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A Pennsylvania Turnpike bride as seen from Highspire, Dauphin County.
StateImpact Pennsylvania’s community forum on the state of the Susquehanna River Watershed is only a week away and registration is filling up quickly.
We’re collecting comments and photos about the Susquehanna and want to hear what the river means to you.
If you can’t make it to witf’s Public Media Center in Harrisburg, the event will be live-streamed, and we’ll be taking questions and comments from the online audience.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to extractive industries–like coal and timber. By the early twentieth century its forests were decimated. Today they’ve grown back and trees are harvested in a sustainable manner.
But scientists say the state’s surge in natural gas development is having new kinds of dramatic effects on its forests.
Diana Van Curen and her husband Terry of Bradford County have leased their land for gas drilling and claim they're being cheated out of royalty money. According to the gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, companies expect to pay out about $810 million in royalties to Pennsylvania landowners this year.
Hydraulic fracturing has unleashed a huge amount of natural gas in Pennsylvania.The Marcellus Shale is rapidly becoming one of the most productive gas plays in the world.
The boom has brought new jobs and new wealth to the state. But like every industry, it responds to supply and demand.
Overproduction led to a glut of gas, causing companies to shift operations to different parts of the shale in search of more lucrative natural gas liquids.
Over the past five years, the ebbs and flows of the industry have meant a changing economic reality for different parts of the state.
In energy-hungry countries, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. In a dramatic shift from just five years ago, the U.S. is looking to export, instead of import natural gas. And if more natural gas starts getting shipped abroad, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale could help change the global market for natural gas, and lighting homes in Tokyo.
The U.S. currently has two export terminals, one in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, and the ConocoPhillips LNG export terminal in North Cook Inlet, Alaska. The U.S. Department of Energy just gave preliminary approval for ConocoPhillips to expand its Freeport, Texas import terminal to export liquefied natural gas. About 17 other export proposals now await approval by the DOE, including the Cove Point liquefied natural gas import terminal operated by Dominion Resources.
Ice forms on the liquefied natural gas pipes on a 70 degree-day at Dominion's Cove Point LNG Terminal. Liquefied natural gas is stored at minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit.
An escape capsule fits 28 people in case of an accident on the offshore loading pier. There are three capsules located on the pier.
Liquefied natural gas pipes run under the loading pier and along a mile long tunnel under the Chesapeake Bay to the onshore facility at Cove Point.
Liquefied natural gas circulates around the loading pier about a mile off shore of the Dominion transfer plant.
A nest of baby seagulls found between pipelines on the offshore pier.
Unloading arms on the offshore pier transfer liquefied natural gas to the Dominion terminal. Dominion wants to transform this plant to export liquefied natural gas.
Seagulls find a home on the offshore loading pier.
Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.
Pipes carrying liquefied natural gas circulate around the terminal into holding tanks.
A new photo exhibit on Marcellus Shale is up at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia, and it’s worth a look if you’re in town. Several years ago six professional photographers, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, decided to document the Marcellus Shale drilling boom in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh resident Brian Cohen helped conceive the idea, and simply calls it the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.The photographers also include Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson, and Martha Rial. A panel discussion and reception takes place Wednesday evening, January 23. I spoke with Brian Cohen last week as he was hanging the show in Center City Philadelphia.
Activists and a gas rig worker meet at the edge of a drilling operation in Moshannon State Forest. The activists, calling themselves "Earth First Marcellus," built a barricade, and managed to shut down operations for several hours last July.
Flaring a well in Jefferson Township, Greene County.
Consol Energy drill site. Consol was the only gas company that agreed to give the photographers access to drilling operations and workers.
Janet McIntyre at her home in Connequenessing Township, Butler County. McIntyre says her water was good before drilling, but has since made them sick.
Q: When was the first time you heard of fracking or Marcellus shale?
A: It really came on my radar in an immediate way when we moved to Pittsburgh, six years ago. This is a huge story, much more than any one photographer could do on their own. So I proposed a collaborative project.
Q: It’s an impressive group.
A: Yes, Lynn [Johnson] and Scott [Goldsmith] work with National Geographic, Martha [Rial] has a Pulitzer prize.
Q: What was your goal?
A: The ultimate goal was to tell this story through multiple perspectives, through different eyes, and different narrative styles. So we could have a more well rounded view of Marcellus Shale drilling than we would otherwise. There’s a lot of heat that’s generated by this subject but there’s not a lot of light and I want this project to shed some light. Continue Reading
Thanks to Bill Foster and Arianne Sellers, I recently got a chance to fly over Bradford and Wyoming Counties in a Cessna, to take a look at what Marcellus Shale operations look like from above.
Here’s the bird’s-eye view of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process, as well as completed well pads.
A Marcellus Shale well being drilled in Wyoming County
A completed drilling site in Bradford County
A well being drilled in Bradford County
Another Bradford County well
We also circled Towanda, which StateImpact Pennsylvania recently profiled in "Boomtown." View the report here: http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/boomtown
It wasn't just Marcellus - we also flew over several wind farms
Craig Czury stands outside of the former schoolhouse in Springville, where he keeps a mattress and a desk for his trips up and down Route 29.
Along Route 29, as well as the backroads, pipeline construction is evident.
Craig Czury works at his desk at the old schoolhouse in Springville.
Czury outside of MaryLynn's Country Cafe, Springville, Pa.
Craig Czury uses a wall to post notes from his rides, which inspires his poetry.
Czury's desk has a book of poetry from the 13th century mystical poet Rumi, and a notebook courtesy of Cabot Oil and Gas.
On any given day, drivers along Route 29 in Susquehanna County might spot a gray-haired man with a small notebook in one hand, and his thumb out in the other. He’s Craig Czury, a 61-year-old poet who grew up in the coal regions, and began his writing career delving into that dying industry.
“I was just picking up the echoes of ghosts from a dead industry,” says Czury. These days, the energy industry in Northeast Pennsylvania has more lure and excitement for a poet. So he’s documenting the shale gas rush in his own unique way, hitchhiking up and down Route 29, collecting stories, and turning those vignettes into poetry.
“We are right at the beginning of the gas boom,” said Czury. ”And it’s alive and it’s new and here come the filmmakers, here come the photographers and I don’t know who is getting the story down. The media is getting the loud story down. They got the company and the company line and they got the environmentalists and the mic checks and they’re yelling back and forth at each other. But I am not quite certain who’s getting the story underneath that.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the well produces 3/4 gallons of oil a day. The correct total is 3/4 barrels.
Bradford, McKean County is littered with abandoned oil and gas wells. More than a third of the 8,200 known abandoned wells in Pennsylvania’s statewide database are located in McKean County.
But drilling isn’t entirely a thing of the past in Bradford, as I discovered when I visited McKean County to report for StateImpact Pennsylvania’s “Perilous Pathways” series. Even though the Bradford area hasn’t been part of the Marcellus Shale boom, it’s still covered with signs of active oil and gas drilling: pumpjacks, green storage containers, refineries.
One site, in particular, stands out, and that’s not because it’s Bradford’s oldest producing oil well. It’s the fact that the well is located smack in the middle of a McDonald’s drive-through lane.
The well – Cline Number 1 is its official name – is 1,125 feet deep. 140 years after it was first drilled, a McDonald’s has sprung up around it, but the well still produces ¾ barrels of oil a day. “That’s where they get the oil for the fries,” a motorcyclist joked as I stood there taking pictures.
Here are a few more pictures of Bradford’s drive-through oil well.
The Marcellus Shale drilling boom is bringing a lot of changes to Pennsylvania, but the drilling itself isn’t one of them. Pennsylvania hosted the world’s first oil well, after all.
The recently-renovated Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Crawford County tells the story of the first-ever oil boom.
The first stop at the museum is a cartoon. On the screen, Edwin Drake tells you about his crazy idea -that deep pools of oil exist below the earth’s surface, and that all you need to do to reach them is drill a hole.
The video explains Drake’s main innovation – the decision to line his well with pipe, in order to keep the ground from caving back in. It tells the story of the energy industry, from the whale oil that preceded Drake, to the natural gas boom taking place in Pennsylvania and other states.
It’s a sensory experience – the audience is squirted with water when the whales come on the screen, and the seats rumble when Drake drills his well.
Bill Peiffer checks out an abandoned oil well in the Tamarack Swamp in Warren County. Tom Savko sits in the distance.
This road leads to another old gas well that the EPA has permitted to be turned into a deep injection well. The permit was challenged by area residents.
An abandoned oil well dating back to the early 19th century spills oil into the Tamarack Swamp in Warren County.
The Tamarack Swamp at sunset.
When you drill for natural gas, for every gallon of gas produced, some amount of wastewater gets created as well.
Sometimes it can be simple brine that can be disposed of in simple ways, such as using it to melt snow on Pennsylvania’s roads in winter. Or to keep the dust down in summer.
But the wastewater can also be pretty nasty stuff, which can’t be cleaned up by water treatment plants. One option is to dump it down an old gas well, shooting it deep into the earth. It’s a method used in thousands of wells across the country. Only five of those currently operate in Pennsylvania.
A proposal to add to that number is stirring concern among some who live in Warren County, Pennsylvania, near the New York state border.
Fueling those concerns are the headlines such deep injection wells, or underground disposal wells, recently made when one such well in Youngstown, Ohio, caused several earthquakes. But residents are also worried about the impact on water supplies and natural areas. With the Marcellus Shale boom, the EPA has received several new applications for deep injection wells in Pennsylvania. Continue Reading