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2010 Fines for Marcellus Shale Violations

In yesterday’s Post-Gazette, Don Hopey discussed an analysis by PennFuture which saw a notable decline in fines in the first quarter of 2011, as compared to the same period last year. The implication is that the DEP is not backing up violations with fines under Governor Corbett’s administration to the same degree that it did under former Governor Rendell. In the former administration, PennFuture calculated an enforcement action was handed out for every 1.7 violations, and now the rate is one per every 8.7 violations.

I think this is a worthwhile trend to keep an eye on, with the caveat that it is still early in Governor Corbett’s tenure, and that violation data varies widely from month to month.

It is also possible that the DEP under the Corbett administration will still issue fines for significant events. In fairness, I came across this article of fines issued over eight months after an incident by the DEP under Rendell. I think we need more time to see if the new administration’s patterns of reduced fines per violation hold.

That said, Marcellus Shale fines and enforcements under the Rendell administration is hardly a sensible target for comparison. The fines issued in 2010 were at once paltry and erratic.

Industry sources indicate that Marcellus Shale wells cost between $5 million to $6.4 million to drill. Last year in Pennsylvania, there were 1,454 Marcellus Wells drilled in the Commonwealth, meaning that the total cost of operations for the year for the industry is somewhere in the mind-boggling range of $7.2 billion to $9.3 billion. How much of that cost was fines issued by the DEP? $775,650.22. Even using the conservative figure of $5 million per well, DEP fines only account for 0.01 percent of operating costs–hardly any impediment at all. In essence, with the change in administration the DEP went from collecting fines in Monopoly money to asking drilling operators to sit down for a while and think about what they’ve done.

Over 45 percent of the fines issued for the Marcellus Shale in 2010 went to EOG Resources, the operator for a major blowout in Clearfield County. That was far from the only major incident in 2010, but the DEP was clearly mad about the incident, posting an entire section about the incident on their website. The $353,400 fined to EOG for this incident went to cover the DEP’s cost of response and investigation.

The two operators with the highest fines issued for Marcellus Shale operation in 2010 are toward the top of companies with the largest number of violations per year. That said, those companies at the very top were fined a significantly lower amount.

When we look at fines per violation, in addition to the same two operators that stood out in the last graph, we see several companies with relatively few violations having a significant number of fines per violation.

From an outside perspective, it is difficult to determine what sorts of factors go into whether or not a fine is issued, and if so, for how much. If the goal is simply to recoup costs of the DEP response and investigation, one wonders why there isn’t a fine more often, since every violation issued costs the DEP some resources to evaluate, process, and issue. And if fines are to act as a deterrent, they should include punitive damages, not just actual costs.

Keep in mind that the $7.2 billion to $9.3 billion range is just for Marcellus Shale wells, which last year represented about half of all oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania. The industry is huge. One way we could have the oil and gas industry benefit all Pennsylvanians is by paying for the expenses of their DEP oversight, through permit fees and fines. That taxpayer savings could then be applied to other programs to help address the overall budget issue. Such an arrangement would be a huge boon to Pennsylvania, and while they might complain, the industry would barely notice if their cost per well went up by a few thousand dollars. Such an arrangement would also allow for the DEP to keep up with a rapidly expanding industry in a time of fiscal austerity that is sweeping the Commonwealth, and the nation as a whole.

  1. Other sources, such as the Marcellus Drilling News report higher fine totals, but that includes a broader time frame. See Sean Hamill’s Post-Gazette article.

FracTracker Webinar Reminder

Today we will be hosting Webinar #7 in the FracTracker training series. This afternoon’s webinar will cover the various programs working in collaboration with the the FracTracker system, a quick piece about the Data Index, and changes to the blog that are coming soon.  If you can’t make the webinar, the recording will be available online after the event here.

Webinar Details

Date: Monday, May 16, 2011
Time: 12:00 pm, Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)
Meeting Number: 646 482 139
Meeting Password: FTwebinar7

To View & Listen to the Webinar Using Your Computer

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To Listen to the Audio Portion Only

(Use this option only if the first one does not work on your computer.)

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Webinar Tips

If you have not participated in any of our previous webinars, please click here to make sure you can view UCF (Universal Communications Format) rich media files prior to the launch of the session today.

For questions concerning this meeting, please contact Samantha Malone in advance of the scheduled meeting time at: slm75@pitt.edu.


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New Report: In the Shadow of the Marcellus Boom

 

Just last week, PennEnvironment released a new study, In the Shadow of the Marcellus Boom, at press conferences in Scranton and Pittsburgh, plus a national teleconference. The report looks at the proximity of schools, hospitals and day care facilities to permitted Marcellus Shale gas wells. Their aim was to demonstrate the risks of shale gas extraction to vulnerable populations. Press release.

Below is a map of the day care, school and hospital facilities located within 2 miles of a permitted Marcellus well site:

 

Instructions:

  • Use the legend to toggle the information displayed on the map on or off.
  • Select an area of interest using the zoom bar in the lower-left corner plus the hand tool to pan, or use the zoom selection tool.
  • To obtain information about any point on the map, select the “i” tool in the gray toolbar and click on a point of interest. Click again within the dialog box to drill down and see more details for each point.
  • You can toggle between terrain, satellite, and street view with the buttons on the lower right of the map.

Proposed Tire Fire Plant in Greenwood Twp., Crawford County, PA

In the fall of 2010 Crawford Renewable Energy, LLC (CRE) announced plans to build a “tire-fired” power plant in Greenwood Township of Crawford County. The facility is designed to produce 100 MW of energy by burning used, recycled tires in two circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler systems. The design of the facility includes several pollutant emission control technologies. These types of equipment remove a portion of the pollutants from the exhaust. As nice as it is to think of tires simply “disappearing” rather than being land-filled, when any hydrocarbon fuel source is burned, such as a tire or coal, a multitude of toxic and carcinogenic compounds are released. And most of these pollutants cannot be captured using control technologies, so they are emitted into the air.

The facility is planned on an 80 acre industrial park land parcel. The control equipment includes a CFB scrubber, a fabric filter baghouse, and a regenerative catalytic reactor. The flue gasses will then be emitted through a 325 foot tall stack. A CFB scrubber uses limestone to decrease sulfur emissions. The regenerative catalytic reactor is used to reduce NOX. The fabric filter baghouse is a series of screens and filters that remove the majority of the mass of particulate matter. The majority of the mass of particulate emissions are removed by capturing the coarse fraction of particles, which are particles with larger diameters and mass, but do not pose a significant health threat. Baghouses and other particulate control devices (PCDs) are not as efficient at capturing the fine and ultrafine fraction of particulate emissions, which have smaller diameters. The fine and ultrafine modes of particulates are the most hazardous, and are directly related to asthma exacerbation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and other forms of respiratory disease.

The emissions and deposition pattern from this facility were modeled by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities to assess the impact on local air quality. Several pollutant species were modeled, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and both the course and the fine fractions of particulate matter, PM10 and PM2.5 respectively. Concentrations of these pollutants at ground level in ambient air were modeled using the CalPUFF non-steady state dispersion model. These will not be the only pollutants transported, rather these are efficient to model. Plumes of some of the other contaminants will most likely have similar patterns.

The mean, or average, levels of predicted ambient air concentrations are presented first for each pollutant (Figures 1, 3, 5, and 7). These maps show the average concentrations of the pollutant that are predicted to occur while the facility is operating. The concentrations are averaged over a one year period. Next, peak day concentrations of pollutants are presented (Figures 2, 4, 6, and 8). These concentrations are the highest predicted concentrations for a single day that would occur when the facility is operating normally, over the one year modeled cycle. The concentrations shown in all of the maps are only attributable to the proposed facility, and do not include any other sources of pollution or background concentrations of pollutants. These values essentially show the increases in ambient air pollutants that will occur when the proposed facility is operating.

For this 80 acre industrial park, a square “fence-line” with 570 meter sides could surround the park. Typically, exposures are expected to be very limited within the fence-line because the area is inaccessible to the public. Concern is focused on the exposures that may occur beyond the limit of the fence-line. If the smokestack is assumed to be located at the center of the park, it would be at a distance approximately 235 meters from the fence-line. Using the scales on the maps, it is evident that the even the highest concentration gradients shown in the maps would occur beyond the fence-line. When the facility is operating, it is reasonable for the surrounding communities to expect exposures to even the highest concentration gradients shown in the maps.

Figure 1.  Mean values of modeled SO2 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 2.  Peak day values of modeled SO2 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 3.  Mean values of modeled NOX ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 4.  Peak day values of modeled NOX ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 5.  Mean values of modeled PM10 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 6.  Peak day values of modeled PM10 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 7.  Mean values of modeled PM2.5 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 8.  Peak day values of modeled PM2.5 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.

Volz Senate Hearing Committee Testimony and Presentation

Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH was asked by Senator Cardin to testify today before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Joint Hearing on “Natural Gas Drilling, Public Health and Environmental Impacts.”

You can watch the proceedings on C-SPAN or view Dr. Volz’s Testimony and PowerPoint. Below is an excerpt from his testimony:

My testimony today will cover three critical public health and environmental policy areas related to unconventional natural gas production:

First is the unregulated siting of natural gas wells in areas of high population density,and near schools and critical infrastructure. Unconventional gas extraction wells arehighly industrialized operations that have public health preparedness risks of catastrophicblowout, explosion and fire. Any of these incidents can create an Immediately Dangerousto Life and Health (IDLH) condition for adults or children in close physical proximity.The unregulated siting of unconventional natural gas extraction wells and productionfacilities in residential neighborhoods and near critical infrastructure is unwisepreparedness policy, especially in light of federal and state efforts to reduce risk fromterror attacks on USA citizens and critical infrastructure.

Secondly, the higher rates and differential patterns of oil and gas act violations fromMarcellus Shale gas extraction operations, as compared to conventional oil and gas wells,suggests a much greater impact to drinking water and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shalegas extraction wells have between 1.5 to 4 times more violations than their conventionalwell counterparts per offending well, including more serious violations and violationsthat have a direct impact on water quality and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shale gasextraction wells are more likely to have violations for:

  • Failures to minimize accelerated erosion, implement erosion and sedimentation plans, and/or maintain erosion and sedimentation controls.
  • Discharge of pollution to waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • General violations of the Clean Streams Law.
  • Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste and -Failures to adequately construct or maintain impoundments holding gas extractionflowback fluids containing toxic contaminants.

The third problem public health and environmental policy area to be addressed is thedisposal of gas extraction flowback fluids, carrying a plethora of toxic elements andchemicals, in inefficient “brine” treatment facilities and Publicly Owned TreatmentWorks (POTW’s) [commonly called sewage treatment plants], which dischargeeffluent into surface water sources. Studies of the effluent from a commercial facilityin Pennsylvania that treats fluids only from gas and oil operations shows discharge of 9pollutants in excess of nationally recognized human and/or aquatic health standards into anearby stream.

Full Testimony  |  PowerPoint

Abandoned Well Suspected in McKean County Explosion

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) thinks this February 28, 2011 gas explosion might have been caused by one of three abandoned gas wells in the vicinity. Photo by Jay Braddish

Luckily, Thomas Federspiel of Bradford Township in McKean County Pennsylvania was outside of his home when it suddenly exploded on February 28, 2011. He was able to rescue his dogs, too, but his house didn’t fare as well, taking an estimated $250,000 in damages, according to the Erie Times-News.

This fire, combined with a similar incident on December 12, 2010 have gotten the attention of U.S. Senator Bob Casey, who urged federal input into the investigation, which he suspected might be due to recent gas drilling operations:

While investigations are ongoing, the initial determinations are that these harrowing incidents were not caused by any gas utility issue. Rather, it appears that the gas may have migrated from deep underground during periods of high barometric pressure coupled with seismic activity and extensive new deep drilling activities.

The DEP recently suggested that the issue might be related to abandoned wells in the area, rather than new gas drilling activities. Three nearby uncapped abandoned wells were discovered, all of which are at least 90 years old. The well that the DEP considers to be a suspect in the February explosion, Rogers 9, was drilled in 1881.

Wells are considered to be abandoned if they have been out of production for twelve months.

New Collaboration with Pitt’s Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law

Archived

This article has been archived and is provided for reference purposes only.

FracTracker is proud to announce an exciting collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh’s Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law. PJEPHL is the nation’s leading academic journal covering the convergence of environmental and public health legal issues. Its staff is made up of hard working students from the University of Pittsburgh, along with several University faculty advisors.

Check back soon for updates or read the most recent articles by the PJEPHL in 2011.

Contact information: Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law University of PittsburghSchool of Law, 3900 Forbes Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

PA environment chief now must approve any shale-drilling citations

Repost from Philadelphia Inquirer

In an unprecedented policy shift, inspectors in Pennsylvania have been ordered to stop issuing violations against drillers without prior approval from Gov. Corbett’s new environmental chief.The change, ordered last week in response to complaints by the drilling industry and its supporters in the Pennsylvania legislature, dismayed ground-level staff in the Department of Environmental Protection and drew a chorus of outrage from environmental advocates. Read more.

May 3, 2011 Update: The DEP has completely rolled back the need for the chief’s approval prior to citing violations. Read more.

Corbett’s Commission: Voodoo Economists Push Zombie Industry

By Patrick Walker

Increasingly, bright Republicans strain to save their party from its “know-nothing” fringe.Particularly key is climate change, on which both Republicans for the Environment, and formerRepublican EPA Administrators William D. Ruckelshaus and Christine Todd Whitman, haverecently lambasted the GOP’s climate change knuckle-draggers.

Their success is critical, as governing our nation will long remain a bipartisan affair. When allserious climatologists—and the National Academy of Sciences, America’s most prestigiousscientific body—insist human-caused climate change is real and menaces Earth’s survival,science-denying partisanship has no good excuse.

Regrettably for our planet, Republican “fossil fools” steer Pennsylvania’s ship of state. Thinkthat’s harsh? Then you missed the maiden voyage of Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. Virtually adrool for Marcellus gold, not one of Corbett’s handpickedcrew let the clouds of climate reality dim their gas-fueled sunshine. Yet the best available sciencesuggests “lifecycle” natural gas has a dirtier greenhouse imprint than coal.

Corbett’s science—and economics—apparently derive from witch doctors.

Fossil fuels—all of them—have almost outlived useful days, but Corbett’s “voodoo economics”would make these ghouls twitch another 100 years. Enlightened Republicans—like Democrats—will resist voodoo’s lethal spell, and slay the gas zombies before it’s too late.

Submitted to FracTracker by Patrick Walker. Contact information: pjwalkerzorro@yahoo.com, or (570) 945-7621.

Bradford Era Guest Commentary – Drilling is Spreading like Cancer

by Jan Hendryx, DO

As the unconventional development of natural gas from shale drum keeps beating “jobsand money”, I find myself perplexed and dismayed by the lack of media attentiondevoted to the disastrous environmental havoc and potential serious health issues createdby this activity.

Over the last year, my wife and I have had our lives turned upside down by Marcellusshale development near our rural home in Mt. Jewett. We have been forced to educateourselves on a daily basis about the many complex issues associated with this activity.

As a physician, I am extremely concerned about the health of all citizens and futuregenerations due to adverse events and toxic water and air exposures associated with shaledevelopment. Unfortunately, our political leaders and gas industry executives do notappear to share this concern. They have effectively blocked access to information aboutthe multitude of poisonous chemicals in fracking fluid by exempting it from the SafeDrinking Water Act.

DEP permits massive volumes of inadequately treated residual wastewater from thesewells containing large amounts of total dissolved solids, volatile cancer-causing organiccompounds, and radioactive substances to be discharged daily into our rivers, includingthe Allegheny and Clarion. These chemicals travel downstream and can seep intosuperficial aquifers along the watershed banks, or are taken up directly at communitydrinking water intakes for public consumption. Everyone “in charge” seems content to sitacross the table from us and offer a neighborly fracking fluid/residual waste cocktail todrink, bathe in, and inhale.

Governor Corbett just announced a streamlining of gas well permitting, cut backs in stateemployees (most likely decreasing oversight by DEP), and is refusing to tax the naturalgas industry, while cutting state budgets in all areas. As our communities are strappedeconomically and the roads and infrastructure destroyed by the parade of trucks carryingdrilling equipment, fracking fluid, water, and residual waste to and from well sites, wecontinue to welcome the gas companies into our homes and on our land like they are theSecond Coming of the Christ.

Deep shale natural gas drilling is spreading like a fast-growing uncontrolled cancerthroughout Pennsylvania with hundreds of thousands of wells predicted to be drilledover the next few decades. A massive campaign by multinational gas companies,consulting “experts”, politicians, and now our universities is attempting to transformmuch of the northeast U.S. into the “next Saudi Arabia”. Our exposure to the chemicalsused in the hydrofracturing process will most likely cause a marked increase in cancerand other illnesses. Our environment, drinking water, air quality, property values,roadways, and quality of life are being destroyed at a rapid pace.

What the gas companies and politicians aren’t telling us is that this development isn’t justfor our own energy sustainability, but for export to other countries. Natural gas is alreadybeing shipped to China, India, and elsewhere.

We need to wake up and stop burying our heads in the sand regarding these issues. Weall need to educate ourselves about the myriad of problems, and stop being sweet-talkedby the politicians, media, radio and TV commercials. It is already too late for residentsin Bradford, Dimock, Hickory Township and other communities who have had theirdrinking water, and possibly their homes, destroyed by gas drilling. It is too late forcitizens who have seen their property values drop by 85% once their well or spring hasbecome polluted.

We collectively need to take a stand NOW and urge our state and federal representativesto enact a ban on further unconventional deep shale development until the issues can beappropriately researched, addressed and resolved–and before it is too late for the rest ofPennsylvania. Our future depends on it!

For information about gas drilling, permits, violations, spills, residual waste dumpingat water treatment plants, and health and environmental issues, I urge you to go towww.fractracker.org. This is a website maintained by the University of PittsburghGraduate School of Public Health. I also urge you to go to the New York Times website,www.nytimes.com and read the series of “Drilling Deep” articles published fromFebruary 27-March 8, 2011 about the Pennsylvania debacle.

Jan Hendryx, DO, maintains a clinical practice in Erie, and is a native Bradfordian.

The above article was originally published in the Bradford Era on 3/14/11.


If you would like something you have written or pictures you have taken regarding natural gas drilling to be published on FracTracker.org, please send us the document in an easily accessible file format (such as Word) to malone@fractracker.org. If you would like photographs to be included, include them in individual files (JPG’s or PNG’s) along with the email. Please provide your name and affiliation upon the submission of your piece.