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Contributors To Our Updates
Thank you to contributors to our Updates: Debbie Borowiec, Lou Pochet, Ron Gulla, the Pollocks, Marian Szmyd, Bob Donnan, April Jackman, Kacey Comini, Elizabeth Donahue, and Bob Schmetzer.
Get Involved ---Local Group Contacts:
Ligonier Township –Jan Milburn firstname.lastname@example.org
Penn Trafford- email@example.com
Murrysville- Alyson Sharp firstname.lastname@example.org
Hempfield Twp. - Stephanie at Mt Watershed email@example.com
Due to the activity in Ligonier Township, I am getting the Updates sent out less frequently. They are therefore longer- but with many townships working on the same issues, I wanted to share the information so we all have access to what each of us are doing. Jan
***Good Point Debbie!
According to an editorial in the Observer Reporter newspaper on March 26, 2015:
“Letters to the editor are among the most highly read items in this newspaper. In fact, readership surveys have shown they are second only to obituaries in readership.
We wish more readers would take advantage of this opportunity to express their opinions because their ideas often inspire debate in the community and sometimes lead to much-needed change.”
Most of us have bemoaned the fact that we seem to be making little progress in awakening the general population to the dangers of fracking. Could it be that we are missing a relatively easy way to bring more people to our side?
I know many of us are burned out from fighting fracking for so many years.....
However, writing a letter to the editor is relatively easy and takes less time and energy than organizing a massive protest in the streets. It is also a whole lot less aggravating than arguing with tone-deaf politicians and belligerent industry people.
Therefore, I am hoping that more of us will jump onto a LTE writing campaign. I believe several LTEs are headed to the Observer-Reporter this week.
So, please, take pen to paper and pour your heart out. We are (obviously) all in this fracking mess together. We just have to wake up the rest of the people in SW PA so they know what fracking is and that they are in fracking mess too.
PS. I know many of us send email and post on Facebook. But, chances are, the people we connect with via these channels are already on "our side." By sending LTEs to the various newspapers, we have the opportunity to reach total strangers who may not even know what is going on.
I believe Diane told me that only 5% of the population needs to be on board in order for change to occur. Surely we can get to 5%.
***It’s About the Courts-Not a popularity poll
“What the drilling advocates fail to realize, with their number of petition signatures, number of leases, number of dollars, etc. ... is that once you get lawyers involved, the "popular vote" is out the window. Ultimately the only opinion that's going to matter is that of the courts: either they will apply the PA Supreme Court's ruling on Act 13 zoning to local ordinances, or they won't. Here's hoping they do. Hooray for Chris and Angelo, Jordan and Aaron, John Smith and all the other courageous lawyers taking on the gas industry on behalf of our communities! May they be victorious!!!
Joseph P. McMurry
***An Attorney’s Reminder- Research Judges Before You Vote
“Your thoughts stirred me to remind all involved to recognize that it is the judiciary who will ultimately decide all of these issues. That being said, all should be mindful of the historic election this year as 3 openings are up for grabs on the Pa Supreme Court that can and will tip the balance of future oil and gas decisions. Of the 6 justices who participated in the Act 13 case 4 went our way, but 2 of the 4 are no longer on the bench leaving the original voting members who are left at 2-2. Also, all municipal decisions that make their way up and out the local County Courts will end up at the Pa Commonwealth Court. For too long the citizens of Pa did not realize the importance of this court and most candidates who get elected are unknown to the general public. The Commonwealth Court has openings to fill this election cycle as well. The oil and gas industry receives favorable treatment in Texas not only because of the favorable legislature and Governor's office, but also because the of the Court and its members. I encourage all to investigate candidates and their prior rulings on other courts so we all do our best to keep or at least try to elect, the Judges and Justices who will follow the law and especially the Constitution. We all know the industry will be and are supporting their favorite candidates. All of the attorneys that are working to keep drilling in proper zoning areas with real oversight greatly appreciate your constant and unwavering support. Your efforts at attending meetings and court proceedings, voicing concerns, staying on your elected officials and publicizing your concerns are important and effective. Keep it up and thanks!!”
*** Penn Township
"Residents testified that the increasing number of unconventional shale gas wells and the heavy truck traffic associated with the industry was changing the character of the Residential Agricultural zoned district. R. 314a, 323a, 326a. Residents also testified to decreased property values because the well operation would be located in a residential neighborhood and change its character. The Residents repeatedly asked questions of Inflection’s witnesses that directly put at issue the appropriateness of putting a gas well pad development in the middle of a residential neighborhood."
[The drilling company] did nothing to explain the rationale for locating its well pad in an area zoned Residential Agricultural. Asked directly why the well was being located so near a residential development, Inflection’s witness could only say that it was the largest parcel of land in the area that the company could find. R. 49a, 50a. (page 9) C. Did the Township violate Appellees constitutional rights under Article I, Section 1 and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by allowing Inflection’s proposed natural gas development to be located in a neighborhood zoned Residential Agricultural?"
The Penn Township-related related article in the Trib:
***Ligonier Twp. Hearing
“Many residents spoke up at a public hearing Thursday night to ask them to reconsider proposed changes, particularly those related to unconventional drilling.
Opposition to provisions for unconventional drilling has dominated public comment at township meetings for months, and Thursday's speeches were no different, with many people stressing that the industry is not compatible with the Ligonier Valley.
Of the 123 people in attendance, 48 signed up to speak at the hearing held in the Ligonier Valley High School auditorium, including residents and nonresidents, professors and a medical doctor. The majority of the speakers warned against the potential negative impacts of fracking. They were limited to 10 minutes to speak per person. By 9 p.m., 19 people had spoken.
According to the proposed zoning ordinance and accompanying map, unconventional drilling would be allowed as a conditional use in the agricultural and industrial zoning districts. The majority of the township is designated as agricultural in the proposed map.
Citizens to Preserve Ligonier Valley set up a table with information about the effects of fracking in the auditorium lobby.
Concerns raised at the hearing about fracking ranged from air pollution to water contamination, decreased property values to children's susceptibility to environmental health hazards, exposure to toxic chemicals and the threats fracking could pose to the preservation of the scenic Ligonier Valley.
“Fracking is destructive,” said resident Elizabeth Donohoe.
Solicitor Michael Korns and township manager and zoning officer Terry Carcella have maintained that the old ordinance allowed fracking everywhere in the township, stating that the new ordinance would provide more restrictions on the activity.
Parent and resident Jeremy Dalle-Tezze pointed out an error in the ordinance in the setback from a well site to a protected structure, stating that two distances are listed in the final draft. Advocating for the safety of children in schools, he proposed increasing the setback from schools.
Resident Ron Nordstrom asked the board to reconsider rezoning much of the township to agricultural and to rethink drilling provisions.
Several residents asked when the supervisors would answer their questions or discuss their concerns. Resident John Ritter enumerated about 22 questions he wants answered about fracking in the township.
Some posed concerns about Chairman Wade Thomas potentially having a conflict of interest in voting on the ordinance, as he had an oil and gas lease. On Tuesday, Korns said it is his legal opinion that Thomas would not have a conflict of interest in voting because of the class/subclass exclusion of the Ethics Act, which states that there is no conflict if a public official is voting on a matter that will affect them the same as other township residents as a whole or a subclass they are in. Korns sought an advisory opinion from the State Ethics Commission, but it did not provide a conclusive determination.
Resident Edward Oles asked why advisory opinions weren't sought regarding planning commission chairman Mark Spitzer, who has an oil and gas lease, and planning commission member Ben Faas, who works for the EADS Group. A consultant from the EADS Group, Rick Truscello, prepared the proposed zoning maps.
The supervisors started the curative amendment process in December, declaring its zoning ordinance deficient and starting a 6-month time clock to enact a new ordinance.
Korns has said the earliest the supervisors could vote on the ordinance and map would be at its April meeting.
Resident Carol Darr questioned the “rush to move forward,” stating that residents haven't had enough time to review the proposed ordinance and map.
Darr and several others asked why the board didn't approve supervisor Tim Komar's motion earlier this month to place a moratorium on unconventional gas well drilling until a study could be done to examine the effects of a local gas well on a resident's water well.
Supervisors Paul Knupp and Bruce Robinson did not arrive at the hearing until about 7 p.m. Robinson said he had to chair a meeting of the Adelphoi board, which he said had been scheduled for a year. Knupp, who is manager of the Ligonier Township Municipal Authority board, said he was at Penn State University taking classes for his water and sewer licenses.”
Read more: http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/8053313-74/fracking-township-ordinance#ixzz3WCkNAc1H
***Hempfield –Mt Watershed Forming List
Please share the link below with anyone in the Hempfield area. It will inform them about gas activity in Hempfield Twp:
***MarkWest Backs Off On Robinson Rezoning Request
A map submitted by MarkWest shows the area it previously wanted to have rezoned as industrial property in the southwestern part of Robinson Township.
MarkWest will no longer be pursuing its request to have its Robinson Township property rezoned as industrial land, according to Robinson officials.
Township manager Erin Sakalik said MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale attended Monday’s board meeting and said the company would no longer be asking officials to consider rezoning the 252.3 acres it owns between Route 980 and Quicksilver Road.
MarkWest expressed an interest in building a natural gas compressor station on that land, which currently straddles commercial and interchange business development districts. Compressor stations are a permitted use in that area, but the company was concerned that circumstances would change if a challenge to the township’s zoning ordinance, lodged by three Robinson families, was successful. That challenge was dismissed by the zoning hearing board, and the parties involved have appealed it to Washington County Court.
“They made it clear they’re no longer in pursuit of it,” board Chairman Rodger Kendall said of MarkWest’s request for rezoning. He added that the land is a permitted use, and “they have the right to build” there.
MarkWest has not formally withdrawn its application for rezoning, Sakalik said. McHale did not return a call seeking comment on whether or not the company would proceed with its plans to build a compressor station.
“Their plans include building one compressor station in an area that is a permitted use,” Sakalik said in an email. “MarkWest has adamantly denied the rumors that their intent is to build a processing plant in Robinson Township; they said that it will not happen.”
If and when Andreis files, he’ll be joining scores of property owners in Washington, Fayette, and now Butler County who have taken shale gas companies to court.
***Gas Migration In Finleyville
“The Hills are enjoying their retirement in Finleyville, Washington County, but a gas leak has driven them from their home.
It’s been a month and half, but the continuing threat of a gas explosion has kept Joyce and Harry Hill out of their house. And nobody knows where the gas is coming from.
Joyce Hill: “We’ve lived here almost 38 years.”
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “But you can’t go inside?”
Imagine calling a place home for most of your adult life and not being able to live in it. The mortgage is paid off and the taxes are up to date. It’s just that it’s in danger of exploding any time.
“Not being able to sleep, eat,” said Joyce. “All we think about is our house.”
It’s now 48 days and counting since Harry and Joyce were told to get out. Back on Jan. 27, a gas explosion blew the lid off the Hills’ cistern and through their deck.
Peoples Gas put them up in a motel for the next three weeks, but couldn’t find the source. The gas company did determine the gas was not theirs.
“We drilled in their basement, we vented their home, and very quickly we found it wasn’t the quality of utility pipeline gas. There’s a vast difference between that and gas migrating from any place,” Barry Kukovich, of People’s Gas.
Peoples Gas installed a vent to siphon off the gas and prevent an explosion. Then, they alerted the DEP, which says the gas seems to be migrating through the ground.
“It’s not just one possible source, there are several, and we have been spending just a lot of time trying to run down where this gas is coming from,” a DEP representative said.
Pennsylvania is riddled with shallow gas wells dating back several decades, and after determining that a nearby abandoned gas well was not the source, the DEP set it sights on three active wells.
The department has contacted their three separate owners to conduct tests and says it’s trying to resolve the situation as soon as possible.
“This is something we’ve taken very seriously because we don’t want to see anyone out of their house. It’s a tragedy,” the DEP official said.
But now the Hills have their possessions scattered over three different houses and are currently staying at the home of Joyce’s brother. She says their lives have become a nightmare from which they can’t awaken.
“You wake up or jump up in the middle of the night and you see where you are and say, ‘This happened, this really happened,’ because we’re not home; we’re somewhere else,” she said.
But the source of the leak remains unknown, and the Hills are still in exile, looking for answers and the day when they finally can return home.
***Drilling Ordinance Costs Middlesex more than $35K So Far
“A challenge to Middlesex's controversial drilling ordinance cost the township $35,742 in legal fees and other costs over about six months — and more expenses are coming.
More than $32,000 has gone to two lawyers — township Solicitor Mike Hnath and Mike Gallagher, solicitor for the zoning hearing board.
Environmental groups and four Middlesex residents challenged the ordinance — which allows drilling in most of the township — with the zoning hearing board. Middlesex supervisors approved the ordinance in August, despite having no recommendation to do so from the township's planning commission.
“It is disappointing that the supervisors made such a hasty move to approve this ordinance,” drilling opponent Crystal Yost said. “This could have been prevented if they had just taken their time.”
Township manager Eric Kaunert said he did not know how the costs will financially impact the township, which has an annual budget of just more than $2 million.
“There are still bills coming in. It's a moving target. We obviously have to pull that money for legal expenses from somewhere,” he said.
Kaunert would not estimate how much more the township will spend.
“It is hard to tell. I don't know how long this process will go on,” he said.
Drilling opponents have said they will appeal the zoning hearing board's decision in court if it goes against them. The township has said it will do the same if it loses.
An appeal could last years and help define the extent to which municipalities in Pennsylvania are allowed to oversee and regulate hydraulic fracturing, supporters and opponents of the ordinance say.
Drilling is on hold on property owned by Kim and Bob Geyer near a school. Opponents say the property is too close to Mars Area School District property, about three-quarters of a mile away.
Butler County has 277 wells, the seventh-highest county concentration in the state, according to the DEP. More than half of Pennsylvania's counties are home to natural gas drilling.”
Read more: http://triblive.com/news/butler/7909621-74/township-drilling-ordinance#ixzz3UnA9WHaz
***As Drilling Increases, So Do The Lawsuits
“Gary Andreis’s house in Chartiers-Houston is just downhill from a natural gas compressor station which he says has flooded his yard and poisoned his well, forcing him and his family to live on bottled water.
“My water well’s contaminated,” says Andreis. “I got bad arsenic problems, other chemicals in my water well.”
Andreis blames runoff from a containment pond adjacent to the compressor station and has hired an attorney to take the owner and operator, MarkWest Energy, to court.
“We’ll be filing a suit against MarkWest,” said Charles Kurowski, Andreis’s attorney.
If and when Andreis files, he’ll be joining scores of property owners in Washington, Fayette, and now Butler County who have taken shale gas companies to court. But the industry says the number of those suits is not reflective of the job it has done in safeguarding the public.
“A lawyer wants you to give them a call if you’re bit by a dog or fall on the sidewalk. It’s not all that surprising,” says Dave Spigelmyer, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Spigelmyer says the industry has done an exemplary job in protecting groundwater and minimizing the impacts of drilling, saying the vast majority of the complaints have not been borne out in court.
But the number of complaints has increased with the different types of infrastructure needed to harvest, process and bring the gas to market. In addition to the compressor station, Andreis is flanked by a frack water impoundment and a drilling site down the road and he complains of noise, traffic and air pollution.
“I’m in the middle of everything. I’m in the middle of a war zone,” Andreis says.
But MarkWest disputes Andreis claim that runoff from their pond has contaminated his well. They say the pond contains no chemicals at all, but only storm water.
Whether Andreis’s claims have merit will likely be decided by a judge, but as drilling ramps up in the region, claims like it are sure to follow.” http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2015/03/10/kd-investigates-as-drilling-ramps-up-so-do-the-lawsuits/
*** Marcellus Zoning Case-Pennfuture
September 06, 2014
“A semirural enclave in Lycoming County has become the latest legal battleground pitting neighbor against neighbor over Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
The environmental group PennFuture is hailing a judge's ruling last week that threw out a township decision allowing natural-gas wells to be drilled in an area zoned residential.
Judge Marc F. Lovecchio's Aug. 29 opinion is the first known to cite a December state Supreme Court ruling that rejuvenated a 1972 amendment to the state Constitution guaranteeing citizens a right to clean air and pure water.
PennFuture represented neighbors of a farm where Inflection Energy L.L.C., of Denver, obtained a conditional-use permit from Fairfield Township to drill the wells. Inflection halted drilling after two couples appealed the township's decision this year.
"We are pleased that the court supported the rights of citizens to rely on local zoning to protect their property values and way of life," said George Jugovic Jr., chief counsel for PennFuture.
Mark Sexton, Inflection Energy's chief executive, said the company is evaluating its response.
As gas-drilling operations move closer to population centers, the case captures a growing conflict between residents who object to gas drilling and landowners who stand to benefit financially. Sexton said about 400 mineral-rights owners have a stake in the wells that would be drilled at the site.
Fairfield Township, population 2,700, is a traditionally agricultural area east of Williamsport now interspersed with new housing and a regional shopping mall. It is on the leading edge of the Marcellus Shale formation.
The township's zoning code, enacted in 2007, before shale-gas drilling was envisioned, has three zones: commercial, industrial and residential/agricultural.
The 60-acre farm where Inflection planned to drill is owned by Donald and Eleanor Shaheen. Eleanor Shaheen said the well site is "not near anybody." PennFuture, in a news release, described it as being "in the middle of a residential neighborhood."
One house lies within a 1,000-foot radius of the well site, but a development of about 20 houses lies within 3,000 feet.
Lovecchio ruled that the ordinance permitted gas drilling in the residential zone only if the proposed land use was "similar to and compatible with" the residential and other low-impact uses authorized as a right in the district.
The judge said the township's board had failed to demonstrate that drilling was a compatible use, while the two couples who objected, "presented substantial evidence that there is a high degree of probability that the use will adversely affect the health, welfare and safety of the neighborhood."
Citing December's Supreme Court ruling, Lovecchio said, "the citizens' rights cannot be ignored and must be protected."
The neighbors who complained, Brian and Dawn Gorsline and Paul and Michele Batkowski, did not respond to calls for comment. In its statement, PennFuture quotes Dawn Gorsline as saying: "We prayed so hard and long. Like many persons, we purchased our home in a residential neighborhood with the expectation that we would raise our children in a healthy environment."
Eleanor Shaheen, in a phone interview, said she and her husband are in their 80s and live in nearby Hughesville. She said their health was in decline and they were counting on income from natural gas.
"We're really in need because we're going to a nursing home soon," she said. "We're just an old-fashioned couple. To have somebody keep this away, it's a sin."
***CELDF Helps Grant Twp. Ban Wastewater Injection
“An aquatic ecosystem that supports a host of creatures and is linked to water supplies for hundreds of its neighbors will soon have its day in court.
Residents say the Little Mahoning Creek watershed in Indiana County is threatened by frackwater injection activity in the area, while a public interest law firm seeks to represent the environment itself.
As officials in Grant Township, Indiana County, head to court over a wastewater injection ban they enacted in June, legal representatives on both sides of the fight will debate which is more important: the freedoms of an energy corporation that, by law, is entitled to the same civil rights allowed an individual, or the rights of a community to have a healthy, unsullied environment.
On June 3, the Grant Township supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance — a "Community Bill of Rights" — that would ensure potentially hazardous frackwater from a proposed injection well never makes it into the Little Mahoning. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a public interest law firm, helped supervisors draft the ordinance.
The group also helped Pittsburgh in its fracking ban.
The bill of rights was a way for a small township to exert some local control — a stopgap measure to keep frackwater injection plans from moving forward.
In August, Pennsylvania General Energy, which proposed the well, sued to overturn the ban, seeking a preliminary injunction against the ordinance. A ruling will likely be handed down in January.
The environmental group intervened in Pennsylvania General Energy Co. v. Grant Township in mid-November on behalf of the watershed itself, opining that species that live in the watershed, as well as the creek's community caretakers, should have a voice.
Corporations having human rights is a concept that dates back to the mid-19th century.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided that, as corporations are comprised of people, those people should be allowed their constitutional rights when acting collectively. But the Little Mahoning Creek watershed denizens aren't allowed those same rights by law.
The outcome of this case could be the first step in changing that, community members believe.
"What's fascinating is that the ordinance not only denies corporate personhood ... but also that Grant Township has recognized nature as having personhood aspects," said Thomas Linzey, the environmental group's executive director. "It's a brand new way of doing environmental protection. The old way has failed in protecting these types of communities.
"In fact, it becomes even more ironic because, in this particular case, Pennsylvania General Energy's claims are based on corporate personhood."
Pennsylvania General Energy also argues that the ordinance defies the U.S. Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which keeps locally enacted laws from overriding federal statutes. In this case, both sides claim they're being trampled by the other.”
***SW Health Studying Illnesses Near Minisink Gas Compressor
“Public health toxicologist David Brown does not call his work with people living around gas compressor stations “research.”
“When people are sick, you don’t do a study. You find out what they’re sick from,” he said.
Brown is a founder of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit group begun in 2011, initially devoted to providing public health information and services related to natural gas extraction in Washington County.
Now the Environmental Health Project is studying 30 people living near the Millennium Pipeline gas compressor that was built in Minisink 18 months ago.
The Environmental Health Project’s work with residents near gas drilling sites led to investigation of areas surrounding gas compressors. Brown said he found those people were often sicker than the population near gas wells.
“Around compressors, emissions are bigger and more frequent, “ he said.
Brown previously worked for the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, but left to investigate what he calls “orphaned” public health issues — neglected trouble spots.
Last year, Brown and his colleagues published a peer-reviewed article about the health impact of natural gas facilities. Pramilla Malick, a weekend resident of Minisink and founder of the group Protect Orange County, saw it and called Brown.
Malick was active in opposing the siting of the compressor in Minisink. She said its frequent malodorous emissions have been followed by health problems among residents.
Malick’s house is three-eighths of a mile from the compressor station. Now she only visits Minisink sporadically because of the maladies that she says have afflicted her and her family there since the compressor began operation. She said she suffers asthma attacks, and her adolescent daughter has gushing nosebleeds. She said they only have symptoms in Minisink, not where they live in Manhattan.
Others in the area have been getting nosebleeds, headaches, rashes, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms, especially after compressor "odor events," she said.
To identify the source of people’s symptoms, the Environmental Health Project uses a systematic protocol: A physician or nurse practitioner interviews and examines participants, distinguishing pre-existing conditions from more recent symptoms. Then, as residents keep health diaries for four to six weeks, Speck air monitors inside and outside their houses record concentrations of particulate matter hourly.
“All I can tell you right now is that the monitors have identified episodic exposure to unhealthy levels of particulate matter,” Malick said.
Brown said data gathering in Minisink will be completed in about two weeks.”
***Fossil Fuel Cos. Back Climate Deniers
“Wei-Hock Soon, a leading climate change denier whose work has fortified right-wing political arguments for years, was paid more than $1.2 million by energy companies, The New York Times reports. New documents uncovered by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act show that over the last decade Soon received sizable funding from oil and gas corporations, which he failed to disclose in scientific papers he published.
This is not the first time Soon has been found receiving compensation for his research. In 2011, Reuters reported that Soon received $131,000 from ExxonMobil to study the sun's role in climate change. According to the Times, Soon has little background in climatology, but insists in his findings that transformations in the sun's energy — not human activity — is the reason for the planet's warming.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the chair of the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee who believes man-made climate change is a hoax, has repeatedly cited Soon's work over the years, according to the Times. In reference to scientists who deny climate change Inhofe said, "These are scientists that cannot be challenged."
"What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change," Kert Davies, executive director at the Climate Investigations Center, told the Times. Experts say Soon's work employs "out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change."
Soon, a part-time researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has long claimed corporate paychecks have not influenced his scientific findings. Charles R. Alcock, director at the center, admitted to the Times that Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some scientific journals.
The window to fight global warming is rapidly shrinking, and many politicians admit climate change is real while still denying its human origin. Soon's work bolsters that denial, but his ties to corporate funding should damage his already shaky credibility. “http://www.theverge.com/2015/2/22/8085303/climate-change-denier-paid-wei-hock-soon
“A bill to place a three-year moratorium on fracking in Maryland survived eight amendments and is headed to a vote in the House of Delegates.
On Monday, the Protect Our Health and Communities Act dodged attempts by House Republicans to change the legislation and make it easier for fracking to start in western Maryland. Currently there is no fracking in Maryland.
The moratorium was sponsored by Democratic Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo of Montgomery County. It originally proposed an eight-year halt, but last week was reduced to three years in an amendment approved by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
The General Assembly is considering several fracking bills. In the Senate, members are gearing up to vote on a bill that would hold drilling companies strictly liable for injuries to residents or their property.”
***Court Rules -Gag Order on Doctors Legal
“A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by a Pennsylvania doctor who challenged a state-imposed "medical gag rule" that bars physicians from revealing information they receive from Marcellus Shale drillers about fracking chemicals.
Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, a nephrologist from Dallas in Luzerne County, simply doesn't have legal standing to bring the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded in a ruling issued this week.
That decision backs an order by U.S. Middle District Judge A. Richard Caputo handed down last year dismissing Rodriguez's suit against the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection and Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Rodriguez challenged the constitutionality of the state's Act 13 of 2012, which requires doctors to keep confidential the information they receive from natural gas drillers concerning the components of fracking chemical mixes used in the gas extraction process.
An amendment to the state Oil and Gas Act, Act 13 requires Marcellus firms to provide information on fracking chemical mixes, which are used to break up underground rock and can vary from site to site, to medical professionals who request that data for treating patients. Doctors are bound by the state law to use the information only to treat patients, and must agree to keep the fracking mix data confidential.
Rodriguez argued that the confidentiality requirement is unconstitutional and interferes with his ability to diagnose and treat patients who may have been affected by fracking liquids. He claimed as well that the gag provision impedes a doctor's ethical obligation to share information with other medical providers that can improve patient care.
Caputo dismissed the doctor's suit after noting Rodriguez didn't allege that he had been in any situations where he needed or had requested fracking chemical information or had been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. Therefore, Rodriguez had not suffered the type of harm needed to give him legal standing to sue under federal law.
In the appeals court's opinion backing Caputo's decision, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell noted that a driller's fracking chemical makeup is considered to be proprietary business information that would not be shared with competing firms.”
*** PA Municipalities Zoning
Faced with arguments from gas drilling opponents at nearly every township meeting, officials in Middlesex decided their only chance at settling the contentious issue of where to allow wells was to update the zoning ordinance.
“We really need something in writing because … I can't keep doing this every month,” former township manager Scot Fodi recalled during a recent appeal hearing on the ordinance.
The ensuing legal fight over that legislation will cost the Butler County community tens of thousands of dollars and potentially last years.
Despite court rulings that affirmed the rights of such municipalities to regulate some drilling activities through zoning, few communities followed Middlesex's path over the past three years. Municipal leaders say that might change soon, though.
Less than 9 percent of municipalities in 33 counties where shale gas is being produced passed any legislation related to the natural gas industry over the past three years, according to a Tribune-Review survey of 650 communities.
“That does not surprise me. To pass an ordinance like that can be very costly,” said Susan Williams, the secretary/treasurer of rural Genesee and president of the Potter County Township Officials Association. Most towns there don't have their own zoning ordinances, she said. None of the Potter County officials who responded to the Trib's requests for information reported new legislation related to natural gas development.
Statewide, most of the 53 municipalities that did report new legislation passed amendments to their zoning to clarify where drilling or construction of related equipment can or cannot occur. Locally, municipalities in Washington and Butler counties — two active regions for drilling — had the most new gas-related legislation, with at least seven communities in each county reporting new rules.
Few communities took steps to keep drilling or related activities out of their communities like Grant in Indiana County, which passed a so-called Community Bill of Rights that bans certain wells. Courts have ruled towns can't enact blanket bans on otherwise legal and regulated industries and Pennsylvania General Energy Co. sued Grant in federal court over the move. The case is pending.
Others say communities were hesitant to act until the courts decided on challenges to Act 13 of 2012, part of which sought to take some zoning decisions out of local hands to set uniform rules for every town. The state Supreme Court struck that part down in 2013 and Commonwealth Court reiterated the local rights last year.
“There were a lot of places that said, “Let's wait until this plays out,'” said Jordan Yeager, a Bucks County attorney who represents towns that sued the state over Act 13. He works with community groups that have challenged ordinances such as the Middlesex zoning law.
Yeager said some municipalities have “kowtowed” to companies viewed as having deep pockets to fight restrictive ordinances in court, though the industry claims environmental groups are funding some zoning challenges.
“I think it's a good thing that communities now understand they have the rights,” Yeager said.
The relative quiet of the past three years might be ending, leaders said.
“Several (communities) are looking to upgrade their ordinances,” said John Stickle, manager in South Strabane, which is surrounded by towns with wells and last month had its first wells started. The township is reviewing its existing ordinance that already covered well pads and is planning updates over the next few months to address issues such as pipeline compressors and gas processing.
Other communities intend to make zoning changes related to gas development this year include East Deer, Franklin in Greene County, Murrysville and Penn Township in Westmoreland County.
“ It takes time and effort,” Stickle said. “We have a planning consultant who assists us. The solicitor is involved. There is some cost involved.”
Emotional debate can follow, too, as evidenced in communities that are considering zoning changes to clarify drilling rules or defending against appeals.
In Ligonier Township, a new zoning proposal has drawn hundreds of people to municipal meetings. Officials established special rules for speakers at a meeting scheduled for Thursday in Ligonier Valley High School. Gas companies have drilled three shale wells there.
Peters, one of the townships that sued the state over Act 13, is again considering a land-use ordinance after voiding rules it passed in 2013. Voters there in 2011 rejected a blanket ban on drilling, though the township still has no shale wells.”
***Judge Sides With Driller- Air Emissions Separated For the Industry
“A federal judge, in a case of first impression involving fracking in Pennsylvania, took a literal definition of “adjacent” when determining whether a gas company’s compression sites should be lumped together when looking at potential Clean Air Act violations.
In Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future v. Ultra Resources, the environmental advocacy group alleged oil and natural gas extraction company Ultra Resources violated the Clean Air Act because its eight compression sites, all within five square miles of one another, emitted more than 100 tons of nitrogen oxide per year. Such total emissions would require a special permit given under heightened scrutiny—one Ultra Resources did not get because it received eight individual permits for the compression stations, each of which individually emitted far less than 100 tons per year.
U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani of the Middle District of Pennsylvania said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and any of the district courts in the circuit have not weighed in on the meaning and scope of “adjacent” when applied to gas extraction through fracking. And the DEP, in its guidance on determining when sources should be considered adjacent for purposes of determining if aggregation is appropriate, did not define the term beyond its dictionary definition.
Both sides stipulated the eight compression sites were within no more than five square miles of one another. But Mariani said Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future’s argument for the sites’ proximity would require him to run afoul of DEP guidance that says facilities cannot be “daisy-chained” together to establish contiguous grouping.
“Because a number of separate and unconnected parcels of land on which the compressors are located would have to be aggregated in order for the [nitrogen oxide] emissions to reach the level of a ‘major’ source, and some of these properties are separated by several miles, the properties at issue cannot reasonably be considered ... to be ‘adjacent,’” Mariani said.
***Elk County Fights Frack Injection Well
“Seneca Resources Corp. expects a federal judge to rule in its favor when a hearing is held next week in the oil and gas driller’s landmark lawsuit against one Elk County municipality’s controversial ban on wastewater injection wells.
The hearing, set for Tuesday, centers on Seneca’s request for an immediate ruling, or preliminary injunction, in a civil suit seeking to strike down Highland Township’s ban on underground wastewater injection wells and recoup resulting financial losses.
The company argues the ban infringes on its corporate and constitutional rights, while also conflicting with state and federal laws permitting the activity.
The township, through its board of supervisors, is arguing in favor of its right to self-govern and to protect the interests of residents it claims are threatened by the disposal well’s proximity to a local water supply — claiming an increased risk of everything from groundwater contamination to earthquakes.
“It’s up to the judge,” said Chad Nicholson of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). “We don’t have a sense of what they will say. It’s difficult to determine in cases like this how it will go.”
Going in, Seneca believes legal precedent is on its side.
In court filings, lawyers for the Texas-based oil and gas driller cite “at least three occasions” in which federal courts have reviewed ordinances similar to Highland Township’s and struck them down as unconstitutional.
This includes Mora County, N.M., where a federal judge tossed a first-of-its-kind ban on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” earlier this year. The Southwest county was also represented in defense of the prohibition by CELDF and in both cases CELDF helped craft the ordinances that prompted the energy industry challenges.
CELDF is itself dismissive of criticism around its tactics, billing itself as a tireless advocate in the fight against corporate dominance and in favor of local governments’ ability to control their own destinies.
CELDF has assisted close to 200 communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and to “eliminate corporate ‘rights’ when they violate community and nature’s rights.’”
***Utah Confirms Spike in Infant Deaths in Oil and Gas Boomtown After Midwife Sounds Alarm
Despite state diluting the study
“Utah health officials have quantified a rise in stillbirths in the Eastern Utah community of Vernal, that is home to a boom in gas and oil development, but has made no plans to look into why. Activists say a climbing rate of neonatal deaths in the Uinta Basin stems from industrial smog. Donna Young was right. In 2013, more infants died in Vernal, Utah, than was normal for the area.
Last year, Young, who has been delivering babies as a midwife for nearly two decades, noticed several fresh graves for infants in the cemetery in her tiny city. She sensed that something wasn’t right. She didn’t have access to official death records, so she started combing through obituaries online.
Vernal’s population is under 10,000. According to Young’s findings, the town put in 191 graves in 2010, of which two were for infants. A year later, three infants died, and in 2012, four. The following year, 13 infants died shortly after birth. Total burials in Vernal numbered 176 in 2013, so roughly one in every 15 new graves was for an infant. Vernal’s rate of neonatal mortality appears to have climbed from about average in 2010 (relative to national figures) to six times the normal rate three years later, Young’s calculations show. Eventually, she, along with several advocacy groups and the pediatric medicine department at the University of Utah, got the attention of state officials, who agreed to look into the statistics.
Almost one year later, TriCounty Health Department, which oversees the eastern Utah region, has come back with the results: There was indeed a spike in “adverse birth outcomes” in the area that year. In total, there were 26 stillbirths and infant deaths over 2012-2013, up from 20 during 2010-2011. The 2013 stillbirth rate in the area was 5.9 per 1,000 live births, the highest it has been since 1994.
The health department downplayed the significance of numbers. The spike is notable, but not "statistically significant,” TriCounty epidemiologist Sam LeFevre said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We did see more stillbirth and infant death than what would historically have been expected.”
“From an observational perspective this investigation found evidence of public health concerns regarding infant deaths and stillbirths in the tri-county study area. If the study area were more populated—thus gaining statistical power—the analyses of the infant death and stillbirth rates might have statistically concluded that these two outcomes represent public health concerns,” LeFevre wrote in the final report. "From a local perspective, these findings should be concerning, particularly if these patterns persist."
But according to LeFevre, the state has not planned any further study of the issue or its potential causes.
Donna Young, meanwhile, says that the state’s numbers tell a muffled story.
“I think it is a good start. But I also believe that they’re holding back a lot,” Young says. “I believe they know a lot more than what they’re divulging.”
The health officials pooled data from Uintah County, where Vernal sits, as well as two surrounding counties, Duchesne and Daggett. Young’s figures, from her own survey last year, were focused on infant deaths only in Vernal, and are much more dramatic. “The [state’s] findings were very, very vague. They were also very diluted. The problem area was in Vernal. They would not do a study just with Vernal. They diluted it down by three counties. They still found a problem, but they’re refusing to look at where it’s really a problem,” she says.
Young, along with advocacy groups, posit that the deaths could be related to the exceptionally high level of air pollution in the Vernal area. Last year, prior to beginning the investigation, LeFevre acknowledged the problem of looking at all three counties, instead of just Vernal. “The Uintah Basin stretches through all three counties, but there are natural barriers between them, like hills, so the [pollution] exposure is not going to be even across all three.” Still, he said, for the sake of having a large enough population to adequately study, they had to cast a wide net.
Young insists that there is something wrong in Vernal, specifically, and speculates that it may be even more local than that. She says that in the case of six of the infant deaths she has recorded from 2012 through 2014, the mothers either lived or worked very close to a one specific intersection in the city. Young says that intersection, where 500 South Street and 500 West Street cross, sees an exceptionally high degree of truck traffic associated with the oil and gas drilling industry.
“The trucks would drive, stop, [and] blow this big amount of smoke out.”
Vernal sits in the Uintah Basin, smack in the middle of Utah’s oil and gas drilling boom. Oil and gas are central to life in the region; a map of the Uintah Basin is thickly cluttered with colorful dots marking the locations of oil and gas wells. The basin is home to around 30,000 people and some 11,200 oil and gas wells. Another 25,000 new wells were under proposal as of 2014, according to a recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder.
But several advocacy groups have raised questions about the high air pollution in the area, which scientists have blamed on the oil and gas industry. The Uintah Basin is surrounded on almost all sides by mountains. In the winter, the basin is prone to “inversions,” a weather event in which warmer air floats above cooler air, and forms a “cap” that keeps air stagnant. In short, the inversion prevents pollution from blowing out of the area.
Uintah Basin exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standards level for ozone pollutants for 39 days in the winter of 2013, according to the University of Colorado study, which puts the area’s ozone pollution above the Los Angeles Basin’s average summertime levels. L.A. is currently ranked the most ozone-polluted city in the U.S. by the American Lung Association. Several studies have linked L.A.’s air pollution to an increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as early birth and low birth weight. But linking air pollution to infant deaths within a population as small as Vernal’s is extremely difficult, and state officials aren’t buying it.
"Everyone wants to point to environmental factors, they want to blame the oil fields," said Jeramie Tubbs, spokeswoman for the TriCounty Health Department in eastern Utah, told local station KSL TV last week. "It's not an air quality issue."
But Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist and president of the advocacy group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, told Newsweek last year that the state should investigate the possibility of an air pollution link. “We know that pregnant women who breathe more air pollution have much higher rates of virtually every adverse pregnancy outcome that exists,” said Moench. “And we know that this particular town is the center of an oil and gas boom that’s been going on for the past five or six years and has uniquely high particulate matter and high ozone. So seeing this spike in perinatal mortality is not surprising.
“We can’t say at this point, and we probably can’t say ever, that each one of these deaths is due to air pollution,” he continued. “Much like we can’t say that someone’s lung cancer is definitely due to their smoking. But if you put the components of this equation in the context of everything else we know, it would say something.”
Young, meanwhile, has been receiving Facebook messages since the state announced its findings.
“I do not disagree with you on the Environmental standpoint,” reads one. “It does not make you a popular person around here when you say it might be the Oilfield pumps or the Asphalt Plant in the middle of town and we all live in a bowl where all the Poison settles to.
“I moved here in 2007 I could see across the entire basin from my home. Now I cant [sic] see over 11 miles on a normal day. I can see better in Salt Lake county. So Donna your [sic] Right. Your [sic] awesome and thank you for your hard work.”
***WVA Dems Kill Forced Pooling
“In a 49-49 tie vote, Democrats and tea party Republicans helped kill a forced pooled bill that drew outcry about infringement of people’s property rights.
It would have allowed horizontal drilling from missing or unwilling mineral rights owners when 80 percent of the surrounding mineral owners had drilling agreements.”
***Env. Groups Sue EPA Over Toxic Release Inventory Reporting
"A coalition of nine environmental and open government organizations sued the EPA for its decades-long failure to require the booming oil and gas extraction industry to disclose the toxic chemicals released by hydraulic fracturing, natural gas processing, and related operations.
Based on EPA estimates, the oil and gas extraction industry releases more toxic pollution to the air than any other industry except for power plants.
The lawsuit by the Environmental Integrity Project and allies follows a petition that the groups filed in October 2012, requesting that EPA require the oil and gas industry to disclose such pollution to the Toxics Release Inventory, a federal public pollution database. Most other industries have had to comply with these “right to know” rules for more than 20 years."
**Pipelines: The Next Fracking Battle
“Pipeline wars are now raging in Pennsylvania, where production is high and pipeline capacity is low. right now a shortage of pipelines to get gas from the gas fields to consumers has energy companies eager to dig new trenches. And activists opposed to more drilling see pipeline proposals as the new battleground over fracking.
Pennsylvania’s pipeline building boom includes an estimated 4,600 miles of new interstate pipes, tunneling under Pennsylvania’s farms, wetlands, waterways, and backyards. That’s on top of 6800 miles of existing interstate natural gas pipes, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Drillers eager to reach new markets are frustrated right now, because there’s just not enough room in the current pipeline system to transport their gas beyond regional markets.
“That gas languishes and it builds up and now that price will drop,” said Rob Boulware, a spokesman for Seneca Resources.
Today, Marcellus Shale gas sold at less than $2/MMBtu, which is about a dollar lower than gas sold in other parts of the country.
While producers and utilities try to expand their infrastructure, the pipeline construction boom has run up against opposition in small towns and rural areas where environmentalists and residents are pushing back. Some opponents simply don’t want their land disturbed, or taken by eminent domain. But other activists see pipelines as part of a larger mission to end drilling altogether.
“The pipelines are being built in order to induce more drilling and fracking,” said Maya van Rossum with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “And of course more drilling and fracking results in the need for more pipelines. So the two are inextricably intertwined and if you oppose one, truthfully, you have to oppose the other.”
Too many molecules, too little pipe
Just 5 years ago, the Marcellus Shale, which is made up primarily of Pennsylvania’s gas fields was producing two billion cubic feet of gas a day. Today that’s jumped to 19 billion cubic feet every day. And he predicts, in just 4 years, there will be 30 billion cubic feet of gas coming out of the region. That’s a 1400 percentage rise in just 10 years.
“There’s so [many] molecules out there, whether its gas, whether its oil, whether it’s natural gas liquids, you just have a ton of supply on the market at the moment,” said Jackson.
A clearing shows the site of a pipeline, one of many running beneath Pennsylvania's farms, forests and waterways.
And that massive supply is too much for the current system of pipelines to carry. There’s a traffic jam of gas molecules in the pipeline system.
Today, instead of flowing from the south, the gas flows from the Marcellus region in Pennsylvania down, as far away as Florida, and west to Chicago. Pennsylvania already has about 6,800 miles of existing pipelines. But these pipes still are not enough to handle all of the state’s gas.
“When you look at the [gas production] averages in the southwestern corner and the average daily production in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, you see these wells are blowing at incredible numbers,” said Seneca’s Boulware. “And if you have ten of those wells on a pad then you’re really sending a lot of gas into the market or have the potential to.”
Some of these Pennsylvania wells are producing 50 times more gas than a conventional well produced in the state only ten years ago. So plans for new pipelines are in the works to ship natural gas from Northeast Pennsylvania down to an export terminal in Maryland. And from there, Pennsylvania’s gas would ship to Japan, where customers are willing to pay four times the current price.
New pipelines will also be taking the gas up to New York and Boston, where residential customers pay more than those in Pennsylvania. Some of that Marcellus gas could get shipped overseas through a planned export facility in Nova Scotia.
There’s also a plan by business leaders to build a pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania down to Philadelphia to supply a potential manufacturing renaissance in the city.
Environmentalists are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt a controversial pipeline project in Northeast Pennsylvania. They staged a protest outside of Corps headquarters in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The arbiter in these pipeline disputes is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The FERC chairman Cheryl LaFleur recently spoke at the National Press Club in Washington in support of pipeline expansion.
“Pipelines are facing unprecedented opposition from local and national groups including environmental groups,” said LaFleur.”
***Pipeline Developer Sues More Than 100 W.Va. Property Owners
“More than 100 property owners in West Virginia are being sued by the developer of a proposed natural gas pipeline.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC's lawsuit seeks access to the properties to conduct a survey for a possible pipeline route.
The lawsuit says the property owners have rejected the company's request to enter their properties. The lawsuit names 103 individuals and three corporations in 10 counties as defendants.
The Register-Herald reports that Mountain Valley Pipeline filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Beckley.
Earlier this month, families in Summers and Monroe counties filed a lawsuit against the company seeking to prevent its agents from entering their properties.
The pipeline would stretch about 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County in Virginia.” http://wvpublic.org/post/pipeline-developer-sues-more-100-wva-property-owners
*** No Drinking Water In Woodlands Since February 2012
"Over the past three years, homes in the Woodlands area of Connoquenessing Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania have experienced deteriorating water quality. Twelve families were receiving water deliveries from a natural gas operator until February of 2012 when their supply of fresh and safe drinking water was cut off. Since then, a "Water Bank" was established at a local church to supply safe drinking water to the Woodlands residents. Volunteers from local communities, churches, and civic groups have been have been sharing the responsibilities of weekly water collections and distribution.
40 families who cannot drink the water in their homes, nor safely cook, bathe or wash clothes with it, now come to the Water Bank. About 500 gallons are needed each week to provide 20 gallons to the average family. This still falls short of what the Red Cross considers the minimum required for an emergency -- 2 gallons per person per day. As the number of affected families coming to the water bank continues to grow, the need for more water continues to grow. If you wish to help us meet this need, you can... ."
A more detailed story:
Fouled Waters: Woodlands Residents
(From August 19, 2012
John Stolz was on KDKA radio recently and testified at the Allegheny Twp Hearing)
“If Janet McIntyre needs to shower and can't drive the 11 miles to her son's house, she steps outside and undresses. Her husband puts on a rain poncho and pours three gallons of water over her as she hides behind a shower curtain hanging between two cars that sit in their yard.
Before Kim McEvoy watched her home value plummet and moved to one with public water, she went behind rhododendron plants to urinate. Her fiancé used bushes along the other side of the house -- the "men's room."
And when the time comes to refill the tank that provides clean water to her home, Barb Romito waits to see if her anonymous donor has pulled through once again and paid the $125 fee needed twice a month to keep her faucets flowing.
These and other lifestyle adjustments started in the Woodlands neighborhood about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh after January 2011, when residents started calling each other with the same story: Water from their wells was running brown or black with floating pieces of solid material in it, and it smelled awful. When they showered, they got rashes. When they drank, they threw up. The farm show rabbits Russ Kelly keeps behind his house even stopped drinking the water.
It was a major disruption in a quiet neighborhood. The community of homes sits several miles off the main drag of Zelienople in Butler County, a grouping of trailers and ranch houses that share bumpy, dirt roads and large yards that sometimes look more like campsites.
Gas drilling had begun near the Woodlands, though some originally thought the tall rigs built to access Marcellus Shale gas thousands of feet below the ground were cell phone towers. They called Rex Energy, the gas company that had drilled at least 15 new wells in the Zelienople area from July to December 2010, and they called the Pennsylvania
"Next thing you know, the water buffaloes are sprouting up like mushrooms" across the neighborhood, said Ms. McEvoy's fiance, Peter Sowatsky.
If a resident contacts a gas company with suspicions of water contamination, it is typically company practice that an alternate source of water -- usually in the form of a large tank called a "buffalo" -- must be provided within 48 hours. Many residents used the water buffaloes provided by Rex, replacing the private wells they'd depended on for decades, while Rex and the DEP conducted tests.
But when both test results came back, the Woodlands neighborhood residents who'd noticed unmistakable changes in the look and taste of their water were told nothing was wrong.
"There are no noticeable differences in water chemistry in pre- and post-drill water quality of the water wells in question," stated a report by Rex Energy based on testing done by a third-party firm hired by the company. DEP test results in February 2011 couldn't link contaminants in the water to the Rex Energy drilling.
Pennsylvania, home to some of the most active gas drilling in America, has the second-highest number of private wells in the country. Yet it is one of two states where no regulation exists for how those wells are constructed or maintained -- an issue advocates say has taken a backseat to other concerns over drilling.
When residents call with suspicions of contamination, analysts examining the water must grapple with scattershot information about how the well was built. Compounding the problem, experts and legislators say, is a lack of understanding over how shale drilling operations could affect land already perforated with holes from private water wells, coal mining, and shallow oil and gas drilling.
"In Pennsylvania, we have a lot of pre-existing conditions," said John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, and a professor conducting his own tests on the Woodlands water.
The DEP, which recently updated its tracking system to specifically chart Marcellus Shale complaints, has received 198 drilling-related complaints from residents since 2009, and 51 of those were related to water concerns. But the vast majority of DEP tests do not implicate the oil and gas firm, the agency said.
Thousands of Pennsylvania residents live in scenarios similar to the Woodlands, where their water, for whatever reason, isn't trusted.
With no clear cause of their water problems, neighbors in the Woodlands have moved on without one resource and leaned on another: the community.
For a while, residents protested, marching on the local Rex offices and sending YouTube videos to the Environmental Protection Agency. For a while, it seemed the Woodlands might become the Western Pennsylvania analogue to Dimock, the Eastern Pennsylvania town where some residents said water supplies were ruined because of poor well casing on nearby Marcellus wells. The EPA cleared the Dimock water to drink last month, though as in the Woodlands, many residents there still refuse to use their wells.
Eventually, the Woodlands residents tired of the blame game. When called to attend a recent anti-drilling protest in Washington, D.C., they didn't go, opting to send jugs of their dirty water in representation.
Now, an assembly of anti-drilling activists and empathetic churchgoers drive a caravan of F-150 pickup trucks and Jeep Cherokees once a week to deliver gallons of water from house to house. Mrs. McIntyre leads the group she organized.
"I felt myself becoming very bitter" when the water buffaloes went away, she said.
To channel her frustration, she organized the water drive, which deposits between 25 and 35 gallons of water weekly at about a dozen homes. Some residents, like Sherry Makepeace, need special fluoridated water for infants. Others immediately give half the supply to their farm animals.
The group has become more organized in the past few weeks, handling water donations through White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church and setting up a checking account to accept monetary donations.
Many of the homes receiving gallon jugs once had water buffaloes provided by Rex Energy. When the company came to remove the tanks in February, residents stood with angry out-of-town protestors and journalists who watched the trucks haul them away. That same month, the Associated Press reported that Rex Energy had casing problems on at least two nearby gas wells -- violations that were not reported by the company or the DEP.
Water buffaloes were removed from all but three homes. Two are refilled with help from money that comes from an anonymous donor. The owner of the buffalo company, Wagner Trucking of Saltsburg, told residents he can't financially justify sending refill trucks for any less than three clients. When one home can't afford the twice-a-month payment, all three risk seeing their fresh water supply stop.
"You know that expression, 'they got us over a barrel?' " said Mrs. McIntyre. "Well, they got us over a buffalo."
Along with the water deliveries, Mrs. McIntyre stops to chat with each neighbor in her unofficial capacity as Woodlands mayor. When the gas company started setting off seismic explosions to prepare for drilling, her answering machine received 17 messages from neighbors asking what was going on.
She and a neighbor also contacted Mr. Stolz, and told him about their colored water with the sulfur smell.
When he heard the description of the Woodlands, Mr. Stolz thought, "it could be as good a survey sample as you could find" for testing changes in water quality. The neighborhood is isolated, and gas drilling is the only industrial activity around the farmland.
He sent a questionnaire to residents in October asking:
Do you have well water?
What kind of well is it (e.g., artesian, rotary, cable tool)?
Have you noticed any change in water quality (taste, smell, color) in the last year and if so, when?
Have you noticed any change in the water flow or quantity?
Where is your well located?
Do you know how deep the well is?
Have you noticed a change in this depth?
Have you had the water tested and would you be willing to share those results?
More than 130 homes out of the Woodlands' 200 responded, and about 50 reported water problems ranging from minor to significant.
Mr. Stolz's questions allude to the many variables in trying to detect changes in well-water quality across a neighborhood. Wells in the Woodlands are drilled to various depths, ranging from 125 feet to more than 600 feet, and many are near old oil and gas operations or abandoned mines.
"Two neighbors living next to each other could be drawing water from two different sources, and one is affected and one isn't," he said.
Without a baseline test conducted before drilling began or thorough documentation on their specific well construction, it can be difficult to track any changes that may have occurred after the rigs went up.
Many residents were frustrated with the Rex and DEP test results, which both absolved the gas firm of wrongdoing but didn't test for the same exact list of elements.
Results may have shown the water to be safe to drink, but Mr. Stolz said even the "cosmetic" issues of orange-tinted water or floating bits of flocculent warrant more testing, often at the landowner's expense.
"Even if it's from a cosmetic point of view, you're not going to bathe in that water, you're not going to drink that water, you're not going to use it to make your tea," he said.
With tests already done by the company and DEP, it's up to the Woodlands residents to find others who might figure out what's wrong. Mr. Stolz took samples of the water, and expects results from his own tests to come later this month.
The confusion isn't unique to the Woodlands. Researchers at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, an agency created by the General Assembly in Harrisburg, found "there is no standard list of parameters for which the companies must test," so three drillers operating near the Woodlands could theoretically conduct three different tests.
More than 3 million Pennsylvanians drink water from a private well, and about 20,000 new wells are drilled each year, the report found.
"A well can be drilled using any materials, and the driller does not have to follow designated guidelines," wrote the researchers. At the same time, water well constructors don't answer to universal standards or documentation requirements, which can complicate matters when homeowners near shale operations want to get their well water tested.
Legislators have recently tried to impose statewide regulation of water wells, but it's considered a quixotic mission by some who think government regulation will never find support in rural Pennsylvania.
Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended statewide regulation. In January, Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, introduced legislation that proposes standards for all stages of a water well's life cycle, from construction of the casing to treating it when the well is abandoned. The bill is in committee, and Mr. Miller hopes to see movement on it this fall.
"The Marcellus Shale has highlighted the fact that a lot of wells were not installed properly," he said.
He said push back comes from the nature of Pennsylvania, which is divided into scores of individual municipalities, and from the nature of Pennsylvanians, who don't want legislators telling them what to do in their literal back yards.
"Any water well that is drilled into the surface is like tapping a wound on your body," he said. "It opens the surface and allows contamination in."
Some drilling technology exists that might clarify well water problems, said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Horwitt said colleagues have asked for mandatory "tracers" in fracking fluid that show themselves if found in private water supplies. Others call for "gas fingerprinting" that would test whether gas found in water supplies was coming from shallow formations or deep underground rock like shale.
Those ideas haven't been fleshed out, said Mr. Horwitt, as advocates continue to focus less on the water well issue and more on concerns about establishing mandatory buffer zones around drilling operations and demanding greater transparency about the fluids used in the fracking process.
While experts and legislators debate how to treat water wells, some residents in the Woodlands took drastic measures to escape the problem altogether.
Ms. McEvoy decided to move. She bought her three-bedroom home in the Woodlands 16 years ago for $68,000. Without water, the house on the market got one offer for $15,000, and even that fell through.
Her new home, bought this summer with her fiance's retirement fund, is about 20 minutes away. The new neighborhood is a far cry from the Woodlands, where her daughter Skylar could sit on a neighbor's porch, no questions asked, and no one seemed to mind if a neighbor stowed five rusty boats in his front yard.
She's taking some habits from a life without water with her.
"I find myself not flushing the toilet," she said.
Mr. Sowatsky, her fiance, has left the Woodlands behind, but not his paranoia over water supplies. He still loaded 25 bins of empty jugs into a U-Haul truck on a recent summer day. He'll fill them and keep them on hand in case the public water is shut off, he said.
"It's a culture shock," said Mr. Sowatsky. "I keep looking for the gallon jug."
Others, like Mrs. Romito and her husband, Dave, want to stay in the Woodlands home they moved to in 2000, and even plan to pass the house onto their granddaughter.
"She might not be able to live here because of the water," said Mrs. Romito. "But it's hers."
On a recent weekday in July, water was running low, and she hadn't gotten word from Mrs. McIntyre about whether the donor had pulled through. Then Mrs. McIntyre came by with the news that the $125 check had again made it to the buffalo company, and they'd be out to fill her tank.
Mrs. McIntyre, who had written that check and the several that came before, put her arm around her neighbor but didn't say anything else. http://www.post-gazette.com/business/businessnews/2012/08/19/Fouled-Waters-Woodlands-residents-search-for-ways-to-survive-without-clean-water/stories/201208190127
***Class Action Suit in Ohio—CELDF Defends Community Bill of Rights
“Residents of Broadview Heights, Ohio, filed a first-in-the-state class action lawsuit against the State of Ohio, Governor John R. Kasich, and Bass Energy, Inc. and Ohio Valley Energy Systems Corp. The lawsuit was filed to protect the rights of the people of Broadview Heights to self-governance, including their right to ban fracking.
In November 2012, residents of Broadview Heights overwhelmingly adopted a Home Rule Charter Amendment – proposed by residents – banning all new commercial extraction of gas and oil within the City limits. The Amendment establishes a Community Bill of Rights – which secures the rights of human and natural communities to water and a healthy environment. The Bill of Rights bans fracking and frack waste disposal as a violation of those rights.
In June 2014, Bass Energy and Ohio Valley Energy filed a lawsuit against the City of Broadview Heights to overturn the Community Bill of Rights. The corporations are contending that the community does not have the legal authority to protect itself from fracking, and that corporations have the constitutional “right” to frack.
Residents involved in drafting and proposing the Community Bill of Rights attempted to intervene in the lawsuit, to defend the community’s right to self-governance, including the right to say “no” to fracking and other threats. However, in September, the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County denied the motion to intervene, ruling that the residents did not have a direct “interest” in this case.
With the court’s denial of intervention, residents decided to move forward with the class action lawsuit. In filing the lawsuit, Broadview Heights residents argue that the Ohio Oil and Gas Act, known as HB 278, and the industry’s enforcement of the Act, violate the constitutional right of residents to local self-government.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted residents of Broadview Heights to draft the Community Bill of Rights. CELDF is providing its support and expertise to the residents of Broadview Heights with the filing of the class action lawsuit.
CELDF Executive Director, Thomas Linzey, Esq., stated, “This class action lawsuit is merely the first in Ohio, and expected to be one of many filed by people across the United States whose constitutional rights to govern their own communities are routinely violated by state governments working in concert with the corporations that they ostensibly regulate. The people of Broadview Heights will not stand idly by as their rights are negotiated away by oil and gas corporations, their state government, and their own municipal government.” The residents of Lafayette, Colorado, filed a similar lawsuit in August of this year.”
***Concerns Over Radioactive Waste Going Into WV Landfills
“As West Virginia revises its emergency landfill rules, concerns are rising about the tons of low-level radioactive waste from Marcellus drilling going into the state's dumps.
One Marcellus well can produce 500 tons of drill cuttings, including naturally occurring radioactive waste, amounts that threaten to overwhelm the handful of the state's landfills that accept it.
In the last legislative session, lawmakers told the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to better monitor and regulate the dumping. But Bill Hughes, chair, Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, says the rules as written are not enough.
"This is not spent fuel rods from a nuclear reactor; this is low-level radioactive waste," says Hughes. "But 'low-level' multiplied by 250,000 tons in one landfill, in one year."
The DEP wants the drill cuttings to go into separate, walled-off sections of the landfills. It also has called for more radiation monitoring, testing of the water leeching from landfills, and testing the composition of some horizontal drill cuttings. Those rules are now set to go into effect.
Hughes doesn't believe the testing and monitoring is thorough enough, especially since the waste could affect drinking water. He says the rules don't properly deal with "hot" or radioactive loads that set off the alarms, or with situations where the radioactivity can concentrate – in filters used at the well sites, or sediment that collects at water treatment plants.
Given that one of the elements in the cuttings has a half-life of 1,500 years, Hughes observes, the state should be a lot more careful.
"We must be a little smarter and a lot more prudent," he says. "What's in it? How much is in it? What's the long-term concern for our children and great-grandchildren?"
The DEP says the drill cuttings have to go to landfills, because that's where the law says they should go, and that it's the best plan for handling the waste without putting too great a burden on the drilling industry.
Hughes points out that four West Virginia landfills took in 600,000 tons of drill cuttings in two years, noting that it's a far greater volume than they would otherwise be allowed to accept.
In his view, the state is fumbling around in the dark on the issue of the long-term radioactivity – but if careless, it could end up glowing in the dark.”
See more at: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2014-08-04/environment/concerns-over-radioactive-waste-going-into-wv-landfills/a40923-1#sthash.4LQE1qGm.dpuf
Flowback Waste Sand Increases-
By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“More sand is going into the ground in Pennsylvania to keep fractures open while gas flows out. And, consequently, more sand is coming out of the ground, along with the gush of flowback water that streams out of wells just after they're fracked.
That’s evident from the latest waste production data released by DEP
In 2011, companies reported disposing of about 14,500 tons of flowback sand, DEP records show. Last year, that number exceeded 43,000 tons.
That's despite the fact that 1,957 shale wells were started in 2011, while only 1,373 began development in 2014.
Fracturing sand, extracted from silica mines in states including Wisconsin and Minnesota, is a fine grain that can withstand a certain amount of pressure, as set by industry standards.
Rex Energy Corp., a State College company whose main focus is in Butler County, has more than doubled the amount of sand it uses for each foot of its horizontal wells, while at the same time increasing how long those horizontal sections stretch out by 30 percent in the last five years.
The operator also reported a significant improvement in how wells produced during their first month on the job and a decrease in how quickly their production tapered off during the first year.
Improvement did come at a price though, Rex said. While an average, conventional frack job cost the company about $4.7 million in 2010, its “Super-Frac” strategy is running closer to $6 million a pop this year.
Companies now measure well economics by the foot and, for all the Marcellus operators that talk about it, the cost to complete a new well has decreased — even one with much longer horizontal sections, many more frack stages and a lot more sand.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., for example, boosted its sand use by 71 percent, on a per based operator reported late last year.
Over the past year, increased sand usage has predictably spurred logistical issues — not just in getting the fine mesh sand to well sites, which requires more truck and train trips, but also in hauling the resulting flowback sand to disposal facilities.
The vast majority of the sand recovered from shale wells last year went to landfills, and of that, about 51 percent traveled to out-of-state facilities. About 500 tons, a small fraction, was shipped to landfills in Utah and Michigan, which specialize in handling low-level radioactive waste.
The newly-released DEP data likely underestimates the volume of sand that is flowing back from well sites, as some operators may include sand in their flowback fluid reporting rather than breaking it out as a separate item.
***Maryland’s Attorney General Frosh Fights Fracking “Attorney General Brian E. Frosh entered the fight over hydraulic fracturing in Maryland, urging state lawmakers to pass a bill with liability standards so tough that critics and some supporters consider it a de facto fracking ban.
In the absence of "gold standard" regulations to monitor the industry, Frosh said, Maryland would need to find another way to protect residents and the environment.
"If we're not going to have those regulations adopted, then it makes sense to have strict liability," Frosh said. "I'm not sure it's a de facto ban. But it poses to drillers: if this really is safe, go ahead and do it."
Legislation moving through a Senate committee would set some of the toughest legal standards in the country for drillers. If anyone near a gas well became sick, the drillers would carry the burden of proving their innocence.
The legislation also would require that drillers carry at least $5 million in insurance coverage. It would provide very limited protection for trade secrets and impose triple damages for negligence. Business representatives said the cumulative effect would be to outlaw fracking in the state.
"The standards detailed in the bill are so stringent that it is safe to assume no company would be interested in doing business here," Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, wrote in testimony to lawmakers.
Frosh, who until this year was chairman of a key Senate committee, pushed for fracking protections as a lawmaker. Wednesday marked the first time he threw his weight behind legislation as attorney general.
Environmentalists told lawmakers that the policy was the best alternative to an outright ban, which has been proposed for several years but never made it out of committee.
The lead sponsor of the measure said the bill was not a ban but a legal framework to hold drilling companies responsible for health and environmental consequences.
"If companies are loathe to come to a state because they will be held responsible for damage done, that's good to know before they come," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Baltimore County Democrat who wrote the bill.
Unions and trade associations said the legislation would be too onerous, particularly at a time when natural gas prices are falling and potential drillers in Maryland would have to compete against those in about two dozen states with rules that are less strict.
The Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association told lawmakers the bill "would absolutely stop drilling anywhere in Maryland forever. … This law would make owners of drilling operations guilty when accused."
The new techniques have led to a boom in extraction from the Marcellus Shale deposit, which stretches beneath the Appalachian Mountains. It's also led to spills, fires, and explosions — and complaints from neighbors whose drinking water became contaminated.
While some states have welcomed the drilling, others, including New York, have banned it outright. In Maryland, there are no active natural gas drilling operations and no pending applications.
Maryland had a de facto moratorium on fracking that ended when Gov. Martin O'Malley left office in January.
O'Malley, a Democrat, put all permit applications on hold during a nearly four-year study that ultimately resulted in proposed regulations late last year.
Environmentalists said some of O'Malley's rules would be ineffective; drilling companies said some parts would be too onerous. The rules are still going through Maryland's lengthy regulation approval process.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has not said whether he would go forward with the regulations as written. But he has said that he believes fracking can be done safely and would bring jobs to economically depressed Western Maryland.” http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bs-md-frosh-fracking-20150225-story.html
***Vantage Energy To Pay $1 Million In Greene County Violations.
“A landslide, wastewater spill and other issues at a Greene County gas drilling site are resulting in a $1 million fine.
Vantage Energy of Englewood, Colorado, has to pay the money immediately and clean up the site by the end of 2015.
The company signed an agreement last week with the DEP which said that a landslide at the Greene County shale well pad damaged and blocked streams. State regulators say that was before a contractor dumped wastewater at the site near Waynesburg.”
12-14 Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/22/energy-firm-to-pay-1m-over-issues-at-pa-gas-well/#ixzz3Tqb30xxQ
***Impact Fees and Road Damage
“If Washington County had a “shaleonaire” equivalent of the Forbes 500, Chartiers Township would be the Bill Gates of the list. With nearly $1.87 million collected over three years, Chartiers received the largest allocation in the county from Pennsylvania’s impact fee, which is paid annually by natural gas developers in lieu of a tax.
Chartiers officials plan to spend their money more hastily next year, while other municipalities hope to make it last. Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing forward with his plan to replace the impact fee with a 5% severance tax, prompting some township officials to reconsider their future spending plans.
The impact fee, which was established under Act 13 of 2012, has been a boon for struggling communities. Washington County and 66 municipalities within it raked in $40.5 million between 2011 and 2013, and Greene County and its 26 municipalities received $25.4 million during the same time period, according to an Observer-Reporter analysis based on information provided by the state Public Utility Commission.
Chartiers Township used 80 percent of its impact fee money to pay for road projects, including a costly investment in Allison Hollow Road repairs. Township Manager Jodi Noble said the township took out a loan to gradually pay off the debt, but plans to increase payments to $500,000 next year.
“With 63 wells, a cryogenic plant and gas meter station within its borders, Chartiers isn’t exactly turning a profit from the impact fee. The township decided to ramp up its emergency response measures after residents were evacuated twice in a seven-month span in 2014 due to a gas leak and fire at two natural gas facilities on Western Avenue.
Noble said those accidents prompted officials to use impact fee funds to purchase three emergency generators to place inside the fire department, police department and emergency evacuation center, which will soon be located in the community center.
“A lot of what we’ve used our money for is really mitigating the impacts of the industry that we felt,” Noble said.
“If there’s one portion out of the Act 13 legislation that was correct, it was the impact fees that go to the impacted communities,” Batista (Mt Pleasant Twp) said. “… Everyone across the state gets a portion of it, but the people who were impacted the most get the bigger portion. It couldn’t be any fairer.”
Wolf estimated a severance tax would generate up to $1 billion a year, and while most of the funds would go toward public education, he said some of the money would be used to maintain payments to municipalities affected by drilling.
The impact fee is distributed by the PUC, which uses a formula based on the number of wells, population and highway mileage in a county or municipality. Robin Tilley, spokeswoman for the PUC, said Wolf could theoretically create a bifurcated system in which the Department of Revenue would impose a severance tax while the PUC would continue to handle impact fees.
“The tax would be based on actual production, while the impact fees are based on the number of wells (determined by a number of factors like average natural gas price, vertical versus horizontal wells).” Tilley said in an email. “Again, we’re not sure what his plans are, and it could go either way.”
Many communities use impact fee money to fix run-down roads, but it’s far from the only option. West Finley Township took a unique approach, and some of its impact fee money is going back into residents’ pockets this year. Officials voted to use the funds to lower taxes by one mill for 2015, which cuts taxes by about $7,500 across the township.
Townships that receive larger impact fee payments often face even tougher decisions. Members of the Slovan Volunteer Fire Department attended a recent Smith Township board meeting and took officials to task for giving them less money than the police department. More than $55,000 of the impact fee has been used for public safety and police department purchases in recent years, but the fire department has not received any money.
“In three years, Smith Township got almost $700,000 (from the impact fee). The fire department saw zero,” said fire Capt. A.J. Mondin.
“I don’t want you to think we’re being greedy here,” said fire Chief Brandon Kriznik, “but all these wells went in, and we take the brunt of it. We get called out with the wires down, the wrecks with these guys … those three years, we got nothing.”
After a lengthy and heated discussion, the township passed a motion to give the fire department $60,000 this year instead of the $25,000 that was originally pledged. Going forward, the board may implement a percentage-based allocation for the fire and police departments to make the distributions more equitable.
Drill-free, but feeling the impacts Green Hills Borough doesn’t fit neatly into this discussion. In fact, Washington County’s least populous municipality is also dead last on the list of local impact fee recipients; the borough added just slightly more than $750 to its coffers between 2011 and 2013.
The borough sits on less than a square-mile of land, and it has only one road that stretches for about one-third of a mile. But it’s also surrounded by South Franklin and Buffalo townships, which have experienced a considerable amount of drilling.
“I think that the impact fee should be spread out a little more equally,” Mayor Terry George said. “We have no roads other than the one little road, but don’t our residents use Route 18? Don’t they use Mounts Road? And those roads are all impacted.”
George said there is no drilling in the borough, but he has a feeling that it may happen in the near future.
“I think there will be drilling soon under the golf course and the surrounding properties,” he said. “The wells are all around us now. I can look out my living room window, which overlooks the back nine of the (Lone Pine) Golf Club, and I can see two active wells from there.”
About 20 miles northeast of Green Hills, Peters Township is a different story. The township, which has a population of more than 20,000, is in the top 10 list of Washington County municipalities that received the largest share of the impact fee.
Like Green Hills, there are no wells within its borders, but officials say they are still feeling the impacts. Most of the impact fee money is being reinvested into damaged roads, which is the largest effect the industry has on Peters, township Manager Michael Silvestri said.
He said the township also underwent two “major rounds” of seismic testing studies, and there’s a facility in the township that stores trucks for the gas industry. Some horizontal drilling is conducted under Peters land, including the Trax Farms site in Union Township. Silvestri said Peters residents have complained about noise from that well site, which is a 24/7 operation.
In Greene County, Waynesburg Borough also has used most of its impact fee money – more than $140,000 a year – to repair damaged roads. The borough has not had any drilling activity.
“These trucks going through town are tearing up our streets,” borough manager Mike Simms said.
Though the trucks mainly drive on state roads, they also have used borough streets, such as East Street, to reach well sites outside of the borough, Simms said.
Heavy trucks also have damaged numerous curbs, which they regularly drive over attempting to make turns, Simms said. They have knocked down road signs and recently damaged a traffic light at the corner of Morgan and Greene streets.
The increased truck traffic has had an impact on the quality of life for some residents.
“We’ve had complaints about the noise,” Simms said, “the vibrations caused by trucks passing by, speeding and trucks running red lights.” http://www.observer-reporter.com/article/20150314/NEWS01/150319662
***Don’t Trust Industry’s Cost Estimate of Better Well Casings
“The day the Department of Interior released its regulations on oil and gas “fracking” operations on public lands, the $97,000-per-well figure circulated widely in news reports as the cost of the rule.
The tougher regulations have been four years in the making. And as new environmental regulations tend to be received, industry groups believed it would add costs to operators and environmental groups believed the rules didn’t go far enough. Readers asked us to check this $97,000 figure, as it was quoted in almost every news article that day and continues to be cited.
How much will the new regulation cost? Is it really $97,000 per well? Or as little as $11,400, as the government says?
The Interior Department released its final rules on fracking on March 20, 2015, after four years of heated debate. The regulations imposed stronger standards for companies practicing fracking on federal and tribal lands. This was the first time since the 1980s that the agency moved to standardize fracking regulations on federal land. About 90 percent of wells currently drilled on federal land use fracking. Less than a quarter of the country’s fossil-fuel output comes from federal lands.
The Bureau of Land Management estimates the rule will affect between 2,800 to 3,800 wells per year, based on how active operations are on public lands in a given year. The agency estimates costs of complying with the new rule could be about $11,400 to $11,800 per operation, or $32 million to $45 million a year. This would make up about 0.13 to 0.21 percent of the cost of drilling a well, according to the final rule.
The much higher, $97,000-a-well figure comes from a July 2013 economic analysis commissioned by the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), which studied the cost impacts of the proposed rule. The analysis finds that if the BLM’s then-proposed regulations applied to the 3,566 wells that are under development in the western states, it would cost at least $345.6 million, or $96,913 per well.
At question is whether the rule sets cost-prohibitive standards for cement casings on wells, to protect usable water and minerals. The technical engineering aspects of this debate are very complex, so we’ll refrain from going too deep into the weeds.
The BLM estimates the new casing standards in the rule would cost approximately $4,000 to $5,500. WEA estimates the casing standards would cost about $86,950 per well. Why are the numbers so vastly different?
WEA’s analysts say the rule requires an additional 2,350 feet of casing per well, which they called a conservative estimate. The federal rule newly requires companies to “determine and document that there is adequate cement for all casing strings to isolate usable water.”
The BLM costs are so low because they believe the new rule incorporates industry practices, and formalizes what operators already are doing. Officials estimate wells largely are complying with these casing requirements, so they would not have to build large amounts of new casing. So BLM estimates that if there are, in fact, new costs associated with the casing standard, it would be for logging and reporting purposes.
Indeed, much of the cement casing requirements mirror industry guidelines set by the American Petroleum Institute. A table on p. 16177 of the BLM rule in the Federal Register shows the rule’s requirements are modeled after industry casing requirements.
BLM assumes the industry already is complying with the majority of requirements, but acknowledges it “does not have specific data about the prevalence of voluntary compliance with these requirements irrespective of the rule.” So it could vastly decrease or increase costs for operators, depending on their current practices.”
*** LNG Fast Track Bill
“Two months ago the House passed HR 351, The LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas or fracked gas) Permitting and Transparency Act. The bill will soon be voted on in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as Senate Bill 33 (S.33), and it is picking up some steam. Eleven senators are now listed as co-sponsors, including three of the "Nimrod 9" Democrats who not only voted for the Keystone XL bill, but also voted against President Obama's veto of the same.
If this bill is passed it would force the Department of Energy (DOE) to issue a final decision on LNG facilities within 30 days after agencies give them the green light. This would allow frackers to bypass the public process and grant approval after approval of LNG facilities before they are fully evaluated.
To give you an idea of how bad this bill is, it even received a thumbs down from the Industrial Energy Consumers of America (ICEA). The ICEA is one of the largest consumers of fracked gas in the country, and their president, Paul Cicio, recently testified against this bill in the Senate. Mr. Cicio told the Senate that he opposes the bill for many reasons, but chief among them is, "S.33 short circuits the public interest determination and consumer protections."1 Talk about the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If one of the largest users of fracked gas in the country sees how detrimental this bill is, why can't certain senators?
If we are going to keep this train in the station, we will need as many people as possible to tell their senators that when it comes to fast track LNG, "Let's Not Go There." Can you please tell your friends, family, neighbors and others to derail fast track LNG legislation before it takes our country off-track?
Thanks for taking action,
Anthony and the Environmental Action team
1.Cicio, Paul N. Testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources: S.33 LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act. January 29, 2015.
***New Frack Infrastructure Map—
The Clean Air Council’s new gas infrastructure map will make it easy to see compressor stations, dehydration stations, gas processing plants, natural gas liquid pumping stations, power plants, and pipelines in the state, You can also report pollution issues from nearby facilities directly to regulatory agencies—including the DEP and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The map is now available online at: http://tinyurl.com/gasmapPA
Sincerely, Joseph Otis Minott, Director Photo by Bob Donnan
***Video--Registered Nurse Rebecca William –Sick in Azle,Texas
Registered nurse Rebecca Williams talks about the health issues she has witnessed in those living alongside gas wells and compressor stations in Azle, Texas- the sudden appearance of Nosebleed, headaches, rashes, respiratory infections when fracking starts.
**Video- What You breathe from gas operations-excellent 5 minutes
***Video: Middlesex Zoning Case-Geyer Well Near Schools
“The video is about 3 minutes long. Parents in Butler approach supervisors when fracking threatens the health and safety of their rural community. The proposed Geyer Well Pad is 1/2 mile from the Mars District schools and even closer to homes in a nearby sub-division.
A few excerpts:
Jordan Yeager for Delaware Riverkeepers- “Townships cannot put the interest of one set of property owners above the community as a whole”
Tom Daniels-U of Penn Land Use Expert – The ordinance allows heavy industrial use in agricultural areas permits haphazard oil and gas development which is contrary to protection of public health safety welfare.
Acoustic Expert Kayna Bowen states that Rex acoustic assessment is incorrect.
***John Smith Presents in Peters Township
Many of us attended this meeting, but for those who did not, it is a good discussion of questions surrounding the zoning of frack areas.
***How Much Land Does Fracking Encompass?
This article includes several good visuals.
***Fracking's Wide Health Impact: From the Ozone to Ground Water and All Those Living in Between, a Science Update
Speaker presentation slides:
Dr. Brown: UNGD and Health: What Needs to be Looked at Next? - Download the PDF
Dr. Helmig: Air Quality Impacts of Oil and Gas Development - Download the PDF
Dr. Bamberger: Health Impacts of Unconventional Fossil Fuel Extraction - Download the PDF
***Gas Density -Google Earth
Dr. Ingraffea of Cornell has pointed out that the industry can only be profitable if they achieve density. That’s why leased regions are honeycombed with hundreds or thousands of wells.
This video presents photo shots of Texas, Arkansas- You only need to watch the first few minutes then jump to other sections of the video to get the gist. But everyone should watch at least part of this.
***Link to Shalefield Stories-Personal stories of those affected by fracking http://www.friendsoftheharmed.com/
***To sign up for Skytruth notifications of activity and violations for your area:
*** List of the Harmed--There are now over 1400 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/