Today was the Rally and Lobby day in Harrisburg PA. I signed up to attend with 400 other people so that we could voice our opinions to our Senators and Representatives; as well as hear speeches from people affected by drilling; a few politicians who have proposed legislation to place a moritorium on new drilling, provide for a remediation fee (tax, impact fee; call it what you will) and move new drilling far away from any water sources. I also picked up many pieces of literature with more details about the impact of Hydraulic Fracturing and Drilling in the Marcellus Shale region. Some of the details from this literature and the rally appear below.
- An interview with a former employee with one of the gas companies gave eyewitness accounts of illegal actions taken by drillers when there is an accident–they range from dumping on the road, dumping in creeks to burying contaminated soil under new soil; all while not reporting the accident to the DEP and hoping that no inspectors make a surprise visit.
- A social worker who shared that the homeless numbers are on the rise in areas where the drilling is taking place, due to increases in rental rates because the drillers are willing (and of course able) to pay up to 2x more for rents. This, in turn, affects people living in the area who do not make enough money to afford the increased rental rates.
- Evidence from Careerlink of a 25% attrition rate among native Pennsylvanians who the drilling companies hire; due to ‘cultural differences’, like working 12-hour days for weeks at a stretch without days off.
- Josh Fox, who made the academy award nominated film ‘Gasland’; which still draws controversy, even though much of the details have been proven factual.
No story, however, is more poignant than that of Crystal Stroud. She lives in Towanda PA and like many, was lured by the prospect of financial gain for leasing the drilling rights on the 2 acres of land she and her husband owned. Little did she know that the drilling would negativley affect her family’s health in a way she could not imagine. A few months back she began having health issues; her hair was falling out, she would have uncontrollable muscle tremors, heart palpatations and panic attacks. They tested her for thyroid issues, but that was normal. The recommendation was that she take anxiety medication. A few days went by and she began to have worse affects. During all of this, they had the water tested from their well; and the results came back; the well was contaminated with Barium, Lead, Strontium, Choloride, Methane, Radon and other Radiological materials. She had her blood tested and found that her Barium level was 110—normal is 0-10. Barium accumuluation affects the nervous system; and her problems were definitely among the symptoms.
The Stroud family contacted the drilling company and they sent a representative out to look over her water results, he began to explain away the items found and she asked about the Radiologicals; he looked only at the Radon (1.2pCi/L before drilling; 154.5pCi/L after drilling began). Crystal asked him specifically about the Gross Alpha and Gross Beta; to which the representative replied; “I don’t know anything about those.” DEP representative have told neighbors with similar issues to ‘just buy a water filter, you’ll be ok’. The Stround house has filtering equipment and the water from the tap is still contaminated at those levels.She also shared with us the fact that her son has the same levels as she had; 18 days after they ceased to use the water; and that her levels have nearly doubled since April. They have to move; but can’t sell their property with a contaminated water well.
The Stroud story is not unique; numerous families have been affected in the region–from the much publicized Dimock issue; to local landowners who didn’t know the mineral rights to their property had been sold off decades ago. Wells are contaminated, water is being taken from our streams and creeks; with full blessing of DEP and other agencies.
Studies have been done about the affect on local wildlife and in areas with heavy drilling the impact is significant; diminished mayfly populations and salamander populations abound in regions with heavy drilling. These are the ‘canaries’ in the coal mine; mayflies are a major food source for many animals; if their numbers are depleted, one can only imagine how the populations of other animals will be detrimentally affected.
All along we’re being fed the ‘economic development’ platitudes from the industry and from our political officials. Yet the math doesn’t make sense. The estimated impact of Gas Production for PA is a paltry $22 billion dollars. That’s only 2.3x what Hunting, Trapping and Fishing (at an estimated $9.5 Billion dollar) brings to the Commonwealth. Plus, the Fishing Industry alone directly employs 17,000 PA residents; either as guides or at tackle stores and other directly employed individuals. Other industries such as agriculture and tourism contribute nearly $350 Billion more and employ more than 10x the number of people who live in PA–the Gas Industry employs an estimated 48,000 people; over half of which are not residents of PA. Gas industry jobs are temporary; each well has a life expectancy of only 5-7 years. Sure; there is an estimated 100 years of Gas underground; but at what cost?
If the Gas Industry continues its’ desecration of pristine forests, streams, creeks and agriculture land; the larger industries of Agriculture, Hunting, Fishing, and other related industries will be doomed in PA. The great World-Class fly-fishing streams will be a memory; and the hunting lands will be gone. Tourism in the Marcellus Shale areas will diminish to nearly nothing.
One of the greatest lies we’re being told in PA, however, is that the Gas will give us (and potentially the US) ‘Energy Independence’. This is simply not true–a majority of the leases have been sold overseas; with the bulk going to China, South Korea and India; it’s not staying here. China is already buying millions of gallons of water from us, now they want our Gas too.
The Jury is still out on whether or not Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region is safe—or ever will be. Studies by the EPA are undeway; but aren’t expected to be complete until 2012 and released some time in 2013. Like other people who were at the Capitol today; I support a moratorium for 1-3 years until the studies are done. At that time, with the evidence in hand, we can (if it is possible) extract the Gas safely; it’s not going anywhere.
From the report:
From Pittsburgh to Scranton, gas companies have already drilled more than 3,000 hydraulic fracturing wells, and the state has issued permits for thousands more. Permitted well sites exist within two miles of more than 320 day care facilities, 67 schools and nine hospitals statewide.
Read the rest here.
Today I joined with Gas Truth of Central PA, Clean Water Action and a dozen more organizations at the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg, PA to protest what we feel is a shameless lack of democracy in PA. The protest was aimed at the members of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission–which to anyone with a modicum of sense in their heads looks like a very one-sided stacked deck. Led by Lt. Governor Jim Cawley; this commission has the majority of membership coming from the Oil and Gas Industry. By no means am I saying that they should not be represented, but when they make up the bulk of the membership of the group–13 out of 30– the deck is well and truly stacked. Interestingly enough, these 13 members contributed heavily ($557,000) to Governor Corbett’s campaign. Twelve more members are from companies who contributed just over $562,000 to the Governors campaign, and one is the son of a $300,000 contributor. That’s 26 members who contributed $1.4 Millon to the Corbett Campaign. The remaining four members are from Conservation groups: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy. Four members out of 30. Thirteen members from Oil and Gas industries. Glaringly missing are representatives from Health agencies–many of the chemicals found in frack fluids and waste frack fluids are known carcinogens; not to mention radioactive. There is only one woman on the commission; she’s from a conservation group.
As an interesting statistic, the Oil and Gas companies represented on the Commission represent 42% of all violations–514 out of 1,227–in 2010 that occured at drilling sites. The violations ranged from pretty severe (illegal discharge of industrial waste) to seemingly innocuous (administrative oversights). The number of violations is about 1/6th of the total number of Gas Wells in the Marcellus Shale region of PA. Chief Oil and Gas led the way (Terry Bossert; their VP of Government sits on the Commission) had the highest with 174. Chesapeake Energy (Dave Spigelmyer, VP of Government Relations) was number 3 at 132. Other companies such as East Resources (74), Exxon Mobil (66), Range Resources (32), Chevron (16), EQT (15) and Consol (5) all have seats on the Commission.
The hue and cry is that there is no danger from the Frack Fluids; that 90% of them remain in the ground, locked in the shale. Ok, lets review the process. We drill down below the water table until we’re in the shale bed. Then, we drill a long horizontal tunnel in the shale, then fracture using the fluids and sand, and pump the gas out. Key word here: Fracture. While the shale is geologically less than permeable; putting fractures in it reduces that impereabiltiy. And..these chemicals are now below the water table. Centrifugal force from the rotation of the earth tends to force the fluids to the surface; and natural geologic activity will tend to increase the fractures. Result: eventually the fluids will end up in the water table. It might happen today, via cracks in the cement casing they put down the well on the sides; or it might happen tomorrow at some date in the future.
What about the 10% of frack fluids that are recovered? Well; they contain water, sand, a mixture of chemicals ranging from Benzene to xylene; all of which are carcinogens. Some of these fluids are ‘recycled’ but a majority go out for disposal. As an example, every day 14 waste disposal facilties along the Monongahelia Watershed accept these fluids and place 826,825 lbs of total dissolved solids (anything that isn’t water is one; and could be a toxic material), 486,812 lbs of chloride, 16,737lbs of strontium, 15,033 lbs of barium into the river. Every Day. Under the ‘Haliburton Loophole’, Oil and Gas exploration are exempt from the Clean Water Act.
Governor Corbett really needs to open his window and hear the shouts of the people who are against this drilling. These are ordinary people who, since fracking operations moved in, can’t use their water, are tired of the endless truck traffic, have property values reduced; can’t get FHA loans to buy property in the area or see the deterioration in forested lands caused by the gas well pads and roads needed to reach them. These are real people with real problems caused by the unchecked growth of this industy. Mayor Calvin Tillman of Dish TX (pop. 218) who has seen the results of shale drilling in the Barnett Shale area stated that there were about 100,000 wells in his area; and the Marcellus Shale is about 5 times larger; simple math says 500,000 wells in PA, WV, part of Ohio, MD, NY and KY; should all of the region be developed. Even worse–below the Marcellus Shale is the Utica Shale; so when the Marcellus is tapped out in 25-50 years; Utica will be next.
One would think that a process that has been in use since 1949 could be safer than it is; but alas it is not. We the people must use our voices and we must shout loud enough so our elected officials hear us. This commission is a sham; and its’ recommendations will only further the interests of the drillers; not the people.
- PA Fracking Fluid Blowout Sparks Outrage: Citizens Join Marcellus Shale Oil and Gas Litigation Group in Demanding Temporary Drilling Moratorium
- FYI:A Letter to President Barack Obama Concerning Natural Gas Extraction from Marcellus Shale in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
- Spill at Marcellus Shale drilling site in Bradford County prompts evacuation
- Environmental Protection Agency steps into probe of fracking spill
- Gas panel members rack up violations
- The Marcellus Shale Has Friends in Low Places
Or so says Governor Tom Corbett. He told a crowd at the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce that the drillers have paid $71 million in taxes to the state coffers over the past two years.
There is, of course, an element of truth to that–however, there is no way to determine if this is just the drillers tax revenue. The reason? Well, this $71 million includes corporate net income taxes, corporate stock options, franchise taxes, employee wage taxes, as well as sales and usage taxes on item. This is a pretty broad spectrum of taxes we’re talking about. No taxes are paid on drilling equipment or supplies, as these are considered manufacturing expenses and there is also no property tax burden on gas reserves.
Add to this, an analysis by the PA Budget and Policy center revealed the following:
- 70 percent of companies pay no corporate tax
- 85 percent of oil and gas sector companies owed no taxes in 2008
- 967 pass-through businesses in the oil and gas extraction industry had a reported $597 million in positive PA source income in 2008. The ultimate recipient (individual or corporation) is unknown.
Of course, the amount of pass-through companies should come as no surprise; the biggest players like Chesapeake, Range Resources and Anadarko all have headquarters in other states. This means their revenues go outside of PA.
Even more astounding is the fact that we are still importing Natural Gas to PA. This means that PA consumers are helping to pay the severance taxes to Gas that is extracted in other states. Our gas is also being exported to other states and even overseas. Of course, we have no severance tax, so the other states do nothing to help our coffers, while those states with a tax get to tap the wallets of PA consumers.
I don’t think we can argue that the drilling companies are helping to fill the states coffers; nor can we argue that they are contributing to local economies; even if they’re bringing in the bulk of their technical expertise from outside of PA. However, what we can argue is whether or not they’re contributing in a meaningful fashion. The revenues from oil and gas drilling to the state’s coffers was $47.7 million in 2008 and $44.5 million in 2009; even though the number of wells increased. This revenue is less than 10% of the reported PA Source income from the pass-through businesses in the industry in 2008.
We need a severance tax–other states have them and the drillers did not pack up and leave town. Representative Kate Harper, a Republican from Montgomery county plans to introduce a Severance tax bill, modeled on the one from Arkansas that provides 1.5% tax on gross units severed for the first 60 months, then 5% thereafter on production exceeding 90,000 cubic feet per day.
The revenue collected through the tax would be distributed into the Natural Gas Severance Tax Account to be distributed as follows:
- 32 percent to the Education Supplemental Account whereby 2/3 would be used to support basic education and one-third would be to support community colleges and higher education in the Commonwealth;
- 29.6 percent to the Environmental Stewardship Fund (Growing Greener)
- 32 percent to the Local Government Services Account, to be further distributed to counties and municipalities affected by natural gas drilling, as well as ten percent to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency;
- 1.6 percent to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund;
- 1.3 percent to the Conservation District Fund for distribution to county conservation districts pursuant to guidelines established by the State Conservation Commission;
- 1.4 percent to the Fish and Boat Commission;
- 1.3 percent to the Department of Public Welfare to provide cash and crisis grants to low-income households under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program;
- 0.8 percent to the Department of Environmental Protection for State dam removal, restoration and repair projects.
Yes, that is all it takes to receive a Marcellus Shale Gas Well permit from Pennsylvania Environmental Regulators. Not only that, but if you plan to drill near a high-quality stream or river; you won’t get any additional scrutiny. This came from PA DEP Regulators who testified recently behind closed doors during a hearing about a permit that was issued for an exploratory well less than a half mile from the Delaware River, and 300 yards from a pristine stream in Northeastern PA.
Why does this happen, you ask? PA DEP staffers indicate they are overburdened dealing with this ‘gold rush fever’ boom to tap the lucrative Marcellus Shale in PA. The rush to get wells permitted and drilling started is motivated simply by greed–and not on the part of the State; as they’re not taxing the drilling as other states are. The simple fact is that out of over seven thousand well permits that have been applied for; only 31 have been rejected. That seems to be an extraordinarily low number but during testimony, the regulators revealed:
- potential impacts on high quality watersheds are not considered; rather than determining that wells meet the minimum setbacks.
- municipal or regional zoning laws are not considered during the permit process
- no consideration is given to wide-scale development of concentrated gas wells in any area
- There appears be a fuzzy understanding of laws governing the process. One upervisor was unable to define the requirements of a key anti-degradation regulation requiring that pristine waterways “shall be maintained and protected,” while a geologist said he didn’t know that streams and rivers that are legally designated as “high quality” or of “exceptional value” were entitled to an extra layer of protection.
- This same geologist could not define what a ‘high quality waterway’ was nor what that meant in terms of the level of protection these same waterways have under the law. He also testified that he was the principal geologist responsible for performing the substantive technical analysis of the well permits.
This overburdening results from the fact that PA-DEP is woefully understaffed for the permitting process. Under the law, they have 45 days to review and grant or deny the permits. If they fail to achieve this; it is DEP policy to refund the application fee–which varies from $900-$3000, depending on well depth. While staffing for DEP has increased from 88 in 2008 to 202 in 2010, and many of these are in the oil and gas permitting group, the staff is still overburdened.
The State of PA needs to update their 25-year old antiquated oil and gas law and also place oil and gas wells out of the exemption that most receive under the law. This exemption allows most wells to be drilled close to the pristine waterways that grace the northern tier counties.
Action needs to be taken to halt this process; this is akin the recently noted Air Traffic Controllers falling asleep in the towers; our waterways are in danger and are crying for us to help.
Took a ride up rt. 287 to Ansonia PA, Tioga Co.
Stoped at the Darling Run Access and biked down along Big Pine Creek to the Owassee. That’s the name of the rapids on a turn in the creek in the upper part of the PA grand canyon.
We then drove west to Potter Co. and down rt. 44. This is all yesterday, Sunday. If we passed one water tank semi, we passed a hundred. They are hauling the water to the gas wells for fracking the shale viens. The serenity of the beautiful mountain roads has been prettty much destroyed. Along with the roads. The mountain road stretch of rt. 44 coming down from Fin, Fur, and Feather to Waterville has been crushed and semi rebuilt over the last couple months. There again, yesterday, Sunday that stretch was one tanker semi after another.
I stopped by my favorite fishing blog the other day, and one of the posts had this in it. Traffic–all of the traffic–Trucks for the water, cars and trucks for the people driving to the well sites, the waste hauler trucks, the well equipment, the chemicals. Chesapeake Energy has stated that they don’t have enough trucks so they are bringing in 5,000 more from Wyoming. This is just going to get worse everyone.
5,000 additional trucks; for just one company. That is a mind-numbing thought; can you imagine the fuel usage for those 5,000 trucks; the carbon emissions for those trucks, and just the smell of the diesel fumes? These trucks aren’t just in operation from 8-5, but rather they are on the road 24×7. All of this additional traffic is also wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. Yes, I know the Gas industry pays for the repairs, and often leaves them better than they were; but at what cost? We need to look at the bigger picture.
Recently, Cornell University published a study showing that the Natural Gas extraction from Fracking may actually contribute to Climate Change, and it’s easy to see why–but not just from all of the increased traffic, but with the venting of Natural Gas to the atmosphere. Methane is a far more hazardous greenhouse gas; and while we don’t have any actual numbers, it’s possible that up to 7.6% of the total volume of a well is vented to the atmosphere. Some wells actually burn or ‘flare’ the gas; and while that’s not as hazardous; there are still greenhouse gases being contributed.
Our water is in danger, our air is in danger; we’re killing out planet. When do we all start caring? When do we all say ENOUGH!?
Over the past few weeks, we have seen Governor Corbett centralize authority over the issuance of Marcellus Shale Permits and the inspection/violation/citation process into the hands of two people; essentially emasculating the PADEP and possibly removing any ‘teeth’ the well inspectors might have. This is both a depressing and frightening state of affairs; and has led me to writing my State and Federal elected officials with the following:
I am writing to you today to express concern over recent decisions that have been made by the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania and offices under his authority regarding the Marcellus Shale drilling that have far-reaching consequences for the citizens of PA. I am not opposed to energy independence; nor am I opposed to the safe operation of Marcellus Shale drilling; but I feel that recent events have been contrived to circumvent legal processes that have been in place to ensure the safety of the aforementioned drilling operations; and to protect the citizenry of the State of PA, and the environment from harm that may be caused by dubious operations of said drilling facilities.
The specific decisions I am referering to are:
1. Governor Corbett’s decision to allow the Director of Community and Economic Development, C. Alan Walker, to circumvent the permit process for new Gas Wells if he feels the PADEP or other agencies are not issuing permits fast enough. This process should be a methodical one; given the damage than can result from a poorly operated well. We’ve seen the results of this already; areas and individual who have had their water wells contaiminated after drilling operations began nearby. To allow a single individual the ability to circumvent this process with a proverbial ‘stroke of a pen’ seems irresponsible on the part of Governor Corbett.
2. The recent decision within the Department of Environmental Protection that has centralized the issuance of any Marcellus Shale-related enforcement and permit approvals, including notices of violations, with senior DEP management. Those clearances would come from the Deputy for Field Operations, Executive Deputy for Programs and final clearance from the Secretary of DEP. The reason given was to ensure ‘consistency’ within the agency; but this removes the inspectors ‘teeth’ (so to speak) and actually could inhibit them from doing their duty—or worse; it could emasculate them to the point that they aren’t being diligent enough when inspecting the wells. Between January of 2008 through October of 2010, there were over 2,000 violations at Marcellus Shale wells here in PA. If the inspectors do not have immediate authority to ensure that the well operations are being safely performed; then the safety of our citizens may be in jeopardy.
It is my fervent hope that your office would be able to look into these matters and suggest corrective actions to be undertaken to protect the Citizens of PA from possible abuses that could arise from the centralization of authority these decisions have created.
Thank you for your time,
L. Dwayne Sudduth
I hope this does some good–but I realize that it takes more than one person writing to goad our elected people into action. Perhaps by spreading this around, many citizens will write and our elected officials will be encouraged to act.