Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What is Act 13, Anyway?

Why is everyone in Pennsylvania so obsessed with "Act 13? What is it, anyway? 

You can find out - and learn more about the recent court decisions next week. On Thursday, August 9 Penn State Extension will be hosting a special webinar called “A Blow to Act 13?: The Impact of the Commonwealth Court’s Decision on Local Zoning and Natural Gas Development in Pennsylvania”. the webinar goes from 1 - 2 pm and us open to the public though, noted Penn State Ext, it will "be of special interest to municipal officials and attorneys".

Last week a Pennsylvania appellate court rejected the Pennsylvania legislature’s pre-emption of significant elements of local zoning under Act 13. The ruling has been appealed to the State Supreme Court, but municipal officials and others are uncertain about the immediate impact of the decision.  Attorney Steve Saunders with Saunders Law LLC in Scranton PA will look at traditional zoning in Pennsylvania and oil and gas development before and after Act 13, the legal arguments presented to the Commonwealth Court, and the Court’s rationale for its decision.  Possible outcomes and how local governments should react will be discussed.

To participate in the webinar, please log in to https://meeting.psu.edu/pscems/ .  No registration is necessary. If you have questions, please contact Carol Loveland at cal24@psu.edu or call (570) 433-3040.

Monday, July 30, 2012

5000 Protesters in DC - Media focuses on Romney's Olympic Gaffe's instead

photo by Hendrik Voss 

This weekend a news item on NPR noted that thousands of people formed a human chain around Japan’s Parliament complex to demand that their government abandon nuclear power.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find media coverage about the 5,000 people who came from across the country and around the world to demand that Congress stop hydrofracking. Granted, 5,000 people is a “drop in the bucket” according to Washington DC standards. Still – with all the mainstream press taking photos and interviewing folks, you’d think at least one story might have surfaced in the local news.

Washington Post? Nada – unless you count the hundred-word or so blurb from AP about the protest “going to happen”. The NY Times? Not one peep; the gray lady was probably getting her hair dyed.

photo by Hendrik Voss
People drove, bussed, flew, bicycled and hitchhiked to DC a couple days early to lobby their elected officials (hey! The Oil & Gas folks do it all the time…. But with more cash changing hands). Saturday was devoted to a rally on the west lawn of the US Capitol, with Bill McKibben, Josh Fox, Dish TX mayor Calvin Tillman, and just regular folks living in gasland states sharing the microphone. When that was finished, people marched through the streets of DC - a parade four blocks long of men, women, teachers, artists, carpenters, grandparents, children... all chanting for  clean water and a ban on fracking. Read more here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Funnies

by Jenny Lisak

This week I introduce another cartoonist: Jenny Lisak, an artist and "fracktivist" living in Gasland.  She doodles and writes "fracku" on her blog, Marcellus Mayhem.

Cartoon used by permission of Mark Wilson of EmpireWire.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Talisman pays $62,000 in fines for Violations at 52 gas Facilities in PA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined Talisman $62,457 for violations of hazardous chemical reporting requirements at 52 hydrofracking sites throughout Pennsylvania. These include gas wells and compressor stations. Talisman discovered the violations and disclosed them to the EPA.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires companies that store specified amounts of hazardous chemicals to submit material safety data and lists of chemicals on site with state and local emergency response agencies and the local fire departments. The safety data describes health risks associated with the chemicals and safe handling instructions. The list also describes the types and quantities of chemicals present on site.

Talisman agreed to pay the $62,457 penalty for failing to file required chemical information for one or more of the past three years at each of the facilities included in the settlement. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

DEP to Study Air Quality in Marcellus Drilling Region

It took a while - but finally the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be conducting a long term air quality study of Marcellus Shale development. The study will be in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

The data from the study will allow DEP to assess any potential long-term impact of air emissions from unconventional natural gas operations to nearby communities, and it will help DEP address the cumulative impact of the operations in the Marcellus Shale region.

The primary site of the long-term study will be downwind of the Houston gas processing plant in Chartiers Township, Washington County, where DEP will monitor for ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen sulfide and methane. The ambient air will also be tested for more than 60 volatile organic compounds, including hazardous air pollutants, and meteorological data will be collected continuously.

DEP will also monitor for volatile organic compounds and collect meteorological data at three additional sites in Chartiers Township and Hickory Township. One of the Chartiers Township sites is upwind of the Houston gas processing plant and the other is downwind of the Brigich compressor station. The site in Hickory Township will be located downwind of the Stewart compressor stations.

You can read the complete press release here.
You can read the study’s sampling protocol here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Funnies

My scribbling friend, who signs his work as Russeau, has started a brand new story that seems perfect for the Sunday Page on this blog

Russeau has graciously given me permission to share his work.
Look forward to a new installation each week.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SRBC Suspends More Water Withdrawals

You know it's dry when:
  • farmers debate whether they should irrigate the corn or throw in the towel
  • the grass beneath your feet is crunchy
  • the SRBC tells drillers they can't pump water out of the streams because the flow's too low.
Seems like just a couple weeks ago that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) suspended water withdrawals. Today they announced that they're suspending 64 separate water withdrawals due to lower streamflow levels in the Susquehanna basin.  The suspended withdrawals are operated by 33 companies, most operating in Pennsylvania but a couple in New York.

However, SRBC noted that there will continue to be some water-related activities where withdrawal quantities are insignificant compared to streamflows. Also, water withdrawals that are not associated with gas development and are less than 100,000 gallons per day are not subject to SRBC’s regulations. Read the entire announcement - and list of halted water withdrawals - here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What... no "Fracking Insurance"?

On Monday (July 9) the Tioga County Landowners Group presented a panel discussion and screening of the gas industry’s newest flick. During discussion before the film Lindsay Wickham, NY Farm Bureau’s Region 4 field advisor, talked about how Farm Bureau views shale gas drilling. Farm Bureau is unapologetically pro-drilling, said Wickham, and they’ve got more than 50 policies addressing the issue in their policy book.

While Wickham (and the Farm Bureau) are eager to see drilling happen – as long as farmers are paid fairly for leases and royalties – he emphasized that the Farm Bureau remains “committed to preserving the quality of water and land.” After all, farmers depend on healthy soil and clean water to raise their crops and livestock.

The risks of hydro-fracking are very low, said Wickham. It’s drilling that’s risky. He mentioned surface spills, cement casing problems and human errors.

Three days later, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co – the very company that insures farmers – announced that its policies do not cover damage related to fracking. The company’s commercial and personal insurance policies “were not designed to cover” that sort of risk, said Nationwide spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer. It seems that the risks involved in fracking operations “are too great to ignore” and “are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto coverage.”

That prohibition applies to folks who haul water to and from drill sites, people who operate equipment on the well site, contractors involved in fracking operations, and landowners who lease their property for drilling.

Around here, the biggest landowners are farmers. They belong to the NY Farm Bureau which, six months ago, teamed up with Nationwide to offer special “members-only” insurance rates on farm insurance, auto insurance and everything in between. But not Fracking Insurance. Nationwide doesn’t offer that – nor do other insurance agencies. Mine doesn’t; I called and asked.

This leaves farmers – and other landowners – in a sticky wicket, as my dad would say.