Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens’ Group Updates January 9, 2014
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* To contact your state legislator:
For the email address, click on the envelope under the photo
* For information on PA state gas legislation and local control: http://pajustpowers.org/aboutthebills.html-
WMCG Thank You
* Thank you to contributors to our Updates: Debbie Borowiec, Lou Pochet, Ron Gulla, Marian Szmyd, Bob Donnan, Gloria Forouzan, Elizabeth Donahue, and Bob Schmetzer.
*** WMCG Steering Committee Meeting We meet the second Tuesday of every month at 7:30 PM in Greensburg. Jan 14. Email Jan for directions. All are very welcome to attend.
*** Public Hearings On Oil/Gas Regs The public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. A list of locations and dates follows: (I copied those in our area. Jan)
Jan. 22, 2014, Washington and Jefferson College’s Rossin Campus Center / Allen Ballroom, 60 South Lincoln Street, Washington, PA 15301
Jan. 23, 2014, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Convention and Athletic Complex, 711 Pratt Drive, Indiana, PA 15705
Lisa Kasianowitz, Department of Environmental Protection
(Also see article #1 under Take Action!)
***As always letters to the editor are important and one of the best ways to share information with the public. ***
1. Please Comment On Proposed Oil and Gas Regs
Environmental Quality Board Will Hold Public Hearings
Harrisburg –DEP and the Environmental Quality Board announced that the public comment period for a proposed regulation for environmental protection performance standards associated with oil and gas activities will open on Saturday, Dec. 14.
The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is a 20-member independent board chaired by the Secretary of DEP that adopts all of the department’s regulations and considers petitions to change regulations. During the public comment period, the EQB will be hosting seven public hearings across Pennsylvania and offer multiple ways to submit comments.
“Public participation is a key part to forging the best regulations possible,” DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “An exceptional number of hearings are being offered by the EQB to gather information and to be sure that people’s voices are heard.”
The proposed regulation implements key provisions of Act 13 of 2012, including further consideration of impacts to public resources, such as parks and wildlife areas; the prevention of spills; the management of waste; and the restoration of well sites after drilling.
Additionally, the draft rulemaking also includes standards affecting the construction of gathering lines and temporary pipelines, and includes provisions for identifying and monitoring abandoned wells close to proposed well sites.
People wishing to present verbal testimony at a hearing are requested to contact the EQB at least one week in advance of the hearing to reserve a time. Those who wish to present testimony at the hearing may use the address below or call the EQB at 717-787-4526 to reserve time to testify. All relevant written and oral comments that are received at a public hearing will be considered when finalizing the regulation.
Witnesses are limited to five minutes of testimony and are requested to submit three written copies of their testimony to the hearing chairperson at the hearing. Organizations are limited to designating one witness to present testimony on their behalf at each hearing.
The public is being invited to submit comments to the EQB regarding the proposed rulemaking by Feb. 12, 2014. Along with their comments, people can submit a one-page summary of their comments to the EQB. Comments, including the one page summary, may be submitted to EQB by accessing the EQB’s Online Public Comment System at http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments.
Written comments and summaries should be mailed to Environmental Quality Board, P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477.
The summaries and a formal comment and response document will be distributed to the EQB and available publicly prior to the meeting when the final rulemaking will be considered.
People can also submit comments to RegComments@pa.gov.
Online and email comments must also be received by the EQB on or before Feb. 12. If an acknowledgement of comments submitted online or by email is not received by the sender within two business days, the comments should be re-sent to the EQB to ensure receipt.
For more information or to register for DEP’s Informational webinars, visit www.dep.state.pa.us, keyword: Webinars. After registration, an email will be sent containing a link to the webinar. The webinar will be recorded and posted on the Oil and Gas webinars webpage for future viewing.
To view materials for the proposed regulation, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click the “Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations” button.
Media Contact: Lisa Kasianowitz, DEP, 717-787-1323
Editor’s Note: The public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. A list of locations and dates follows: (I copied those in our area. Jan)
Jan. 22, 2014, Washington and Jefferson College’s Rossin Campus Center / Allen Ballroom, 60 South Lincoln Street, Washington, PA 15301
Jan. 23, 2014, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Convention and Athletic Complex, 711 Pratt Drive, Indiana, PA 15705
Lisa Kasianowitz, Department of Environmental Protection
http://files.dep.state.pa.us/PublicParticipation/Public Participation Center/PubPartCenterPortalFiles/Environmental Quality Board/2013/August 27 EQB/Proposed Rulemaking - Ch 78/Annex.pdf
Writing Your Comments --Testify/ Send Comments
From Sierra Club
Are you concerned about impacts to water supplies, open pits and wastewater impoundments, or radioactivity from oil and gas operations? Tell the Environmental Quality Board (EQB)!
Your written statements can be longer than 5 minute summary
The EQB is holding seven hearings in January to gather public input on their proposed oil and gas regulations.
We urge you to attend the one nearest you and tell EQB that:
*Water supplies should be restored to Safe Drinking Water standards at a MINIMUM
*DEP should proactively establish standards for pre-drill testing
*DEP should NOT allow the storage of wastewater in open pits or impoundments
*DEP should require drill cuttings to be tested for radioactivity
Click here for a full list of dates, locations and to RSVP.
Initial Talking Points on proposed Chapter 78 regulations
*Water Supplies should be restored to Equal or Better Condition (Section 78.51)
A resident whose water supply has been affected by drilling should receive water he can drink safely. Act 13 (the new Oil and Gas Act) established a provision that specifies a restored or replaced water supplies must meet the standards in the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act or be comparable to the quality of the water supply before it was affected, if that water was of a higher quality than those standards. It is clear that legislators intended the person affected to have safe drinking water and to be in a condition no worse than before drilling began.
Providing safe drinking water is the minimum that this regulation should require and it should not be "watered down" by changes.
*Pre-Drilling Water Testing should be comprehensive (Section 78.52)
The pre-drill testing of water quality at a residence is a way of establishing a baseline of water quality and for determining one water quality has not been affected by drilling. One or more tests may be needed to establish this baseline. The proposed regulation does not specify the parameters for the pre-drill test of a resident's water quality. A driller may conduct a test which would not include many of the contaminants (such as dissolved methane gas, BTEX, barium, bromide, chloride, strontium) for which a resident should be concerned. DEP needs to be proactive and to establish standards for pre-drill testing.
*Open pits are not the best practice for storing wastewater and should be prohibited (Section 78.56)
DEP regulations continue to allow the storage of wastewater in open pits or impoundments. The potential for contamination associated with using pits has led major companies to adopt operation policies that aim to transition away from pits and standardize the use of closed loop systems based on tanks. Recent legislation in Illinois took a similar approach by requiring that hydraulic fracturing fluid, hydraulic fracturing flowback, and produced water at well sites be stored in above-ground tanks during all phases of drilling. Tanks should be used for temporary storage. Unless a backup system for containing leaks is installed (secondary containment) and unless these tanks are constantly monitored, pollution of adjacent streams can still occur.
*Drill Cutting need to be tested for radioactivity (Section 78.61)
The Marcellus is different from other shale formations in that it is highly enriched with naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). Radiation levels in the Marcellus may vary widely from region to region and even from well to well. Newspapers have reported instances where drilling cutting waste has set off radioactivity alarms at waste landfills. Scientists, academics, and public health officials have long advocated that cuttings from horizontal wells in the Marcellus should be tested before choosing a disposal option --and in most cases disposal should occur at low-level radiological waste disposal sites.
*Residual waste disposal on roads and land is not a beneficial use (Section78.70)
The disposal of residual waste from gas and oil development is fraught with problems. Byproduct wastes can pollute waterways and landscapes in a more significant manner than other residual wastes. The proposed rules allow the spreading of wastewater ("brine") from conventional wells on roads, but not from Marcellus wells. DEP regulations do not ensure that land spreading do not result in contamination of soil, vegetation, and groundwater, particularly near drinking water supplies, streams, and rivers.
*Potential stray gas migration is not addressed by the proposed rules (Section 78.52a and Section 78.73)
Stray gas migration has been and continues to be a major problem in the gas fields of Pennsylvania. Old unplugged and abandoned wells are a source of gas which migrates. The proposed rules are not consistent with STRONGER’s (an independent review group) recommendation to eliminate potential pathways for fluid movement into groundwater before conducting hydraulic fracturing operations. The proposed rules for pre-fracking surveys require no on-site inspections and assessments for the purposes of identification of orphaned or abandoned wells prior to drilling. Only a "paper" review of maps and questionnaires is required.
Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter · PO Box 606 · Harrisburg PA 17108 717-232-0101 · (F) 717-238-6330 · firstname.lastname@example.org
http://files.dep.state.pa.us/PublicParticipation/Public Participation Center/PubPartCenterPortalFiles/Environmental Quality Board/2013/August 27 EQB/Proposed Rulemaking - Ch 78/Annex.pdf
***Please see another key concerns/talking points handout which is attached to the updates.
Ene2. Tell Disney: Stop promoting oil and gas Extraction to Children.
“Radio Disney is promoting fracking and pipelines to kids in a music-filled show called "Rocking in Ohio." Funded through a partnership with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the road show is being presented everywhere from schools to county fairs under the guise of teaching kids "science." Worse yet, this initiative may be expanded nationwide in 2014.
As a mom of two young boys, I'm disturbed that Disney would help dirty-energy companies promote fracking and oil drilling. That's why I started my own campaign on CREDOMobilize.com, which allows activists to start their own petitions. My petition, which is to Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, says the following:
Immediately halt your road show promoting oil and gas extraction and pipelines to kids, and sever your partnership with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Radio Disney should not--under the guise of teaching kids "science"--promote fracking and oil drilling, which give kids asthma, pollute our air and water, and fuel climate change.
Tell Radio Disney: End your partnership with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
In the road show, popular Radio Disney DJ’s lead kids in interactive presentations where--with pop music blaring in the background--they play games, build pretend pipelines out of colorful plastic, and even receive prizes with Disney movie and Radio Disney branding. Rhonda Reda, a representative of the educational arm of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said of the road show, “It allows science to be fun. Who better to help than Radio Disney?"
It is easy to understand why the fossil fuel industry would want to partner with Radio Disney. Broadcast in more than 35 markets around the country and online, the radio network asserts that it is the “unrivaled broadcast radio network for kids and families.”
A family brand like Disney should not be peddling fossil fuels to kids at a time when the childhood asthma rate is soaring, and climate impacts--from superstorms to droughts--are harming communities across the country.
Disney’s target audience, from its radio programming to its movie franchise to its theme parks and stores, is children. If Disney is going to engage its listeners and viewers about energy, it should be championing energy that is "kid-safe and climate-safe"--not carbon-polluting fossil fuels that put children at risk.
Will you join me and add your name to my petition to Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger to urge him to stop promoting fossil fuels to children?
Thank you for your support. Lisa Hoyos
***Energy Industry Runs Roughshod Over North Dakota-Video
Rachel Maddow reports on recent oil disasters in North Dakota and how accountability is sacrificed for fear of discouraging energy industry. http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/watch/energy-industry-runs-roughshod-over-nd-105687108001/www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/watch/energy-industry-runs-roughshod-over-nd-105687108001
***WTAE- Societal Effects Of Gas Industry (Some notes by jan): “Many gas industry workers are not local people but are from out of state. There have been increased criminal cases and abuse problems, and housing has become unaffordable especially for low-income families. In Greene County, the influx of workers spiked housing costs--a $350 apartment may now be $700. Greene has had the highest peak in protection from abuse orders in more than a decade. Nearby counties had similar increases. The Washington County DA notes a steady increase of 700 criminal cases each year since the industry arrived 5 years ago. He attributes this to a rise in drug abuse and also more people coming in from the oil and gas industry.
In West Virginia (Ohio County), calls for emergency service nearly doubled. Larceny increased more than 50% and criminal citations more than quadrupled. During the same period in Green County, larceny climbed 50% and Fayette County drug abuse violations by 20%. In Westmoreland County curfew and loitering increased by 55%. Two out-of-state industry workers were recently charged with murder in the beating death of a Wheeling Jesuit University athlete. No one is tracking whether it is oil and gas workers who have led to these increases. However, in Bradford County, the DA does say they see a 40% increase in criminal cases mostly due to the gas industry. Bradford County has asked a Senate committee for more state police resources
To view the video:
***Video: Hidden Financial Dangers of Fracking-- 16-25 % drop in Property Value--Two Studies cited in the video: Property values drop if you have a water well and live within 1 km of a gas well, property values drop by 16%: Denver study if you live near a well values drop by 25%.
Reuters recently told the story of one Los Angeles man who blames Freeport McMoRan (NYSE: FCX) for the fact that his property's value has plummeted, leaving him unable to sell his house for anything near what he bought it for. Brian Stoffel discusses how those who hold out are being hurt, and what they are threatening to do. Lawsuits are being filed by affected landowners.
***To sign up for notifications of activity and violations for your area:
*** List of the Harmed--There are now over 1600 residents of Pennsylvania who have placed their names on the list of the harmed when they became sick after fracking began in their area. http://pennsylvaniaallianceforcleanwaterandair.wordpress.com/the-list/
***Pipeline/Eminent Domain Factsheet-Handout
Food and Water Watch
***Frackademia Handout-Industry’s influence on Education:
***Orange You A'Peelin'? Guide to PA Fracking Permit Appeals
You can print this booklet off the site.
***Video-- Dr Ingraffea Speaks at Butler Community College
Published on Nov 22, 2013
The science of shale gas: The latest evidence on leaky wells, methane emissions, and implications for policy. A.R. Ingraffea Ph.D, P.E.; M.T. Wells, Ph.D, Cornell University; R. Santoro, R. Shonkoff, Ph.D, Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, Inc. Butler Community College, Butler Pa, November 21, 2013.
The latest evidence on leaky Gas wells:
1. Landmen Still Repeating Same Lies
Reports from citizens who have attended gas industry held community meetings are reporting that despite the data we now have on spills, violations, health effects, and air and water pollution from fracking, the landmen continue to repeat the same misinformation. From the Delmont meeting gas representative (we have heard this at numerous other meetings as well) :
--If you don’t lease we will take your gas anyway and you won’t get the royalties
--There has been no instance of water contamination from fracking.
-There is no difference between drilling shallow gas wells and fracking.
-They are using the very same chemicals used for shallow well drilling.
All of the above statements are totally false.
.2. Congratulations and Thank You to South Fayette From All of Us
South Fayette Honored for Act 13 win!!!
South Fayette officials are invited to the Regular Meeting of Council on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm to receive a proclamation in honor of their win on Act 13. Their presentation will be listed first on the agenda.
Q. Will the meeting be broadcast?
A. Yes, the meeting will be webcast live on the Allegheny County meeting-media website. It will also be shown at 7:00 pm on the Friday following the meeting on Comcast Channel 13 (Channel 10 for Armstrong cable customers). The webcast is archived on the website as well, so at anytime you may view the presentation or send it to family members and friends.
(And also thank you to all the municipalities that put their energies and money into fighting this battle: Township of Robinson, Washington County; Township of Nockamixon, Bucks County; Township of South Fayette, Allegheny County; Peters Township, Washington County; Township of Cecil, Washington County; Mount Pleasant Township, Washington County; and the Borough of Yardley, Bucks County.)
3. CORBETT ASKS SUPREME COURT TO RECONSIDER ACT 13 DECISION !!
( The greed and injustice of Corbett administration.)
*Corbett and his administration File Against PA Supreme Court on Act 13
“Two Pennsylvania agencies on Thursday filed an application to reconsider the opinions and order entered by the state Supreme Court regarding its Act 13 ruling.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 19 declared key provisions of Act 13 – the state’s law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activities – as unconstitutional, including portions that would have taken zoning control out of the hands of local government bodies.
. The DEP and PUC hired an outside law firm, Conrad O’Brien, P.C., to handle the filing. One of the partners of the firm is Cristopher Carusone, who joined the firm after leaving his position as Gov. Tom Corbett’s chief of staff in July.
Following the filing, general counsel for the governor’s office released the following statement:
Today, lawyers representing Commonwealth agencies and officials in the Robinson Township matter have sought reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s December 19, 2013, Opinions and Order.
In the Robinson Township decision, the Court declared key provisions of Act 13 of 2012 (the Commonwealth’s oil and gas law) to be unconstitutional.
In announcing a never-before-employed balancing test against which the constitutional validity of the law is to be judged, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made its own sweeping factual findings regarding the impact of Act 13, none of which finds any support in the sparse and uneven factual record that was made before Commonwealth Court. The Supreme Court’s decision is a stunning departure from the historical practice of that Court, and an unrestrained venture into a fact-finding role that the Court always has insisted is not its proper place in the judicial system.
Accordingly, today’s request for reconsideration seeks to give Act 13 its fair day in court, as every law of this Commonwealth deserves when challenged. We are asking the Supreme Court to follow its own established precedent and remand the case to Commonwealth Court for the development of an evidentiary record (through a fair and thorough process in which all parties have a real and equal opportunity to participate), application of the Court’s newly-pronounced standards to the facts as found by the Commonwealth Court (with legal briefs from all parties), and finally a fair and final determination as to whether Act 13 violates Article I, Section 27 based on a full record and formal findings.
In addition, the DEP is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that certain provisions of Act 13 that involve the agency’s responsibility to protect public resources (such as public parks) cannot stand separately from provisions that the Court has determined are unconstitutional. The Department contends that the Supreme Court misunderstood how the statutory provisions work separately from each other and asks the Court to direct Commonwealth Court to study that question as part of the other matters it must examine on remand.
The SmithButz law firm handled the challenge to Act 13 on behalf of a handful of municipalities including Robinson, Cecil and Peters townships, a medical doctor and a nonprofit.
Reached Thursday afternoon, attorney John Smith said:
After more than 160 pages and more than a year of deliberation, I think the court sufficiently explained its reasoning and position with this case. A majority of the court found that portions of Act 13 are unconstitutional – end of question.
Co-counsel, John Kamin, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, said:
The PUC’s and DEP’s Request For Reconsideration so that it can implement and utilize unconstitutional legislation is an affront to the Citizens of Pennsylvania, and truly demonstrates the Executive Agencies’ inappropriate stake in this legislation. – John Kamin, co-counsel
Reached for reaction to the filing, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who was vocal in his opposition to Act 13, said:
It’s unconscionable that the state of Pennsylvania is looking at a $1.4 billion deficit, yet, Gov. Tom Corbett is wasting even more taxpayer dollars in a last-ditch desperation stunt to protect his wealthy donors in the shale industry. This has ‘sore loser’ written all over it. It’s mind-boggling to me that the DEP is taking such extraordinary steps to advocate for less environmental and constitutional protections.
White also noted that it is highly irregular for appointed department heads in the Corbett administration to file a pleading of this nature, a responsibility that generally falls to the attorney general.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane was a defendant in the Act 13 case but declined to defend the law.
To read the entire court filing, click on the link below:
*Commentary by group member
PA PUC, DEP Seek to Overturn Supreme Court Act 13 Decision
(Summarized by jan)
“Too Bad, Governor Corbett. The Steelers didn't make it, and there are NO try overs for you either. You are like the Republican Congress who took the Affordable Care Act to task over 40 times even when the US Supreme Court had ruled it was legal. Where are you getting the money to repeat this waste of taxpayers’ money? You are trying to bankrupt all of our communities. You have done nothing but lie to the people of Pennsylvania about not raising taxes and fees, check what it costs to drive on the turnpike today. You kept 5 million Pennsylvanians from a chance to have health care, some will die and others are left sick. You supported Act 13 that took local zoning control from all communities and gave control to your financial supporters.
The Supreme Court said the law was unconstitutional. What part of that didn't you understand? Fracking is dangerous and will pollute our drinking water sources. Are you that dumb that your legacy will show how uncaring of Pennsylvanians you are? Why did you give cover to the oil & gas industry by not letting the Medical Doctors tell their patients what made them sick? They have a right to recover their losses. Why did you rig the enforcement of the Pa DEP laws by reducing the number of enforcement officers while you gave increasing numbers of permits for drilling?
Self-regulation of the oil & gas industries doesn't work. Do you turn yourself into local law enforcement when you speed? As far as putting brine or any salt on tar & chip and unpaved roads, anyone who works on municipal roads knows that causes washboard roads. They will be destroyed and have to be repaired every spring to be passable. Who will pay for that? Drillers? The State? No, the locals! And just who will monitor for the radioactivity and chemicals that can be present and tracked into our homes? The State? Oil & Gas? NOBODY, that's who.
Article 1 Section 27 of the Pa, Constitution, does protect us if we want it to, or it can continue to be ignored as Governor Corbett and his political appointees want. We have the Supreme Court to interpret, and Attorney General to enforce the Constitution for those who swore an oath to obey and to defend it, and don't. All power in government comes from the people. Well people, what are you going to do?”
*Second Tries at Supreme Court Not Mission Impossible
“The Pennsylvania PUC and DEP face steep odds in asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to strike down as unconstitutional the Act 13 of 2012 amendments to the state's Oil and Gas Act, but it's not completely out of the realm of possibility, appellate lawyers said.
"It's rare but not unheard of, by any means," said Carl A. Solano, chair of the appellate practice at Philadelphia-based Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis.
Solano said another reason filing an application for reconsideration might make sense in that case is the possibility that the court will want the case to be reargued in front of a full bench in the hopes that there will be a majority.
As it stands now, appellate lawyers told The Legal, neither Castille's nor Baer's rationale in Robinson Township carries any precedential weight.
Nevertheless, the PUC and DEP focused the bulk of their Jan. 2 petition for reconsideration on Castille's opinion, saying it "runs roughshod" over the principle that the Supreme Court does not sit as a trier of fact.
Counsel for the plaintiffs in Robinson Township, John M. Smith of Smith Butz in Canonsburg, Pa., said in an emailed statement Monday that the court "sufficiently explained its legal reasoning with this landmark case."
"A majority of the justices found that portions of Act 13 are unconstitutional and we believe the extraordinary request by the PUC and the DEP, which was notably not joined by the Pennsylvania attorney general, lacks merit and should be dismissed by the Supreme Court accordingly," Smith said.
The Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider a handful of rulings over the past three-plus decades, but only a portion of them have resulted in full reversals of the previous decisions.”
The intelligencer 1-7 -14
*Pittsburgh City Paper Comments on Act 13 ruling
“But court opinions can reshape the political landscape. Before last week, fracktivists had been fighting a losing battle against Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's plan to drill in county parks. Now they're describing themselves as "elated," "excited," and "amazed."
No wonder. For years, they've stood out in the rain and snow, waving signs emblazoned with the Environmental Rights Amendment outside gas-drilling conventions. They did so on the assumption that the amendment wasn't just empty rhetoric, and that what's written in the constitution actually matters. They clung to that belief even as gas-industry execs strolled past with a smirk.
Today, the lobbyists aren't the ones smiling.”
*Supreme Court should reject an Act 13 do-over
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“After the state Supreme Court recently found important parts of Pennsylvania’s new law on natural gas extraction unconstitutional — including communities losing the power to regulate fracking in their own jurisdictions — we said “chalk one up for the little guy.”
Watch out, the big guys want the court to take a wet cloth and erase that chalk.
James D. Schultz, general counsel to Gov. Tom Corbett, announced in a press release Thursday that commonwealth agencies are requesting that the Supreme Court revisit the case by sending it back Commonwealth Court “for the development of an evidentiary record.”
The Corbett administration claims the Supreme Court “made its own sweeping factual findings” and they don’t find support in the “sparse and uneven factual record that was made before Commonwealth Court.” It asks the court “to give Act 13 its fair day in court.” The request should be rebuffed.
Act 13 has had its fair day in court and the commonwealth lost. This insulting request to the state’s justices would not have been made had the decision favored the fracking industry. But as the Supreme Court pointed out, the Pennsylvania Constitution explicitly sides with the people on the right to a clean environment.”
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2014/01/05/Fracking-revisited/stories/2014010400120000000#ixzz2pdU2jmr2
*An Opinion For the Ages: Pa. Supreme Court strikes a blow for the environment in Act 13 ruling
“This may one day be seen as the most important environmental decision ever written by an American jurist
By Bruce Ledewitz
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held major portions of Pennsylvania’s new natural gas development law — Act 13 — unconstitutional.
This decision returns local zoning control to municipalities where fracking is or will be taking place and alters the context for development of Marcellus Shale natural gas sources in Pennsylvania.
Even more important, however, than what was done by the court was the basis of the decision. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille’s opinion in the case gave life to Pennsylvania’s previously moribund environmental rights constitutional amendment and may one day be seen as the most important environmental decision ever written by an American jurist.
There was no majority opinion in the case, Robinson Township v. Pennsylvania. The vote was 4-2 — Justice Joan Orie Melvin did not participate — striking down Act 13’s preemption of all local oil and gas regulation, its requirement that gas drilling be allowed in even residentially zoned districts and its provision of mandatory waiver of setbacks to protect streams and other water sources.
The decision also granted standing to a doctor to challenge the confidentiality restrictions contained in the act. The decision remanded to Commonwealth Court consideration of both the doctor’s claim and of the claim whether the rest of Act 13 should be struck down, either as a prohibited “special law” or because its other provisions could not be separated from those that had been invalidated.
Chief Justice Castille wrote the lead opinion, joined by Justices Debra McCloskey Todd and Seamus P. McCaffery. Justice Max Baer cast the decisive fourth vote in a separate concurrence, joining the result but not the reasoning of the lead opinion. Justices Thomas G. Saylor and J. Michael Eakin dissented.
Justice Baer voted to invalidate Act 13 on the ground that the act violated the substantive due process rights of landowners adjacent to drilling to “quiet enjoyment” of their real property, a right that could only be protected at the local level. This had been the ground of the Commonwealth Court’s prior decision in the case. This ground would have rendered the case very important for oil and gas development law but it would not have changed the terms of future environmental litigation in Pennsylvania.
Chief Justice Castille’s lead opinion, based the invalidity of Act 13 on a violation of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the 1971 environmental rights amendment, which promises the people of Pennsylvania the right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Act 13’s elimination of local control over natural gas development violated the commonwealth’s obligations as trustee to protect Pennsylvania’s “public natural resources.”
In light of Pennsylvania’s history of environmental degradation at the behest of industry, Act 13 was the type of enactment the amendment was meant to prohibit. The opinion assured that the amendment does not forbid development of the state’s natural resources, but it does require that development proceed in a sustainable way.
To get to this result, Chief Justice Castille overturned most of the amendment’s prior case law, which had held that satisfying statutory environmental protections is all the amendment requires. From now on, the amendment must be enforced according to its expansive language and intent.
Clearly, if this is now the law, there has been a revolution in Pennsylvania environmental litigation. Many would say, for example, that the commonwealth has similarly failed in its obligation to prevent the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in Pennsylvania. But how important is Chief Justice Castille’s opinion, since it is only a plurality and not a majority opinion? And how important is his opinion to the nation, since other states lack Pennsylvania’s environmental constitutional protections?
The answer to both questions is that Chief Justice Castille’s opinion is likely to lead to a judicial reconsideration of environmental protections generally.
In terms of Pennsylvania, the lower courts will notice both the length and thoroughness of the opinion and the willingness of Justice Baer to agree that enforcing the amendment is not a political question, lacking in enforceable standards.
And in terms of the nation, judges in other states will note that the chief justice described the rights protected by the amendment as “inherent.”
Pennsylvanians enjoy these rights by amendment but they remain rights in all people.
Is this the old siren song of judicial supremacy, of judges invading the prerogatives of democracy? There is that danger. But in this day of big money influencing all of political life and of an increasing chasm between the super-rich and everyone else, there may be only one branch of government in which the environment and the needs of future generations can still get a hearing — the judiciary. And if that offends the Legislature and the governor, they have only themselves to blame.
Bruce Ledewitz is professor of law at Duquesne University and co-director of the Pennsylvania Constitution Website.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2013/12/26/An-opinion-for-the-ages.print#ixzz2pNVF2NmZ
4. China Joins Deal to Drill In Greene County
“China’s state-owned coal behemoth is heading to Pennsylvania to learn how to tap into natural gas embedded in shale.
China Shenhua Energy Co., the world’s second largest coal company, is planning to create a joint venture between a U.S. subsidiary and a private Pennsylvania natural gas producer to drill 25 natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale.
The $146 million project — which is slated to produce 3.8 billion cubic meters of gas in three decades — is China Shenhua’s first foreign venture into shale gas, according to China Daily.
China Shenhua said it aims to learn the trade and bring it back to China, where Chinese officials have set a goal to produce 80 billion cubic meters of gas by 2020. However, analysts peg China’s potential gas production at 18 billion cubic meters by that time.
U.S. liquefied natural gas companies are counting on the country to be a big importer in coming years, as China tries to increase the amount of power it generates from natural gas.
U.S. producer Energy Corp. of America said China Shenhua is putting up an initial $90 million toward the shale project in Greene County, the company’s chief executive John Mork said in a statement Thursday. Energy Corp. is headquartered in Denver and has offices in Sugar Land, Texas.
Though the deal involves one of the largest coal miners in the world, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to some Chinese investments in shale oil and gas, like Sinochem’s $1.7 billion joint venture with Pioneer Natural Resources in West Texas.
Foreign companies have pumped $26 billion into U.S. shale efforts since 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.”
5. From Public Herald: The New DEP Mapping Tool
“All this mapping doesn’t do diddly if you’re trying to understand what’s happening on the ground. Access to inspection and violation reports, gas migration and contamination investigations, waste manifests, test results, citizen complaints, and court orders all have to be gathered at DEP’s office during a “File Review” that takes over a month to schedule, where you have to either scan your files with your own portable scanner and laptop, or pay for copies at $0.10 to $2.00 per page.
“The Devil’s in the details” is an apt phrase for what DEP should be offering the public in terms of access. Maps are amazing tools, and DEP should continue to invest its miniscule resources in keeping it updated with the most accurate information at its disposal. But government, DEP inspectors and staff, industry, and the public would all benefit from more efficient and appropriate use of modern technology. If industry wants more and more new permits across the state, then perhaps Pennsylvania’s leaders should require the industry to build DEP’s digital infrastructure so any lawmaker, citizen, or oil and gas inspector can access detailed information about each and every oil and gas well from anywhere there’s internet access. http://www.publicherald.org/archives/18775/opinion/
6. Fracking is Bad for Babies
"Currie, who had financial support from the EPA and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and her colleagues obtained Pennsylvania birth records containing the latitude and longitude of the mothers' residences, matching them to the locations of fracking sites. In doing so, they built on the work of Elaine Hill, a PhD student at Cornell University who sparked controversy in 2012 with a study showing that infants born near fracked gas wells had more health problems than infants born near sites that had merely been permitted for fracking"
Elaine Hill's initial study is available at a link in the article below. Here is a link to her research page. https://sites.google.com/site/elainelhill/research
Study Shows Fracking Is Bad for Babies
By Mark Whitehouse - Jan 4, 2014
“The energy industry has long insisted that hydraulic fracking is safe for people who live nearby. New research suggests this is not true for some of the most vulnerable humans: newborn infants.
In a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers -- Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent.
The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed or posted online, comes at a time when state and federal officials are grappling with how to regulate fracking and, in the case of New York State, whether to allow the practice at all. Much of the available research has been sponsored either by the energy industry or by its critics. Independent studies have found evidence of well-water contamination in areas close to fracking activity. Establishing a direct link between fracking and human health, though, has been complicated by a lack of information on the chemical substances used in the process and the difficulty of obtaining health records that include residence data.
The new research seeks to achieve the rigor of a controlled experiment by focusing on mothers who, due to their locations and the dates of their pregnancies, were effectively selected at random to be exposed to fracking.
While the study strongly indicates that fracking is bad for infant health, more work is needed to understand why. Surprisingly, water contamination does not appear to be the culprit: The researchers found similar results for mothers who had access to regularly monitored public water systems and mothers who relied on the kind of private wells that fracking is most likely to affect. Another possibility is that infants are being harmed by air pollution associated with fracking activity.”
7. Dangerous Elements Occur in Fracking Brine
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Research about naturally occurring chemicals, some radioactive, coming out of fracking wells is raising concerns for West Virginians. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality, Duke University, has studied the salty water that comes to the surface when Marcellus Shale is fracked.
He said the brine contains things like bromide and radium, which is naturally radioactive. Vengosh noted that the levels of bromide in Marcellus brine are very high. Bromide is typically of little concern, but Vengosh said it combines in a dangerous way with the chlorine used to sterilize drinking water. "This combination can generate a very toxic organic compound; it could be very toxic if consumed by the people that use this water from this utility," Vengosh said. Vangosh explained that radium in the brine ordinarily contains a very low level of radioactivity, but he has found it can accumulate in the sediment at water treatment facilities. And he said there are reasons to think it may also bio-accumulate - build up as organisms feed on each other - and even end up in the fish that people eat. "It could move from bugs in the sediments into higher-order organisms and eventually end up in fish," he said.
The energy industry said it is recycling more of the fluids it uses, and insisted fracking is not harming water quality. Vengosh agreed that more is being recycled, but he pointed out that the brine is very loosely regulated, and in many states its chemical content is not even monitored. The good news is that the brine can be treated and cleaned up, he said. "It's doable. There's no need for technological breakthroughs; all those technologies are available. The only question is the cost," Vangosh said. The oil and gas industries are exempted from the federal Clean Water Act, Vengosh said. Otherwise, they would have to clean up the brine before gets into surface water or ground water.
Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV
8. Range Goes After Steve Lipsky Because He Can Set His Water On Fire and Shows it
In 2011, the EPA determined that Range Resource’s fracking activities had contaminated Lipsky’s well. Steve Lipsky can light the water coming out of his well on fire.
Lipsky is still baffled by Range Resources’ test results and the letter they sent him and his neighbors on Feb. 2, 2011, assuring them their air and water were safe. One set of results the company produced shows zero gas in his well.
Either Range Resources’ tests were done incorrectly and are not credible. The numbers for gas contamination are rising to the highest levels recorded nationwide, and Lipsky has the documentation to prove it, provided by Duke University and private testing conducted with the same equipment the industry uses.
In Sept. 2013, tests showed gas coming out of Lipsky’s water well measuring 162,000 parts per million (ppm). 50,000 ppm is considered a level for potential explosion. Air samples taken directly from the water well headspace vent showed levels exceeding 900,000 parts per million. Several residents alerted the Railroad Commission of new high-test levels, prompting the agency to reopen its investigation.
The Lipskys were not the only ones left bewildered when the EPA withdrew the administrative emergency order. Six Republican senators—James M. Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), John Boozman (R-AK), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)—also felt a need to question the EPA’s actions, sending a letter requesting the Attorney General investigate the matter. The Senators hope to prove the EPA is an activist branch of the government.
In a statement from the Republican minority of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, Sen. Cornyn said, “For too long the Obama EPA has sought headlines instead of facts, as was the case here. Texans deserve to know if this action was carried out in a politically-motivated way, in an attempt to demonize the entire industry and purposely mislead the public.”
The government shutdown has held up the Attorney General’s report but Lipsky is hopeful the truth will emerge.
Documents uncovered by ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA Channel 8 show Range Resources failed to cement their drilling operation despite being required to do so by the industry’s own standards. Doug Allmand, an engineering specialist for the Railroad Commission, is aware of this. He sent Range a violation letter on Aug. 10, 2010. According to Dr. Payne, a scientist hired by Lipsky from Pennsylvania, where fracking operations have contaminated wells in similar cases, this probably led to the contamination of Lipsky’s and his neighbors’ wells.
Steve Lipsky is now working with attorney Brent M. Rosenthal, who is preparing to petition for a writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court asking to dismiss Range’s remaining claims for defamation and business disparagement against Steven Lipsky.
“I will assert,” Rosenthal says, ”as I have before the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, that Range’s claims are meritless and threaten the exercise of First Amendment rights by Steve Lipsky and anyone else who speaks out on issues of public concern. I hope that organizations fighting for first amendment rights and social justice, as well as those involved in the environmental movement, will be concerned about the case and will work to persuade the courts to reject claims like Range’s claim against the Lipskys.”
Lipsky is saddled with legal bills and the expense of trucking in drinking water from a nearby town. He worries about his future, since his dream house has been devalued. He also worries about his neighbors living under the threat of a catastrophic gas explosion.
The stress is taking its toll on Lipsky’s health, as his spiking blood pressure attests. But Lipsky doesn’t have to worry about his property exploding, since his well remains turned off as a precaution.
In a culture where the oil and gas industry spends millions on PR campaigns and hires representatives with military backgrounds in psychological operations to intimidate private citizens, where regulatory agencies and scientists risk harassment when their results are not ’industry friendly’, where lawyers don’t want to take on clients who have cases against industry for fear of losing business with energy producers, and where industry campaign contributions taint politicians and judges all the way up the ladder, how many people will fight back as staunchly as Steve Lipsky has? http://ecowatch.com/2013/11/07/fracking-victim-sued-defamation-prove-water-flammable/
9. Families Seek Recourse-Lawsuits Over Gas Wells
“When David and Linda Headley bought their 116-acre farm in rural Fayette County near the West Virginia border in 2005, they thought they were buying their dream property, a place to build a home, raise a family and enjoy the outdoors.
What they ended up with, they told Catholic News Service, was a nightmare.
These days when David and Linda and sons Adam, 5, and Grant, 17, look out from their front porch they see the telltale signs of a natural gas well less than 600 feet away: condensate tanks, vent pipes, pipelines and control valves.
The well was built in 2009, a few years after the Headleys moved to their new home. They find it unsightly and contend the invasive noises and toxic odors associated with it are a nuisance.
Most worrisome is the periodic unexplained illness afflicting Adam when well operators arrive to vent the tanks. The process discharges volatile organic compounds and other byproducts into the air and onto the land. When the Headleys see the workers coming, they head indoors and turn on a specially installed ventilation system.
The situation led the Headleys to join a civil lawsuit with five other nearby property owners. It charges several natural gas companies and pipeline operators with operating a nuisance, negligence and recklessness.
Filed June 13 in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in Pittsburgh, the lawsuit is the last hope the plaintiffs have to resolve their grievances, David said.
"My hope is that they pull this pollutin' mess out of my ground and reclaim my ground to its former state and have us a nice safe place to live with our kids and our animals," he said.
"I want them out of my life. I want 'em gone. I don't care if they make a billion dollars off the gas. I didn't lease the ground to them. I didn't want them here. If they want to take the gas, they can go over to the neighbor's over here, where the neighbors have leased, and run a line under and take my gas from there."
The Headleys and their neighbors say several wells, related pipelines and a nearby compressor station adversely affect their lives and disrupt the enjoyment of their properties.
The lawsuit is not so much about property damage as it is about quality of life issues, said Charles Speer of Kansas City, Mo., who filed the case on behalf of the families.
"Everybody wants to be safe and secure in their homes," Speer said.
The Headleys' concerns focus on the fact that the well on their land is drilled deep into the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. Such wells have become common across Pennsylvania since 2006 as energy companies seek to tap vast deposits of natural gas a mile beneath the surface.
Freeing the natural gas involves a process known as slick water hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The plaintiffs said in the suit that their water sources have been tainted with natural gas (methane) and other naturally occurring toxic compounds released by the fracking process. David said he was able to set fire to a small spring on his property and showed visitors a video of water igniting when exposed to a small flame.
A second video showed energy company workers venting the condensate tanks. A white cloud rose above the tanks and accumulated in a low spot on the property.
Linda said Adam experiences intense stomach pain when the venting occurs. At times she and David have rushed him to the nearest hospital, 15 miles away in Morgantown, W.Va. But doctors have had no specific diagnosis, she said.
Brian Begley of Atlas Energy Resources, the well operator, and Tom Droege, a spokesman for Williams Co., the pipeline operator, declined to comment.
A similar lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Fred and Janet McIntyre and their daughter, Savannah, 11, of Connoquenessing Township, Pa. The Allegheny County Common Pleas Court suit charges that the family's water supply was contaminated by fracking fluids that seeped out of wells operated by Rex Energy Corp. of State College, Pa.
The McIntyres live in the Woodlands, an old hunting camp that has been converted to permanent residences. About 200 people live in the community of modest houses, cabins and mobile homes. The roads are rocky and unpaved. Residents get their water from wells.
The McIntyres and their attorney, David A. McGowan, said they could not comment while the lawsuit is pending.
However, Fred and Janet were among several Woodlands residents featured in a YouTube video on the situation. In it, Fred talks about contracting a serious skin rash and nose bleeds while Janet attributes her leukemia to the fouled water.
The video also shows residents drawing black, orange and foaming water from faucets. Residents said until the wells went in, their water quality was good.
The lawsuit charges that 31 wells around the Woodlands perimeter are a nuisance. The wells nearest the McIntyres' small home are blamed for polluting their well and causing Fred and Janet to experience symptoms that are consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals. The suit seeks reimbursement for expenses the McIntyres have incurred, including buying clean water, and an injunction to end the "nuisances, wrongful acts and damages" by closing down Rex Energy's wells.
The lawsuit included several Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspection reports listing operating violations including improper casing of at least two wells.
Rex Energy did not respond to calls for comment.
John Stolz, professor of environmental microbiology at Spiritan-run Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, undertook a study of Woodlands water sources in 2011. He said he found more than 50 families that had water quality problems.
The tests found manganese as the primary contaminant. Other pollutants included iron, sulfates, salts and some complex hydrocarbons. Stolz said all are associated with natural gas extraction but also with coal mining, which occurred in the region in the past.
Stolz and his team also looked at state DEP records that showed a correlation when the wells were drilled and then fracked and the dates residents began experiencing problems with their water.
Even so, there is no "smoking gun," Stolz said, because many other factors related to geography and well construction must be studied before a definitive conclusion can be reached.
Until February 2012, Rex Energy paid for fresh water to be trucked in to the affected families. The practice was discontinued after the state DEP determined that water sources had returned to safe levels as measured by pre-drilling tests.
Since then, local churches have taken up weekly water collections for the families.
This is the fifth in a six-part Catholic News Service series examining the practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas development and Catholic teaching on the environment. The stories will appear at Eco Catholic semiweekly through Jan. 2. Read the earlier stories: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. For recent NCR coverage on fracking, see "Sisters of Loretto resist proposed pipeline through Kentucky land;" "Students scrutinize fracking lease at Franciscan University" and "In global fight against fracking, faith community should lead."
10. EPA to Allow Consumption of Toxic Fracking Wastewater by Wildlife and Livestock
Millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals from oil and gas drilling rigs are pumped for consumption by wildlife and livestock with the formal approval from the EPA, according to public comments filed yesterday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to its own regulations, EPA is issuing permits for surface application of drilling wastewater without even identifying the chemicals in fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, let alone setting effluent limits for the contaminants contained within them.
The EPA has just posted proposed new water discharge permits for the nearly dozen oil fields on or abutting the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming as the EPA has Clean Water Act jurisdiction on tribal lands. Besides not even listing the array of toxic chemicals being discharged, the proposed permits have monitoring requirements so weak that water can be tested long after fracking events or maintenance flushing. In addition, the permits lack any provisions to protect the health of wildlife or livestock.
“Under the less than watchful eye of the EPA, fracking flowback is dumped into rivers, lakes and reservoirs,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that in both the current and the new proposed permits the EPA ignores its own rules requiring that it list “the type and quantity of wastes, fluids or pollutants which are proposed to be or are being treated, stored, disposed of, injected, emitted or discharged.”
“Gushers of putrid, grayish water encrusted with chemical crystals flood through Wind River into nearby streams,” he added.
Surface disposal of water produced by oil and gas drilling is forbidden in the Eastern U.S. but allowed in the arid West for purposes of “agricultural or wildlife propagation,” in the words of the governing federal regulation. Thus, the “produced water,” as it is called, must be “of good enough quality to be used for wildlife or livestock watering or other agricultural uses.”
In the last decade, fracking fluids often consisting of powerfully toxic chemicals have been included in this surface discharge. The exact mixture used by individual operators is treated as a trade secret. But one recent analysis identified 632 chemicals now used in shale-gas production. More than 75 percent of them affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; 40-50 percent impact the kidneys and the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems; 37 percent act on the hormone system; and 25 percent are linked with cancer or mutations.
“Amid all the controversy on this topic, there is one point of agreement: Drinking fracking fluids is not a good idea,” added Ruch, pointing to cases where cattle drinking creek water contaminated with fracking fluids died or failed to produce calves the following year. “The more than 30-year old ‘produced water’ exception was intended for naturally occurring fluids and muds from within the geologic formations, not this new generation of powerful chemicals introduced downhole.”
PEER is asking the EPA to rewrite the permits to regulate all the chemicals being discharged and to determine whether the “produced water” is potable for wildlife and livestock. Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING WASTEWATER pages for more related news on this topic.
11. New Study Exposes Dark Money Feeding Climate Change Denial
“A new study conducted by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle, PhD, exposes and funding behind the powerful climate change countermovement. This study marks the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort. . The study was published Friday in Climatic Change, one of the top 10 climate science journals in the world.
Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the countermovement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that, while the largest and most consistent funders behind the countermovement are a number of well-known conservative foundations, the majority of donations are “dark money,” or concealed funding.
The data also indicates that Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, two of the largest supporters of climate science denial, have recently pulled back from publicly funding countermovement organizations. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to countermovement organizations through third party pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced, has risen dramatically.
The climate change countermovement is a well-funded and organized effort to undermine public faith in climate science and block action by the U.S. government to regulate emissions. This countermovement involves a large number of organizations, including conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and conservative foundations, with strong links to sympathetic media outlets and conservative politicians.”
12. States Confirm Water Pollution From Drillling
“The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, compared with 499 in 2012. The Pennsylvania complaints can include allegations of short-term diminished water flow, as well as pollution from stray gas or other substances. More than 100 cases of pollution were confirmed over the past five years.
Just hearing the total number of complaints shocked Heather McMicken, an eastern Pennsylvania homeowner who complained about water-well contamination that state officials eventually confirmed.
"Wow, I'm very surprised," said McMicken, recalling that she and her husband never knew how many other people made similar complaints, since the main source of information "was just through the grapevine."
The McMickens were one of three families that eventually reached a $1.6 million settlement with a drilling company. Heather McMicken said the state should be forthcoming with details.
Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. Some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, drilling chemicals, heavy metals and naturally occurring low-level radiation.
But some conventional oil and gas wells are still drilled, so the complaints about water contamination can come from them, too. Experts say the most common type of pollution involves methane, not chemicals from the drilling process.
Some people who rely on well water near drilling operations have complained about pollution, but there's been considerable confusion over how widespread such problems are. For example, starting in 2011, the Pennsylvania DEP aggressively fought efforts by the AP and other news organizations to obtain information about complaints related to drilling. The department has argued in court filings that it does not count how many contamination "determination letters" it issues or track where they are kept in its files.
Among the findings in the AP's review:
— Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 106 water-well contamination cases since 2005, out of more than 5,000 new wells. There were five confirmed cases of water-well contamination in the first nine months of 2012, 18 in all of 2011 and 29 in 2010. The Environmental Department said more complete data may be available in several months.
— Ohio had 37 complaints in 2010 and no confirmed contamination of water supplies; 54 complaints in 2011 and two confirmed cases of contamination; 59 complaints in 2012 and two confirmed contaminations; and 40 complaints for the first 11 months of 2013, with two confirmed contaminations and 14 still under investigation, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said in an email. None of the six confirmed cases of contamination was related to fracking, Bruce said.
— West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action, officials said.
— A Texas spreadsheet contains more than 2,000 complaints, and 62 of those allege possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling. Texas regulators haven't confirmed a single case of drilling-related water-well contamination in the past 10 years, she said.
In Pennsylvania, the number of confirmed instances of water pollution in the eastern part of the state "dropped quite substantially" in 2013, compared with previous years, DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz wrote in an email. Two instances of drilling affecting water wells were confirmed there last year, she said, and a final decision hasn't been made in three other cases. But she couldn't say how many of the other statewide complaints have been resolved or were found to be from natural causes.”