Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Owego Puts Wastewater Sale on Hold

Owego Mayor Ed Arringon confers with atty Irene Graven
On Monday night the Village of Owego decided to conduct environmental assessment before voting on the Inflection-wastewater sale.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the village Board of Trustees voted to retain the legal services of Syracuse law firm Hancock and Estabrook to assist in the environmental review and regulatory compliance. Owego Mayor Ed Arrington explained that the board was not prepared to vote on the sale at that time. “There is still additional work to be done,” he said.

The deal, which could potentially generate as much as $3.6 million a year for the cash-strapped village, still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Residents want to know whether the Village is limited in selling only to Inflection, how – and whether – the agreement can be renewed, and who pays for the development of the pumping site.

The problem is that no one – except Village officials, Inflection representatives and a bunch of lawyers – has read the agreement. That’s because village attorney Irene Graven is denying all FOIL requests for documents related to the sale.

“The agreement may be impaired if it is released right now,” Graven said at Monday night’s meeting.  

Environmental attorney Helen Slottje insists that there is no basis under the Freedom of Information Act to keep the agreement under cover, and Robert Freeman of the NY Committee on Open Government concurs.

Graven acknowledged the difference in opinions and left an opening to revise her stance. “I’m reviewing the (FOIL) requests,” she said last night.

People need an opportunity to see the proposed agreement, says Kevin Millar. The village resident has, through conversations with board members, learned that the contract ties the village into a ten-year lease with Inflection.

“It sounds like the contract was developed by Inflection,” Millar said. And he’s concerned that the agreement might not be in the best interests of the Village. “If we can’t see the contract how can we be sure it is a good deal for the taxpayer?”


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Owego To Sell Treated Wastewater for Drilling

This coming Monday, December 20, the Village of Owego Board of Trustees will consider an offer from Inflection Energy LLC to purchase effluent from the municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for use in gas drilling operations. Yup, you heard right - someone wants to buy the stuff that comes out of the sewage plant, mix it with fracking chemicals and inject it into Marcellus wells for fracturing the shale.

Right now the Village discharges the effluent (treated wastewater) into the Susquehanna River. If Inflection has its way, the Village could turn sewage into gold – or at least cold hard cash. Close to $3.65 million a year, according to the presentations on the Village website.

The deal, mayor Ed Arrington explained a couple weeks ago, is that Inflection would purchase up to 200,000 gallons of effluent for 5 cents a gallon. There’s a minor glitch – if the treatment plant hopes to sell the effluent, they need to install an ultraviolet disinfection unit. And that will cost about $400,000.

Not to worry, says Inflection. The corporation will front the costs and recoup their investment by paying only two-and-a-half cents a gallon for water they use until the loan is paid off. Which, says the mayor, could be as few as eighty days, if they are using the water at their maximum capacity. Or longer, if they only use a fraction of the water.

Selling WWTP effluent is not an idea unique to the Village elders. Three years ago Prescott Arizona auctioned off their effluent at $24,650/acre foot - that's 7.5 cents/gallon. If Owego charged that much they could potentially haul in a couple million over the price Inflection has offered. And, says Bret Jennings, Director for the Hallstead Great Bend Joint Sewer Authority, some municipalities in PA are charging even more.

Of course, there are some potential problems with the sale, increased truck traffic being a prime concern. It was just a year ago that Mayor Ed Arrington objected to Patriot Water due to the truck traffic it would bring through the village.

Another concern – and one that has little to do with environmental issues – is the fact that residents have not been allowed to read the proposed agreement between Inflection and the Village. When this reporter requested a copy to peruse, village deputy clerk Teresa Sedlacek said, “It’s not available to the public.”

Why not? Well, Sedlacek explained, “the village attorney says it is a negotiation, not a contract.” Village attorney Irene Graven has not responded to a telephone request for clarification.

“The agreement should be a public document,” says environmental attorney Helen Slottje. She feels that the Owego officials are illegally denying citizens access to a document that even the Council of Mayors deems a public document.

Not only that, the public won’t be allowed any time to comment on the proposed deal before the Village Board addresses the issue – privilege of the floor is second on the agenda.

The Board meets Monday, Dec 20 at 7 pm in Hubbard Auditorium at 56 Main Street, Owego following a brief public hearing on some local laws.

You may read the presentation on selling wastewater on the Village website http://www.villageofowego.com/news.aspx

Thursday, December 16, 2010

DEP Bails on Pipeline; Cabot offers $4.1 Million to Dimock Residents

Dimock water or bottled water? asks Craig Sautner.
Today the PA Department of Environmental Protection announced that Cabot Oil and Gas Co. has agreed to pay $4.1 million to residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, who have had their drinking water supplies contaminated by the drilling.

The settlement negotiated between Cabot and DEP will “enable the affected families to address their individual circumstances as they see fit,” says DEP officials. It also binds Cabot to offer and pay to install whole-house gas mitigation devices in each of the 19 affected homes.

In addition, Cabot will pay DEP $500,000 to offset the state’s expense of investigating the problems in Dimock.

DEP Secretary John Hanger explained that the amount paid to each family will equal two-times the value of their home, with a minimum payment of $50,000. “In addition to the significant monetary component of this settlement, there is a requirement that Cabot continue to work with us to ensure that none of their wells allow gas to migrate,” Hanger noted.

According to a press release from Cabot, upon compliance with the terms of this agreement the company will be allowed to resume well completion operations in the Dimock/Carter Road area. They hope to begin those operations in the first three months of 2011, with new drilling commencing before June.

Dan Dinges, chairman and chief executive officer for Cabot told the press that this settlement “provides the right balance of regulations, financial payments, timely execution and operational safeguards that in the end will protect the resources of Pennsylvania, promote economic development of clean-burning natural gas and continue to create good paying jobs in the natural gas industry.”

Of course, this settlement is only the latest in a series. In November 2009 DEP issued a consent order and agreement requiring Cabot to install whole-house treatment systems in 14 of the Dimock homes. Residents complained that Cabot’s actions did not solve the problem.

Five months later, in April 2010 DEP ordered Cabot to cap three wells and put a halt to drilling.

Five months after that, in September, DEP promised to construct a 5.5-mile water main from the Lake Montrose water treatment plant to Dimock because Cabot wasn’t fulfilling any of the agreements for solving Dimock water woes. The water pipeline would cost the taxpayers close to $12 million – a cost DRP said it would recover from Cabot.

Faced with the prospect of paying higher taxes to provide fresh drinking water to their neighbors, several Montrose businesses fomented an “Enough Already” campaign to rally citizens against the pipeline project (The Inn at Montrose, Warner Quarries, Guy Parrish's, Lockharts, Brunges Commercial Supply, Taylor Rentals, PJ's Cafe and the Rock Mountain Sporting Clays - flip to page 2).

Given the opposition to the planned water line and the uncertain future the project faces, Hanger said the department would abandon its pursuit of the project.

“Our primary goal at the department has always been to ensure that the wells Cabot drilled in Dimock were safe and that they were not contaminating local private water supplies,” said Hanger.

You can read Cabot's Consent Order and Agreement at http://ia700309.us.archive.org/27/items/CabotPADEPagreement/FinalCoa121510.pdf
Tax appraisal for escrow determination is at http://ia700309.us.archive.org/27/items/CabotPADEPagreement/ExDTaxAppraisalEscrowFundValues.pdf

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Moratorium And No Horizontal Hydro-Fracking

NY Governor David Paterson has figured out how to have his cake and eat it too. By vetoing the fracking moratorium and banning permits for high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking until July 2011 he’s got both industry and the environmentalists singing his praises.

Why veto the moratorium? Even though tens of thousands of citizens lobbied for a moratorium on hydro-fracking, Paterson expressed concern that the bill went too far.

The moratorium bill, as written, would halt issuing permits for wells using “hydraulic fracturing  for the purpose of stimulating natural gas or oil in low permeability natural gas reservoirs, such as  the  Marcellus  and Utica shale formations.”

That included vertical wells and, depending on how one interprets “low permeability”, might have halted drilling in other strata. Convinced by industry that too many jobs would be lost – some 5,000 – the guv vetoed the bill.

Paterson made industry happy. “We are very pleased that the governor saw the bill for what it was – a flawed piece of legislation replete with unintended and dire consequences for the people and businesses in our industry,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY).

New York Farm Bureau actively opposed the moratorium too, posting an “action alert” on their website. Within a week close to 600 people sent anti-moratorium letters to the governor from the NYFB’s site.

Landowners had reason to cheer as well. Ever since Paterson directed DEC to develop a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), Chesapeake and Fortuna have threatened to invoke “force majeure” in order to extend their leases.

A force majeure clause in a lease allows the terms of a lease to be extended under unforeseen circumstances. It was intended to protect a contractor who cannot complete his project given such things as hurricanes or union strikes. But the gas industry argues that being prevented from drilling horizontal fracked wells in Marcellus – even though they can drill vertically or exploit other strata – is stopping them from doing business.

Landowners worried that a moratorium would indeed justify the industry’s force majeure argument.

Paterson also made the environmental community happy. “He’s given us more time to evaluate the critical issue of high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking,” said Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates of NY.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton explained that an Executive Order, no matter how good, is second best to legislation. A statute, she points out, would not fact the risk of being rescinded by Governor Cuomo when he takes office.

“There was also a lot of misinformation from the industry,” Lifton said. Regardless of how safe people insist the current drilling technology is, there are problems with vertical wells. That’s why the moratorium included vertical wells, Lifton said. Indeed, it was vertical Marcellus wells that contaminated the drinking water wells in Dimock, PA.

What does the Executive Order really say? Not much, when you really read it.

In comments prepared for the press the Governor emphasized that before drilling requiring high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking begins, there must be absolutely no doubt that the technique is safe.

“The enormous revenues that could eventuate from such drilling would not be worth the cost of serious environmental harm,” Paterson said. He added that he wants DEC to examine all available evidence, including data from other states.

To that end, Paterson directed DEC to:
  • Complete its review of public comments and revise the draft SGEIS in a way that comprehensively analyzes the environmental impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling and ensures that such impacts are appropriately avoided or mitigated;   
  • Ensure that that adequate regulatory measures are identified to protect public health and the environment;
  • Publish a Revised Draft SGEIS on or about June 1, 2011;
  • Accept public comment on the revisions for a period of not less than thirty days;
  • Consider scheduling public hearings on such revisions in the Marcellus shale region and New York City;
  • Continue prohibiting permits for high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking until the completion of a Final SGEIS.     
So what is it we've ended up with? The drillers can drill - even vertical wells into Marcellus and Utica shale if that's where they want to spend their money. They can complete individual Environmental Impact Statements for horizontal Marcellus wells under the old GEIS rules. As for the Executive Order - the governor pretty much says "get 'er done" in the next six months.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

NY Governor Vetoes Moratorium; Delays Hydro-Fracking till July

Drill rig near Troy, PA
Corrections made 12/13 at bottom of post.
This afternoon Governor David A. Paterson vetoed the moratorium bills, S.8129-B/A.11443-B, which would have suspended issuing new drilling permits through May 15, 2011.

Contemporaneous with his veto, Paterson issued an Executive Order which directs the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to conduct further comprehensive review and analysis of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale. The Executive Order requires that, if approved, high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted until July 1, 2011, at the earliest.

In a press release Paterson said, “We in government must always focus on protecting the well-being of those whom we represent and serve, but we also have an obligation to look to the future and protect the long-term interests for our State and its residents.”

As for the moratorium bill, he stated that the legislation, though well intended, “would have a serious impact on our State if signed into law. Enacting this legislation would put people out of work – work that is permitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation and causes no demonstrated environmental harm, in order to effectuate a moratorium that is principally symbolic.”

Read the press release concerning the executive order here.
On Dec. 13 the executive order was posted to the Governor's website here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dirty Water in Big Flats

corrected Dec 8, 2010
Grimy, fizzy, combustible. That’s how Joe and Bonnie Todd describe their water. It’s full of sediment and has so much methane that the gas causes vapor-lock in the water tank – something Bonnie found out when she was trying to run a load of laundry.

The Todds believe their water woes are related to gas drilling activity about 3,000 feet to the west. Over the summer Anschutz Exploration Corporation drilled a couple gas wells on the Dow farm up Yawger Road. They’re looking for gas in the Trenton-Black River layer – a dolomite formation buried thousands of feet below the Marcellus shale. The gas lies trapped in grabens, or troughs, situated between parallel faults.

Getting gas out of dolomite pockets doesn’t require the same kind of hydraulic fracturing used in Marcellus wells. But the drillers still have to stimulate the deep wells to get the gas flowing.

They still need to drill through layers of stone, crossing through aquifers on their way down. And that means using drilling muds and friction-reducing chemicals. It also means injecting a weak solution of hydrochloric acid to dissolve any residual limestone in the dolomite.

“I was told the well would be a deep well,” Joe said. “I was told we wouldn’t be dealing with fracking chemicals.” He never expected methane to be a problem.

The Todds aren’t the only ones with water problems – nine of their neighbors have also found high levels of methane and sediment in their water. They’ve complained to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), but DEC claims that “the way the gas wells were constructed makes it unlikely that the gas has migrated from deeper formations into the aquifer.”

As for the sediment – DEC attributes that to seasonal fluctuations or mechanical failures of the homeowners’ wells. But, the Todds point out, what’s the likelihood of ten different homes experiencing the same problem at the same time?

What frustrates the Todds is that they wanted nothing to do with drilling in the first place. They didn’t sign a lease. But enough people did sign, and by the beginning of the year the Todds were placed into the drilling unit by “compulsory integration”.

In NY, when 60 percent of the landowners land in a drilling unit has been leased have leased their land, unleased land may be “pooled” into the unit. Read more here and here. Even though the Todds didn’t want to lease, Anschutz now had the right to drill and extract gas from beneath their property.  

If this is what happens with a deep well, Joe asks, what will happen when they start drilling Marcellus Shale?

To learn more about the issues surrounding compulsory integration and Big Flats, read Peter Mantius's excellent article here.
You can read a longer article about the dirty water in Big Flats in this week’s Broader View Weekly. It will be posted here in a couple weeks.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Does the Moratorium Bill Really Say?

drilling near Troy, PA
It’s amazing how much controversy 175 words can cause. Ever since the NY Assembly passed the moratorium (Assembly Bill 11443) industry representatives have been spinning it as a move that is sure to drive the state economy into ruin.

“It’s putting drillers currently working in the state at risk,” Jim Smith said in a phone interview. Smith, who works with the NY Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY), explained that the moratorium could halt all natural gas development that uses hydraulic fracturing – not just drilling proposed for the Marcellus Shale.

“And that means vertical wells, too,” Smith said. In a press release IOGA claims that the bill, as written, could affect the vast majority of current (non-Marcellus) oil and gas exploration and development in New York State. It would bar the kind of existing safe drilling that has been in practice for many years in New York. It could also result in the potential loss of 5,000 industry jobs, threaten the future of more than 300 businesses and temporarily eliminate the $1 million in annual revenue the state collects from traditional drilling permit fees. (italics mine)

 “Did they even read the bill before they voted?” Smith asked, referring to the 93 assembly members who voted aye.

The more pertinent question is whether the good folks at IOGA-NY read the bill – it takes but a minute, maybe two if you read real slow, and is very clear about what the moratorium is.

The moratorium, explains Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, will allow the state more time to obtain a complete picture of environmental impacts from the technology. She would rather see the state wait until after the EPA completes their study before issuing new permits… but this is what ended up on the table – er, floor of the Assembly Monday night.

It wasn’t a shoo-in, either. Assembly members engaged in lengthy discussion, bringing numerous questions to the chair.

Did they know that vertical drilling would be affected? Most assuredly, Lifton said. The bill does not specify horizontal fracturing because the concern is protecting water and the environment from the numerous toxic chemicals used in the hydro-fracking process – regardless of how the well is drilled.

Lifton set the record straight: “The moratorium does not interfere with current drilling projects or permits that are in effect.” Indeed, anyone reading the actual text of the bill would notice that the first sentence clearly states the act establishes a “suspension of the issuance of new permits”. 

Moreover, the end of the section just as clearly states that the act “shall not apply to permits issued prior to the effective date of this act which utilize hydraulic fracturing that are subject to renewal.”

So what about those scary claims by industry? Nonsense, says Lifton. “Drillers who already have permits may continue their operations and may renew their permits. This moratorium,” she emphasized, “will have very little impact on current drilling activity.”

As for those fear-mongering claims that farmers won’t be able to use hydro-fracking to drill water wells – the bill clearly states that the moratorium will affect “hydraulic fracturing  for the purpose of stimulating natural gas or oil in low permeability natural gas reservoirs”. Nothing in there about going after water for the cows…

Please take a minute and read the bill here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NY Assembly Passes Fracking Moratorium

The state budget may still be out of whack, but the NY did manage to pass a moratorium on using high volume hydraulic fracturing in yesterday’s session. And fracking wasn’t even on the Governor’s “to do” list for the special session.

Still, the Assembly wanted to vote on the bill, so they gaveled in for a regular session, and began debating the fracking moratorium close to 9 pm last night. Before the clock struck midnight, the’d approved a temporary moratorium on fracking with a 93 to 43 vote.

The moratorium halts fracking until May 15 to allow the state time to obtain a more complete picture of environmental impacts from the technology. This is the same bill that the NY Senate approved in August.

Now the bill is on Governor Paterson’s desk awaiting his signature. Will he sign it? Susan Arbetter will ask him this morning on The Capitol Pressroom which airs at 11 am.

Although the governor’s office has not officially commented on whether the Governor will sign the bill, Paterson did comment in a radio interview last week that he does not think the state will move forward with drilling in shales. He noted that opponents of hydro-fracking had raised enough concerns to “thwart going forward with it at this time.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Is Safe Drilling Possible?

“Safe” is a relative term, says Louis Allstadt. Drilling might not ever be “safe” but it sure can be made a lot safer. A couple weeks ago Allstadt, who worked in the oil and gas industry for more than 30 years, outlined about what “safer drilling” might look like.

For one thing, gas companies will have to use safer drilling fluids that are not composed of toxic chemicals and carcinogens, Allstadt said. “And there would have to be no exemptions!” Right now gas companies enjoy special exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.

Allstadt proposed that drillers use some kind of marker – either colored fluid or an isotope – to tag their fracking fluid. “That’s one way to hold companies accountable for any leaks or spills they cause,” he said.

He also stressed the importance for conducting a seismic review of the well before fracturing. This would help drillers identify cracks and fissures that might provide pathways for toxins to migrate to aquifers.

“We need better casing standards,” Allstadt emphasized. Casing integrity is vital to protecting groundwater from drilling contamination – something the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection has noted in their newest regulations. In addition to improving the quality of cement, Allstadt pointed out that drillers must check the casings prior to fracking.

“If there is any question about cement integrity, then don’t frack,” Allstadt said.

Drillers need contingency plans, too. Allstadt noted that at a recent blow-out in PA, the blow-out preventer didn’t work. Whether it is drilling a relief well or flaring gas, workers need to have a strategy in place for releasing pressure if it builds up too high, he said.

In addition to recommending tanks to hold fracking and flowback fluids (rather than pits) and better treatment of returned drilling fluids, including re-use, Allstadt pointed out the need for greater setbacks.

Currently, wells may be drilled 150 feet from a drinking water well. “But that’s too close,” Allstadt said. “We need to protect drinking water sources.”

Allstadt doesn’t believe drilling can be made as safe as airline travel – there’s just too little regulatory oversight for that, he says – he believes the industry can make it safer. But that will only happen if people push much harder for protective regulations.

Allstadt spoke at the “Real Impacts of Gas Drilling” forum held Tuesday, November 16 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Elmira. The forum was organized by People for a Healthy Environment, the Coalition to Protect New York, the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, and Pax Christi Upstate New York.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is "Recycling Waste Fluids" Just Another Name for Disposal?

pumping water from Susquehanna at Ulster, PA
Three weeks ago I posted a brief review on how Range Resources is re-using flowback and frack waste fluids in their drilling process. The idea sounds great: re-use, recycle and reduce the need for pumping millions of gallons of water from our streams and rivers.

But while industry engineers rave about the technology, some people living near recycling operations aren’t so ecstatic. Since that post, I heard from one woman living in the Barnett Shale play who described a local recycling facility.

Fountain Quail, a partner in the Williamsport Eureka facility (which is the one Range currently uses to clarify their frack fluids) operates a similar facility located in the midst of drilling sites just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“It stinks,” said the Texas resident. She described the odor as an offensive mix of diesel and chemicals that smells like stagnant water. The idea of using well-site recycling might work in isolated, rural areas she said, but the odors are evident from as far away as 1,000 feet.

“You wouldn’t want to live nearby,” she said. Already many people have raised concerns about the cumulative impact of emissions from compressors and other facilities; we should add recycling facilities to that list.

Then there is the question of whether diluting and reusing flowback to drill wells is a legitimate use for drilling waste fluids. “Why isn’t re-injecting flowback fluids into a well regulated under UIC?” asks Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University.

UIC refers to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Underground Injection Control program which regulates disposal of oil and gas drilling wastes in deep disposal wells.

“Congress established the UIC program to protect drinking water,” Ingraffea emphasized in a recent phone conversation. Under the UIC program, drilling wastes are injected into class II disposal wells. EPA regulates these class II wells, limiting the pressure and volume of waste fluid injected into disposal wells.

More importantly, EPA requires the company to demonstrate that injected wastes will not come into contact with any groundwater. That means the company has to identify all abandoned wells in the area and make sure they are plugged properly – otherwise injected waste fluids may find a pathway to contaminate drinking water.

So here’s the conundrum, says Ingraffea: while the EPA strictly regulates how fluids are injected into a deep disposal well, no one is regulating how those same fluids are being reused in drilling.

“This is what happens when technology outpaces regulations,” says Ingraffea. “It’s the same process with a different name.”

Add recycling to the long list of things EPA needs to look at in their new hydro-fracking study.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hunting Season in Drilling Territory

from Allegheny Defense Project
Hunters living next to the Millennium pipeline aren’t too worried about the right-of-way that cuts through the Southern Tier of New York. After all, the nearly 100-foot wide corridor cutting through the woods creates habitat that attracts deer and turkey.

Hunting is big business in NY, bringing in more than $890 million in retail sales each year, says one study. Add lodging, gasoline purchases, restaurant meals and permits and you’re looking at a $1.5 billion contribution to the state’s economy.

How will intensive industrial shale drilling impact NY hunting? For an answer, let’s look south of the border, to Pennsylvania. Already some PA hunters have complained that their favorite spots have been cleared for drilling pads. 

On Nov. 7, Penn State advised sportsmen to be alert for Marcellus activity on public land. Drilling on PA state land increased from 1970 active permits in October 2009 to more than 4500 active this October. That’s more than double.

One problem facing hunters: increased traffic in the forests. There could be new roads and heavy truck traffic near active drill sites. The PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) promised to limit heavy truck traffic this weekend for bear season. Meanwhile, they urge hunters to take precautions when shooting around well sites.

How will hunters know there’s drilling in the area? DCNR says they’ll post active well pads with signs 150 yards from the edge of the pad – that’s three times the setback distance from streams, if you’re keeping score.

While there’s no obvious impact on white tail, some hunters wonder whether intensive drilling might cause declines in deer and game bird populations. Biologists in western states have observed population declines in deer, elk, grouse and Pronghorn.

The biggest factor is the impact of roads. Deer and elk depend on large unbroken stands of spruce and fir to provide shelter from wind and cold as well as cover from predators. Roads slice forests into increasingly smaller fragments, and smaller forests means smaller populations.

Well density is important: while one gas well per square mile had minimal effects on Wyoming’s mule deer populations, sixteen wells per square mile showed a significant effect.

Then there’s the question of food safety. Many hunters count on their deer to stock the freezer. But how safe is venison harvested from areas where intensive industrialized drilling takes place? Some chemicals in frack fluid and drilling wastes can accumulate in tissues, but so far there has been no research on the impact of industrialized drilling on wild food.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

36 Trucks in 20 Minutes in Troy

On Saturday I headed south of the border with a friend - we wanted to see some of the Marcellus effects first hand. We headed to Troy, a small, historic borough of about 1500 smack-dab in the heartland of Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains.

It's a lovely old town, with a castle for a bank and wonderful brick buildings lining Main Street. Lively, too, as two separate Girl Scout troops vied for customers to purchase Thin Mints and Lemon cookies.

We stopped for subs at Vinnies Pizzaria, and were lucky to find a free table. Within the first fifteen seconds of sitting down, three trucks hauling residual waste passed by.
For the next twenty minutes we kept a tally of trucks heading through the center of town. We counted 36, most hauling drilling waste fluids. A few hauled fresh water and some were transporting pipe to well sites. We didn't count pick-ups; there were too many.

If you grab a calculator you'll see that 36 trucks in 20 minutes is close to two trucks a minute. And they go like this all day long, said the locals who were eating lunch next to us.

Two trucks a minute may not sound like a lot of traffic, but they do raise a dust cloud. And they did have a tight squeeze around the corner.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drilling is Not Compatible With Multiple-Use State Forest Mandates

Allegheny National Forest (Allegheny Defense Project)

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) manages more than 785,000 acres of state forest. These are lands that are managed for multiple uses including timber harvest, recreational activities, conservation and, if the strategic plan is adopted, gas drilling.

Problem is, industrialized gas drilling isn’t compatible with other forest uses. Just ask Bill Belitskus, president of the board for the Allegheny Defense Project. The most visible impact of drilling, he says, is the explosion of access roads and pipeline right-of-ways criss-crossing the forested hillsides.

Drilling relies on a massive road system to bring machinery, rig parts and water to the site, and a system of pipelines for getting gas to market. Each of those road cuts and right-of-ways slices the forest into smaller and smaller fragments.

Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest is home to 12,000 - 15,000 shallow gas wells, and companies are now applying for Marcellus permits. The larger pads and wider roads, built to accommodate heavier trucks, will only exacerbate the fragmentation, Belitskus said.

Belitskus tallied up the acreage used by drilling at one site: 5 acres for the pad, a 10-acre fresh-water impoundment, a 1 – 2 acre frack pit and land for the access roads adds up close to 20 acres. Given the industry’s projection of 30,000 new wells in PA by 2020, he worries the disruption on the landscape will be significant and long term.

“Right now they’re drilling anchor wells,” Belitskus said. This is when a company drills a single well on a unit and then packs up their gear and heads to another unit to drill a well.

The strategy, Belitskus explained, is to get a hole in the ground and then hold the leases “by production” until they can get back to complete their drilling. That might take ten years, and the companies don’t have to do any remediation until they finish drilling activities.

How does drilling impact other forest uses? Stormwater runoff from road and well pad construction adds sediments to trout streams. Lowered oxygen levels and increased pollutant levels can reduce fish populations and, in the case of sensitive species, kill them outright.

from Allegheny Defense Project
Road and pipeline right-of-ways provide corridors for invasive species that change the character of the forests and affect timber harvest, sugaring and mast production for wildlife. Birds and other species that require large areas of continuous forested land are put at risk.

And then there’s recreation. Shellie Northrup, an avid hiker and member of two trail associations, says hikers report coming across flaring wells, piles of tree trunks blocking trails, and well pads that obliterate paths. Drilling affect the aesthetics of an afternoon hike, and presents a safety hazard when sharing public lands used for recreation. 

Read more about Allegheny Defense Project here. You can read a longer article from the print edition of Broader View Weekly here in a couple weeks.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What to do With Flowback? Just Pump it Back Downhole.

photo of Range Resources impoundment, courtesy SRBC
It takes anywhere from 3 to 5 million gallons of water to frack a Marcellus well, water that companies are pumping from local rivers or purchasing from municipalities. But, says Dave Yoxtheimer at Penn State University, drillers are looking into alternatives: treated wastewater, cooling water from power plants, and abandoned mine drainage. They’re also exploring ways to reuse their flowback and waste fluids.

A number of companies have engineered recycling technologies, including Aqua Pure and GE. But, says Tony Gaudlip, water operations manager for Range Resources, recycling flowback may be as simple as pumping it back down the hole. In an October 21 webinar Gaudlip said that Range Resources has been recycling 100 percent of their flowback for the past year. Reusing the water has resulted in a savings of $200,000 per well, about 5 percent of the total drilling cost.

We’re not talking a lot of flowback – only 10 percent of what’s injected comes back out. Still, the company’s engineers needed to consider a few things before pumping wastefluid back down the hole: pumping pressure – horizontal wells require about 80 to 100 barrels of water per minute to fracture the rock; and the chemicals they used. Fracturing Marcellus requires different chemicals than shale wells in other parts of the country.

“Initially we took the flowback and the brine, mixed it all together and pumped it downhole,” Gaudlip said. They watched the dials and gauges, looked at bacterial growth and scaling, and analyzed fluid stability. “We saw some increase in friction, but that was manageable,” Gaudlip said. What they didn’t see was scaling. Nor did they see an elevation of the total dissolved solids (TDS) levels. Conventional wisdom expected those levels to climb higher with each reuse.

What this meant for Range Resources was that they could reuse their fluids with minimum – or no – treatment. So for the past year they’ve been diluting the flowback in a new mix that’s three-quarters fresh water combined with one-quarter reused waste fluids.

Where do they store this flowback until they need it? In pits. Gaudlip admitted that Range Resources has had some issues with bacterial growth on the surface, which he attributed to the levels of polyacrilamides and solids in the flowback. So now, they truck their
flowback fluids to Eureka Resources, in Williamsport. After raising the pH, adding flocking agent to settle the solids and tossing in chlorine to control bacteria, the “clarified” waste fluid is hauled back to the well pad where it is stored until it’s reused in fracking.

The idea behind reusing drilling waste fluid was two-fold: to reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the rivers and streams, and to reduce the amount of truck traffic hauling both fresh and wastewater on the road. Gaudlip admits that trucking the flowback 35 miles to the treatment facility is not an ideal situation. Not for Range and not for the local residents.

Long term plans call for Range Resources to incorporate mobile water treatment units at their drilling sites. But that’s still a few months off, says Matt Pitzarella, Range Resource Public Affairs Director for the Marcellus region. The company’s ultimate goal, he said, is to maintain zero liquid discharge in Pennsylvania’s surface waters.

You can hear Gaudlip’s webinar presentation here. The longer article that was published in Broader View Weekly last week should be available here sometime next week.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cement Casings will Protect our Water ..... Just Ask Halliburton

Saturday I was at a meeting where a speaker, talking about hydro-fracking, emphasized the importance of casings in gas wells. A good cement casing will protect your groundwater from potential contamination, he said. The problem with Dimock was the casing, not the fracking, he insisted.

OK. So now in both PA and NY the regs call for cement casings in the gas wells. Layers and layers of protective casings. But, according to John Broder's article in today's New York Times, both Halliburton and BP knew weeks before the fatal explosion of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico that the cement mixture they planned to use to seal the bottom of the well was unstable. And they still went ahead with the job.

It won't matter how many layers of cement casing they put in if the cement is no good. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Tale of Two State's Forest Plans

New York citizens have until 4:45 pm this Friday to let NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) know how they feel about leasing state forests for gas and oil drilling. That's the deadline for commenting on DEC’s “Strategic Plan for State Forest Management”.

Meanwhile, south of the border, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has signed an executive order that effectively places a moratorium on drilling in PA’s state forests. This executive order, he says, will “protect Pennsylvania’s state forests from any new natural gas development activities that would disturb the surface of these areas and jeopardize fragile ecosystems.”

A recent evaluation of the state forest system conducted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources showed that additional leases could endanger the environmental quality of the forests. Not only would further leasing – and drilling – alter the ecological integrity and character of the forest system, but it would also “devastate our ecotourism industry and jeopardize the green certification upon which the state’s forest products industry depends,” said Rendell.

After noting that the forests provide recreation opportunities that draw tourist dollars into the state, and the importance of the lumber industry, Rendell said, “We simply cannot risk subjecting these sensitive and high-value tracts to the same kind of environmental accidents and mishaps that have happened on private lands elsewhere in the state because of the drilling industry’s poor practices.”  You can read his Oct. 26 executive order here.

Given PA’s experiences with Marcellus drilling, you’d think the NY DEC would be paying attention. Maybe they are. Maybe the folks at DEC understand how industrial drilling will harm the state’s forest, but they can’t say anything because they’ll get fired….

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Range Resources Follows Through on Promise to Disclose Fracking Chemicals

Back in July, Range Resources promised to voluntarily disclose the composition of each of the hydraulic fracturing components for all their Marcellus wells on their website. It took them about a month, but in late August Range posted the first 8 completion reports: five in the Goettel Unit and three in the Baker Unit in Washington County, PA.

Range explained in their press comments, and again on their website, that their disclosure will “provide regulators, landowners and citizens of the Commonwealth an accounting of the highly diluted additives used at each well site, along with their classifications, volumes, dilution factors, and specific and common purposes.” Range is submitting this same information to the DEP as part of their well completion reports.

Time and again Range has explained that they believe the hydraulic fracturing process is environmentally safe. Their reasons: the Marcellus shale is generally located more than a mile below the water table and is isolated by more than three million pounds of steel and concrete casing. Also, the chemicals are “extremely” diluted, making up less than a half a percent of the total fracking fluid, they say.

True, but those small amounts add up. The average frack job uses about 4 million gallons of water. Even if only 0.14% of that is chemical additives, as listed in one of Range’s completion reports, that still represents 5600 gallons of chemical injected into the ground. Not a lot for a single well, but multiply that by the number of wells in any given area, or on any given well pad, and it adds up.

But, I digress. The point here is that Range Resources is following through with their promise to post completion wells, and you can read them at their website.

One thing you will notice is that Range is not using a long list of chemicals at each well – often five to seven products. The only problem I have with their reports is that they continue to list the only the hazardous compounds listed on MSDS, not a complete listing of chemicals in the compounds. Their friction reducer, for example, they list as containing no hazardous compounds, so they are not disclosing any of those chemicals in their drilling reports to DEP, or to the citizens of PA.

Friday, October 22, 2010

DEC Commissioner Fired over "Leaking Memo" regarding Budget cuts

NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner, Alexander "Pete" Grannis, got the boot yesterday over a kerpuffle about a leaky memo, extreme budget cuts and, as one guy in Governor Paterson's administration put it, "insubordination".

The governor's budget office had directed state agencies to slash their budgets, demanding that DEC slice 6.6% of its workforce. That's 209 people over and above the 600 already cut since April 2008. Agreed, every agency should do its part to reduce the state payroll, but Grannis complained that DEC was targeted disproportionately. "DEC accounts for approximately 2.5% of the workforce," he wrote, "yet DEC's layoffs will comprise more than 10% of the 2,000 positions the Governor plans to eliminate."

The problem with these extreme reductions, says Grannis, is that the DEC's federal and state mandates have continued to grow. Cuts at this time will fundamental compromise "the Department's responsibilities to preserve the state's environment, protect human health and meet its obligations to the public," he wrote. Even now, Grannis noted that DEC is already responding to and cleaning up fewer petroleum spills.

They don't have enough people.

DEC's inspections and enforcement activities have dwindled for all programs, Grannis says, including hazardous waste, air emissions, and mining and drilling safety.

They don't have enough field inspectors.

DEC's reviews of environmental impacts and issuance of permits now takes longer, Grannis says. "There is less oversight of mine safety and oil and gas drilling, and efforts to plug leaking abandoned wells have been cut." Why?

They don't have enough people.

"All the meat has been stripped from the bones, and some of the bones have disappeared," Grannis wrote. The only solution is to start eliminating programs. But what should DEC eliminate? Hunting, fishing and recreation? Regulatory oversight? Drilling permits?

"Ironically, these cuts have come in the midst of increasing recognition of the DEC's importance to economic development." Without permits, campers can't camp, hunters can't help manage the deer herd, and drillers can't exploit all those vast Marcellus reserves they are so eager to drill.To meet the Governor's budget goals, NY may have to turn some of its programs back over to the federal government for environmental oversight.

Apparently the budget office does not want to hear this bad news. And someone - Grannis swears it wasn't him - leaked the memo to the Times Union of Albany. The governor's office, concerned about the memo leak, asked Grannis to resign. He refused and so on Thursday, the Governor's office gave Grannis the boot.

You can read the now infamous October Layoff Memo  here or at Scribed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DEP Counters Misinformation Campaign about Providing Water to Dimock

Last week some "concerned citizens" took out a full page ad in the Mulligans Shopping Guide (click to page 2/3). "Enough Already" screamed the red letters above a graphic of a waterline stamped with the red circle-and-slash. No waterline to Dimock, these people say. Why should the taxpayers of PA pay so a dozen people, whose wells have been rendered useless from gas drilling, can have safe drinking water? It would be cheaper just to drill another well, right?

And so, these good people have invited one and all to a Public Meeting tomorrow night, October 21, at 7 pm in the Elk Lake High School Auditorium. And they have invited people to sign petitions available at these places of business: The Inn at Montrose, Warner Quarries, Guy Parrish's, Lockharts, Brunges Commercial Supply, Taylor Rentals, PJ's Cafe and the Rock Mountain Sporting Clays. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that even people who don't have drinking water might have been inclined to drop by the Inn at Montrose for a bit of food and grog.... at least till now.

Not so fast, says the PA Department of Environmental Protection. Yesterday DEP Secretary John Hanger issued an Open Letter to the Citizens of Susquehanna County who are impacted by the gas migration issues. Here is what he wrote:

To Whom It May Concern:
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced a permanent solution to the drinking water problems in Dimock caused by gas migration from Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation wells. DEP was forced to take action since Cabot continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, despite overwhelming evidence of its responsibility. Since that announcement was made, Cabot has launched a public relations campaign and much misinformation has been brought forth concerning who will be party to that solution and who will end up paying for it.

Cabot is responsible for the gas migration that has caused families to be without a permanent water supply for nearly 2 years and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will seek court orders to make Cabot pay for all costs. But we cannot wait for Cabot to fix the problems it caused and to do the right thing. In the interim, PENNVEST, an agency that finances water and sewer infrastructure projects, will be asked to provide funds to pay the estimated $11.8 million cost for Pennsylvania American Water Company to construct a new, 5.5-mile water main from its Lake Montrose treatment plant to provide water service to the residents of Dimock. Again, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will then aggressively seek to recover the cost of the project from Cabot.

No one in Dimock or Susquehanna County will pay for it and local taxes will not be increased as the result of it. Residents along Route 29 will have the option to tap into the line if they so choose. No one will be forced to hook up to the new public water supply. The new water line will also boost the value of homes and businesses near it.

This action is being taken based on overwhelming evidence that proves the Cabot wells are the source of the contamination. DEP has collected ample evidence tying methane found in private water supplies to Cabot’s wells. We have witnessed and chronicled bubbling gas and high pressure readings from a number of wells that prove poor well construction, and taken readings that show excessive gas levels that could only exist in wells that are leaking. Sophisticated testing has “fingerprinted” gas samples and matched the gas found in five homes to the gas leaking from the nearby Cabot wells. Additionally, the gas wells in many cases are less than a thousand feet from the homes where, by law, it is presumed gas drilling caused any pollution of water wells that may result.

The residents of Dimock have already paid a high price for Cabot’s unwillingness to accept responsibility and provide a satisfactory solution. Cabot will be the one paying the final bill. Perhaps next time Cabot will do the job right the first time and avoid expensive repairs.
Sincerely,
John Hanger, Secretary

read official press release here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Marcellus Drilling Endangers Watersheds

Marcellus drilling – even without any accidents or spills – threatens watersheds. At least that’s what preliminary data show, say two scientists at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. David Velinsky and Jerry Mead, working with U of Penn graduate student Frank Anderson, showed a definite relationship between environmental impact and drilling density (how many wells are drilled in an area). They found a significant reduction – 25 percent – in the populations of salamanders and certain aquatic insects in watersheds where there was more drilling activity.

“The important question, says Velinsky is whether there is a certain threshold “beyond which drilling will impair the ecological health of the watershed, regardless of how carefully the drilling is conducted.”

The scientists examined nine small watersheds in Pennsylvania: three had no drilling in the area; three were “low density” drilling areas, with an average of one well per 20 to 40 square kilometers (4240 – 9885 acres); three “high density” watersheds had anywhere from four to eight wells for that same area – a density close to the 640 acre units proposed for NY Marcellus wells.

They tested dissolved oxygen, pH (acidity) and conductivity. Higher conductivity has been shown to be related to Marcellus drilling. They also counted salamanders and the nymphs of caddisflies, stoneflies and mayflies. These particular species, says Mead, are especially vulnerable to changes in their environment. A reduction in the population or loss of these “indicator species” serves as an early warning that something is wrong in the environment.
 
The scientists found that the water conductivity levels in high-density drilling areas were almost twice as high as the conductivity measured at the other sites. They also found a significant decline – 25 percent – in the abundance of aquatic insects and salamanders in the high-density drilling areas.

Mead and Velinsky aren’t sure how the decline in the three or four indicator species will ultimately play out in how the watershed functions. “There could still be a lot of shredders that degrade organic matter in the stream,” Mead says . But how drilling impacts the overall ecosystem services of the watershed, from food sources for game fish to degrading nutrients that wash into the water … “That’s a good question that needs more study.” You can read their press release here.

What makes this study particularly important for us in NY is that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is developing a management plan for all of the state forests. And that plan includes drilling at densities that, according to Mead and Velinsky, are not healthy for watersheds.

Add to that the new, more stringent water quality requirements for all states included in the Chesapeake Bay watershed - lower levels not just for nutrients but also for sediments - and you begin to understand that drilling is not an isolated impact. Just clearing the land for well pads can affect local streams and distant estuaries.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gas Activist Runs for PA Governor on Write-In Campaign

Virginia Cody wasn't planning on running for governor. This retired US Air Force captain has enough to do already, what with challenging the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security (OHS) to cease surveillance on ordinary citizens and her continued anti-drilling activism. Still, last week Cody announced that she's running a write-in campaign for the top office at the PA Statehouse.

 Cody isn't your typical PA politician. For one thing, her pockets aren't lined with donations from the gas companies. Both of her opponents, Tom Corbett (GOP) and Dan Onorato (Dem) have received scads of money from the natural gas industry. According to Marcellus Money Corbett received  $372,720 and Onorato $74,300 - most of it in the past couple years.

For another, Cody has called for a moratorium on further natural gas extraction. She wants the state to have time to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the environment, water, animals, agriculture... But all we hear, Cody told the Times Tribune last week, "is candidates regurgitating the industry spin that there have been no confirmed cases of contamination. We know better!"

What does Cody want to see happen in her state? Aside from a moratorium, she'd like to see a severance tax. Landowners, says Cody, shouldn't have to pay taxes on the wealth that the gas companies will extract. Cody is not in favor of "forced pooling" - landowners should have the right to reject a lease. And Cody would like to see local municipalities retain their zoning authority.

The problem, Cody told me in an October 1 interview, is that her state government seems to be in collusion with the gas corporations. This was highlighted during the recent "Intelligence Bulletin Scandal" when Cody revealed to the press that the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), contracted to collect intelligence for the OHS, was targeting anti-drilling activists for surveillance. 

These are law-abiding citizens exercising their rights to protest what their government is doing, Cody explained. She is concerned that law-abiding citizens are being depicted as "eco-terrorists" and  lumped onto a watch list that was sent out to - best estimate of James Powers (head of the OHS)  - some 800 people including universities and gas industry representatives and lobbyists.

You can read more about Cody's platform and her bid for office at her website.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FrackWaste Truckers Rack up 959 Safety Violations in Three Days

Pennsylvania State Police report that they put 208 trucks out of service during a recent three-day enforcement effort that focused on commercial vehicles hauling waste water from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations.

"Pennsylvania is experiencing heavy truck traffic in areas where Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations are taking place," Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski said in comments to the press. He noted that traffic was particularly heavy in Bradford, Clearfield, Susquehanna, Tioga and Washington counties. "The process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, requires significant amounts of water to be delivered to the sites and later trucked away," he explained. 

Pawlowski said that140 of the vehicles placed out of service were trucks hauling waste water from the drilling operations. The other 68 trucks were being used in support of drilling operations, or non-industry related commercial vehicles simply traveling roads where the inspections took place.

PA police inspected a total of 1,135 during the "Operation FracNET," which was conducted Sept. 27-29. In addition to placing vehicles out of service, they also issued 959 citations and placed 64 drivers out of service. The most common violations cited were faulty brakes, exterior lighting issues and hauling permit violations.

This isn't the first time PA police have caught gas industry trucks flouting safety regulations. During an "Operation FracNET" held June 14-16 the troopers placed 250 trucks and 45 drivers out of service and issued 669 citations.

Friday, October 1, 2010

PA Homeland Security Director Resigns

Today the PA State Homeland Security Director James F. Powers Jr - under heavy pressure for contracting out the state's intelligence gathering to a group that conducted surveillance on citizens - announced his resignation. You can read the story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do we Still Have the Freedom to Protest?

They don't bring guns to meetings, they don't throw stones - heck, the most outrageous thing they've done so far is to don costumes and show up at rallies with posters. But for some reason they've been targeted by the Pennsylvania's Intelligence Bulletin as "groups to watch".

Who are these people? Moms, artists, municipal leaders, scientists, landowners ..... people who just want to protect their drinking water from contamination by hydro-fracturing chemicals. And for some reason - who knows why - the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has labeled people who actively talk about issues affecting their community, and who advocate for their elected officials to take action, as "environmental extremists" - folks who (according to the FBI) might somehow pose an increasing threat to the energy industry. 

The Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin is nothing new, but last October the PA Office of Homeland Security outsourced intelligence-gathering activities to the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). 
What POHS wanted: solid information aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on “critical infrastructure” in the state.What POHS received:  information, gleaned from the internet and other open sources, about tea party rallies, gay pride parades and community meetings where citizens discussed their concerns about drilling in the Marcellus shale.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) the intelligence bulletin was distributed to government and law enforcement officials, universities, gas drilling companies and industry lobbyists. What are they worried about? That the anti-drilling folks will share information regarding which companies are involved in drilling in the area? Heck - go to any landowner coalition meeting and you hear the same things! Of course people are talking about who's drilling, where the rigs are and how to prepare for it. 

Every week ITRR listed “natural gas drilling events that may draw unruly crowds” in the PA Intel Bull. Their events included watershed meetings, town commissioner meetings, a music festival, the Cabot community picnic, the PA Forestry Association meeting and, of course, the Binghamton EPA meeting originally scheduled for August 12. In most of the bulletins they lump citizens into two groups: “environmental activists and militants” or “landowners and industry representatives”. Sorry all you environmentally-concerned landowners - in ITRR's eyes there is no in-between.

In one bulletin ITRR warns that the group intending to “force pressure tactics” on the EPA is a “loose organization of New York landowners who are in favor of natural gas drilling…” They back this up with selected quotes from an e-mail that was widely circulated by landowner's groups: “EPA is coming to hear from you!” it said; show up and “be seen in solid support of gas development”.

Their bigger concern, of course, was the fear of a large anti-drilling activist turn-out at the EPA meeting. ITRR based their warning for this huge turn-out on activist alerts circulating on the list-serves of Shaleshock (Ithaca), ROUSE (Brooktondale) and NYRAD (NY Residents Against Drilling, in Binghamton).

“Shaleshock is basically a list-serve and an educational resource,” says Lisa Wright. She describes herself as a concerned citizen, finding it hard to get her mind around the "extremist" label ITRR has slapped on the group. "It's pathetic that PA Homeland Security diverted resources to monitoring mostly middle-aged women in comfortable shoes who were planning to attend a hearing to exercise their First Amendment rights,”she says.

Bill Podulka, a founding father of ROUSE is equally stymied by ITRR’s attention. “It is absolutely ludicrous that Homeland Security was monitoring these groups and their listserves,” Podulka says. “Exercising our rights of free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly should not draw the attention of anti-terrorist officials.  I thought we had out-grown this kind of McCarthy-era thinking.”

In the days since news of the intelligence bulletins leaked to the press, PA Governor Edward Rendell has apologized for the unwarranted snooping into citizen gatherings and canceled the contract with ITRR. The PA Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee subpoenaed administrators in Office of Homeland Security to testify, and PA law enforcement has basically dismissed the ITRR information as worthless.

Meanwhile, ACLU-PA has filed a Right to Know request asking for all records related to the anti-terrorism bulletins that included information about activists involved in lawful protests. They are also calling for a full investigation by an independent party.

You can read the PA Intelligence Bulletins at http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/homeland_security/14251/pa_intelligence_bulletins/771845

If you or your group believes you have been targeted by these bulletins, the ACLU suggests that you file a Right to Know request. They have templates on their website and they promise to provide assistance to anyone who encounters difficulties during the process. For help, go to http://www.aclupa.org/issues/freespeech/filearighttoknowrequest or call 215-592-1513.

Monday, September 27, 2010

DEC considers Leasing State Forest Lands for Gas Drilling

Earlier this month the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released their draft "Strategic Plan for State Forest Management." 

According to DEC, the state holds 786,000 acres of forested land in trust for the public. "This plan," said Commissioner Pete Grannis, "will provide invaluable guidance for years to come on key issues such as harvesting timber from state forests, strategic planting to ensure diversity of species, protecting soils and protecting forest health against invasive species."

The plan will allow for gas exploration and drilling in the forests, projecting up to one well per 80 acres. However, for wells that are spaced closer that 320 acres apart, there would be additional restrictions and environmental studies before drilling could occur.The plan also calls for public comment on any wells before they are permitted, but relies on the regulations of the 1992 GEIS to guide gas drilling. 

You may read the  draft plan here. You may also request a CD by sending an e-mail to stateforestplan@gw.dec.state.ny.us, or mail a request to Strategic Plan for State Forest Management, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4255.

Comments are due by 4:45 pm on Friday, October 29
  • e-mail your comments to: stateforestplan@gw.dec.state.ny.us 
  • post them to: Strategic Plan for State Forest Management, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4255.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

West Virginia Well Still Burning

Last Sunday, the 19th, a Chesapeake well drilled about 9 miles from the town of Cameron, West Virginia ignited. Now, a week later, it's still burning. According to a Chesapeake spokesman, the the gas that is burning is from a pre-existing well.  

Earlier this week the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued Chesapeake a Notice of Violation for "failing to prevent the release of natural gas and the potential pollution of the waters of the state". The DEP also determined that the well fire "presents an imminent danger to persons and an imminent danger that a fresh water source or supply will be contaminated or lost". So the agency issued a Cease Order halting all operations at the site.

This isn't the first accident in the area - in July a TransEnergy drill pad had a gas leak, and the month before it was an explosion at a gas rig near Moundsville. Though there's been a lot of drilling in the areal these three accidents coming so close together, has the folks in West Virginia wondering just how safe the influx of Marcellus drilling is. 

"Considering the fact that Marcellus Shale natural gas producers have moved into West Virginia's Northern Panhandle on such a large scale .... concern is mounting about just what long-term impact the area may face if these accidents aren't stopped," Casey Junkins writes in the The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

So far, drillers in West Virginia have been cited for close to 470 violations in the past 20 months. Pennsylvania drillers may have their Mountain State brethren beat (1435 violations in the last 30 months) but for an industry that claims it wants to be in the area for the next 50 years, these numbers are too high.

Especially when, as Junkin's article notes, Chesapeake plans to drill in the vicinity of parks and businesses sometime soon.One industry spokesman pointed out that the problems have "nothing to do with geology" - apparently it's just a "matter of having the proper safeguards in place". 

No kidding! The problem - if residents can't trust the industry to make sure those safeguards are ..... safe, then they aren't going to want drilling in their back yards. Or their parks. Or anywhere else, for that matter.