of the owners if enough of their neighbors have already leased their property to the company. “There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” said Riolo, who had about 7 acres integrated into a drilling area. “I called a lawyer and he said, ‘You don’t really have a choice.’ ”
While compulsory integration has been going on for years, it’s likely to become more widespread and more controversial if New York allows a new type of drilling to begin next year in deep shale formations. Drilling in the Marcellus and other shales will encompass much larger tracts of land than previous types of drilling did because the gas is scattered throughout a rock formation that runs from Virginia to New York. In addition, the injection of millions of gallons of chemical-laden water at high pressure to fracture underground rocks – called “hydrofracking” — has raised concerns about tainted wells and streams.
Compulsory integration “is a sleeping giant,” said Chuck Geisler, a development sociology professor at Cornell University who specializes in land use policy. “If and when New York state starts issuing permits, this is going to start showing up and it’s going to take us by surprise.”
In southern and Central New York, thousands of land owners are weighing whether to capitalize on the projected underground gold rush or fight the environmental consequences of hydrofracking. In Onondaga County alone, about 1,900 separate parcels are leased to gas drilling companies, said Lindsay Speer, a community organizer who works with Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation. Many neighbors of those landowners have not signed leases, either holding out for a better deal or refusing to sign at all because they fear damage to the environment or their own wells. Compulsory integration would remove that choice for many landowners if enough neighboring property is already leased.
“I think it really can drive wedges between neighbors who are pro, con and undecided,” Geisler said. Industry officials and regulators say the law actually protects landowners. Gas companies cannot drill on the land included in a drilling area without the owner’s consent. The law requires gas companies to pay royalties to owners integrated into the drilling, and gives those owners the options of simply receiving royalties or becoming partners in the drilling. “They are basically being compensated — using a method they choose — for the oil and gas produced from beneath their lands,” said Maureen Wren, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Riolo said he receives about $350 a month in royalties from the gas company, Norse Energy Corp.
The law also guarantees that landowners who want to sell the gas beneath their land won’t be held hostage by a minority of their neighbors, an industry official said. “If you have a majority of landowners that want to have a well developed and you had a landowner with half an acre, that half-acre holdout could preclude the other landowners throughout the whole 640 acres from having their resources developed and gaining an economic benefit from it,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. “That would not be fair at all.”
Under existing state law, gas companies draw up a “spacing unit,” an area of up to a square mile, or 640 acres, under which they plan to extract natural gas. If the owners of at least 60 percent of that land agree to let their gas be extracted, the remaining landowners can be required to become part of the unit. Those landowners — referred to as “uncontrolled owners” — can choose to become a partner in the well, sharing the costs and profits, or can elect to receive simple royalty payments. Those payments would be no less than the lowest percentage paid to anyone else in that unit — typically at least 12.5 percent of the value of the gas attributed to their land.
Compulsory integration has been in place for a long time under traditional gas drilling methods, which generally drill a single, straight well that taps into a large pocket of gas underground. The newer techniques of high-volume hydrofracking and extensive horizontal drilling in deep shale, however, are more controversial. They involve drilling thousands of feet down into shale, turning and drilling more than a mile horizontally, and injecting millions of gallons of water infused with chemicals to shatter the shale and release gas.
“It’s like the difference between a Model T and a Maserati,” said Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell University professor of civil and environmental engineering. The state is still drafting regulations on the high-volume hydrofracking, and no permits will be issued until later this year or early 2011, the state DEC said. Some predict that compulsory integration will come to the forefront of the hydrofracking debate once permits are issued.
“If people get angry enough once the Marcellus shale drilling starts, there will be more of an uproar,” said Jane Welsh, an attorney in Hamilton who represents clients who have been forced into drilling areas. “You’re going to be talking about a lot more land coming in via uncontrolled owners.” Across Central New York and the Southern Tier, coalitions of homeowners have sprung up to try to negotiate the best deal with companies who want to lease land for drilling.
“One of the major reasons for forming a coalition was compulsory integration,” said Eve Ann Shwartz, a farmer in the town of Hamilton and a founder of a coalition there that represents property owners with a combined 20,000 acres. “I think it’s eminent domain in sheep’s clothing.”
In our last episode of ‘Rocks Are Our Friends', A BP For The Rest of Us, Aunt Toby discussed the issue of using hydro-fracturing to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. A lot of people are ‘agin’ it – a lot of others think we’re idiots.
Today’s lesson is a discussion of ‘Where Rocks and Food Intersect’. No, we are not going to discuss salt mining in the Finger Lakes. I’m still stuck on the Marcellus Shale (Aunt Toby is a tad obsessed). A story appeared in papers regarding an announcement by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, quarantining a herd of cows on a Wellsboro, PA farm, due to exposure to used fracking fluid (sometimes called ‘brine’) when the wall of a retaining pond used by East Energy in their drilling operations leaked. All over the field next door. Oh, and there wasn’t any security around the pond. So the cows had access to the pond itself.
According to Rhoads (East Company’s representative), "hydraulic fracturing on the farm began April 2. The holding pond contained only fresh water until April 9, when it began collecting wastewater. Rhoads said East first heard of a possible leak on May 2 and went out to investigate. East and the agriculture department differed on one point in the timeline, with East saying it had immediately fenced off the affected pasture area. Redding’s statement said cattle had "potential access to the pool for a minimum of three days until the gas company placed a snow fence around the pool to restrict access." Rhoads said water was removed and that testing using the state environmental department’s strictest standards began the next day; the affected soil was removed from the site by May 5. The holding pond was removed entirely two days later, and the hydraulic fracturing phase was completed." See PA DOA Quarantines Cows
Let’s look at this, step by step:
– The company ‘first heard of a possible leak about a month after a farm fresh water holding pond started to become contaminated with ‘wastewater’ from the drilling operation. It is impossible from the article to know exactly where the drilling is taking place – is it ON the farmers’ property itself? Is it on a neighbor’s property? Either way, one fact remains – East Energy was not – and perhaps is not required by PA regulation, either – monitoring fresh water sources in the area of the drilling for contamination. Considering that contamination of fresh water sources is a huge concern in the whole ‘fracking’ in the Marcellus Shale, this is a huge red flag.
– Once “the hydraulic fracturing phase was completed” the holding pond and the soil were removed from the site. In other words, the Commonwealth of PA allowed the company to continue to drill, even while it knew that soil, water were contaminated and that the cows had been compromised. The biggest worry is that the fracking wastewater contains not only chromium, but also strontium, which ‘hides out’ in the bones and therefore would be dangerous not only for the long term survival of the animals, but also their milk, any unborn calves they have, or their meat.
So, the animals have been quarantined for period of up to January 1 of next year. The farmer must keep them, keep them fed, keep them as healthy as he can, allow testing, and…not sell them or any products from them. In other words, lose income because of the company’s negligence.
Question: Will the Commonwealth allow for the farmer to sue the company for the value of the cows? For the contamination or and therefore loss of the fresh water pond and the field? How about making the company rehabilitate the field? You see, cleaning up soil and water contamination is no easy trick. And if state governments make drilling for natural gas expensive enough that using hydraulic fracturing just is not cost effective any longer, perhaps they will…just…stop. The Marcellus Shale and the natural gas have been there a very long time – the only reason the companies are after this now is that the price of natural gas is now higher than their ‘costs’ of hydraulic fracturing – we need to get State governments to include other costs – and potential costs – to bring the total lifetime costs of a well to a point where cost-benefit ratio of hydraulic fracturing becomes negative. That is the only thing the companies will listen to – if it no longer ‘pays’ to do it, then they will stop.
July 2: Thousands of Oil and Gas Spills Add Up to Major Impacts for Colorado
Posted: July 2, 2010 04:53 PM by Steve Torbit, regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation
Less than two years ago, the biggest drilling boom in Colorado history, like so many western energy booms over the past century, suddenly went bust. Years of over-drilling led to plummeting natural gas prices on the world market and an historic amount of natural gas in storage. Coupled with the imploding economy, drilling became less profitable in Colorado and across the West by mid-November 2008.
In the following four months, those factors forced companies to cut their drilling operations. The rig fleet in Colorado was cut by almost 66 percent. Despite the large-scale downturn in drilling, the lingering and cumulative environmental impacts from onshore oil and gas development continue to dramatically accumulate.
In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, The Denver Post recently published an analysis of self-reported data from the oil and gas industry that uncovered 981 oil and gas spills in the state just since the beginning of 2008. Collectively, those spills have released more than 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids - with untold gallons spilling into waters that both people and wildlife depend on. Yet, Colorado produces far less oil and gas than many other states in the nation - including its neighbors Wyoming and New Mexico. In fact, Colorado is only ranked 10th for among oil producing states and fifth for natural gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration. States with greater production may likely have recorded even more small spills.
While the reported Colorado spills have released far less than the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf from BP's Deepwater Horizon well, small oil and gas spills in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states can have profound impacts that can add up to lingering environmental damage. Indeed, The Denver Post analysis indicates that at least 25 percent of the 981 spills that have been reported to the state in just the last 2 1/2 years have impacted groundwater or surface water. Many of those water resources are critical for drinking supplies for both people and wildlife. The impacts to water supplies and human health can be serious.
In May 2008, a northwest Colorado outfitter took a long drink of the well water he'd consumed at his cabin for years. But this time, the veteran hunter became ill because his once pristine well water was laced with a carcinogenic compound most likely released from oil and gas operations surrounding his well. Citations issued to area oil and gas companies alleged the company responsible for the incident failed to report the contaminated release to state regulators. The matter is still unresolved.
<<<<<<<<<< Virginia Smitsky, 64, of Mount Pleasant Township, holds a bottle of dirty water drawn from her sink that she says DEP told her was safe to drink. [Laura Legere/Times-Shamrock]
By Laura Legere, Staff Writer Published: June 23, 2010
MT. PLEASANT TWP. - Most of the industrial accessories used to get Marcellus Shale natural gas to market - large water storage pits, tanks to hold gas byproducts, compressor stations, gas processing plants, pipelines, access roads, pumps to infuse the gas with its distinctive odor - have been built within 500 yards of the Hallowich family's new yellow house in the country. Stephanie Hallowich, a 38-year-old mother of two, stood on the top of a steep rise at a Washington County bible camp in January and pointed out her house below in the heart of rolling hills, bordered on one side by a shelterbelt and on another by a gravel road traveled by 18-wheel trucks at all hours of the day.
"This is what comes with it," said Ron Gulla, a Mount Pleasant resident who has been an outspoken critic of the industry. "People don't understand: the more wells they drill, the more compressors they need. Everything gets bigger. Everything you see there will grow in time." The story that Hallowich said she heard from the gas companies when they began to drill their wells has also been told to landowners throughout the state where drillers seek to lease land rich with gas: The interruptions are temporary; the land will be reclaimed; only a pipe or a tank will be left behind.
That assurance reached residents in Northeastern Pennsylvania too. At a February township meeting that turned into a debate about the future of gas drilling in Greenfield Township - the municipality where the first Lackawanna County gas well was drilled - supervisor Bruce Evans said gas drilling is going to bring "some inconveniences for a few years" but he likened the impact to that of the interstate Tennessee Gas Pipeline that runs underground through the area. Ask someone visiting the township where the pipeline is and "they can't tell you because you can't see it," he said. "End result, that's what this gas drilling is going to be like." Industry representatives say the proliferation of infrastructure around the Hallowich property is unusual and not a model for what build-out will look like as gas drilling expands across the state.
But in Washington County - one of the first areas of the state to see full-scale production from the Marcellus Shale - the industry's imprint is ubiquitous and lasting. Challenges and fears spurred by the industry in those changed communities in the opposite corner of the commonwealth might offer lessons to Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne and Wyoming counties, where gas development is poised to expand. In terms of economic impact, the effect on Washington County has been largely positive. Landowners have benefited from royalties and businesses from new clients. A local state representative joked to a Pittsburgh-area television station that soon "Pittsburgh is going to be a suburb of Canonsburg" - the Washington County borough where many gas drillers and affiliated companies have set up offices.
For residents who have lived with the downsides of drilling over the last six years, though, the industry's growth has meant an unwelcome change to the character of the countryside and, some fear, to the quality of the water they drink and the air they breathe.
'I don't know where to go'
"I have them there, I have them there, I have them there," said Virginia Smitsky, pointing in the directions of the natural gas wells that have been drilled around the house in Mount Pleasant she has rented for 42 years. "I've thought about moving, but I don't know where to go because they're traveling everywhere behind me."
Smitsky, a 64-year-old widow who works in a school cafeteria, sat at her kitchen table and flipped through printouts from drinking water tests she keeps in a folder decorated with chickadees. She lifted a half-gallon milk jug full of brown silty water that she drew from her kitchen sink in November. "This is what it looked like when DEP told us to drink it," she said, referring to the Department of Environmental Protection, the environmental agency that regulates drilling in the state, which has not found that drilling impacted her drinking water. The water leaves an oily film on her bathtub and dries out her skin and hair. Unofficial water tests performed by a person with access to a laboratory found man-made chemicals that do not occur naturally in drinking water. The results scared her enough that she would not host her family for Christmas. Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, the company that drilled the wells around Smitsky's home, said drilling could not have impacted her water because the nearest gas well to her home was drilled years ago and through a different aquifer than the one her water well taps into. Instead, he said, DEP found that her drinking water well had been improperly constructed, like many in Pennsylvania. "I would classify Mrs. Smitsky as probably getting too much bad information from some of her neighbors," he said.
Wells in the hills
The first Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania was completed in 2004 in Mount Pleasant. Since then, more than 250 Marcellus wells have been drilled in the county. The region is largely agricultural, but it is also relatively affluent, with a poverty rate below the state and federal averages. Large country homes share the grassy hills with working farms and orchards. The infrastructure of gas drilling is visible everywhere.
The Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania produces a "wet" gas and the fields there are dotted with green tanks that collect condensate - the natural gas liquid composed of marketable by-products like butane and propane. The roads are busy with tankers that collect the condensate for processing at massive plants, like the one MarkWest Liberty Midstream built in 2008 on 184 acres off Route 519 in neighboring Houston. Supervisors in Mount Pleasant are trying to exercise some control over the proliferating development.
The gas processing plant behind the Hallowich home was built in violation of the township's zoning ordinance, and an application by the plant's current owner for a zoning variance inspired the township to try to draft a comprehensive drilling ordinance. In May, the township's zoning board rejected requests by MarkWest to expand two compressors in the town, including the one behind the Hallowich property, as well as a request by Range Resources to erect temporary worker housing on its drilling sites, including one adjacent to a school.
Range sent a letter to township residents in May saying the supervisors did not respond to the company's offer to help them draft an ordinance that would be "agreeable to all parties." It warned, "While we plan to continue drilling in Mount Pleasant, each additional obstacle to our progress is an added expense that could, over time, affect the level of our activities there. In short, if we don't drill the wells, no gas is produced. And no gas means no royalties."
'There's our proof'
Gas extraction is not new in southwestern Pennsylvania - in fields not far from those topped with towering Marcellus Shale rigs, pumpjacks still pull gas from shallower wells. But the spotlight on the Marcellus Shale has illuminated the entire gas industry, and questions being asked now about the impacts of the deeper wells are revealing little discussed problems with the shallower ones.
In Daisytown, about an hour from Mount Pleasant, Dominion Exploration and Production drilled two shallow wells on Terry Greenwood's cattle farm in late 2007 and early 2008 on a lease tied to the property since 1921. It was a farm Mr. Greenwood bought in 1988 for its plentiful water: two natural springs, a water well and a pond for his 35 beef cattle.
After the company hydraulically fractured the wells, the water in Mr. Greenwood's kitchen turned brown and salty and showed elevated levels of manganese. Dominion installed a filtration system in a shed, but the well did not produce enough water to operate the system, said Dan Donovan, a Dominion spokesman. DEP found that Dominion's activities impacted the family's water and in March 2008, it ordered the company to replace the Greenwoods' supplies.
The year of the drilling, the family lost ten of the 18 calves that were born in a nine-month stretch; four were born with pure white eyes, another with a cleft pallet. Some were stillborn, some stood for a day or two before collapsing. Others bled from the nose. Mr. Greenwood suspects contamination in the pond where the calves' mothers watered, which collected runoff from the uphill gas site and turned brown during the drilling. DEP told the couple the rash of deaths was "the luck of the farmer," Mr. Greenwood's wife, Kathryn, said. The agency attributed the deaths to E. coli bacteria in the pond from fecal matter, which can cause ocular problems in fetal cows.
"I said, 'Them cows have been drinking out of that pond for 18 years and I never had this problem before,'" Mr. Greenwood said. He is a dedicated chronicler of the drilling: the dining room in the family's farmhouse is cluttered with bins of photographs stacked on the rough-hewn floors. He has filled notebooks detailing his interactions with the gas company and state regulators; he stores six gallon jugs with samples of the tainted water that came from his tap; and in a deep freezer in the barn, he keeps the carcass of a milky-eyed calf. "We can't get rid of it because there's our proof," Mrs. Greenwood said.
Mr. Donovan, whose company sold its natural gas assets, including the Greenwoods' wells, to Consol Energy this year, said there was no merit to Mr. Greenwood's claims that gas drilling affected his pond or his cows. "We did everything he wanted and he always had water, right from the beginning of his complaint," Mr. Donovan said. "We think we treated him well."
"We're not like that"
Mr. Pitzarella, the Range Resources spokesman, said the industry's main problem is a lack of a customer service focus that would help it patiently explain away people's fears. The engineers who run the industry "can come off as being dismissive" when residents claim that hydraulic fracturing has impacted their water supplies, he said - an impact he said is essentially impossible. "We have to demonstrate to people we are not the second coming of the coal industry from 100 years ago," he said. "That's the only frame of reference that you have in Pennsylvania. We're just not like that."
But Mr. Pitzarella is quick to try to discredit persistent critics, like Mrs. Hallowich and her husband, whom he said forced the purchase of their new property so they could benefit from royalties produced by the three Range Marcellus Shale wells drilled nearby. The wells, the water impoundment, "all that stuff is already there," he said, when the Hallowiches filed suit to force the sale. The newness of the Hallowich home also explains the unique proliferation of infrastructure around it, he said, because "a lot of those locations were selected because no one lived there."
But court and property records reveal a different timeline than the one Mr. Pitzarella explained. The Hallowiches did file suit to acquire the property, but they did so in March 2006, a year before permits were issued for any of the Range gas wells and nearly two years before the adjacent property owner signed leases to allow the compressor and processing plant to be built. Mrs. Hallowich said the royalties she receives from the gas wells are not enough to cover the cost of the water she buys for her family to use for bathing and drinking. She has gone back to work five days a week to pay for it.
"You start up the driveway, and it's a gut-wrenching feeling," she said. "You don't even want to come home."
<<<<<<<<<< Oil saturates seawater washing ashore in Orange Beach, AL, coating the beaches some 4-to-6 inches deep. (AP)
By MATTHEW BROWN and RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI (AP) – 2 hours ago
NEW ORLEANS — It is an overlooked danger in the oil spill crisis: The crude gushing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Mexico's fragile ecosystem.
The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.
That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," Kessler said.
Methane is a colorless, odorless and flammable substance that is a major component in the natural gas used to heat people's homes. Petroleum engineers typically burn off excess gas attached to crude before the oil is shipped off to the refinery. That's exactly what BP has done as it has captured more than 7.5 million gallons of crude from the breached well.
A BP spokesman said the company was burning about 30 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the source of the leak, adding up to about 450 million cubic feet since the containment effort started 15 days ago. That's enough gas to heat about 450,000 homes for four days.
But that figure does not account for gas that eluded containment efforts and wound up in the water, leaving behind huge amounts of methane. Scientists are still trying to measure how much has escaped into the water and how it may damage the Gulf and it creatures.
The dangerous gas has played an important role throughout the disaster and response. A bubble of methane is believed to have burst up from the seafloor and ignited the rig explosion. Methane crystals also clogged a four-story containment box that engineers earlier tried to place on top of the breached well.
Now it is being looked at as an environmental concern.
The small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and natural gas in the water and are consuming larger quantities of oxygen, which they need to digest food. As they draw more oxygen from the water, it creates two problems. When oxygen levels drop low enough, the breakdown of oil grinds to a halt; and as it is depleted in the water, most life can't be sustained.
<<<<<<<<<< An oil soaked Canada Goose in Liberty Park, Saturday June 12 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Salt Lake City : UT : USA | Jun 13, 2010
Fact: Friday evening, time estimated about 10 pm; an underground, Chevron Pipeline began to leak. No monitors or alarms were set off.
Fact: Staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center noticed the oil slick on the Red Butte Creek, Saturday morning at 6:45.
Fact: The seal was in place by 7:45 am. Residual oil was being contained.
Fact: 21,000 gallons of crude flowed down the creek into Liberty Park Pond and down to the Jordan River; not 500 gallons as previously cited. Without knowing the exact time of the eruption, the oil spillage should exceed that number.
Fact: At least 150 water fowl were taken to the Hogel Zoo for bathing and rehabilitation. Most were Canadian geese and Mallard Ducks; some as young as one week.
Fact: Many fish were found dead in the creek, pond and Jordan river; floating belly up or washed ashore.
Fact: Residents have been warned about the health risks associated with the oil spill. Any persons exhibiting dizziness, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath; are advised to go to an emergency facility.
Fact: Many residents in the area have experienced loss of fish in home ponds, oil soaked geese, strong odors, and oil soaked lawns.
Fact: Chevron has declared it will take sole responsibility for the spill, the damage to Liberty Park, all financial, medical and environmental costs that occur.
Question: What long term affects does this spill have on the eco system now that it is in the Jordan River; a main tributary through the Metropolitan area? The Jordan River also feeds into the Northern Duck Clubs and water conservatories.
Question: When will the spill be cleaned and deemed safe for Liberty Park Pond, home to many ducks, geese and other water fowl? A major migratory area, the pond is not just a place for those that picnic.
Question: What about are the health risks to the residents of the area? Highly populated, many people have noticed the smell; what are the risks to their vegetation, pets, and themselves.
Question: Why wasn't an alarm set off Friday night to alert officials to the spill? Monitors were in place, why did it take the staff of the VA hospital to notice the spill, thousands of gallons later?
Question: Will there be fines and penalties attached to this catastrophe and to Chevron?
Question: Why would a pipeline follow a major water source?
Answers: We don't know. As for the ecosystem; long term affects of the spill won't be noticed for years or decades. Bottom feeding fish that are food for other fish will be affected first; carrying the oil in their bodies and passing it through the food chain.
What if the spill is not completely contained and it reaches the Great Salt Lake; the major concern for the city and Chevron?
What long term affects will the people feel from the oil spill? Toxic gasses from petroleum is detrimental to the upper respiratory system and nervous system.
Kudos to the staff at the VA for finding the spill as soon as they did. Thanks to the rescue units, Big D Construction for erecting dams, dikes and absorbent booms. Gratitude to Chevron for taking responsibility and capping the damage as quickly as they did. Heartfelt appreciation to those that saved the water fowl and aid in the clean up.
As for the future of the area; time will only tell.
June 10: New Estimates Double Rate of Oil That Flowed Into Gulf
<<<<<<<<<< Where oil has made landfall on the gulf coast
Scientist Awed by Size, Density of Undersea Oil Plume in Gulf
By PAUL QUINLAN AND JOSH VOORHEES of Greenwire Published: June 8, 2010
Vast underwater concentrations of oil sprawling for miles in the Gulf of Mexico from the damaged, crude-belching BP PLC well are unprecedented in "human history" and threaten to wreak havoc on marine life, a team of scientists said today, a finding confirmed for the first time by federal officials.
Researchers aboard the F.G. Walton Smith vessel briefed reporters on a two-week cruise in which they traced an underwater oil plum 15 miles wide, 3 miles long and about 600 feet thick. The plume's core is 1,100 to 1,300 meters below the surface, they said. "It's an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history," said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.
Bacteria are breaking down the oil's hydrocarbons in a massive, microorganism feeding frenzy that has sent oxygen levels plunging close to what is considered "dead zone" conditions, at which most marine life are smothered for a lack of dissolved oxygen. Such low-oxygen conditions were noticed farther from the spill site, although Joye said she did not think the process would immediately produce a dead zone, since low nutrient concentrations in the water would limit the rate of the bacterial consumption.
Joye said her team also measured extremely high levels of methane, which is also spewing from the gushing BP well at up to 10,000 times background levels in Gulf waters. "I've been working in the Gulf of Mexico for 15 years," Joye said. "I've never seen methane concentration this high anywhere in the water."
Less clear to researchers like Joye are what role the unprecedented deployment of oil-dispersing chemicals are having on the undersea gathering of oil. She said dispersants likely played a role in keeping the oil underwater but that they are "certainly not required" to produce such an effect, given the deep-water -- as opposed to surface -- injection of oil and gas.
Also still unclear, she said, are the long-term effects of oil and dispersant use on fisheries. "The primary producers -- the base of the food web in the ocean -- is going to be altered. There's no doubt about that," Joye said. "We have no idea what dispersants are going to do to microorganisms. We know they are toxic to many larvae. It's impossible to know what the impacts are going to be."
A full understanding and the full impact to the Gulf's fishery may be years away, she said. "It's a very, very complicated problem, and there are a lot of people doing fisheries work to try to get a handle on this, but it's going to be months or years probably before we realize the full consequences of this spill," Joye said.
Asked to react to BP officials earlier assertions that the Gulf of Mexico was a large enough body of water to absorb the impact of an oil spill under way, Joye bristled.
"The solution to pollution is not dilution," she said. "It's an excuse, and it's arm-waving, and it takes away from the important things that we should be thinking about," she said, such as measuring the scope of the spill and its effects.
<<<<<<<<<< Flames shot into the air after a natural gas line exploded in Johnson County, Texas.
By LESLIE EATON and JASON WOMACK
CLEBURNE, Texas —A big natural-gas pipeline exploded outside this North Texas Monday afternoon, killing one person, injuring several others and sending up a geyser of flame that was visible from miles away. The blast occurred on a ranch in rural Johnson County, south of Fort Worth, in an area honeycombed with natural gas wells and criss-crossed with transmission lines.
One man who had been missing earlier was found dead, reported the Associated Press. Eight people were taken to local hospitals, said Bob Alford, the county sheriff. Most are believed to be employees of a contractor and were replacing power-line poles when they hit the pipeline. The affected portion of the pipeline, which was owned by Enterprise Products Partners of Houston, was shut down, said Rick Rainey, a company spokesman.
Bobby Rogers, who lives about 400 yards from the site of the explosion that boomed about 3 p.m. local time, said he first thought a natural-gas well on his property had ignited—but soon realized that workers had hit a major transmission line. "It was intense heat," Mr. Rogers said, adding that the explosion "was so loud it shook the house." The fire was put out about 4:45 pm., Mr. Alford said.
The explosion came as communities in Texas and elsewhere have been debating the safety of growing natural-gas production, and was the third gas-related explosion in the U.S. within four days. On June 3, a well blew out in Pennsylvania, causing state officials to call a temporary halt to drilling by EOG Resources Inc. Another well being drilled in West Virginia for Chief Oil & Gas of Dallas exploded late Sunday night, burning seven workers. A bubble of natural gas has also been blamed for the explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico April 20.
Natural-gas operations have expanded rapidly in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and other states in recent years as energy companies started using new techniques to drill for gas trapped in underground rock formations called shales. The discoveries turned communities such as Fort Worth, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana, into natural-gas meccas, where schools, churches and even individual homeowners sold companies the right to tap the gas beneath their properties. But some residents have become increasingly concerned about the risks associated with gas drilling. State regulators in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and elsewhere have linked drilling to several cases of drinking-water contamination, and authorities in Texas have raised concerns about air emissions from natural-gas facilities there. In Cleburne, natural-gas drilling was linked to a series of small earthquakes last year.
The industry says drilling and pipelines are safe and that problems are rare. "Pipelines continue to be the safest way to transport hydrocarbons and raw materials which our economy utilizes every day," Thure Cannon, director of public affairs for the Texas Pipeline Association, said in a statement. "Texas has the largest pipeline system in the Nation and an exceptional safety record."
Nationwide there were 47 pipeline incidents last year that caused a death or serious injury, according to federal statistics, up from 40 in 2008 and 45 in 2007. The vast majority of those incidents involved gas distribution lines, the small lines that carry gas to homes and businesses. Only six of the 2009 incidents involved the big transmission lines like the ones in Cleburne that carry gas long distances.
Anti-drilling activists in Texas seized on Monday's explosion as evidence of the dangers of natural-gas production. "One of the first things I thought of was the pipeline just down the street from my house," said Don Young, a Fort Worth resident who has been an outspoken critic of drilling there. "Sooner or later there's going to be one in a town." But Rebecca Keller, who could see the flames from her rural home in Somervell County, about six miles away from the explosion, said she receives royalties from gas wells and hopes drilling continues. "I've been spending like crazy," she said, "as soon as I get the check."
<<<<<<<<<< Fire crews from Marshall County battle a gas well fire in Moundsville, WV, Monday June 7, 2010. The explosion and resulting fire sent seven people to area hospitals including three workers who were flown to a Pittbsurgh burn center. (AP Photo/The News-Register, Kef Howard)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - A crew drilling a natural gas well through an abandoned coal mine in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle hit a pocket of methane gas that ignited, triggering an explosion that burned seven workers, state and company officials said Monday. The seven workers were taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh and were in fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said. They are expected to recover.
The explosion happened about 1:30 a.m. in a rural area outside Moundsville, about 55 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. A column of fire shot at least 70 feet high, but the flames fell to 40 feet within hours. Gas continued to burn late Monday afternoon. A team from Texas-based Wild Well Control, a company that specializes in rig fires, will decide whether to let the methane burn or try to extinguish the flames, said Kristi Gittins, spokeswoman for Dallas,Texas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC. The fire presents no danger to any structures or people, said Bill Hendershot, an inspector with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas.
The operation was less than a week old: DEP records show a permit was issued June 2 to AB Resources PA LLC of Brecksville, Ohio. Gittins said AB Resources is the operator of the well, while Chief has a "participation interest." It is Chief's responsibility to drill and complete the well, she said. Chief's site contractor, Union Drilling of Buckhannon, had drilled the first 1,000 feet of a second well on the property and was preparing to install surface casing when crews apparently hit and ignited the methane, she said.
Crews had drilled through the abandoned Consol Energy mine before without incident, she said. Methane is a known risk when working near old mines, and the company typically takes a variety of precautions, including venting systems. Gittins could not immediately say what precautions were in place at this site.
Prentice Cline, assistant area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Charleston, said blowout preventers are typically required on gas rigs. But DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the Union rig didn't have one because it hadn't yet reached a depth where a blowout preventer is required. When the accident occurred, it was still drilling a hole through rock, not pumping gas. Blowout preventers are required when the driller has reached its target formation undergound or when a high volume of pressure can be expected, Cosco said.
Marcellus Shale development may be just the beginning.
The massive gas-bearing shale formation that extends from West Virginia through the Southern Tier of New York, lies above another formation of equal or greater size, called the Utica Shale. The Utica formation runs from the heart of Pennsylvania through Quebec, and its potential is enormous.
Until now, most of the attention has been focused on the Marcellus, by many estimates the largest reserve in the country. But as more exploration brings more data, new riches are coming to light. There are more than a half-dozen gas-bearing formations under New York state, varying in size and location, with the Marcellus and the Utica being by far the largest. Smaller formations include the Oriskany, the Herkimer, the Medina — all sandstone formations — and the Trenton Black River, a limestone formation.
Gastem Inc., a Montreal company, drilled an exploratory vertical well in Otsego County through various formations, including the Utica and the Marcellus, according to a company report in January. The well "largely exceeded our expectations and we are accelerating programs," Gastem CEO Raymond Savoie said in a statement. Norse Energy, based in Norway, also has tested several of the formations with promising results. "We believe the Utica potential in regions of New York to be every bit as significant as the Marcellus," said Dennis Holbrook, a Norse spokesman.
While the sweet spots of the Marcellus tend to be in Broome, Tioga and Delaware Counties, the prime location for the Utica tends to be in Central New York, said Bill Kappel, a USGS hydrogeologist. What it means is this: Upstate residents who once thought major gas development issues were mostly limited to the Southern Tier, should soon realize they will affect most of the state, said Lindsay Wickham, a field representative for the New York State Farm Bureau. Residents need to plan and unite to capitalize on the good aspects and minimize the bad, said Wickham, who helps organize landowners into coalitions to leverage bargaining power and land use agreements with gas companies seeking rights to their land.
Marcellus Shale development may be just the beginning. "People north of Broome and Tioga Counties, in the Finger Lakes area and central New York, need to know they will be dealing with all the same kind of issues they are dealing with in the Southern Tier," he said.
Companies have been producing gas from New York, mostly from the Trenton and Medina formations, for decades, but on a tiny scale compared to what the shale formations would bring. A good well in one of the sandstone formations, for example, may produce between 500,000 to 1 million cubic feet of gas per day. A well in the Marcellus is likely to produce 10 times that, said Don Zaengle, a geologist from Worcester. Because the geology of the sandstones and limestone is less consistent from place to place, the wells are more sporadically located, with many of them in Western New York.
Marcellus and Utica development would be more uniform and prolific, requiring more extensive infrastructure throughout the state, including a comprehensive network of compressor stations and gathering lines. But while the potential riches from the shale formations are staggering, New York landowners — and gas companies — are playing a waiting game. Shale formations require drilling horizontally through the bedrock and injecting millions of gallons of a chemical solution under high pressure to fracture the shale and release gas, a process known as fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing. The state is not issuing permits for large frack jobs until it completes a review of concerns about the impact on water supplies and the environment in general. The final review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, is expected to be challenged by environmental groups when it is released later this year.
Until companies can get permits to drill horizontally into the Marcellus and the Utica, Holbrook said, estimations of their potential are "deductive reasoning." In the meantime, multi-national gas companies are beginning to shift manpower and resources to capitalize the Marcellus development in Pennsylvania, as early production figures meet and exceed expectations. More manpower and resources are leading to more discoveries. More discoveries are increasing the prospects and production, leading to more infrastructure. All of this activity, in turn, attracts more attention and resources.
Shell Oil and Exxon Mobile are examples of multi-national companies spending billions to buy into domestic natural gas production, with significant stakes in the northern Pennsylvania and southern New York. Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell said it will buy East Resources Inc., a major owner of shale gas holdings in the Marcellus, for $4.7 billion. Last year, Exxon Mobil announced a $31 billion deal to buy XTO to increase its natural gas holdings, including Marcellus Shale rights. And now comes the Utica formation, which has the potential to match or exceed the Marcellus in upstate New York, said Zaengle, who, after 20 years experience with Shell Oil, now works for landowner groups in the Southern Tier.
But there is still relatively little information about it, he added, and it is too early to know for sure what the outcome might be. "We don't know a lot about it," he said. "But based on what we do know about it, it looks like it has a lot of the same attributes as the Marcellus."
Gas Well Ruptures In State Forest Updated: 12:17 pm EDT June 4, 2010 CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa. -- A one-mile radius of Moshannon State Forest in Clearfield County was evacuated Friday morning after a gas well ruptured.
County officials said they responded to a gas leak and backflow at a gas well near the Punxsutawney Hunting Club.
The leak happened at a Marcellus drilling operation on McGeorge Road in the forest. The gas well is owned by EOG Resources, Inc., officials said.
As of 10:30 a.m., officials were checking camps to make sure all campers were evacuated around the site of the leak. Officials said they were dealing with gas leaking into the air.
According to state Rep. Bud George's office, initial reports from Process Equipment Manufacturers' Association said three of four wells were secured. The other well was releasing frack water and unignited wet gas, which caused the evacuation. Officials said an estimated 1 million gallons of frack water was uncontrolled as of 11 a.m. in the area of exit 111 on Interstate 80.
Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is the process of blasting millions of gallons of water deep underground to break up the shale and release the gas. Most of the frack water stays underground, but what comes up must be treated or disposed of in approved facilities.
In addition to the Emergency Management Agency and Department of Environmental Protection, teams from Texas were called to help control the situation and a command trailer was set up.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials said a portion of Route 153/Forestry Road was closed to traffic but there were no other major road closures.
DEP Plans Thorough Investigation in to Marcellus Shale Well Blowout in Clearfield County EOG Resources Well Released Fracking Fluid, Natural Gas for 16 Hours
HARRISBURG -- Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said today that his agency intends to investigate aggressively the circumstances surrounding a blowout at a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Lawrence Township, Clearfield County, and take the appropriate enforcement action.
At approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, the operators of the well, which is owned by EOG Resources, Inc., lost control of it while preparing to extract gas after hydrofracturing the shale. As a result, the well released natural gas and flowback frack fluid onto the ground and 75 feet into the air. The well was eventually capped around noon on June 4.
“The event at the well site could have been a catastrophic incident that endangered life and property,” said Hanger. “This was not a minor accident, but a serious incident that will be fully investigated by this agency with the appropriate and necessary actions taken quickly.
“When we arrived on scene, natural gas and frack fluid was flowing off the well pad and heading toward tributaries to Little Laurel Run and gas was shooting into the sky, creating a significant fire hazard. That’s why emergency responders acted quickly to cut off electric service to the area.
“Right now, we’re focused on limiting any further environmental damage, but once that work is complete, we plan to aggressively look at this situation and see where things went wrong and what enforcement action is necessary. If mistakes were made, we will be certain to take steps to prevent similar errors from happening again.”
DEP learned of the leak at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Friday after it was informed by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. DEP immediately dispatched its Emergency Response and Oil and Gas program staff to the site.
PEMA, which elevated its activation level to coordinate resources among multiple state agencies, also worked with PennDOT to initiate an airspace restriction above the well, which the Federal Aviation Administration authorized on a temporary basis earlier today. The restriction prohibits flights at and below 1,000 feet of ground level within a three nautical mile radius of the well site. The restriction is in effect until further notice.
The EOG well pad is located in a rural area near the Penfield/Route 153 exit of Interstate 80 in northwestern Clearfield County. Three other wells on the same pad that have been drilled and fractured remain plugged and are not in danger.
EOG Resources, formerly known as Enron Oil & Gas Co., operates approximately 265 active wells in Pennsylvania, 117 of which are in the Marcellus Shale formation.
New mortgages unavailable for properties with gas drilling leases, By Linda Fields
NORTHEAST Pa : Property owners may make money from leasing to Marcellus Shale gas drillers, and they may also find their property can’t be financed for a new mortgage. If gas is extracted and sold, the royalties can be lucrative; but what they may not know is that as long as a lease is intact, they may not be able to mortgage their property.
Broker Lori Rudalavage, who owns LA Mortgage in Clarks Summit, has been trying to sort out the policies being put into place at major banks. It hasn’t been easy, and it concerns her. “There are a lot of properties with leases in this area,” Rudalavage notes. She adds, when it comes down to obtaining a mortgage on those properties, "more and more of [the banks] are saying, no, no, no". When asked to comment for the record, Wells Fargo would only say it has “no opinion at this time.” But Rudalavage has been told that Wells Fargo would not be inclined to fund a property with a gas lease. In a memo, a top executive at the bank writes it would be “very difficult to obtain financing due to the potential hazard.” The memo continues, “Also if the Gas Leasing is new to the area there are too many unknowns.” One of the unknowns, according to the executive, is what the lease would do to “the marketability of a property.”
Rudalavage has been told by First Place Bank that it would pass on financing a gas-leased property. She says Citizen’s Savings & Loan has recently changed its policy from a “no deal” to a “maybe,” explaining that for a fee of 350 dollars, its attorney would review the lease and make a determination. This makes Rudalavage worry. “I do believe a lot of people signed leases without knowing it could hurt future selling or financing of the property.” She hopes a uniform policy will be adopted in the financial banking industry. “I think until a major bank takes a stand on it with a definitive policy - it’s going to be whatever they’re comfortable with. Even if you have a perfect credit score, you might not get financing,” she said.
The Realtor’s lament
How do you get a buyer to consider a purchase when they know the property might not be bankable?” asks Jennifer Canfield, a real estate broker in the Upper Delaware Valley. Canfield says she has been told by a customer that they were turned down for a home equity loan by GMAC because their property was under a gas lease. Canfield cites a long list of banks that won’t fund leased properties, based upon environmental risk. She adds, “Some local banks might underwrite their own loans. But many people don’t want someone else to decide for them where to get the loan.” She likens the situation to a homeowner in a flood zone for whom flood insurance protection has been withdrawn. GMAC has not responded to a request for a comment.
In Pennsylvania, the mineral estate can be separate from the real estate, thus allowing a private contract (i.e., a lease) to be drawn up between a landowner and a gas exploration firm. Environmental and infrastructure concerns in connection with Marcellus Shale gas drilling have been well publicized. But putting environmental concerns aside, if such a lease leads to the lowering of real property values, the separation may not be so matter-of-fact. According to James Leiser, a clerk at the Pike County Geographic Information Systems office, there are about 1,000 “Marcellus Shale” acres covered under five leases recorded in Pike County. But Leiser adds, his office hasn’t seen any leases come through since September of 2008.
Water needs on hold
County Planning Director Sally Corrigan says all water withdrawal permits, needed for the water-reliant fracking process, have been put on hold by the Delaware River Basin Commission, which needs to examine fracking. This makes little sense to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Tom Rathbun, who said the hydraulic fracturing method has been used since the 1940’s. He says that it isn’t the amount of water used that potentially can cause trouble, but what happens at the drilling site.
“There needs to be proper erosion and sediment controls, the storage of waste has to be handled properly on the surface,” Rathbun explains. He adds, the DEP also has to monitor well construction and the transportation of water. “All the talk about water withdrawals just diverts attention away from the real issues,” Rathbun says. “The amount of water used in this state for recreation dwarfs what the gas industry uses.”
Property devaluation hits tax revenues
Pike County Commissioner Karl Wagner Jr. says, “If a property owner cannot get a mortgage or sell their house because of gas lease, they could petition the Board of Appeals to have the fair market value of the property lowered.” While that could result in lower taxes and less revenue for the county, Wagner says it is premature to worry. He notes that there is pending state legislation that would give counties the right to assess oil and gas interests for property tax purposes, and share in any new revenue from natural gas development through state levies such as a severance tax.
Canfield laments, “Even if sellers want to hand over the revenue derived from a future well, the clientele I’ve always relied upon don’t care to come here for that. In my own case, the phone stopped ringing when it became widely known how many thousands of acres were signed up. It would be helpful if the same people who signed leases could see how much we have lost in revenue from property and home buyers who made use of local services, frequented retail shops and restaurants and hired local contractors for building and remodeling. We can someday, perhaps, recover from the economic downturn �but leases run with the land.”
May 27: Cleanup Boats Sent to Shore After More Workers Get Sick
by Ryan Knutson, ProPublica - May 27, 2010 1:45 pm EDT
<<<<<<< Operations continue to mitigate the effects of the BP oil spill on May 23, 2010, but on Thursday Deepwater Horizon Response ordered all commercial cleanup vessels back to shore after workers became ill. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Cmdr. Rob Wyman)
All 125 commercial vessels working to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been ordered back to shore temporarily after four workers on three separate vessels became ill, according to a Deepwater Horizon Response press release. It's unclear whether the crew members were working with chemical oil dispersants, which have been criticized for their toxicity. Our calls to officials in the region have not yet been returned.
The sick workers said they had headaches and chest pain, and were nauseated and dizzy. One was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Marrero, La., another was taken by boat and two were taken in an ambulance, according to the press release.
The current symptoms mirror those of other fishermen who were hired by BP to help clean up the spill, as we pointed out earlier this week. The dispersants BP is using to break up the oil have many health risks of their own. Earlier this month, the EPA told BP to stop using the chemicals and to switch to something else, but BP says there is no better alternative.
by Robert Swift (Harrisburg Bureau Chief) Published: May 26, 2010
HARRISBURG - Increased crime and damaged roads are two negative impacts of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom, Rendell administration officials said as the push for a state severance tax heats up. State police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski said state troopers are reporting more arrests and incidents involving drug use, assaults and illegal weapons in northern tier municipalities due to an influx of outside gas industry workers. The reports referred to were issued by Troop P, based in Wyoming, and Troop R in Dunmore, said agency spokesman Jack Lewis. State troopers provide coverage in many areas of the northern tier due to the lack of local police departments.
Hundreds of miles of secondary roads have been damaged or made impassable because of heavy truck traffic tied to drilling activities, PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler said. The two officials issued a joint statement Monday as state lawmakers debate levying a severance tax on natural gas production. The House Appropriations Committee approved a revenue bill Monday that includes an 8 percent severance tax. Revenues would be split on an 80/20 percent basis between the state General Fund and local municipalities.
"More and more, it seems the police reports coming out of the northern tier include arrests because of drug use and trafficking, fights involving rig workers," Mr. Pawlowski said. "We've even encountered situations where drilling company employees who have been convicted of a sexual assault in another state come here to work and do not register with the Megan's Law website." The crime reports could eventually be reflected in the annual Uniform Crime Report compiled by the state police, he added.
Trucks carrying water, equipment and chemicals to drilling sites have caused extensive damage to secondary roads, Mr. Biehler said. PennDOT has ordered drilling companies to post bonds for 1,711 miles of roads, and that mileage could double by year's end. "In a few cases, such as in Bradford and Tioga Counties, we've had to close roads and revoke a drilling company's permit to use those roads because repairs were not made in a timely manner," he said.
Overweight trucks used in the gas industry are responsible for much of the road damage, Mr. Pawlowski said. He referred to a Feb. 9 enforcement action in Susquehanna County in which 56 percent of the 194 trucks checked were over the legal weight limit.
May 25: BP Oilpocalypse Creates Underwater Nightmare
May 23: PA seeks stronger drilling rules
Pa. seeks stronger drilling rules to combat methane migration Problem associated with natural gas exploration
Methane migration related to natural gas drilling has caused death, injuries and property damage in Pennsylvania, leading to plans for stronger regulations and enforcement efforts.
Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection called drilling industry officials to a meeting in Harrisburg earlier this month to urge care in preventing underground gas leaks that can cause catastrophes.
The warning, along with a plan being developed for stronger regulations, comes in the wake of more than 50 incidents documented by the DEP showing methane migration from drilling implicated in deaths, destruction and evacuations of homes.
A recent high-profile case involves the Carter Road area of Dimock, where methane migration linked to drilling caused one residential water well to explode and ruined the aquifer used by a dozen households, according to DEP records. Dimock represents one of more than 50 gas migration cases the DEP is tracking related to new drilling and abandoned wells. All involved dangerous and sometime fatal accumulations of gas in enclosed spaces.
According to DEP records:
A house explosion from stray gas killed three people in Jefferson County in 2004. Officials have linked the blast to leaks from one or more faulty wells operated nearby by Snyder Brothers.
Stray gas migration caused a change in water quality and an explosion of a community-water well in Hamlin Township in McKean County in 2007. Combustible gas was also found in private water wells. Officials traced the problem to a nearby over-pressurized gas well.
In April 2008, the DEP found gas seeping into Little Sandy Creek in McCalmont Township, Jefferson County, and in the basement of a nearby residence. Officials found two over pressurized gas wells nearby.
A natural gas leak from a well drilled by East Resources affected multiple private drinking water wells and two tributaries to Lycoming Creek last summer. It forced one resident to evacuate her home and required closure of an access road.
<<<<<<<< A brown pelican flew Thursday past protective booms surrounding the Breton National Wildlife Reserve in the Gulf of Mexico.[Charlie Riedel/Associated Press]
By IAN URBINA Published: May 13, 2010
WASHINGTON — The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf. Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.
The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists. Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.
Size of Oil Spill in Gulf Underestimated, Scientists Say By JUSTIN GILLIS Published: May 13, 2010
Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom. But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. They also criticize BP for refusing to use well-known scientific techniques that would give a more precise figure.
The criticism escalated on Thursday, a day after the release of a video that showed a huge black plume of oil gushing from the broken well at a seemingly high rate. BP has repeatedly claimed that measuring the plume would be impossible. The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.
Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said he had made his own rough calculations using satellite imagery. They suggested that the leak could “easily be four or five times” the government estimate, he said.
May 8: Rumbles, sirens, and a very loud 'bang' at Compressor Station in Bedford, PA
May 8, 2010 Texas Eastern rumbled then ended with a very loud “Bang” like never heard before which scared neighborhood residents and children fearing what, they don’t know, but sounds life threatening. Clearville residents know this is a way of life next to industrial facilities such as gas processing, compressor stations who self report air emissions based on what they estimate to be released according to engines and other equipment…. knowing there are times when facilities shutdown due to equipment failure or perhaps have emergency releases of oily substances into the atmosphere which could and would go unreported unless citizens updated the report card. PADEP says “Citizens must be the “Watchdog”.
Could the design of the stacks be dangerous at the Texas Eastern Compressor station which consists of compressors driven by internal combustion (IC) engines or turbines. It is noted that these engines or turbines are typically fired with low-sulfur (sweet) natural gas withdrawn from the stream being compressed. Studies show that internal combustion engines emit significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. Smaller amounts of sulfur oxides and particulate matter are also emitted; however, the particulate matter are also emitted; however, the pollutants of almost exclusive concern for IC engines are pollutants of almost exclusive concern for IC engines are nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Depending upon the size and design of the compressor engine, NOx can be generated and emitted in large quantities. A large emission rate coupled with a short exhaust stack and a fenceline close to the stack can result in modeled off-property NOx concentrations greater than the ambient air quality standards. So where does Texas Eastern Compressor station come in with NOx and the stack design? Texas Eastern Compressor station self reported air emissions, 2008 indicated Texas Eastern released 196. 8 tons of Nitrogen Oxides. Is the design hazardous to the public?
Texas Eastern Compressor station behaves similar to the sister station in Clearville known as “Steckman Ridge LP”.
Shutdowns & Sirens and No one knows what really goes on behind closed doors!
May 5: US exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study
Deepwater Horizon explosion in Gulf of Mexico sends oil slick toward U.S. coastline Cleanup and containment efforts continue after an oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is leaking into the water at a rate of up to 5,000 barrels a day.
US exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study
By Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely. The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions -- show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.
Now, environmentalists and some key senators are calling for a reassessment of safety requirements for offshore drilling.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has supported offshore oil drilling in the past, said, "I suspect you're going to see an entirely different regime once people have a chance to sit back and take a look at how do we anticipate and clean up these potential environmental consequences" from drilling.
BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company's appeal for NEPA waivers in the past "was based on the spill and incident-response history in the Gulf of Mexico." Once the various investigations of the new spill have been completed, he added, "the causes of this incident can be applied to determine any changes in the regulatory regime that are required to protect the environment."
"I'm of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday. "That, in my opinion, is what happened."
Dr. Ian MacDonald at FSU just produced a new spill-size estimate based on the US Coast Guard aerial overflight map of the oil slick on April 28, 2010. The bottom line: that map implies that on April 28, there was a total of 8.9 million gallons floating on the surface of the Gulf.
That implies a minimum average flow rate of slightly more than 1 million gallons of oil (26,000 barrels) per day from the leaking well on the seafloor. Since we're now in Day 11 of the spill, which began with a blowout and explosion on April 20, we estimate that by the end of the today 12.2 million gallons of oil, at a minimum, have been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
The oft-quoted official estimate for the Exxon Valdez spill is 11 million gallons, although some think that is the lower limit of the likely range. It appears that we've just set a very sad new record.
Everyone is familiar with cement. But have you ever thought about its use in gas wells?
In the gas industry, cement plays a crucial role.First, the driller penetrates all the strata and the "cuttings" are removed, leaving a bare borehole. Next, a metal pipe called a casing is placed in the borehole. Most people believe fluids and gases can't possibly get through the casing, therefore the casing will protect underground aquifers from contamination.
Wrong. Pollution can still occur in the space between the outside of the casing and the inside of the borehole, called the annular space. This is why drillers force a cement mixture down the inside of the casing, then up the outside of the casing into the annular space until the cement fills this area and returns to the surface. This cement is the chief mechanism for protecting water sources from contaminants.
Having been an asphalt/concrete materials tester, I am concerned over the extreme conditions deep drilling operations will exert on this concrete. Portland Cement by nature is too brittle and low in tensile strength to withstand pressures and vibrations. A study, conducted by the petroleum industry itself and titled "From Mud to Cement-Building Gas Wells," illustrates the results of improper cement selection and design. (Google this title to download the study.) "Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry. Gas migration can lead to sustained casing pressure (SCP). By the time a well is 15 years old, there is a 50 percent probability it will have measurable SCP in one or more of its casing annuli. However, SCP may be present in wells of any age. Cement damage can occur long after the well construction process. Even a flawless primary cement job can be damaged by rig operations occurring after the cement has set. The mechanical properties of the casing and the cement vary significantly; consequently, they do not behave in a uniform manner when exposed to changes in temperature and pressure. As the casing and cement expand and contract, the bond between the cement and casing may fail."
Jilda Rush of Windsor is a former Oregon Department Of Transportation Engineer
April 21: Shale Shame
Fracking, then flaring: Range Resources flaring in Buffalo, PA before dawn on Labor Day, 2009. The heat from this flaring caught the nitrile impoundment liner to catch fire. Residents said “the rancid odor was almost as dramatic as the flare.” Gas companies are not required by law to capture methane immediately, so vast amounts of the gas are routinely burned in flaring. Photo: marcellus-shale.us By Iris Marie Bloom | 21.APR.10
Shale Shame: Cabot fined heavily for Dimock water contamination
Human illness, animal deaths tied to shale gas drilling in PA
On Monday, April 12th, gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel, along with local press and two Philadelphia-based reporters toured Dimock, PA. Dimock, a small town in northern Pennsylvania, has experienced some of the worst effects of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in the state. Hoeffel has called for a moratorium on new permits for shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania until new clean water regulations are in place statewide. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to issue over 5,000 new permits for Marcellus Shale drilling this year, without the new regulations in place and with no cumulative review of environmental and health impacts in the state. Organizers plan two protests this week in the Philadelphia area highlighting the environmental destructiveness of hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling for natural gas
At least 15 Dimock, PA families have been unable to use their formerly pristine well water for 16 months since Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas began drilling for natural gas there. The extraction process uses hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling, in which each fracturing, or "frack," requires 2 to 9 million gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals to release the gas. The primary ingredient in natural gas is methane.
"When our drinking water became contaminated with methane, we asked Cabot what to do. They said, ‘Oh, let it sit for thirty seconds ‘til the bubbles settle down, then you can drink it,’" Dimock resident Jean Carter said last Monday. "But I didn’t feel good for a long time; I felt light-headed and dizzy, with a lot of headaches. My health went down." Carter said she and her husband Ronald spent $6000 for water filtration systems for their household and their son’s household. But even that was inadequate to protect their health. The family was forced to bring all its drinking water in from elsewhere.
Cabot denied any wrongdoing, although it did install a tall methane vent pipe in the Carters’ yard to release some of the methane which otherwise would have continued infiltrating their basement, tap water, and home, increasing the danger of explosion. Elevated levels of toluene, which can affect the nervous system, were found in the Carters’ water. Low to moderate levels of toluene can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss; high levels can damage the kidneys.
When the "landmen" first promised lots of money in exchange for leasing their mineral rights, another affected resident, Julie Saunter, said, she and her family asked questions about safety. "They just said, ‘Ma’am, you think we’re going to make a mistake?’ They made it feel like we shouldn’t question them. And they lied to us—they said they could take our mineral rights if we didn’t sign the lease. They made it sound so safe and said they’ve been doing this for decades, of course it’s safe." In fact, horizontal drilling in combination with hydraulic fracturing began in 2002, and increased steadily in 2005 after the industry won exemptions from major provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws through the 2005 Energy Bill’s "Halliburton loophole."
Last fall, DEP officials determined that methane gas and drilling waste had leaked through cracked underground casing on Cabot’s gas wells and seeped into drinking water in the Dimock area. Cabot denied responsibility, and as recently as this March, methane continued to bubble up into private wells and springs. Public outcry increased, not just in Pennsylvania but also across the country.
Finally, last Thursday, April 15th, in one of the most punitive actions in Pennsylvania DEP history, the PA DEP fined Cabot $240,000 and ordered them to cap three of their active wells. The DEP also ordered Cabot to permanently provide drinking water to 14 of the affected families. Unprotected by state or federal oversight for over 15 months while drilling continued unabated, 15 Dimock families filed suit against Cabot. Last Thursday was the first time PA DEP asked Cabot, a $4.2 billion publicly traded corporation, to plug any of its operations.
Public attention initially increased after Norma Fiorentino’s water well blew up on January 1, 2009 due to methane contamination in Dimock. Two of the area families visited by the Joe Hoeffel gubernatorial campaign and reporters now have methane vent pipes, ten feet tall and several inches across, continually venting methane into the atmosphere, which would otherwise have gone into their private wells and homes. "It’s a bad situation, it’s just devastating," Jean Carter commented.
ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten reported last April that more than 50 cases similar to the water contamination in Dimock had already occurred across Pennsylvania. Clearville and Hickory: Residents describe flaring, blowoffs, fires, fish kills, water and air pollution; human sickness and animal deaths tied to natural gas operations
DISH – Tests on blood and urine samples taken from residents by state health officials in January have found the same toxic compounds in people's bodies that have been detected in the air and water here. The results showed that exposure is occurring, according to Louisiana chemist Wilma Subra.
"Clearly, it's connecting the dots – which we didn't want to happen," Subra said. Subra, the recipient of a 1999 MacArthur Fellows "genius" grant for her work as an environmental health scientist, has been working with the community ever since Dish spent $15,000 last year to commission its own study of the town's air quality. Eleven gas gathering pipelines converge at the southern end of the town, where five energy companies run major compression and metering facilities in a side-by-side complex of plants on Strader Road.
Allison Lowery, Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman, confirmed that the department sent results last week to all 28 residents who were tested, far fewer than the 50 people the agency originally planned to choose at random for testing. In addition, the department will release a summary report, since individual results are considered confidential. The aggregate report is being drafted now and should be released the last week of April or the first week of May, Lowery said.
Resident Amber Smith was troubled that it took so long to get the individual results, she said. When investigators came to take a water sample along with blood and urine samples in January, she was told it would take four to six weeks to get results. As she read the April 2 cover letter that came with her results, she said the words seemed carefully crafted. She was angered, however, she said, at how the letter suggested she had been exposed to the solvent N,N-dimethylformamidethrough"the production of electronic components, pharmaceutical products, textile coatings, and synthetic fibers." "I'm around none of that," Smith said. "They found the same compounds in all my neighbors, but in trying to explain that, they failed to associate that it could be the drilling. They never once did even mention that in their explanation."
Similarly, when he received his individual results, Mayor Calvin Tillman said he was reassured at first, since the levels detected in his blood did not exceed any average values for the general population, according to the cover letter that came with his test results. But no such baseline comparison exists for urine, where toxic compounds show up as metabolites in the body. And, after Smith and Tillman compared their individual results with several other residents, they became more concerned. The same toxic compounds found in their own blood and urine tests were detected in other residents. Tillman said he asked Subra to make some comparisons. Read more ...