Notes from Citizens' Marcellus Shale Commission Meeting & Hearing
Sept. 26, 2011
James Schmid, Schmid & Co. Inc., Consulting Ecologists
Attention to wells is given piecemeal – no individual or whole-system attention is given to it by the media.
Article 27? is the PA Clean Water/Air Act, which natural gas extraction in PA does need to comply with, even if they've gotten exemption from federal standards.
Long-well PA mining regulations have finally been updated after 17 years, but those updates are being ignored.
Results resemble the environmental problems from coal mining several decades ago (fly-by-night operations that left huge messes behind), which is still being cleaned up.
Jobs: Steve Herzenberg, Keystone Research Center
Jobs in PA oil, coal and natural gas industry went from 9,000 in 2007 to 18,000 in 2010.
Secondary / multiplier effect jobs were estimated in 2009 to be 23,000 to 24,000 (by Dept. of Labor and Industry study).
The current jobs deficit in PA is 240,000.
From “Fast Facts”: new hires vs. new jobs = 30:1 due to turnover.
A news article stated 48,000 as the number of new jobs, then later 72,000, then 200,000 with all unrelated multipliers ( i.e. increased demand for blood checking work).
Royalty payments were estimated to be spent within a year and 100% locally, vs. more careful studies elsewhere that pointed out they're spent over many years, and often not locally.
PA is merely considering training of local unemployed construction workers so the industry doesn't rely so largely on workers from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico (plus a few others).
The trucks have been noted as largely being from Texas and Oklahoma, and there's very little data on PA employment in industry.
Tom Daniels: Urban Planning Handbook author, University of Pennsylvania professor
Delaware River Basin has thousands of wells.
197 miles of the Delaware River is Special Protection Waters, with many wells within that range.
15 to 40% of fracking water flows back (“flowback”) [I've read 20 – 80% elsewhere]
Water is diverted for fracking, leading to creeks and streams suddenly drying up without prior notice.
The Delaware Basin Commission has to approve each well, factoring in unregulated toxins (petroleum distillates etc.).
The Commission should have already produced a cumulative impact study, it is very urgently needed.
Flowback composition is not really known.
Sue Fox, Shrewsbury Township Supervisor, York
There are 80,000 to 100,000 known compounds in sewage sludge.
Fracking waste water often goes directly to sewage treatment plants, which have no scientific procedures for removing the toxins in the sludge.
The current general approach to treating sludge only shuts down to biologically active parts of sludge via heating, adding lime to get its pH to 12, and checking for a small handful of standard target compounds. Whatever's in waste flowback would just pass right through the plants.
Sludge gets widespread use as fertilizer sold in big-box retail stores to homeowners, used on farms, golf courses, elementary schools, everywhere.
25 sewage treatment plants are currently getting waste fracking fluid; where does the sludge from those plants go?
John Quigley, Former Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources Secretary
There are great benefits to use of natural gas (mostly CH4) over mostly-carbon oil and coal.
There are 2.2 million acres of PA state forest.
PA generates 10% of the hardwood output of the US.
88% of state forests are certified sustainable lumber sources.
Currently there are ~200 wells in state forests.
Up to 12,000 wells could get drilled in state forests, risking our sustainable forestry certification.
Serious surface disturbance risk has led to a current state moratorium on further drilling in state forests, could change, leading to problems.
Horizontal drilling can help minimize surface disturbance.
WV prohibits surface disturbance, NY is considering it.
From 1955 to 2008, extraction dollars were reinvested back into the parks.
State got $383M from selling state forest land in 2008.
The >$100M in royalties expected are recommended to be invested in a trust fund for the post-CNG era.
85% of state forests' land in publicly owned.
Horizontal drilling can reach about 2 miles across, providing limited help in minimizing surface disturbance.
38 million people visit state parks each year; extensive fracking would not help that.
Forest fragmentation is a “huge concern” regarding wildlife.
The Nature Conservancy estimates 3 to 8% of forest cover has likely been damaged.
We need to know what cumulative damage to expect.
There is a $2M Dept. of C & NR program to track forest fragmentation in real time.
Two-thirds of state forests are affected, are within the Marcellus Shale formation.
Tourism and sustainable lumber industries could be severely damaged by out-of-control fracking.
Cindy Daly, PA Housing Alliance
There is an acute apartment shortage in Lycoming County.
$540/month was average pre-fracking rent, has risen sharply over last five years.
A 2-bedroom unit now goes for $1100/month, 3-bedroom for $1500/month. [sounds like MD housing costs]
Section 8 allows renting of privately-owned homes, regulation's rent cost expectations are not keeping pace, leading to many landlords pulling out of Section 8 programs and therefor to eviction of Section 8 tenants.
Homelessness is up by 20% in Lycoming County.
There has been a 10% rise in kids found to be in foster care.
The unemployed are leaving due to high housing costs.
Starting a drilling fee used specifically to help compensate for high housing costs could help.
The HUD could change their fair housing rates to reflect current reality.
Public Comment time following Panel Presentation:
Henry Prodder, DOT, Civil Rights Federal Housing Administration
3000 wells currently, 10% of potential eventual number
There is no data available on workers' state locality, gender, minority etc.
Nicole Lindaye, Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Only anecdotal info is available.
Income/revenue growth from drilling has not yet been distributed, still largely to only a few.
18% of townships report revenue increases, while 20% reports increased costs (roads etc.).
“There is a desperate need for replacement housing” for those who must relocate out of hazardous living conditions.
Most drillers come from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico with their wives/girlfriends/family. The wife/girlfriend know no one, and so if things go bad they are “alone”, “stuck”.
There are 30 days of emergency shelter made available as needed, then with no alternatives available, they have to figure out how to return to TX, OK, NM with scarce dollars available to them.
Many drillers and their wives/girlfriends don't speak English (they're Hispanic).
Economic abuse: evictions and police actions are triggered by the drillers, but the girlfriend/wife has to bear the costs, consequences of it.
Hotels and motels in some areas are all filled with the drillers and their friends/family.
There is local rage against the very well-paid out-of-state Hispanic drillers and their friends/family, an “almost palpable” sense of anger against them.
Bradford County has started to see rapes for the first time in memory.
Shelters have been at capacity for years, no help for drillers' girlfriends/wives.
It's often hard to know the identity of the perpetrator; “he had a Southern accent” is often all authorities have to go by.
80-year-old grandmother who lives in fracked area
It never occurred to her that she could lose access to what's always been beneath her, meaning wonderfully clean well and creek water.
She remembers WWII, and sees this as likely a harder fight than that was.
Creeks can be diverted without any approval by locals.
Stay-at-home mother of four living in area affected by fracking
She's greatly concerned that the industry will greatly shorten and otherwise damage the lives of her kids and their kids, which considering the overall testimony makes sense; perfectly rational. She wants them to grow up in the same wonderful environment she grew up in, and not frankly be killed by consequences of fracking instead. She spoke with enough emotion, conviction and clear concern for her kids to raise the hair on the back of my neck. She described how she was “among the countless distracted millions” focused on TV, pop culture etc., but now very clearly understands politician's desperate pleas to get people to start voting again, to start actively caring about things that really, truly matter that are commonly getting pretty much ignored by most people as she put it.
Homeowner in southern PA, south of Marcellus Shale formation
There have been 841 contamination events from a lack of holding tanks.
121M gallons have been allowed to be drawn from the Susquehanna River Basin.
There are no laws against sewage treatment facilities being expected to treat fracking fluid.
“Right now we're using less water than golf courses” has been the standard response to queries to the Basin authorities, except of course golf courses don't mix it with masses of toxins.
People in areas south of the Marcellus Shale areas may not have direct exposure to fracking, but will have to deal with contaminated water in the Susquehanna River heading into the Chesapeake Bay, and in the Delaware River, and are also not compromised by the royalties etc. offered to those in the gas shale areas.
Mother of kids in college living in area heading into fracking
She and her husband went to collect their kids in college to bring them back for the Thanksgiving holiday, well water was fine before, came back to find it “red bubbly mud” from “ground testing” being done while they were away.
A friend with a hunting lodge a ways away offered his water, found to also no longer be good.
A new drilling pad is sited 40 feet from her garden.
They had a stillborn puppy.
“Regulations are not laws.”
The drilling pad application process takes only 30 minutes, “less than it takes to get a driver's license”.
OSHA is not involved in the industry.
Homeowner in fracking-affected area
There are radioactivity concerns in ground water contamination by backflow.
The Hickory Aquifer in Texas has been found to have 5 to 8X the normal background radioactivity levels expected.
Fracking involves huge amounts of volatile organic compounds being pumped into the ground.
From Building a Green Economy by Villanova professor Joseph Robinson:
Offshore wind has been estimated to potentially provide ~70% of our electricity needs, would that not be better than currently unregulated fracking?
A far greater number of jobs can be generated away from the fossil fuels industry, such as wind, solar, and smart grid development.
The PA Dept. of Energy is dismantling their section that deals with renewable energy permits.
Germany switched from an income tax to a carbon-based tax, and their economy is the healthiest in Europe.
The Rachel Carson Building has a library on its second floor, closed to the public, that is where are the old regulations are. They are not scanned, simply not publicly available in any form as long as the library is closed to the public, despite the fact that the documents in the library are there for the public. “Should it be renamed the Marcellus Shale Building?”
No one knows who really owns the wealth of the Commonwealth of PA, but 17 international companies own the rights and access the resources underground in PA.
Someone who vacationed partly in North Dakota fracking territory with his wife
He started seeing lots of CNG drill rigs across North Dakota in his trip, and upon getting to one of the very few hills in ND he found “hundreds of methane fires” for miles in all directions, wife didn't want him to take a picture to avoid spoiling his vacation.
There were many stacks of 500 gallon tanks around of anhydrous ammonia, a very toxic compound.
Concerned about resource extraction vs. long-term wealth
Tourism is #2 industry in PA, $26B/year.
There are 63,000 farm families in PA, with 73M acres, and a $61B annual impact.
Areas affected by natural gas fracking have been found to have less growth in personal income, less diversity in local jobs, greater income gap growth, and lower education.
What will be lost from farming and tourism industries by uncontrolled fracking?
>70% of the expected high-demand market for PA CNG is overseas, so it won't really help free us from foreign oil.
Homeowner in Sullivan County
Sullivan County is considered “the gem of endless mountains”.
Setbacks of at least 1,000 feet promoted.
Diesel engines are on wellpads without pollution controls.
Methane is often either vented or flared [when oil is the main desired product and no one wants to sell the natural gas that comes up with it]
He had to quickly construct a well just for water testing purposes.
Land owners are told it's their patriotic duty to sign on over resource rights on their land, when it that really makes no sense all things considered. (See 70% of CNG going overseas.)
When regularly reviewing accident reports for over six months, found it's just the “same old problems and violations over and over again”; nothing improves.
Homeowner in fracking area
Workers told the homeowner that the massive recycling of the fracking fluid leads to generation of H2S.
30 minute exposure to H2S is lethal, yet the workers have no safety gear.
There have been reports of 65 defective well casings in the last five months alone.
There are six or seven deep-injection wells in PA, one 600 to 700 feet from the speaker's home.
There are 325,000 abandoned wells in PA, and the PA Department of Environmental Protection is authorized to plug them...
But plugging each well costs $20,000 per well, and just where is all this money supposed to come from?
Water tanker drivers put in 14 hour days, well over 50 hours per week, usually driving along twisting rural roads which sometimes have Amish buggies and school children along their sides. There are plenty of tanker truck accidents, many of which don't get attention.
The Citizens' Marcellus Shale Commission is planning to issue a report within a couple of weeks (meaning hopefully by mid-October 2011).