A new poll out today from the Nature Conservancy shows when given a choice, a majority (54 percent) of voters in the Appalachian shale region say they would prioritize conserving natural areas over gas development, even if it meant paying higher energy costs.
The survey included 1,250 telephone interviews assessing attitudes toward environmental issues, including forest health and natural gas development.
Many operators recycle wastewater and store it on site, while much of it gets shipped on trucks and rail cars to Ohio where it’s disposed of in deep injection wells. Moving wastewater on barges would be a more efficient alternative.
The Coast Guard wants to require shippers to test the fluid they’re carrying to make sure it doesn’t contain hazardous materials it doesn’t normally allow to travel on the nation’s waterways.
“In this case, the cargo is not a well-characterized product as most cargoes are, so we will be requiring on-going monitoring of the shipments,” Dr. Cynthia Znati with the Coast Guard’s Hazardous Materials Division said in an e-mail.
The chemical composition of wastewater, also known as “flowback,” can vary depending on the recipe a driller uses to frack a well and even where that well is drilled. It contains a high level of salts, as well as naturally-occurring heavy metals and some radioactive material.
Barge owners would be required to have each load of wastewater analyzed at a state-accredited lab and make the reports available to the Coast Guard for two years.
Deer are attracted to salty spots, which can include areas exposed to flowback fluid from gas development.
Hunters have long known deer love salt. In Pennsylvania it’s illegal to put out salt licks to try to attract deer. But there are still salty spots deer find on their own.
One of those places can be gas drilling sites.The brine water that comes back up after hydraulic fracturing (known as flowback) can be as much as 10 times saltier than seawater. It can also contain heavy metals and radioactive materials.
The state Department of Environmental Protection acknowledges that brine spills large and small do occur, and they have not studied its impacts to wildlife.
Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau says they haven’t studied gas drilling’s impact on deer either, but anecdotally, brine is not much of an issue.
“Not to say it’s not happening,” he says. “But our guys that work pretty closely with the gas industry haven’t really seen that.”
U.S. Forest Service soil scientist, Mary Beth Adams, has studied deer’s attraction to the salt left behind in the soil at reclaimed drilling sites in West Virginia, which has less stringent regulations related to flowback. She recently spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania about her research.
Waste Treatment Corp. will have to pay a $25,000 fine and upgrade its plant to meet strict discharge limits for total dissolved solids and chlorides under the proposed consent decree.
The company has faced recent scrutiny from regulators and a lawsuit from environmental advocates after scientists with the Department of Environmental Protection found in 2012 that the plant’s discharge was harming water quality and aquatic life in the river. As part of the proposed agreement with the state, the company will have to install treatment improvements by Jan. 1, 2016 then conduct studies to ensure the water quality and biological community are restored downstream.
The treatment plant has been operating under a permit that sets no limit on the amount of total dissolved solids and chlorides it can send to the river from oil and gas and other waste streams. Although Waste Treatment stopped accepting shale drilling wastewater for discharge in 2011, it continues to release large amounts of salt. Continue Reading →
A natural gas drilling site in Kingsley, Susquehanna County.
The federal government may be way off when it comes to estimating how much methane is released into the atmosphere, according to a new study. The potent greenhouse gas is second only to carbon dioxide in terms of its significance for global climate change.
Neighbors Victoria Switzer and Ron Teel point to a natural gas compressor station on Teel's property in Dimock, Susquehanna County.
Two years ago, Victoria Switzer and her neighbors had stopped speaking.
Switzer was one of the residents of Dimock who claimed natural gas drilling had ruined their water supplies. The small village in Susquehanna County became synonymous with flaming taps and jugs of muddy brown drinking water.
But the media blitz angered her neighbors, the Teels, who said it ignored the economic benefits of drilling.
The reporters, the activists and the industry haven’t gone away, but things have started to change.
A state environmental court ruled Wednesday that the Department of Environmental Protection must decide whether a drilling company can gather Utica Shale gas from Western Pennsylvania properties without all of the owners’ consent.
One of Hilcorp Energy Company's proposed Utica Shale drilling units in Lawrence County with an unleased parcel in the middle.
The decision helps clarify one of many questions about Pennsylvania’s 1961 pooling law – known as the Oil and Gas Conservation Law – which is being tested for the first time since the start of modern shale gas development in the state. The arcane 50-year-old law does not apply to the Marcellus Shale, but it applies to the deeper Utica Shale.
Pooling enables drilling companies to combine adjacent tracts of leased land into one unit from which they can drain oil or gas with the fewest wells. “Forced” pooling allows them to do that even if a property owner in the middle of the unit objects to signing a lease or has signed with a different company.
The Oil and Gas Conservation Law’s old age and disuse have left companies and regulators unsure how to revive it for the Utica Shale era, beginning with the first step: who decides whether to grant a company’s application to force parcels into a unit?
The Associated Press reports Shell is still actively exploring a multibillion dollar ethane cracker plant in Western Pa.
Royal Dutch Shell’s decision about whether to build a multibillion dollar ethane cracker in Beaver County could still be several years off, but the Associated Press has found that the company is actively taking steps to explore the site.
Shell has an option to buy the industrial site in Monaca that’s now owned by Horsehead Corp. In an early November conference call, Horsehead CEO Jim Hensler said Shell continues to be “extremely active” at the site, with “about 70 people crawling all over” it recently.
Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Wendon told the AP in an email that “our evaluation of the site continues” and that the process “typically takes several years to complete.” Wendon added that the company expects a similar time frame in Monaca.
There also are other signs Shell is seriously considering the project.
Gulfport Energy Corp. said in early November that it signed a contract to provide Shell with raw natural gas for the project, if it gets built. And last month Chemical Week, an industry publication, reported that Shell has chosen two multinational engineering firms to do feasibility and pre-project planning. Executive Vice President Graham van’t Hoff told the publication that Bechtel Corp. and Linde AG of Germany would do the preliminary work.
Shell went out to bid for ethane to supply the proposed Beaver County plant over the summer and Governor Tom Corbett said in April he expects to know early next year whether Shell will build the plant.
Gov. Corbett promoting the Marcellus Shale earlier this year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The contributions of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania from jobs to environmental impacts are still widely debated. But according to an Associated Press report, a recent poll shows it may not be the primary issue for voters in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Pollster Joseph Morris with Mercyhurst College in Erie told the AP that gas drilling is not foremost on the minds of Pennsylvanians who live outside the small, rural communities where the drilling is actually happening.
An October Mercyhurst poll found 49 percent of the respondents were in favor of Marcellus Shale drilling, while 28 percent were opposed. But the poll also found that 61 percent of Pennsylvanians don’t believe that drilling companies “truly care about the environment,” and that 63 percent believe that “more regulations are needed.”
Morris said he thinks drilling “was probably more important when Corbett was running for governor the first time,” partly because the debate over issues, such as cuts to education funding, has grown.
He also said that Pennsylvania has a long history of viewing the environment differently than some northeastern or West Coast states.
“Pennsylvanians believe we should use the environment, we should just use it wisely,” Morris said. “This is fundamentally different from other types of environmentalism,” such as states where many people want to totally preserve large areas of land.
But while it may not be the most important issue for voters, drilling is certainly a main talking point on the campaign trail. It is also beginning to revive a debate over whether the state’s impact fee law is the most productive way to get the industry to give back to Pennsylvania communities.