A hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a fracking) site in Susquehanna County. Fracking is only one phase of shale gas extraction, but the word is often used as a catchall term for the entire process.
A key question during Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom centers on how much damage it’s done to water resources.
According to new information released this week by the state Department of Environmental Protection, water supplies around the commonwealth have been damaged by oil and gas operations 209 times since the end of 2007. This is the first time the agency has released such a tally.
Why did it wait so long?
According to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, it’s because the agency has been following the letter of the law, but not “the spirit of the law.”
As part of a highly-critical audit of the DEP unveiled Tuesday, DePasquale says he believes state legislators may not have understood the implications of some of the public disclosure language they approved in Act 13– Pennsylvania’s 2012 update of its oil and gas law.
Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.
Federal regulators announced this week that a controversial pipeline expansion project will undergo an extensive environmental review. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, will do an environmental impact statement on the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project.
Oklahoma-based Williams has proposed an expansion to their Transco natural gas pipeline, which would run through parts of north and central Pennsylvania. The pipeline has garnered intense opposition in Lancaster County. As a result, the company has changed part of its original route to avoid nature preserves.
The Transco pipeline system moves natural gas through more than 10,000 miles of existing pipes. The expansion project is part of a larger effort to get Marcellus Shale gas to end users like power plants.
The spreadsheet lists the 209 affected water supplies by county, municipality and the date regulators concluded that activities related to oil or gas extraction were to blame for contaminating or diminishing the flow to a water source.
The document does not disclose property owners’ names or addresses and it does not detail which companies that were deemed responsible for the damage, what caused the disruptions or what pollutants were found in the water.
Protesters outside the DEP's Harrisburg headquarters in April 2013. Auditors criticize the department for communicating poorly with citizens who complained about water issues related to gas development.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection failed to adequately track and respond to public complaints about water quality related to natural gas development, according to a report released today by the state Auditor General’s Office.
Auditors found the department lacking in eight key areas — citing it for sloppy record-keeping, lax oversight of drilling waste and gas well inspections, and poor communication with people who complained gas drilling contaminated their water. In some cases, auditors say it took months or even years for the DEP to log complaints into its internal tracking system.
The report covers DEP operations in the first few years of the gas boom — from January 2009 through December 2012. It’s the result of a campaign pledge by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat and former DEP staffer, who vowed to look into how the department handles water complaints related to gas drilling.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation filed suit to halt all drilling in state forests back in 2012. But when Governor Tom Corbett announced earlier this year his plans to lift a moratorium on new forest leases to fill a budget gap, the Environmental Defense Foundation sought an injunction to halt any new drilling.
The group also asked the courts to prevent the Corbett administration from channeling funds from the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the general fund, or cover the budget of DCNR.
Leasing the state’s forests to Marcellus Shale drillers began under the Rendell administration, much to the chagrin of DCNR’s leadership and staff. In 2010, just before Rendell left office, he imposed a moratorium on any new forest leases. Continue Reading →
Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania is cutting its share of funding to the agency that oversees issues from water quality to flood management in the Delaware River watershed, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports.
The Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC, is run by the federal government and the governors of the four states that share the watershed – New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Under an agreement, Pennsylvania is responsible for 25 percent of the funding for the commission’s work.
However, state funding levels to four other interstate groups – including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission – have remained flat. That has led some critics to believe that the cut to the DRBC is retaliation for the ongoing stalemate over natural gas development in the Delaware watershed.
The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination. The Story So Far The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used.
Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law, including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
This post has been updated to include additional comments on the ruling.
Pennsylvania doctors have nothing to worry about when it comes to the so-called “gag order” on chemical exposures from oil and gas drilling. That’s the message from the Commonwealth Court today in a much-anticipated ruling on provisions of the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law. The court issued the ruling after the Supreme Court passed on the controversy, sending it back to the lower court.
The “gag rule” stems from a section of Act 13, which requires nondisclosure agreements from healthcare providers who seek information on chemical exposures, which may be deemed “confidential” by industry. The law, which was drafted without the knowledge or consultation of healthcare providers, forces doctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, thereby agreeing not to share any ingredients in the industry’s secret sauce used to frack and drill for natural gas.
Writing for the Commonwealth Court, President Judge Dan Pellegrini says the law is not unconstitutional, and it neither prevents healthcare providers from obtaining the necessary information or sharing it with other health practitioners.
Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.
Five Pennsylvania environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the state Department of Health, in the wake of allegations it deliberately ignored public complaints about natural gas operations.
Representatives from five environmental groups– PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action-Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Clean Air Council– issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Department of Health’s handling of the issue.
“As it stands right now, the citizens of Pennsylvania will be left in the dark of the impacts of gas development,” says PennFuture CEO Cindy Dunn. “They may be local and individualized, but the sooner we know the sooner they can be addressed.”
Bradford County’s three commissioners have reached out to the federal Department of Justice, seeking its help investigating allegations gas driller Chesapeake Energy is cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money.
As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, residents there have been complaining about the issue for more than a year and say they’re disappointed with what they view as a lack of action in Harrisburg.
“It’s still a travesty,” says commissioner Daryl Miller (R). “It’s still an issue that is hurting the working families and senior citizens of our county. As more wells go online, more people are aware of the problem because more people are getting royalty checks.”
Deductions from royalty payments– known as gathering fees or post-production costs– are legal in many cases. The fees enable companies and landowners to share the costs of processing and transporting gas as it moves from the well to the market.