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Plans scrapped for drilling waste in PA’s Grand Canyon

  A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

A waste disposal company has backed off its controversial plan to use 400,000 tons of natural gas drill cuttings to help expand an airport in Tioga County. The proposal would have put the waste, which includes dirt and rock displaced by shale gas well-drilling, on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge, a pristine watershed also known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.”

The Department of Environmental Protection says the Montgomery County company, Clean Earth, did not respond to the agency’s questions on a number of issues with the permit application, which the DEP calls “technical deficiencies.” So Clean Earth decided to withdraw an erosion and sediment control permit application for the first stage of the project. StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported on the project back in July.

The DEP sent a letter to the company in February, detailing the agency’s concerns and seeking answers from Clean Earth. Drill cuttings, which can originate hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface, often contain naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals. But instead of responding to the requested information, Clean Earth agreed to abandon the project.

In the February 24 letter, DEP Chief of the Waterways and Wetlands Program James Kuncelman outlines concerns about the company’s proposal to stockpile the waste without protecting it from the elements, which would have posed a risk to the watershed. Rain and snow falling on top of the drilling waste could have created contaminated run-off, leaching into ground water or making its way into the nearby Pine Creek Gorge. The letter, which is copied below, lists ten separate points of concern. Continue Reading

Emails show how Wolf, DEP unfriended fractivist from pipeline group

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Lily Cannon

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Scott Cannon, an anti-fracking activist, says he wants to get to the bottom of why he was uninvited from Governor Wolf’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.

But he hasn’t gotten there yet.

Cannon, 51, of Plymouth, was originally told that he would be a part of the task force environmental protection workgroup.

But Cannon was informed a few days later by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley that his services would not be needed. So he filed a Right-to-Know request, and recently got a slew of redacted emails.

But those that weren’t redacted reveal a flurry of interest about Cannon’s candidacy.

The first email came July 2 from Richard Fox, a staff member for Senate Minority Leader John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), asking Sarah Clark, DEP’s Legislative Affairs Director, “do you know if Scott Cannon is on the task force or one of the work groups?”

Clark responded that Cannon was on the environmental protection workgroup.

That would soon change. Two hours later, an email from a staffer for Gov. Wolf, Yeseñia Rosado Bane asked: “Can someone from DEP uninvited {sic} Scott Cannon to the task force?” Continue Reading

DEP’s new oil and gas rules irk both environmentalists and industry

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

State environmental regulators are asking for comments on the final version of new oil and gas rules. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released detailed updates to its oil and gas rules Wednesday. The proposals result from a four-year process that garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  Still, this latest version is getting push back from both industry and environmentalists.

In a call with reporters, DEP Secretary John Quigley called the announcement a “great step forward in responsible drilling in Pennsylvania.”

“DEP’s definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Quigley.

Although the release of the draft rules marks the final leg of a long process that began as a result of the passage of the state’s drilling law Act 13 in 2012, Quigley says there’s more to come.

“This is not the end of the process,” he said. “There is more study needed on additional measures, and there will be more rule making in a separate process to ensure responsible drilling and protection of communities, public health and the environment.” Continue Reading

Water quality not impacted by drilling, according to new report

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

With continuous monitoring between 2010 and 2013, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission did not find any changes in water quality.

A new report shows no correlation between shale gas development and watershed impairment in the Marcellus region between 2010 and 2013.

This is the third such analysis from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The multi-state compact is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the U.S. governments. It oversees the water withdrawals gas companies need in order to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The commission also coordinates state and federal-level environmental efforts within the river’s 27,500-mile watershed. Nearly 85 percent of the Susquehanna River Basin sits atop shale gas wells.

“We see this as the beginning of keeping an eye on things,” says Tyler Shenk, a supervisor for restoration and protection with the SRBC. “As we gather more data, we’ll know more. But there are no giant red flags at this point.”

Shenk says this analysis will serve as the commission’s baseline reference, despite the fact the monitoring began about two years after the Marcellus Shale boom took off in 2008.

Pre-drilling data would be an ideal baseline, but we didn’t have the network set up yet,” he says.

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Fracking health complaints received little follow-up from the Department of Health

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Newly released documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on fracking-related health complaints reveal a lack of follow-through and inaccurate record-keeping. The telephone logs, which span four years from 2011 to 2015, were gained through a Right-to-Know request by the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

The documents include about 87 separate complaints from residents and workers who feared exposure to fracking chemicals and were looking for advice from the Department of Health. But notes taken by agency workers show little information is collected from patients.  In some cases, doctors were looking for help. And at least in one case, important details were inaccurate.

The bulk of the complaints came from northeast and southwest Pennsylvania. They often included similar complaints of skin rashes, respiratory problems and nose bleeds.

The names of the patients, physicians and their addresses are blacked out. But Fayette county resident Linda Headley confirms that case number 59 is a complaint she made last August. Although Headley doesn’t own the mineral rights to a property she bought in 2005, she says she has five gas wells on her property, including one Marcellus Shale gas well. She says one of those wells is “problematic” and gas company workers regularly release toxic fumes from what she says is a condensate tank. She says a white misty cloud gets released, some of it gaseous and some of it liquid.

Headley says last July she went out to pick berries with her 6-year-old son. She noticed a gas worker on site.

“We were walking down the driveway and the well-tender kind of looked behind us and he just pushed the button and [waste from the condensate tank went] all over us,” she said. “You could feel the brine all over us and you could taste it. It has a salty bitter taste.”

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New pipeline could mean tax bonanza for NJ towns, but for Pa.? Not so much

Joe Kulick is township manager of Durham, Pa., one of 27 towns along the route of the PennEast pipeline.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joe Kulick is township manager of Durham, Pa., one of 27 towns along the main route of the PennEast pipeline.

As Republican legislative leaders and the natural gas industry unite to beat back Gov. Tom Wolf’s severance tax proposal, here’s something lawmakers in Harrisburg are not talking about: Companies building new pipelines to grow markets for Pennsylvania’s natural gas don’t have to pay local property taxes on those lines to counties, towns and school districts.

So how much could local communities be missing out on?

In one case, StateImpact Pennsylvania has found that a proposed pipeline that would run beneath the Delaware River, the undulating boundary between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, could mean millions of dollars a year in new property tax revenue for towns in the Garden State. But on the other side of the river, Pennsylvania could be leaving millions of dollars a year on the table.

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Feds fine Marcellus driller XTO $2.3 million

A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy on Saturday, Aug.  6, 2011. The well is the subject of a dispute over a drilling ban recently enacted by the city of Morgantown, which is directly across the Monongahela River from the well. (AP Photo/David Smith)

AP Photo / David Smith

A natural gas well in West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Department of Justice, have fined XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobile, $2.3 million for violating the Clean Water Act. The damage to streams and wetlands took place in West Virginia and includes an estimated $3 million remediation price tag. During drilling operations at eight separate sites, the company dumped sand, dirt, rocks and other material into streams and wetlands while constructing well pads, roads, and pits.

“American communities expect EPA and our state partners to make sure energy development is done responsibly,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case will help to protect clean water in West Virginia, and support a level playing field for energy developers that play by the rules.”

This isn’t the first time the EPA has sanctioned XTO. In July 2013 the EPA fined XTO $100,000 for dumping frack water into the Susquehanna river system in Penn Township, Lycoming County. Between 6,300 and 57,373 gallons of waste water contained high levels of strontium, chloride, bromide, barium, and total dissolved solids and flowed continually for more than two months in the fall of 2010, according to the EPA.

XTO is one of the top violators in Pennsylvania, with the most recent data showing 177 violations for a total of $227,199 in fines. The company also faces criminal charges stemming from the Penn Township incident.

DEP slaps Vantage Energy with massive fine for landslide and dumping

A Cabot Oil and Gas rig in Susquehanna County, which sits on one of the most productive "sweet spots" in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Marcellus Shale gas rig.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the Colorado-based Vantage Energy almost $1 million for more than a dozen violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law and the  Oil and Gas Act. The sanction stems from a landslide at the company’s Porter Street well site in Franklin Township, Greene County. But it turns out the landslide was just the start of the company’s violations. While checking on site remediation months later, DEP inspectors discovered a contractor dumped two truckloads of wastewater off the side of the damaged well site, further polluting two unnamed tributaries to Grimes Run.

“They dumped it down the side of the well pad, which undid what little work they did to correct the [original] problem,” said John Poister, from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office.

In a year of multi-million dollar fines handed down by DEP, this $999,900 fine, just $100 short of one million, still stands out as one of DEP’s largest for Marcellus Shale drillers.

“This points out just how serious the problems are at this well site,” said Poister.

Poister says the original landslide on January 16, 2014 took off a corner of the well pad, traveling forty feet downslope and landing on top of two unnamed streams. Although the company notified DEP of the incident, Poister says drilling continued without adequate remediation. During an inspection on March 19, two months after the incident, DEP employees documented how the landslide “continued to move and grow.” Continue Reading

New York State bans fracking

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

AP Photo/Mike Groll

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas extraction technique.

New York state officials have decided to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, citing health concerns.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at an end-of-year press conference in Albany Wednesday afternoon.

From the New York Times:

The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.

The decision has been fraught for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.

In June 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several struggling Southern Tier counties along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. But later that year, Mr. Cuomo bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, announcing instead that his administration would start the regulatory process over by beginning a new study to evaluate the health risks.

New York’s acting health commissioner Howard Zucker acknowledged there are gaps in the data but said there are many “red flags” and questions about the risks of fracking.

“The science isn’t here,” Zucker said. “But the cumulative concerns based on the information I have read … gives me reason to pause.”

New York State’s Republican chairman, Ed Cox, slammed the health review as a “political charade.” Cuomo says he is expecting “a ton of lawsuits” in the wake of the decision.

Industry representatives in Pennsylvania have pointed out that New York’s decision on fracking will have little bearing here — at least in the near future — since most of New York’s share of the Marcellus Shale contains less economically attractive dry gas.

Christopher Robart, a consultant with IHS Energy, says the decision will have little to no impact on business in Pennsylvania.

“Folks in the industry have put a lot of money into parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and built infrastructure,” he says. “Once that’s in the ground, there’s a certain amount of stickiness in the market.”

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Maryland Governor proposes stringent fracking regulations

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. After three years of research, the term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits lie beneath just a tiny sliver of western Maryland. But with three years worth of review, the state issued a 104 page report Tuesday detailing the pros and cons of fracking, along with recommendations for some of the most stringent rules in the country. Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Study was conducted by the state’s Department of Environment, and Department of Natural Resources at the behest of the outgoing governor, Martin O’Malley. It’s unclear what will come of the proposal because the newly elected incoming governor-elect, Republican Larry Hogan, has criticized the lack of drilling in the state’s two shale gas counties.

The hold up to Maryland’s shale gas boom has been the state’s extensive analysis of current research into the economic, public health and environmental impacts of fracking. Today’s report includes a long list of proposed recommendations that it says would allow gas drilling to occur with minimal risks.

“…provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.”

The proposed regulations include a five-year plan on each well, a 2000 foot vertical buffer between an aquifer and the targeted gas deposit, a setback of at least 1000 feet from the edge of a well pad to an occupied building, school or church and 2000 feet from a private drinking water well.

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