Thursday, December 31, 2009

EPA tells DEC to conduct more thorough review on Marcellus Drilling

Yesterday, December 30, Region 2 of the EPA sent 17 pages of formal comments to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regarding proposed rules for drilling in Marcellus and shales. According to the EPA, the DEC needs to review and expand their analysis on the cumulative and indirect impacts in the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS). In addition, says the EPA, "greater emphasis needs to be placed on the potential health impacts that may be associated with gas drilling and hydrofracturing."

EPA is particularly concerned about the potential risks gas drilling poses to the New York City watershed. Despite the mitigation measures proposed in the SGEIS, EPA questions whether drilling in the NYC watershed is consistent with the long-term maintenance of the unfiltered water supply.

In addition, EPA lists a number of other issues of particular concern: water supply, water quality, wastewater treatment, local and regional air quality and management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) disturbed during drilling. The EPA monitors plans for disposal of water and brine containing NORM. In their comments, however, EPA notes that NORM concentrations in production brine of Marcellus wells have the potential to far exceed the Maximum Contamination Limits (MCLs) specified in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). So if brine is going to go through pre-treatments and end up eventually discharged into somebody's drinking water, EPA wants New York to figure out how to meet the federal regulatory levels. They also question the inconsistency of reporting concentration levels; levels of some radionuclides are reported in pico-Curies per gram (pCi/g) while others are reported in parts per million (ppm). Using ppm as an analytical tool could "significantly underestimate the uranium concentrations," says EPA.

The EPA also notes that the dSGEIS supplements the existing 1992 GEIS. But in the 17 years since the GEIS was written, the "existing environment and conditions in New York State have changed significantly". Reliance on the original GEIS as a "baseline" does not take into account the cumulative impacts fom habitat fragmentation and other impacts that may have occurred during the intervening years.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Environmental Groups Straddle the Fence on Natural Gas

It's hard to be a member of the Sierra Club when there's billions of cubic feet of natural gas trapped in the shale beneath your feet. That's because the national Sierra Club supports the production of shale gas as a "bridge fuel" while waiting for the development of wind, solar and other renewable fuels to catch up. Not only does the Sierra Club support the use of natural gas, they've become it's biggest cheerleader - not to mention an adoring fan for the gas companies.

According to Wall Street Journal writer Ben Casselman, Sierra Club  executive director Carl Pope has been spotted traveling around the country promoting natural gas's environmental benefits with none other than Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Mr. Pope believes that increased drilling for natural gas - with the "appropriate safeguards" - is the best way to get the country off coal, which he sees as a greater environmental threat.

A lot of folks living over the shale disagree with Mr. Pope. The are concerned about the tremendous volumes of water that will be used to drill the wells. They worry that the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) may contaminate their drinking water and the water they use for irrigation and livestock - either through surface spills, leaking cement casings, and other accidents. They wonder whether they'll be left with the enormous bills for road repairs, subsidizing corporate profits at taxpayer expense.

There are a lot of ways that energy companies could make their drilling practices safer for the environment. They could use "greener" fracking chemicals, recycle flowback and implement a host of other "best management practices". And perhaps that is what Carl Pope has in mind.

There is one thing that the greenest drilling practices simply can't address however: the industrialization of what is now rural and small town America. While the Sierra Club considers the environmental impact of a few wells they are blind to the larger picture - to extract natural gas in the most efficient manner will require a lot of wells.

Right now the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the industry are talking about 640-acre drilling units with multiple wells at each well pad. Something like 8 to 16 wells that go down a couple thousand feet and then extend horizontally for up to a mile or more. But some folks in the industry say that is just the beginning. As gas production declines over time, the companies will drill more wells in the area, shrinking unit size to 80 acres.

That cumulative impact is what folks like Carl Pope are missing. Which is why local environmentalists wonder why they've been abandoned by one of the oldest and most prominent conservation groups in the country. At least Trout Unlimited gets it.

You can read Ben Casselman's WSJ article here.
You can read Trout Unlimited's position here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Survey shows link between shale gas and health impacts

Today, public interest groups and the Town of DISH released the final results of a health survey of area residents focused on the impacts of Barnett Shale gas infrastructure. According to the results, over half of the health complaints can be attributed to toxics first revealed in September in a DISH-commissioned study of area air quality. Now the residents in DISH, along with Earthworks and the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project, are asking state regulators to take action. They want the state to perform an in-depth health investigation, implement continuous 24-hour emissions monitoring, and establish a same-day community odor and symptom tracking system.

Earthworks launched the health survey in September, after Wolf Eagle Environmental and the Town of DISH released air-sampling results showing that neurotoxins and carcinogens exceeded the state regulatory limits. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality promised to do their own air sampling and should release a report later this month. And the Dept. of Health Services plans a health investigation in 2010 to analyze oil and gas impacts. You can read more here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NY Attorney General Comes to Defense of Landowners Caught in Lease Extensions

Just one month ago the NY Office of the Attorney General announced that some landowners would be able to renegotiate the terms of their gas lease - or get out of their lease altogether. In an agreement between Fortuna and the OAG, the gas drilling company promised to stop using misleading tactics to unilaterally extend leases on properties. They also agreed to pay $192,500 to the state to help settle the matter.

“Drilling companies will not be permitted to use misleading letters and dubious legal claims to bully landowners,” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said. “Many of these companies use their size and extensive resources to manipulate individual property owners who often cannot afford to hire a private attorney,” he said, adding that this type of land-grabbing practice must stop.

Back in April, Fortuna sent letters to hundreds of landowners whose natural gas leases with the company were about to expire. These letters falsely stated that Fortuna had the right to extend these leases without the permission of the landowners.

Fortuna claimed (falsely) that the leases contained a provision that allowed them to put the lease on hold until the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) got around to issuing permits for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus. But, says the OAG, most landowners’ leases contained no such provisions.

In these letters Fortuna offered landowners 30 days to extend their leases for an additional three years, with a small increase in the royalty. Landowners choosing to not extend their leases would be sent a “Notice of Force Majeure”, and Fortuna would file the notices with county clerks as well. That would prevent landowners from freely negotiating drilling rights with other companies. 

Not only did landowners feel that these letters were corporate bullying, but they also felt that the gas companies who were threatening Force Majeure were giving new meaning to the concept of "we can't drill." You see, no one was preventing gas companies from drilling vertical wells, and there are plenty of other gas-bearing strata in the area. Not only that, other companies were actively drilling.

The letters motivated enough landowners in one county to seek assistance from the OAG. They wrote to the Attorney General, sending along copies of what they felt were misleading leases. Some wrote multiple letters, but eventually the OAG paid attention. 

Give Fortuna credit for sitting down at the table with the OAG, because they certainly aren't the only player in this game. Chesapeake also sent out similar letters this summer, and so far they haven't come to the table with the Attorney General. Not only that, Chesapeake decided to try extending the old 10-year leases they bought up a few years back. Some of these leases were so old that when they were signed the going rental rate was $3 - $5/acre.

So, when the landmen filled out these leases, they left blanks instead of penning in an extension of the lease term. Back in 2008, Chesapeake decided they would not extend the leases beyond the primary term, and sent letters to landowners saying so.

But what a lot of difference a year makes! This July Chesapeake changed their mind and told landowners that they would extend the leases - keeping to the original terms, of course. So while their neighbors were negotiating deals close to $3,000/acre, Chesapeake was threatening to extend leases up to an additional decade at three bucks an acre! 

Then, this fall, Chesapeake began sending out checks to landowners to “continue and extend for another year” their leases. Even if the landowners don’t cash the checks, they were led to believe that their lease would be extended.  

Now with the possibility that DEC will begin permitting wells in a couple months, the land grab has begun in earnest. Landmen are once again going door to door with their notepads full of company leases. And, according to folks they've visited, they're using the same pressure tactics.

Read more about force majeure here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What to do With Drilling Wastewater? Use it again!

Whether you are pro-drilling or not, the issue that tops discussion about Marcellus gas wells is what to do with the water. You know: the frack flowback and, after that, the brine and other water produced by the shale formation.

Since last fall Nick Schoonover, founder of the Tioga County Landowners Group, has been telling the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), industry representatives, landowners and anyone else who would listen that "closed loop drilling" might be the solution. [photo of a NOMAD mobile evaporator from Aqua Pure Ventures, Calgary in use in the Barnet Shale field]

Part of the reason a conventional drilling site requires a large well pad, says Schoonover, is they've got to have somewhere to hold the drilling slurry and other wastewater coming out of the well. Drilling a vertical well into Trenton Black River and other formations takes close to 350,000 gallons of water and fracking fluid. The horizontal drilling and fracking required to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale will require million of gallons - somewhere between 3 and 5 million gallons of water per well. The water will come out of our local rivers, streams, lakes and ponds and will most likely be trucked in by large tankers.

Add to that the tanker trucks needed to haul off the wastewater and you've got about 1,000 truck trips on our country roads (closer to 7200 for an 8-well pad). Not only is that a lot of wear and tear on the roads, but it's a lot of fuel going up in exhaust and a lot of water.

A closed loop system offers an opportunity for on-site wastewater treatment. The process involves separating solids from liquids, using both mechanical means (shaking and screens) and chemical means. A centrifuge spins the water out of the solids. Then the water can be stored for re-use in the drilling process. According to the EPA, drillers using this method see an 80 percent reduction in use of water. Schoonover pointed out that re-using water could reduce truck traffic nearly 75 percent and would eliminate the need for reserve pits.

A study by OGAP (Oil & Gas Accountability Project)  of two wells in Matagorda City, TX backs up Schoonover’s figures. The wells were drilled 200 feet apart. One used closed loop drilling and the other used conventional drilling with a waste pit. The two wells were drilled into the same formation, and used the same crew and the same drilling rig. The well using the closed loop system not only saved 43 percent in costs for drilling fluids, but they also saved money on drill bits and the drillers finished the job quicker than the conventional well.

Just how much money can drillers save using closed loop systems? Try $11,000 per well. It's a money-saver, says Schoonover, and it could reduce pollution associated with gas drilling. Not only that, BLM lists closed loop systems in their best practices. You can read Broader View Weekly's article on closed loop systems here and ProPublica's article on better drilling practices here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to protect Bridges and Roads once Gas Drilling begins?

That's the question that town board members and highway superintendents have been puzzling out for the past few months. Highway superintendents from towns across our county have been meeting with town and county attorneys to discuss everything from crafting road laws to developing road use agreements.

The problem: once the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopts their rules for drilling in Marcellus and other shales, the drilling rigs will begin to move into NY in earnest. While no one knows how many wells to expect - the estimates range from 2,000 to 4,000 - there are 10 permit applications pending in my town alone. And we expect more..... lots more.

The concern is that the truck traffic associated with construction of the well pad and the drilling operations will damage local roads, leaving the taxpayer stuck with the bill. It's happened in other towns - one town is coping with over $300,000 in damages and another a mere $80,000 or so - and our town has experienced some road damage already. So now, before the heavy trucks come, is the time to hammer out the details.

Which is why earlier this week our town highway supervisor sat down with a group of town council members, planning board members, and citizens to go over language for a potential "road use agreement". The idea behind a road use agreement is that drilling companies and municipalities agree on truck routes prior to any well pad construction or drilling activity. It also lays out expectations for maintenance and reimbursement for road damage.

The DEC suggests in their supplementary Generic Environmental Impact Statement - the draft of the rules for drilling in Marcellus - that gas companies ought to consider local road use agreements. They don't require it.

But maybe they should. According to the DEC's own document it could take as many as 8900 truck trips to construct the drilling site and drill and frack a multi-well pad with 8 wells. These aren't pick-up trucks either; they're 18-wheelers weighted down with tons of equipment, chemicals or water.

Our highway super would like to give each gas company a list of acceptable truck routes. After all, who knows more about the roads than the guy who patches them and plows them? He also suggested that gas companies should complete a survey of all roads they will use prior to any activities.

One point he stressed is that gravel and seasonal roads cannot withstand the structural and functional damage that would result from heavy vehicle use.So if the gas companies are going to be driving out in the boonies - which pretty much describes most of the area around here - they will need to make improvements to the roads so their heavy trucks won't get bogged down. (Go to any talk on drilling in these parts and there's the obligatory slide of the bulldozer pulling an 18-wheeler up a very muddy, rutted rural road.)

Bridges and culverts are also an issue. Our town has 10 bridges that are large enough to be inspected by the state and, according to one town councilman (who served as highway superintendent years ago), it would take a minimum of  $1 million to repair one of those bridges.

“It’s not the weight," he says. Rather, it's the combination of weight and frequency of trips that damage a bridges. His solution: have drilling companies build truck by-passes. "That's a relatively inexpensive and quick solution,” he said. 

Just how many truck trips does it take to build a well?   
In chapter 6 of the SGEIS (section 11) DEC estimates the number of truck trips required for a multi-well pad ( 8-wells) in the Marcellus:

Drill pad & road construction equipment   10 – 45 trucks
Drilling rig                                                 60 trucks
Drilling fluid & materials                             200 – 400 trucks
Drilling equipment (casing, etc)                  200 – 400 trucks
Completion rig                                          30 trucks
Completion fluids & materials                    80 – 160 trucks
Completion equipment (pipe, wellhead)    10 trucks
Hydraulic fracture equipment                    300 – 400 trucks
Hydraulic fracture water                           3200 – 4800 tankers
Hydraulic fracture sand                             160 – 200 trucks
Flowback water removal                          1600 – 2400 tankers

Monday, December 7, 2009

DEP Fines Chesapeake, Schlumberger for Spill in Bradford County, PA

Today the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that they have fined Chesapeake Appalachia LLC and Schlumberger Technology Corp. $15,557 each for a 295-gallon hydrochloric acid spill at Chesapeake’s Chancellor well site in Asylum Township, Bradford County.

"Fortunately, this hazardous waste spill was promptly reported, which proved critical in limiting the environmental damage," DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell told the press. Here is the information DEP released today:

Chesapeake staff notified DEP on Feb. 9 that a 21,000-gallon tank containing 36 percent hydrochloric acid was leaking. The acid was used for hydraulic fracturing.

When a DEP inspector arrived at the site, it was determined that the tank had two leaks and was losing about 7.5 gallons per hour of hydrochloric acid.

Chesapeake’s emergency contractor arrived that evening and removed free-standing acid from the ground with absorbent pads; excavated trenches to contain the acid; neutralized acid-contaminated soil with soda ash and hydrated lime; and transferred about 11,000 gallons of acid from the leaking tank to two temporary tanks.

About 126 tons of contaminated soil had to be excavated, and more than 13,800 gallons of a hydrochloric acid and water mixture were removed from the well site.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fragmenting the Agricultural Landscape one Well at a Time

For most of the farmers in our area - upstate NY perched atop the Marcellus - oil and gas leases have been part of the business since their grandfathers pounded in the first fenceposts. But with a huge reservoir of natural gas beneath their hayfields and forests, and bonus payments heading north of $5500/acre, leasing has become the number one rural land-use issue says Brett Chedzoy, a regional forester with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Chedzoy, who is also a farmer, speaks from experience. His  livestock operations have been interrupted not once, but twice for  gas pipeline construction projects. Without proper lease protections, farm and forest owners face potential losses in terms of timber, wildlife habitat and other property uses, he says.

If a gas company wants to use your land for a drilling pad or as a right-of-way for a pipeline, they ought to pay fair value for all timber removed from your land, Chedzoy says. Even young successional forests have value. An 8-inch tree may have current value only as firewood, but if left for another 50 years it would have significant value as a saw log.

The problem, Chedzoy says, is that too often energy companies use bulldozers to clear land. That leaves downed trees mixed with stones and debris - unacceptable to a mill or to someone using a chainsaw. Instead, trees should be cut by an experienced logging crew and stacked in an accessible location

As with fields, forest owners need to protect their topsoil, restore drainages, and control erosion. Once construction is completed, the soil needs to be de-compacted. Then the topsoil should be replaced and – especially if the area will be maintained by brush-hogging – make sure that the rocks and stones are picked out. Unfortunately, some farmers say that even when these items are outlined in their leases, the gas companies are not following their directives.

Pipeline Right-of-Ways

Access roads and well-pads are not the only threat to agriculture. According to Chedzoy pipeline right-of-ways (ROWs) are the number-one entry point for invasive species. Once you take out the trees, you create an “edge” – an opening preferred by such invasive species as European buckthorn, multifloral rose, privet, several Asian species of honeysuckle, burning bush, Japanese barberry, autumn olive, swallowwort, Oriental bittersweet, and garlic mustard.

The problem with invasive species is that they interfere with native plants and degrade the wildlife habitat. Take buckthorn, for example. It displaces other berry-producing shrubs such as Viburnums and blackberries. and the buckthorn fruit isn't very nutritious for the animals; it causes them to vomit the fruit without digesting any nutrients. This is great for buckthorn dispersal, but not very beneficial for the wildlife.

Invasive plants also affect the quality of the forest. The more competitive invasive plants may shade or crowd out the existing seedlings and saplings, changing the character of the woods. Or, like garlic mustard, they may produce chemicals that inhibit seed germination.

Pipeline right-of-ways also create other problems for forest owners. Landowners needing access to their forests for timber harvest will want to make sure there are permanent crossings for skidders and other heavy equipment. Otherwise forest owners wanting to sell a few trees may find themselves required to provide a “timber bridge”.

Trespass liability has become an issue as well. Many forest owners have complained that pipeline ROWs become conduits for ATV and snowmobile traffic.

Cumulative impacts

David Behm, NY Ag and Markets Farmland Protection Program Manager, is concerned about preserving agricultural land for future generations. He wonders whether conservation easements will be strong enough to protect farmland in the face of the anticipated natural gas rush.

A conservation easement is a legal document that is written in the form of a deed. It permanently restricts the future development of a piece of property for the purpose of preserving or maintaining the scenic, open, historic, agricultural, or natural condition, character or significance of that property. And, Behm explains, it can be modified to allow a well.

Thing is, while a single well on a farm doesn’t seem like a huge impact, Behm is concerned about the cumulative impacts of gas development on a given agricultural landscape over time. He believes that access roads to well sites will fragment the agricultural land. 

"Anytime there’s a road dividing a field, agricultural land is at risk," Behm says. He is particularly concerned about access roads that cut off a couple acres from a larger field – those smaller pieces are at risk for development, Behm says. You can read more about forest and ag-land issues here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Radioactivity Present in Marcellus Brines

When you buy a home in upstate NY, one of the things you do as a matter of course is test for radon. That's because many of the rock layers beneath our homes contain naturally occurring radioactive material - "NORM" for short. And for years the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has held the view that normal disturbances of NORM-rock, such as mining and drilling, do not generally pose a threat to workers or the general public.

But recent tests of brine from Marcellus wells may change that.  In October 2008 and April 2009 the DEC submitted 13 brine samples from twelve Marcellus wells that were actively producing gas last year. Test results came back with higher than expected levels of NORM. Some brines had levels of radium-226 as high as 250 times the allowable level for discharge into the environment and thousands of times higher than the maximum allowed in drinking water. 

Radioactivity in Shale

Radioactivity in Marcellus shale, present as trace elements uranium-238, thorium-232, radium-222, radium-226, and radium-228, is not uniform; it varies from place to place. Over time these radioactive particles decay, with half-lives anywhere from 4 days to 1600 years. And while some exposure to radiation is unavoidable - we're all exposed to a certain amount of background radiation - it doesn't necessarily mean it's harmless.

Exposure to some radionuclides – even at low levels – can cause bone cancer, stomach and lung cancers and other health problems. Radon gas, long known to be associated with Marcellus shale, has been shown to be the primary cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked.

So the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established guidelines for certain radionuclides: the maximum contaminant level of radium in drinking water as 5 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), for uranium is 30 pCi/L and for the total alpha emitters is 15 pCi/L. They've also established levels that can be put into the environment: the maximum level of radium-226 allowed to be discharged in wastewater is 60 pCi/L and the maximum levels in soil are 5 pCi/g on the surface and 15 pCi/g in subsurface soils.

But in some of the Marcellus brines,  DEC found levels of radium-226 ranging up to 16,030 pCi/L - more than 3200 times higher than the allowable levels in groundwater and 267 times higher than what’s allowed to be discharged into streams. 

Radioactive Waste

These higher-than-expected levels of radionuclides does present a problem, given that the current waste treatment option for gas well brines is to transport them to a public wastewater treatment facility. And this past summer the New York State Department of Health (DOH) raised those concerns. According to a report by ProPublica, the DOH sent a letter to DEC warning of public health issues related to disposing of the drilling waste. Wastewater treatment plants will need to do more thorough testing before accepting drilling fluids, noted DOH, and workers may need to be monitored for radiation in much the same way as workers at nuclear facilities.

Four of the twelve or so active Marcellus wells in NY are operated by Fortuna, and all four of those wells are located in the little town of Orange, in Schuyler County. Given the relatively low volume of wastewater of the current vertical wells - compared to what’s expected from the horizontal Marcellus wells - and given the lack of local industrial wastewater treatment facilities, it is unclear how the gas companies expect to deal with disposal of Marcellus brines.

But one thing is certain: the DEC has not set out any rules regulating radionuclides. Instead, they will run another series of tests, says DEC spokesman Yancey Roy. Rick Kessey, an engineer at Fortuna, agrees that more tests are needed. The DEC’s test results aren’t wrong, Kessey said, but they do seem “out of whack” with previous tests.

Meanwhile, the Marcellus wastewater has to go somewhere. In the past, DEC has allowed brine to be spread on roads to help melt snow and keep down the dust. But public comments at DEC hearings and the recent Marcellus Shale summit held in Owego earlier this week indicate that people aren't comfortable with the idea of "hot salt" on their roads.

There's another problem, too, says Roy. The DEC is concerned about the potential buildup of radioactivity in scale inside casings, pipes and other drilling equipment. That equipment may have to be monitored, Roy said. In addition, the DEC is concerned about potential accumulation of NORM in the sludge from treated wastewater. Radioactive waste can’t be dumped in any municipal landfill in New York State, so that means shipping the waste to Utah, Idaho or other western states that have licensed disposal facilities. 

You can read the results of the brine tests yourself in Appendix 13 of the DEC’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement -click on Appendices part 1.
added December 21: You can read more about radioactivity in brines in this article from Broader View Weekly.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Concerned New Yorkers to Governor: Withdraw the SGEIS

This is a busy time for board members and other municipal officials in Upstate NY. They've got til the end of December to submit their comments on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) regarding horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Marcellus and other shales. This is not a trivial pursuit; the Town of Danby's comments spread over 20 pages.

But even as public officials try to beat the comment deadline, thousands of others are calling on Governor Paterson to withdraw the SGEIS.  Last week over 100 people attending a meeting in Ithaca signed on to the letter, and they're hoping to get another couple thousand over these next few days.

Their reason? The SGEIS presumes that the 1992 Generic Environmental Impact Statement for oil and gas drilling - a document that took over a decade to produce - adequately protects human health and the environment.

But it doesn't, says Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting. The current regulations fail to adequately safeguard citizens against impacts on water quality, land use, economic and cultural resources and wildlife - and he has 270 cases of spills and accidents to prove it.

Regulations for current gas wells aren't protective enough and the industrial nature of drilling in the Marcellus will create multiple opportunities for even more environmental problems. The SGEIS would allow huge impoundments for flowback and brine - and already PA's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has slapped a couple corporate wrists for poorly engineered impoundment structures.

Then there's the problem of wastewater. “Where will it go?” Hang asks. Public wastewater treatment plants in NY aren't equipped to deal with the high levels of dissolved solids in the brines. Nor are public treatment plants set up to deal with the radioactivity expected to be in Marcellus brines. Instead, NY drillers have been transporting millions of gallons of brine and well wastewater to Pennsylvania and Ohio. But at the last DEC hearing in Corning a Pennsylvania man said, "don't send it to us. We don't want it."

“The bottom line,” says Hang, “is that the [NY] government is not safeguarding your public health and safety. That's why he is actively circulating the petition that asks Governor Paterson to withdraw the SGEIS. "That action will allow the de-facto moratorium on drilling permits to continue," Hang says, and a continued moratorium will allow towns and citizens more time to push for stronger environmental cleanup protections.

As of last Monday, nearly 2,000 people and organizations had signed on to the letter. Now it's your turn. Anyone concerned about the flaws in the proposed rules (even folks outside NY) can read the letter and sign on right here. And if you can get a few celebrities to sign on, so much the better!

You'll also find an interactive map and the profile of 270 oil and gas spills at that site. And check out the facebook page "no fracking way".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Citizens Sue Village over Schlumberger Project

Since July, and throughout three public hearings, residents of Horseheads, NY and the surrounding area have been asking the village elders to conduct a more thorough environmental review of the proposed Schlumberger building project. 

Last winter Schlumberger Technology Corporation plunked down a chunk of change for 88 acres in the Horseheads Industrial Center. It is an area zoned for light industry and manufacturing and contains warehouses and distribution centers. There is also another gas field service industry on the site - a company that provides equipment needed for drilling.

Schlumberger hopes to construct a 400,000 square foot facility to store fracking chemicals and explosives needed for gas field development. And they claim that their facility will bring 300 to 400 jobs to the area.

But residents are concerned that local municipal officials have embraced potential economic gain at the cost of potential environmental contamination. During the public hearings they repeatedly expressed their concern to village board members that it seemed like the project was a “done deal”. They begged the town board to conduct a more complete environmental review.

In particular, residents raised questions about stormwater permits, air quality and the impact of increased truck traffic on adjacent schools and residential neighborhoods.

At one point the Horseheads Village board seemed to agree; during their review of Part I of the environmental assessment (at their September 30 meeting) they  determined that the Schlumberger facility could potentially impact ground and surface water quality, air quality, wildlife and public health and safety. Less than a week later, the Village determined that there was no need for further environmental review, and on October 15 they issued a “negative declaration.”

This decision cleared the way for site plan approval and outraged many local residents. Outraged them so much that on November 12 a group calling itself People for a Healthy Environment filed a lawsuit against the Village. They claim that approval of the Schlumberger project was “illegal, arbitrary and capricious” and ask that the project be halted until more a complete environmental review can be done.

Horseheads Village didn’t just give a deaf ear to the people. They – and Schlumberger –also ignored demands from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to cease activity on the site until certain requirements had been met.

Since summer Schlumberger has been operating on the site, with permission of the Village. They have a temporary structure, chemical storage silos as well as trucks parked on the site. Still, Schlumberger insists that what they are doing is not "construction" and therefore requires no permits.

The NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is not amused. On September 30 the DEC issued a Notice of Violation to Schlumberger for failure to obtain proper permits for stormwater discharges. You see, stormwater from the Schlumberger site discharges into a NY state freshwater wetland and into Catherine Creek, which eventually spills into Seneca Lake – precisely the concern raised by residents at board meetings and public hearings.

DEC directed Schlumberger to: discontinue all chemical and material storage; discontinue all construction support, maintenance and storage operations; and discontinue all storage and maintenance for vehicles providing oil and gas field services.

Schlumberger’s response was to continue their activities at the site. Until recently. It took another letter from DEC, but according to Peter Lent, regional permit administrator for DEC, as of November 13 Schlumberger is honoring the cease work directive.

In the meantime they are trying to get a stormwater permit for their temporary site.

It won’t be easy. In an 8-page letter to Schlumberger, DEC listed a number of things Schlumberger needs to clarify before a permit will be issued. Schlumberger needs to make sure chemicals are stored correctly; an October 15 inspection revealed a tarpaulin roof leaking water onto chemicals stored on pallets. It also cited chemical and additives dust on the storage building floor.

DEC has also requested Schlumberger to be more forthcoming about the chemicals stored on site. Instead of lumping them together in a broad category, such as “dry additives” they will need to list the components of the mixture.

 As for the citizen lawsuit, the group expects a response from village officials sometime in December.

You can read about the October public hearing here . You can read more articles about Schlumberger here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

News from around

Here's some updates from a few of my colleagues found on The Gathering Line. The Gathering Line is a round-up of oil & gas drilling news brought to you by National Alliance for Drilling Reform (NA4DR), a broad alliance of grassroots activists from states across the nation that are affected with drilling development.

Amy Goodman interviews of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca, NY-based environmental database firm which released a report last week, uncovering 270 documented hazardous chemical spills which occurred over the past thirty years. PA's own Department of Environmental Conservation's database contained records of fires, explosions, wastewater spills, well contamination, and ecological damage related to gas drilling. Take a moment to watch the interview Amy Goodman Interviews Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting Mr. Hang is calling on NY Governor David Paterson to withdraw the Draft Supplemental Geologic Environmental Impact Statement, citing woefully inadequate reporting which will not come close to protecting the environment, water, and public health. This is a must-see interview! Visit Gas Wells Are Not Our Friends to find out more from Peacegirl!

Would you consider this a small footprint?See the effects of 40 years of drilling!Read it at Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths.

Gas drilling is destroying Pennsylvania's wilderness. The Pennsylvania Wilds include more than 2,000,000 acres of publicly owned virgin forest, clear mountain streams and abundant wildlife. Read about how these public lands are being violated and watch for public action you can take soon to defend the Allegheny National Forest, part of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

TXsharon continues to follow the abuses of Aruba Petroleum in a Barnett Shale backyard and Wednesday the Wise County Messenger picked up the story--don't miss the comments. It's all on Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Colleyville tables application for first well site. See story at Flower Mound Citizens Against Urban Drilling

Monday, November 16, 2009

Compressor Stations a side-effect of Marcellus Drilling

The current message to landowners situated over the Marcellus shale is that if they want to lease their land for good money, they need to provide a way for the gas company to get the gas out and send it to market. That means allowing drilling on their land and allowing pipelines.

It also means allowing gas compressor stations, and over the past summer Chesapeake Energy constructed a new and larger compressor station just a few miles from here. Gathering lines from six local wells carry natural gas to the station on Federal Road in Erin, NY. The compressors increase the gas pressure so it can be pushed into the Millennium Pipeline (which carries the gas off to NYC).

Chesapeake threw the on-switch last month and already two of the nearby neighbors are complaining about the noise.

“It runs 24 hours a day seven days a week,” said Richard Usack who lives close to 500 feet away. “It sounds like a lawnmower running outside my window all the time. This is ruining my life.”

And it’s not just the noise that bothers Usack. “At night it’s lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said, and those lights shine into his windows all night long. Usack has called Chesapeake a couple of times about his concerns, and they’ve sent someone down to measure the sound. But they don’t share the results with Usack.

What really bothers Usack, though, is that the town didn't have a site review or notify neighbors about the project. Sure, he sold the one-acre parcel to Columbia a few years back - and Columbia sold it to Chesapeake - but Usack didn’t realize they would use it for such a large compressor because the town has zoning. And that area is zoned residential/agricultural, not industrial. The compressor, he says, is industrial in nature.

According to the Town Code Enforcement officer John McCracken, Chesapeake, already had an existing compressor there. Therefore, they were exempt from everything except the building permit for the structure surrounding the compressor.

Flipping through the blueprints on his desk, McCracken reads off a few design specifications:  a hospital-grade muffler; estimated engine power around 700 hp; noise level expected to be 40 decibels at the site. Oh yeah, and it's powered by natural gas. More about that later.

McCracken estimates that Erin will see another five compressor stations as the Marcellus shale is developed. To place an essentially industrial activity in the currently zoned residential/agricultural district will require special use permits, he notes adding, “If towns don’t have zoning, they won’t be able to control where compressor stations are located.”

This is becoming a problem south of the border, in Bradford County, PA.  Brian Davis, Bradford County planner, says the county has no zoning and already there are three compression stations. He expects more to come.

Residents may have little say about where a compression station goes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep mum. When people complained about the noise at a compressor station near Albany, the company installed acoustic blankets inside the compressor station buildings to help muffle the sound.

Right now nobody in Erin is thinking about potential air quality concerns. That's because there's only one compressor in town. But Calvin Tillman, the mayor of Dish, Texas, warns that emissions from gas-powered compressor stations like the one in Erin have the potential to pose serious problem.

In a phone interview last week he explained some of the problems Dish residents were experiencing. But we have eleven compressor engines, he emphasized. The problem is, they are located just outside the town boundaries, and just beyond town jurisdiction. Dish has no control over where those compressors are located.

"Texas allows the companies to permit each station separately," Tillman explained. It's done with "permit by rule". As long as each compressor does not reach or exceed the allowable emissions threshold they are permitted. "They don't consider the cumulative effect of all the compressors in the area," he said.

The air in Dish got so bad that the folks in town voted to use  a chunk of taxpayer money - 15 percent of their annual budget - to fund an air quality study. Of course, the energy companies have been saying our study wasn't well done, Tillman said. But now the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality is conducting their own studies and, according to Tillman, their results support the earlier Dish study. Results are posted on the town website at

Friday, November 13, 2009

AMA concerned about endocrine disruptors

Earlier this week The Endocrine Society released a news blurb noting that the American Medical Association may be closer to working with the federal government to enact new policies to decrease our exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  Given that frack chemicals contain EDC's, any effort to reduce public exposure is welcome news.

According to the Endocrine Society, the resolution states that the AMA will work with the federal government to pursue regulatory oversight of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Regulations, they say, should pass through a single office to ensure coordination among agencies - with the exception of pharmaceutical agents that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are used for medicinal purposes.

The resolution also requires that policy be based on comprehensive data covering both low-level and high-level exposures and that national policy should be developed and revised under the direction of a collaborative group comprising endocrinologists, toxicologists, occupational/environmental medicine specialists, epidemiologists and policymakers. You can read more here.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frack Chemicals are as safe as laundry detergent.....

If you ask folks around here (Upstate New York) what concerns them about gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, contamination of drinking water and groundwater aquifers usually tops their list. Given the number of brine spills already documented by DEC, not to mention the three frack chemical spills about two months ago just over the border, and you begin to understand the concern.

Cabot Oil and Gas had three spills at two of their wells. Eight thousand gallons of a water/gel frack mixture oozed across the soil and into Stevens Creek and into a nearby wetland. DEP slapped Cabot's hand, ordering them to halt operations for a couple of weeks and fining them $56,000 and change. But still, 8,000 gallons is a lot of frack gel to spill on the ground.

That same month Brad Gill, executive director of IOGA-NY tried to ease people's concerns about the potential contamination of water from chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. “These chemicals are no more dangerous than those found in personal care products and laundry detergent,” he said at a public meeting in Corning, and flashed a slide of the Materials Safety Data Sheet for a common household cleaner on the screen.

His point? That people use products containing chemicals similar to those used in fracking fluid every day. Brad isn't the only one to compare frack chemicals to the stuff you wash your face with each morning or toss in with the diapers.

Christopher Helman, writing in Forbes last month, noted that the acids, surfactants, petroleum-based lubricants, corrosion inhibitors and microbe-killers are "basically the same carcinogenic chemicals found in household cleaners Formula 409 and Drano." So maybe we shouldn't drink it, but basically it's not scary stuff.

But many of the chemicals in the shampoos, cosmetics and household cleaning products contribute to cancer. They contain chemicals that mimic hormones - such as estrogen - and these synthetic chemicals disrupt normal hormone behavior in our bodies.

There are environmental estrogens in shampoos, body lotions and sunscreens; they may be absorbed into our bodies through the skin. And cleaning products and laundry detergents may contain nonylphenol polyethoxylate, a surfactant that breaks down into an estrogen mimic. But there's a whole lot of difference between the 32-ounces of detergent I might spill in my laundry room and the 8,000 gallons of gel Cabot spilled in PA.

To read more about laundry detergent, fracking chemicals and cancer click here.


Monday, November 9, 2009

270 Drilling Accidents in NY - So Far

For the past 18 months or more the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has steadfastly clung to their mantra that there have been no drilling accidents in NY. Ever. And we've had lots of experience with drilling, they say, noting that since the 1800's there have been close to 70,000 wells drilled in the state.

Furthermore, many of these wells have used fracking, they add, claiming that what was safe in the past few decades will continue to be safe for the future.

Apparently they forgot about the 270 drilling accidents reported in the last three decades. Walter Hang, who owns a small research company called Toxics Targeting recently posted a file to his website listing 270 incidents of wastewater spills, well contamination, and other ecological damage related to gas production since 1979.

Hang, who has also mapped TCE plumes in the local neighborhoods in Ithaca, NY, is an environmental advocate. While he's never come out against gas drilling, he has said on many occasions that there are environmental risks, and has asked for public disclosure by DEC on well accidents. They didn't; Hang did, and now we can read all about it.

The interesting thing Hang noted is that of the 270 incidents he posted, DEC only caught 60 of them. The remainder were reported by citizens - people who were involved in the incident or folks who just happened to notice something looked wrong and called it in.

Hang's release of this data comes just as DEC announces a 30-day extension for comments on the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) for horizontal drilling/hydrofracking in the shales. You can find that 809-page document on the DEC website.

It also comes on the heels of an announcement by PA's Department of Environmental Protection fining Cabot Oil and Gas $120,000 for damages and ordering the company to restore or provide a permanent alternative for the drinking water wells destroyed by methane migration earlier this year. You can read the full announcement here.

The most interesting thing to notice about the spills Hang posted is that in the first dozen the cause is "equipment failure". The next interesting thing is that there are no penalties. Here's a sampling of incidents from Hang's files:

November 1996- a resident in Freedom complained about a problem with drinking water from his home well. He thought it might be related to the gas drilling over on Bixby Rd about a mile from his house. The DEC investigator commented that gas escaped through a fault in the shale and affected properties 1 and 1/2 miles away. He found gas bubbling up in ponds and ditches, and they evacuated 12 families. The problem? An equipment failure. The penalty? None.

October 1997 in Willing, NY - a brine tank overflowed spilling 15,000 gallons which flowed through a field and into a local creek. The brine spill killed vegetation, and a local farmer was concerned about his cows drinking from the creek. Solution: gas company erected a fence so cows wouldn't get to creek and provided temporary water supply. They decided to let natural vegetation grow back following season. The problem? A faulty valve. The penalty? None.

September 2003 in Independence, NY - another brine spill. This time 100,000 gallons spilling into Shanada Creek. DEC comments: no one saw any dead fish. (That means it's good, right?)
The problem? A broken valve. The penalty? Oh, come on.... do I have to really say it again?

You can read the entire report here. Just don't eat your lunch while reading....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Update on Owego Frack Fluid Treatment

On Oct. 27 Andrew Blocksom presented his plans for a frack fluid treatment plant to the Town of Owego Planning Board and was told to do a bit more homework (see Oct 28 entry). Patriot Water Treatment LLC had submitted a site plan and a "short-form" Environmental Assessment Form" (EAF).

The "short form" is indeed short - only two pages in length. Instead of the 20 or so questions about environmental impacts on the longer form, there are only seven concerning potential adverse action on the environment. At the meeting the planning board asked Patriot Water to provide more details - and complete the longer EAF - before bringing the proposal back to the board.

Which, Blocksom says, they are working on. He also says that he is working with the DEC to figure out what other permits may be required, as the type of treatment facility he hopes to build is very different from anything they've permitted. Apparently DEC is going to ask for some air quality information as well.

The biggest concern voiced by both residents and planning board members last week was the lack of detailed information about the recycling treatment process. Blocksom’s overly simplified description left people wondering what happened to the frack fluid when it entered the facility and where would the solids and salts be stored after their removal from the drilling waste fluid. People also wanted more details about the proposed impoundment and what actions Patriot Water Treatment would take in the case of a spill or a flood. Perhaps the thing that bothered people the most was Blocksom’s continual reference to frack waste as “non-hazardous” and “non-toxic” material.

When Blocksom submitted his plans to the town, he included some information about equipment developed by Aqua-Pure Ventures Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, and implied that Patriot would be leasing from that company. So I called up Aqua-Pure and spoke with Patrick Horner, the lead engineer.

The facility proposed for Taylor road will employ a process called “mechanical vapor recompression evaporation” (MVR) said Horner . He explained that Aqua-Pure already has nine well-site units using this process in Texas and they are working with Eureka Resources in Williamsport, PA to establish a permanent facility much like the one proposed for Owego.

IF Patriot does indeed use the NOMAD units built by Aqua-Pure, the frack fluid will go through a series of stages. During the first stage the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the water is adjusted. This is when metals and solids precipitate, or drop out of the frack fluid. The solids go through a de-watering process and, once they are dried into cakes, transported to an industrial waste facility.

Meanwhile, the remaining liquid is subjected to the MVR process to reduce the salts. One of the problems both Blocksom and Horner raised is that fluid with extremely high levels of salts, above 80,000 to 100,000 parts per million (ppm), are hard to distill. “And the Marcellus wells tend to have higher levels of salinity in their flowback,” Horner said.

Fluid that has low salinity, and distilled water resulting from the treatment process will be trucked back to the wells for use in fracking.

The NOMAD isn't the only type of unit available, and Aqua-Pure isn't the only company developing this technology. In a telephone conversation today, Blocksom indicated that his company is considering other companies as well. With 20 tough questions to answer and some research to do, it's not likely that Patriot Water Treatment LLC will be ready with an updated proposal in time for the November 24 planning board meeting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hydrofracking inspires great harmony

A buncha local musicians pooled their resources (no compulsory integration required) and came up with a hummable ditty. Will Fudeman, an Ithaca singer/songwriter  takes his tongue from his cheek long enough to sing his new song about what's coming down the pike for us in upstate NY.

He begins, "Pardon me sir, I wonder if you might be willing to sign a lease. Your money troubles will cease..."
Helping Will are Tom Sieling (harmonica) Colleen Kattau (vocal) and John Simon (off-camera-guitar)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Even if you don't have a lease, they can take your gas

At least here in New York. I live in the southern tier, land of rolling hills and forests and hayfields. Underneath is all is the Marcellus Shale, a much-coveted resource that energy companies would like to convert from cold hard rock to cold hard cash.

With so much potential wealth beneath our feet you'd think we'd be inundated with leasing agents. If it weren't for the DEC's year-long break to prepare a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) we would be. Still, even though DEC is not handing out permits for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus, they will soon. In fact, Fortuna Energy has 11 applications pending in our little town andn I am sure there are more on the way.

Once DEC approves their final version of the SGEIS the land rush will begin in earnest. You see, to drill a well a company has to show that 60 percent of the land in the drilling unit is leased.  What happens to those not leased? If their land falls within a drilling unit, their gas is taken through a process called "Compulsory Integration".

Now some landmen, when  they come to your door, speak of "compulsory integration" in much the same tone as "the goblins 'll get ya if ya don't watch out".

It doesn't matter that you might not want to lease or have drilling anywhere near your farm or water well. What matters for the DEC is that they can assure that the mineral resources are extracted in the most efficient manner possible. So they pull you in kicking and screaming.

Still, they do have some rules to protect you - er, to make sure that you receive "just" compensation for the extracted gas. And those rules are what compulsory integration is about. Basically they assure that a landowner will receive at least 12.5 percent royalty for gas removed.

Maybe that was OK back in the 1800's when that rule was first written. But now, with landowner groups negotiating for 20 percent and higher royalties, the state's "protection" seems more like a rip-off.

Well, say the gas folks, that's only the floor. The person who is forced - er, "integrated" into the unit will receive the lowest royalty on the unit leases. So if that's 20 percent, they're doing well. BUT given that many of the leases were signed when 12.5 percent was the "going rate" it looks like integrated landowners are screwed.

Not so fast, say the gas folks. Landowners can choose to be "participating owners" in the gas well.  That means you take on some risk - such as covering your part of the cost for drilling the well - but you receive 100 percent of the royalties. For your portion of the well.

Or you can be a "non-participating owner". Instead of forking over the money upfront, you pay a "risk penalty" of 200 percent, plus your costs  - a grand total of 300 percent - before you see any income. But hey, once the costs are recovered, you get to cash those royalty checks.

There are some other options. One idea landowners have considered is incorporating as an LLC and leasing their land to their LLC. The royalty set-up is better, but at this point the insurance agents and lawyers don't seem to be too sure about liability issues.

Some neighbors in the next town over had their own creative solutions to compulsory integration. You can read about it here.

Congress Urges EPA to Conduct New Study on Fracking Risks to Drinking Water

It took contaminated wells in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania and a thousand other places, but it looks like EPA may be doing what they should-a done back in 2004: a study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water supplies. But this time, says Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D- NY) the EPA will be “using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information.”

In a press release issued October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision authored by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) that formally urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a new study.  The Senate is due to pass the identical bill in the coming days and President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law soon after that. Earlier in the week members of the Interior Appropriations Conference Committee, including Hinchey, signed off on the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill and report for fiscal year 2010 – the document containing the study provision.

“While natural gas certainly has an important role in our national energy policy, it's imperative that we take every step possible to ensure that our drinking water supplies are not contaminated or adversely impacted in any way,” Hinchey said. “This legislation puts Congress on record in support of a new, comprehensive study that will examine the impact that hydraulic fracking really has on our water supplies.”

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior in May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Hinchey and others that she felt the EPA should look into the issue and review the agency’s policy. This is an about-face for an agency that in 2004 insisted that hydraulic fracking “poses little or not threat” to drinking water supplies.

The 2004 EPA study is often cited by the gas industry whenever people bring up concerns over drinking water contamination. It also served as the basis for a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the SDWA. This meant that the oil and gas industry could inject hazardous materials directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies without undergoing further regulatory review.

Criticism of the 2004 EPA study started before the ink was dry. EPA’s own scientists said the study was “scientifically unsound” and claimed that data and reports showing problems with hydraulic fracturing were left out of the final document. The report also failed to address the fate of frack fluids left underground and toxicity of the fracking fluids and excluded data on vertical fractures or casing problems.

In contrast, Hinchey’s provision urges EPA to conduct a study “using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information.”

Read more about the issue here

Monday, November 2, 2009

Roundup of news from the Gathering Line

Gathering Line
- a special pipeline that transports gas from the field to the main pipeline.

The Gathering Line is a round-up of oil & gas drilling news brought to you by National Alliance for Drilling Reform (NA4DR), a broad alliance of grassroots activists from states across the nation that are affected with drilling development.

This week's Gathering Line is too scary for Halloween

Peacegirl writes about gas drilling in Bradford County, PA. Welcome To Bradford County, PA, calls attention to an article in the Fall 2009 issue of Save the Bay, the magazine of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which features the North Branch Susquehanna River in Bradford County. From the blog Gas Wells Are Not Our Friends where your comments are always welcome.

Aruba Petroleum is drilling a Barnett Shale gas well in the backyard of Tim and Christine. Their property was taken, it's value diminished, they were threatened and now Aruba Petroleum spilled toxic drilling waste a few feet from where their daughter plays. Another tale (with VIDEO) about the Victims of the Shale on Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Allegheny State Forests Littered!! Park Management Tries To Bring Drilling To A Halt And Are Met With IntimidationRead it at Cheap
Tricks and Costly Truths

TodayĆ­s environmental horrors could lead to a scary Sci-Fi future. Drilling Santa Fe offers an excerpt from Apocalypse Soon by Laura Paskus.

Splashdown says, Kiss myGas!

Williams Petroleum wants to pipe drilling waste water under our homes in Flower Mound, TX to a huge tank farm. Flower Mound Citizens Against Urban Drilling we discovered an alternative that is safer and greener. Williams claims to be a "good neighbor." Here's their chance to prove it.

Gas Leases & Legal Issues for Landowners

It was standing room only (or close to it) in the James Law Auditorium at Cornell's Vet School last Thursday (Oct 29) when more than 200 people showed up for a forum on "Legal Issues for Landowners. The forum was co-sponsored by Shaleshock Citizen Action Coalition, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and a host of others including local Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

Four attorneys addressed issues of gas leases, property law, pipeline easements, compulsory integration, and landowner coalitions. One of the things that still seems to stymie landowners is that when they sign a lease with a gas company they could be creating a "title defect".

"The severity of the defect depends on what you ultimately want to do with your land," said attorney Randy Marcus. A typical gas lease goes far beyond allowing the gas company to drill; they can build access roads to their well pad, take trees (timber), erect fences, put up buildings, and construct pipelines if you don't negotiate limits to these rights, Marcus said. He pointed out that most banks won't put a mortgage on a property with a lease. If a family purchases country acreage for their dream home, and the previous owner had leased the mineral and surface rights to a gas company, the home-in-the-country dream may not get financed.

Another issue Marcus raised is homeowner liability and insurance. "Accidents happen," he said, and noted that a number of insurance companies will not insure properties with a lease. Others have substantially increased their premiums.

While DEC's new draft rules for drilling the Marcellus (dSGEIS) takes up a lot of pages (809) it does "virtually nothing to protect the value of your property," said Marcus. Right now the gas companies can drill a well as close as 100 feet from your home. "That's five pick-up trucks parked end-to-end," Marcus said. "Not what the average homeowner expects in their backyard."

Attorney Jane Welsh agreed with Marcus. Later in the evening she said that DEC "doesn't really have protection at heart" of their dSGEIS. She feels the environment is getting the short end of the stick and urged landowners to submit comments on the dSGEIS. She also emphasized the importance of conducting baseline water testing, in case well water becomes contaminated through drilling or spills.

Attorney Helen Slottje addressed the issue of pipeline right-of-ways. The message of the night: there will be a lot of them, and nobody is coordinating where they go. Without some sort of oversight the pipeline right-of-ways will slice through forest and farmland. clarification: the discussion was in reference to gathering pipelines that go from wells to compressor stations and the large pipelines, such as Millennium, that transport gas to market.

Slottje also raised the question: what would happen if landowners got together to create a coalition of folks who refuse to lease their land? To form a drilling unit a gas company must have 60% of the land under lease - they can incorporate any hold-outs through "compulsory integration" - more on that tomorrow.

But, said Slottje, what if landowners joined in solidarity to keep acreage unleased? If they got enough acres they could effectively stop the drilling in their area.

Friday, October 30, 2009

First DEC hearing draws ire

Between now and Thanksgiving the NY Department of Environmental Conservation is hold four - count 'em: 1, 2, 3, 4 - public hearings to collect comments on the 809-page draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, aka the dSGEIS. This document is focused only on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas from Marcellus shale (and other shale deposits).

They held their first hearing at Sullivan County Community College on Wednesday night, October 28. According to Liz Bucar, who blogs at Breathing is Political the vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd was opposed to drilling in New York State. She gives way more local color than the ProPublica gal; have fun reading.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Owego Town Planning Board to Patriot Water: You've Got Work to Do

About 50 residents showed up to the Town of Owego Planning Board meeting last night (Oct. 27) to learn more about the Patriot Water Treatment LLC plans for recycling frack fluid. The planning board, which is the lead agency for this project, has the authority to approve or reject the site plan. Last night, after listening to the company's proposal and an hour or more of citizen comments, the board decided that they needed more information before making a decision. They gave Andrew Blocksom, one of the Patriot Water owners, a long list of items they'd like more information on by the next meeting.

Seems like the biggest issue that both residents and planning board had was the lack of detailed information: What exactly is this process of cleaning up the frack waste? Where will the recycled water go? What happens if there is a spill or a flood? Will there be open pits (impoundments) holding frack fluid? And why can't we find your company on the internet?

Turns out Patriot Water Treatment LLC is brand-spankin' new, created only recently by three guys who see the potential in offering a service to the gas companies. They'll be leasing the water treatment equipment from Aqua Pure, a company out of Calgary, Canada that is on the web. The process, Andy explained to me after the meeting, is one that precipitates out the heavy metals and solids (which get transported to a proper waste facility) and then - if the remaining water is not too salty or doesn't have too high a level of TDS (total dissolved solids) - they send it through a distilling process and the "clean" water is trucked back to the wells to re-use for fracking. The brine (wastewater) is sent to an injection well in Ohio - at least for now. (Fortuna has a permit to test a "non-producing" gas well in Van Etten for potential as an injection well - more on that later.)

Aside from the fact that this company is new, and that Andy gave what he called his "kindergarten" presentation [and clearly not enough details to satisfy the locals and the planning board], what really bothered folks was that he constantly said that the frack waste was "not hazardous" and "not toxic". The other issue was the amount of truck traffic - 4 trucks/hour, 24 hours/day, 7 days a week - routed up and down a steep hill near through residential areas.

"Why not follow the regular truck route through town?" asked one guy. Another wanted to know whether the planning board could put a route restriction on the trucks, and quite a few expressed concern about the taxpayers underwriting the road maintenance for repairs, as each truck will weigh something on the order of 80,000 pounds.
So, where will this treatment facility go? On the site of the old Chevy dealership on Taylor Road. This is zoned an "industrial" area, and sure enough there are a bunch of industries there already: Sanmina, Lockheed, Moore's Tires and service center, a bowling alley, a wastewater treatment plant and a small electrical business. There are also four churches and a preschool within a couple minute walk from the site, and the nearest residence is a mere 500 feet from the edge of the pavement, where the frack tanks will be lined up - not 1500 feet as stated a week earlier at the county planning board meeting. As some folks pointed out last night, the area is already zoned industrial, and the idea of recycling frack waste sounds good; it might reduce the amount of water pumped out of the local rivers and streams.

But, as the planning board said last night: there are a lot of unanswered questions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Frack Waste Treatment Plant in Owego?

While I was deliberating budget matters during our town library board's monthly meeting, the members of the county planning board were deliberating whether or not to allow a frack-fluid treatment plant into the next town over.

Somehow a draft copy of the Tioga County (NY) Planning Board minutes for the Wednesday, October 21 meeting ended up in my in-box; reading them was nearly as exciting as reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Patriot Water, LLC hopes to establish a treatment facility where the old Chevy dealership used to be. The business, they say, will treat hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid and transform it into "distilled water" which can be re-used by gas drillers for further fracking. It will also create a whopping 20 jobs.

The treatment facility will store frack fluid and their treated water in tanks on-site. They plan to build an enclosed impoundment (pool) to store incoming frack fluid - lined with two 36-ml rubber linings and assembled using bolts.

Patriot Water LLC estimates that the average truck traffic to their facility in the near future will be 4 trucks/hour running 24 hr/day - and that will increase over time. They also note that although their proposed site is in the 100-year 500 -year * flood plain (and there have been at least two big floods there in the 20 years I've lived here) that this will not be an issue. In fact - they're not required to obtain a floodplain permit! (corrected 10/ 27 at Owego Town Planning Board meeting)

The real gotta-turn-the-page reading came with the comments. Andy Blocksom, the Patriot Water representative, insisted time and time again that the 200,000 to 240,000 gal/day of frack fluid they'll process is not toxic. "It's just water with a small portion of heavy metals and brine," he said - and we all know how healthy arsenic and cadmium can be, not to mention Radium 226 and 228, just two of the "Normally Occurring Radioactive Materials" (NORM) that are sure to be present in flowback from Marcellus wells.

But, hey, DEC doesn't call this stuff toxic. They don't even call it hazardous. To DEC all this frackin' stuff is simply considered "industrial waste".

On top of that, if there is a flood Patriot Water will simply stop accepting frack fluid and let what they've stored just "dilute and drain" with the floodwater - into the Susquehanna.

At the end of the discussion the Tioga County Planning Board recommended approval of the site plan. Tonight - Tuesday, October 27 - the Town of Owego Planning Board will meet at 7pm to address the Patriot frack fluid ("this is not toxic stuff") treatment facility. Update later....