Friday, January 25, 2013

PA to Study Oil & Gas Development Radiation

Yesterday the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it will undertake a study to look at naturally occurring levels of radioactivity (NORM) in by-products associated with oil and natural gas development. The study, expected to take 12 to 14 months, will  sample and analyze NORM levels in flowback waters, treatment solids and drill cuttings, as well as associated matters such as the transportation, storage and disposal of drilling wastes.

SEP Secretary Mike Krancer told the press that, “This administration is undertaking what will be the most comprehensive study of its kind anywhere," characterizing the planned study as thorough and rigorous. “DEP’s current regulations and monitoring networks are designed to protect the public from exposure to unsafe levels of radiation, and our regulations in this field have led the nation for years,” he said.

DEP will collect samples of flowback water, rock cuttings, treatment solids and sediments at well pads and wastewater treatment and waste disposal facilities. The study will also analyze the radioactivity levels in pipes and well casings, storage tanks, treatment systems and trucks.

Throughout the study, DEP has promised to provide progress reports to its water, waste, radiation and citizens’ advisory councils.

The agency will consult with independent members of academia to peer review the project’s detailed study plan. Once the peer review is complete, DEP will publish the study plan on its website, where the agency’s proposal for the study is currently viewable.

Monday, January 21, 2013

LA Sinkhole Grows; State Considers Permits for Similar Projects

After a week of rain, more residents are finding bubbles seeping through the surface of their land  near the ever-growing sinkhole in Assumption Parish, LA.

No one seems to be able to control the expanding Bayou Corne“sinkhole” – an oil/gas industry-owned salt dome storage facility that measures one mile across by 3 miles long.  The collapsing dome has engulfed eight acres and could, experts say, grow to the size of 30 football fields. The dome collapsed in August and some 300 people who were evacuated still remain without their homes.

If this were not enough, on December 19 residents around Lake Peigneur were shocked to learn that the Department of Natural Resources is considering a permit to develop natural gas storage caverns beneath their lake. This is the same lake that, in 1980, experienced a huge sinkhole when a gas drilling rig accidentally drilled into an underground salt cavern. Two and a half billion gallons of water was sucked into a giant whirlpool that measured about 100 feet across. It also sucked down 11 barges, a tugboat, fishing boats, and 65 acres of land from Jefferson Island. Fortunately the 55 miners in the salt caverns managed to evacuate the catastrophe.

Assumption Parish residents are wondering whether anyone is paying attention to their plight. Their governor, Bobby Jindal has not dropped by since he declared an emergency and mandated evacuation in early August. Meanwhile, the Houston-based Texas Brine company has failed to meet several deadlines for the cleanup effort.

Monday Opinion Page

A new song from Itaca-based Burns Sisters. Sung on location at a well known falls pouring over layers and layers of naturally-fractured shale.

Friday, January 18, 2013

PA Auditor General to Look at Marcellus Impact on Water Resources

On January 15, the day he was sworn into office, PA's new auditor general Eugene DePasquale notified the state's Department of Environmental Protection that his office will audit the impact Marcellus Shale gas exploration has had on the state's water supply. The letter, addressed to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, explains that the performance audit will cover the period from 2009 through the end of 2012.

 DePasquale's preliminary objectives are to:
  • Determine the adequacy and effectiveness of DEP's water quality monitoring, including systems and procedures for testing, screening, reporting and response to adverse impacts; and
  • Determine the adequacy and effectiveness of DEP's monitoring of the handling, treatment and disposal of drilling waste, including tracking, treating, recycling, reuse, and response to contamination.
In comments released to the press, DePasquale said that "while natural gas drilling has brought new opportunities to small towns and rural communities throughout the state, that same drilling poses challenges to environmental regulators, local communities, and natural resources." He added, "we must strive to grow our economy and protect our environment and public health at the same time."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

200,000 comments and still counting

At the end of November the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation posted three hundred-plus pages of new fracking regulations and offered a month for citizens to comment on 'em. Despite Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas and Twelfth Night, people rose to the challenge.

Yesterday environmental groups and artists carried boxes and crates full of comments - about 200,000 in all - to DEC. And that's just the ones that they collected; there are thousands more dribbling in through the US postal service, as the deadline for mailed comments was a January 11 postmark. When DEC opened up the draft SGEIS comment they garnered a fraction of that amount in thrice the time.

Where did all of these comments come from? Catskill Citizens collected nearly 24,000. Sandra Steingraber's "30 comments in 30 days" effort netted another 23,000 - or close to it and Artists against fracking collected about 22,000. A few thousand here, a couple thousand there... after awhile they add up. And those don't include the 15 pages of comments Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton sent off to Doc Martens yesterday, or the 10-page document mailed from the Tompkins County Water Resources Council.

Tom Wilber notes that, in order to respond by Feb 27, DEC staffers will have to read and sort some 4,000 comments a day. That's 400 comments an hour, he calculates - one every 10 seconds assuming 70-hour workweeks with no potty breaks. Given that some of these comments are detailed and technical, from scientists and other people who have given a lot of thought to drafting meaningful comments, one wonders whether they can be read - much less comprehended - before the end of the month. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Will DEC extend the deadline? Will they hire readers? Will staffers end up wearing bifocals by this time next month?