Empty water jugs used to haul clean water hang from a house in Washington County. Residents suspected nearby gas drilling as the culprit for their wells going bad. The DEP investigation concluded drilling was not to blame.
Here’s a key question amid Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling boom: How is drilling affecting residential water wells? Researchers say data on that core question is spotty. But one Pennsylvania agency could hold the key to answering questions from both residents and scientists. The problem is, the state Department of Environmental Protection says it organizes its records only to “support our operations,” according to agency spokesman Kevin Sunday.
So a simple request that could shine light on at least how many cases of water contamination the DEP determined were due to gas drilling operations, turned into a protracted legal battle. In an open records case settled last year between DEP and the Scranton Times-Tribune, the Commonwealth Court criticized the DEP for poor record-keeping.
But the DEP remains unapologetic about their unsuccessful argument to the court that providing copies of their water investigation determination letters would be “burdensome.”
"We have to be the voice of the birds," said Paul Zeph, of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society.
Deep in the Loyalsock State Forest, where no cell phone signal reaches, the sounds of rushing waterfalls and forest birds are suddenly interrupted by the sound of a helicopter.
Paul Zeph of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society says the noise could be related to gas drilling. Drillers will often drop seismic testing equipment into remote areas that are difficult to reach by roads. And that leads Zeph to cite one of the many worries that naturalists and outdoors lovers have with plans to expand drilling in the Loyalsock.
“Song birds identify one another through singing and they identify their territory through singing,” says Zeph. “With a very noisy environment, studies are starting to show that it’s impairing the ability to find mates.”
Sunbury is a small city of about 10,000 people along the banks of the Susquehanna River.
Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania
The dirt covers about an acre of a former industrial site in the city of Sunbury. It's in a floodplain next to the Susquehanna River and a residential neighborhood.
The dirt in question is in a rail yard at the northern edge of town surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence. It covers an acre of an old industrial site. The area is in a floodplain right next to the river and a residential neighborhood.
Councilman Bartello heads the city’s Department of Public Safety. His job includes overseeing code administration.
He’s been asking a lot of questions about this site and not getting many answers. He’s wondering where all the dirt is coming from. He says the ground is roughly six feet higher than it used to be.
Bartello has asked the company hauling in the dirt to give him a stormwater managment plan, in accordance with the city codes.
“There’s really no information,” Bartello says, “We always get the same answer: ‘There’s nothing going on.’”
Despite a slowdown in natural gas drilling, Pennsylvania will only see a small drop in the amount of impact fees it’s collecting, according to new data released this week by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC).
A year-old law, known as Act 13, places an impact fee on every gas well in the Marcellus Shale formation.
Last year, Act 13 brought in $204 million to the state and local communities. This year, it’s expected to bring in $198 million — a three percent drop.
DEP Secretary Michael Krancer will leave his post on April 15 to work for his former employer, the Philadelphia law firm, Blank Rome.
The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, announced today he will be leaving the agency on April 15 to return to Blank Rome, an influential Philadelphia law firm where he worked during the 1990′s.
Krancer will become chair of Blank Rome’s Energy, Petrochemical and Natural Resources Practice, where he will be, “enhancing the firm’s existing energy and public policy talent and advising US and global energy clients,” according to a Blank Rome press release.
Governor Corbett’s deputy chief of staff, Christopher Abruzzo, will serve as acting DEP secretary until a replacement is named.
Meanwhile, more than 4,000 miles of streams polluted by abandoned coalmine drainage flow through Pennsylvania’s forests, killing all aquatic and invertebrate life. And it would take an estimated $15 billion to clean up these dead streams. Some environmentalists and at least one Marcellus driller have decided there’s an opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone. Using the abandoned mine drainage to hydro-frack wells, they say, could help clean up the coal industry’s toxic legacy while simultaneously reducing water withdrawals from the state’s rivers and streams.
Other environmentalists think it’s a very bad idea, saying it would make a dirty process even dirtier.
The debate has suddenly heated up in Harrisburg, as the Senate considers a bill to encourage more drillers to use the mine water by reducing their liability. And despite the fact that it’s been promoted by watershed groups, the idea is getting some serious push back from environmentalists who think the bill gives industry a green light to pollute without any consequences. Continue Reading →
A drill rig rises above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.
“Promised Land,” Hollywood’s new movie about fracking, hits theaters nationally today. The film, starring Matt Damon as a land man, has already begun playing in Philadelphia and New York City, and StateImpact had this review of it last week. The gas industry has been nervous about how they’re portrayed in the film, and the Marcellus Shale Coalition has purchased ads to run in theaters seeking questions from viewers.
Today, we’re sorting fact from fiction. Here’s five things we think you should know before setting out to watch the film.
Promised Land: Photos of dead cows are handed out in the form of anti-drilling leaflets by fractivist Dustin Noble, played by John Krasinski.
Promised Land: Although no one actually sets their tap on fire in the film, the townsfolk have heard about it. The fractivist demonstrates this to a classroom full of young school children by pouring household chemicals onto a toy farm and throwing a match on top of it. The explanation of fracking to the kids is loose, combining drilling with the fracking process.
StateImpact Pennsylvania: Flaming tap water is a result of methane migration. We’ve done lots of stories of how, why and where this happens. For a clear explanation, see our posts on the topic.
When you drive north on route 29 in Susquehanna County, just before you hit the traffic light in downtown Montrose, sits a restaurant that’s easy to miss. The Summerhouse Grill welcomes diners from the back door. Inside, it’s a surprisingly bustling and busy room. Everyone here seems to know one another. After all, only about 43,000 people live in Susquehanna County as a whole.
The benefits and disadvantages of gas drilling are widely debated. But one thing everyone agrees on, is that drilling has brought tension to small rural communities. Susquehanna County is home to Dimock, a town that has become synonymous with flaming taps and everything that could possibly go wrong when the gas drillers come to town. And where friendly neighbors no longer speak to one another. But in the center of Susquehanna County one woman tries to heal those divisions over a good plate of food.
The woman behind all of this is Kim Glemboski. She grew up with her artist parents on a small farm outside of town. Today, she’s neither a farmer, or the restaurant’s cook. Glemboski is actually an author and historian, and she’s steeped in knowledge about the area’s rich heritage.
“All of the different resource extractions that have happened here,” says Glemboski, “from tanning, from timbering, agriculture, coal mining, and this is just chapter 31, here we go again.” Continue Reading →
A woman shops for milk in a Chicago grocery store. Natural gas is an essential raw ingredient for plastics, like these milk bottles.
Pennsylvania’s abundance of Marcellus Shale gas has helped drive down the price of natural gas to all-time lows. That’s bad news for drillers, but good news for their customers. And one of the main consumers of natural gas in the U.S is the petrochemical industry. Shale gas has been a boon for the folks who manufacture plastics and plastic products. George Biltz spent three decades in the chemical and manufacturing industries. Biltz is vice president of energy and climate change for Dow Chemical. I began the conversation by asking him how natural gas is used as a raw material, or “feedstock,” for all kinds of products.