Posts

Keeping Track of Hydraulic Fracturing in California

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Environmental regulations in California are considered conservative by most state standards. To name a few practices, the state has developed an air quality review board that conducts independent toxicological assessments on a level competitive with the U.S. EPA, and the state instituted the U.S.’s first green house gas cap and trade program. But most recently the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been criticized in the media for its lack of monitoring of hydraulic fracturing activity. DOGGR has been responsive to criticism and preemptive of legislative action and has begun a full review of all well-sites in California to identify which wells have been hydraulically fractured and plan to monitor future hydraulic fracturing. Additionally they have maintained historical records of all wells drilled, plugged, and abandoned in the state in web-accessible databases, which include data for oil and gas, geothermal, and injection wells, as well as other types of support wells such as pressure maintenance, steam flood etc.. The data is also viewable in map format on the DOGGR’s online mapping system (DOMS).

To understand what is missing from the DOGGR dataset, it was compared to the dataset extracted from FracFocus.org by SkyTruth. The map “Hydraulic Fracturing in California” compares these two datasets, which can be viewed individually or together as one dataset with duplicates removed. It is interesting to note the SkyTruth dataset categorizes 237 wells as hydraulically fractured that DOGGR does not, and identifies three wells (API #’s 11112215, 23727206, and 10120788) not identified in the DOGGR database. For the some of these 237 wells, DOGGR identifies them as new, which means they were recently drilled and hydraulically fractured and DOGGR will be updating their database. Many are identified as active oil and gas wells., while the rest are identified as well types other than oil and gas. Also the SkyTruth dataset from FracFocus data contains additional information about each well-site, which DOGGR does not provide. This includes volumes of water used for hydraulic fracturing and the fracture date, both of which are vital pieces of monitoring information.

The California State Legislature is currently reviewing California Senate Bill 4 (CA SB 4) written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), which would put in place a regulatory structure for permitting and monitoring hydraulic fracturing and other activity.  A caveat for acidification is also included that would require companies to obtain a specific permit from the state before acidizing a well.  The bill has received criticism from both industry and environmentalists.  While it does not call for a moratorium or regulate what chemicals are used, it is the first legislation that requires a full disclosure of all hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, including those considered proprietary.  This is the last of at least seven bills on the issue, the majority of which have been turned down by lawmakers. The most conservative bills (Assemblywoman Mitchell; D-Culver City) proposed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in the state. Earlier this year lawmakers approved a bill (Sen. Pavley; D-Agoura Hills) that would direct the state to complete and independent scientific risk assessment of hydraulic fracturing. The bill directs permitters to deny permits if the study is not finished by January 1, 2015, and also requires public notice before drilling as well as disclosure of chemicals (besides those considered proprietary). In May, a bill (Sen. Wold; D-Davis) was passed requiring drillers to file a $100,000 indemnity bond for each well, with an optional blanket indemnity bond of $5 million for operators with over 20 wells. Another bill (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) that would require monitoring of both transportation and disposal of wastewater was tabled until next year.

Although hydraulic fracturing has been conducted in California for over a decade, it was not monitored or regulated, and the majority of Californians were not aware of it. Industry groups have portrayed the lack of attention as a testament to its environmental neutrality, but Californians living smack dab in the middle of the drilling tend to tell a different story. The issue is now receiving attention because hydraulic fracturing is such a hotbed topic of contention, along with the potential future of the billions of barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale. The unconventional extraction technology necessary to recover the oil from these deep shale formations is state of the art, which means it is not tried and true. The methods include a combination of high tech approaches, such as horizontal drilling, high volume hydraulic fracturing, and acidification to name a few. Realize: if this technology existed for the last 60 years, the Monterey Shale would already have been developed long ago, along with the rest of the U.S. deep shale formations.

North Dakota Bakken Gas Flares

Gas Flaring and Venting: Data Availability and New Methods for Oversight

By Samir Lakhani, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance

In the hazy world of gas flaring and venting, finding worthwhile data often leads one to a dead end. Although the Energy Information Administration (EIA) holds the authority to require active oil/gas companies to disclose this data, they choose not to. EIA will not proceed with such actions because, “…assessing the volume of natural gas vented and flared would add significant reporting burdens to natural gas producers causing them substantial investments.” Additionally, the EIA is not confident that oil/gas producing companies have the capability to accurately estimate their own emissions from venting or flaring activities.

Piece-Meal

Some states do voluntarily submit their estimates, but only 8 of the nation’s 32 oil and gas producing states submit their data. This makes attempts for national estimates incomplete and inaccurate. State officials have repeatedly complained that the EIA has provided them with insufficient guidelines as to how the data should be submitted, and in what format. It appears the only way that concerned parties are able to monitor this practice is with satellite imagery from the sky, to literally watch flaring as it occurs.

Bird’s Eye View

The Bakken Shale Formation has received a considerable amount of attention. We’ve all seen the nighttime satellite images of North Dakota, where a normally quiet portion of the state light up like a bustling city. It is to be understood that not all the lights in this region are gas flares. Much of it is emergency lighting and temporary housing associated with drilling companies.

There are a few obvious issues with satellite surveillance. Firstly, it is difficult to monitor venting emissions from a bird’s eye perspective. Venting is the process by which unsought gas is purposely wafted from drill sites into the atmosphere. Venting is a much more environmentally costly decision compared to the ignited alternative, as pure natural gas is twenty times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. To monitor venting behavior, from up high, Infrared sensors must be used. Unfortunately, these emissions do not transmit well through the atmosphere. Proper detection must be made much closer to earth’s surface, perhaps from an airplane or on the ground. Secondly, flaring is almost impossible to detect during the day using satellites. One could equate it to attempting to see a flashlight’s beam when the sun is out. Lastly, when the time comes to churn out an estimate on how much gas is really being wasted—the statistics vary wildly.

Using SkyTruth’s satellite image, and GIS data retrieved from North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, it is now possible to pinpoint North Dakota’s most active gas flaring sites. Using this, more accurate estimates are now within reach. North Dakota gas drillers may flare their “associated” gas for up to one year. However, Officials at Mineral Management Service claim that it is not difficult to get an extension, due to economic hardship. There are always instances of gas/oil operators flaring or venting without authorization. In 2003, Shell paid a 49 million dollar settlement over an unnoticed gas flaring and venting operation that lasted several years. The beauty of satellite imagery and GIS detail is the observer’s ability to pinpoint flaring operations and by referencing the leases, evaluate whether or not such practices were authorized.

This map shows flaring activity in the Bakken Formation from January 1 through June 30, 2013. Please click the “Fullscreen” icon in the upper right hand corner to access the full set of map controls.

Regulation and Control

If flaring and venting are costly to the environment and result in a loss of company product (methane), you may ask why these practices are still conducted. Flaring and venting practices are cheaper than building the infrastructure necessary to harness this energy, unfortunately. To effectively collect this resource, a serious piping network is needed. It is as if a solar farm has been built in the desert, but there is no grid to take this power to homes. To lay down piping is an expensive endeavor, and it requires continuous repairs and on-site monitors. Even when North Dakota burns over 30% of their usable product, there is little initiative to invest in long term savings. A second method, called “green completions”, is becoming a more popular choice for oil and gas companies. A green completion is a portable refinery and condensate tank aimed to recover more than half of excess methane produced from drilling. Green completions are the best management practice of today, and the EPA wishes to implement green completion technology nationwide by 2015.

The best way to estimate gas flare and venting emissions is through submissions from gas/oil companies and to analyze the data using GIS applications. Concerned organizations and citizens should not have to rely on satellite services to watch over the towering infernos. There is new research coming out each day on adverse health effects from living in close proximity to a gas flare and vent. It releases a corrosive mixture of chemicals, and returns to the earth as acid rain. Please refer to this publication for a thorough assessment of possible health effects.

This issue is not limited to US borders only; flaring has wreaked havoc in South America, Russia, Africa, and the Middle-East. During the extraction of oil, gas may return to the surface. In many of these areas where oil drilling is prevalent, there are no well-developed gas markets and pipeline infrastructure, which makes venting and flaring a more attractive way to dispose of an unintentionally extracted resource. If the US were to make substantial changes to the way we monitor, regulate, and reduce gas flaring/venting, and accessibility to data, we would set the standard on an international level. Such policy changes include: carbon taxation, streamlining the leasing process (Many oil/gas officials despise the leasing applications for pipelines), installing flaring/venting meters and controls, and tax incentives (to flare and green complete, rather than vent).

All of these changes would tremendously reduce and regulate gas flaring in the US, but without accurate and comprehensive data these proposed policies are meaningless. Data is, and forever will be, the diving board on which policy and change is founded.


Special thanks to Paul Woods and Yolandita Franklin of Skytruth, for using VIIRS and IR technologies to compile the data for the above map.

Graphic by Eddie Lobanovskiy

PA Gas-Related Legislation

January 2016 Update

This project has been archived

From PennEnvironment comes a great resource for those who are trying to keep up with the ever-changing political environment in Pennsylvania: a list of PA gas legislation related to unconventional natural gas extraction. Many thanks to Kristen Tobin, Erika Staaf, and colleagues for making this information easily accessible to the public.

The listed will be updated periodically when new information becomes available. If you have any questions or comments regarding this information, please contact Erika. This list is organized alphabetically by the bill name/number. Last updated: June 3, 2013

Bill Number Sponsor Title/Description Last Action

HB 33 Rep. Kula An Act amending Title 53 (Municipalities Generally) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for subjects of local taxation and for valuation of property. Legislation Providing for a County Assessment on Oil and Gas. Jan. 9, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 66 Rep. Sturla An Act amending Title 66 (Public Utilities) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for requirements for natural gas suppliers and for requirements for electric generation suppliers. Legislation to Prohibit Certain Fees by Electric Generation Suppliers and Natural Gas Suppliers. Jan. 10, 2013 – Referred to House Committee of Consumer Affairs
HB 96 Rep. Godshall An Act amending the act of July 11, 2006 (P.L.1134, No.115), known as the Dormant Oil and Gas Act, further providing for purpose, for definitions and for creation of trust for unknown owners. Jan. 14, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 97
Former HB 375
Rep. Godshall An Act amending the act of July 11, 2006 (P.L.1134, No.115), known as the Dormant Oil and Gas Act, providing for oil and gas estate abandonment and for preservation of interests in oil and gas. Jan. 14, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 200 Rep. Vitali An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for distribution of fee and for Statewide initiatives; providing for the PA Sunshine Solar Program; and making a related repeal. Feb. 13, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 268 Rep. White An Act providing for disclosure of certain test results by the Department of Environmental Protection; and imposing a civil penalty. Jan. 23, 2013
-Referred to House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 301 Rep. Saylor An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a natural gas fleet vehicle tax credit; and imposing penalties. Apr. 24, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Finance
HB 305
Marcellus Works Package
Rep. Denlinger An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a natural gas corridor tax credit; and imposing penalties.
Feb. 5, 2013 – Referred to Finance
HB 307
Marcellus Works Package
Rep. Evankovich An Act amending the act of January 8, 1960 (1959 P.L.2119, No.787), known as the Air Pollution Control Act, providing for the Clean Vehicles Program. Feb. 5, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 309
Marcellus Works Package
Rep. Grove An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a natural gas vehicle tax credit. Feb. 5, 2013 – Referred to Finance
HB 351 Rep. Reed An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in general requirements, further providing for well permits. Jan. 29, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 402
Former HB 2320
Rep. Pickett An Act imposing duties on lessees of oil and natural gas leases; and providing for the recording of releases from oil and natural gas leases and of affidavits of termination or cancellation. Jan. 29, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 444 Rep. Causer An Act amending the act of May 17, 1929 (P.L.1798, No.591), referred to as the Forest Reserves Municipal Financial Relief Law, providing for distribution of timber, wood products and gas and oil ground rentals and royalties. Jan. 30, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 495 Rep. Boback An Act providing for the erosion and sedimentation program to be administered by delegation agreements between the Department of Environmental Protection and conservation districts. Co-sponsorship of Legislation – Provides for Erosion & Sedimentation Agreements Between DEP and County Conservation Districts. Feb. 4, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 661 Rep. Milne An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, in general requirements relating to development, further providing for use of safety devices. “Promoting the Natural Gas Sector by Enhancing Public Safety Communications” (Prior HB2312) Feb. 11, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 800
Formerly HB 230
Rep. Mundy An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for well location restrictions. “Reintroduction of Legislation: Prohibiting hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling within 2,500 feet of a primary source of a community water system Feb. 25, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 801
Formerly HB 234
Rep. Mundy An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for definitions and for well location restrictions. “Reintroduction of Legislation: Providing for the tracking of Marcellus Shale wastewater Feb. 25, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 880 Rep. Conklin An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, further providing for well permits. Mar. 11, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 881
Formerly HB 1631
Rep. Conklin An Act amending the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929, providing for toll-free response telephone number. Legislation Providing for a Telephone Number to Report Suspected Violations of Oil and Gas Laws Mar. 11, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 888 Rep. Millard An Act amending the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929, in powers and duties of Department of General Services and its departmental administrative and advisory boards and commissions, further providing for State heating system to be fueled by coal or natural gas. State heating system to be fueled by coal or natural gas Mar. 11, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on State Government
HB 904 Rep. Reese An Act providing for certain disclosure statements in easement agreements for certain natural gas pipelines Mar. 11, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on State Government
HB 950 Rep. Vitali An Act providing for a moratorium on leasing lands owned and managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the purposes of oil and natural gas development. Mar. 11, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 986 Rep. Everett An Act requiring well operators to provide complete water analysis results to the Department of Environmental Protection under certain circumstances. Mar. 13, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 994 Rep. Petri An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, further providing for well permits, for general gas storage reservoir operations and for regulations. Mar. 14, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 1015 Rep. M.K Keller An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a natural gas farm equipment conversion tax credit. Natural Gas Farm Equipment Conversion Tax Credit. Mar. 18, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on Finance
HB 1188 Rep. Payne An Act amending Title 66 (Public Utilities) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for sliding scale of rates and adjustments and for duties of natural gas distribution companies. Co-sponsorship – Representative Payne – amend Natural Gas Choice and Competition Act. Feb. 25, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HB 1414 Rep. Everett An Act amending the act of July 20, 1979 (P.L.183, No.60), entitled “An act regulating the terms and conditions of certain leases regarding natural gas and oil,” further providing for validity of leases and guaranteeing a royalty; adding definitions; providing for apportionment; further providing for commencement of guaranteed royalty; providing for payment information to interest owners and for accumulation of proceeds from production; and making editorial changes. Transparency of Deductions from Royalty Checks. May 16, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energyy
HR 106 Rep. Mundy A Resolution memorializing the Congress of the United States to repeal the provision in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts oil and gas industries from restrictions on hydraulic fracturing operations located near drinking water sources, and to require oil and gas industries to disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals and chemical constituents in the event of a medical emergency. Feb. 25, 2013 – Referred to Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
HR 249 Rep. Swanger A Resolution supporting continued and increased development and delivery of oil derived from North American oil reserves to American refineries and urging the President and Congress of the United States to support the continued and increased production and use of American natural gas. Resolution re: Gas Prices and Domestic Oil Drilling. Apr. 16, 2013 – Referred to House Committee on State Government
HB 683 Rep. Haluska An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in arson, criminal mischief and other property destruction, providing for the offense of interfering with agricultural operations. Feb. 12 – Referred to Judiciary
SB 154 Sen. Greenleaf An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, providing for gas mineral rights lease agreement disclosure and indemnification. Jan. 15, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 213 Sen. Farnese An Act transferring funds from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority Fund for investments in Pennsylvania-related companies that promote the development of next-generation infrastructure technologies or technology-related investments to support development of life science, information technology or green energy industries. Feb. 1, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 218 Sen. Solobay An Act amending the act of July 9, 2008 (1st Sp.Sess., P.L.1873, No.1), known as the Alternative Energy Investment Act, further providing for alternative and clean energy supply chain initiatives. Solar & Natural Gas Supply Chain Initiative. Feb. 4, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development
SB 258 Sen. Yaw An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in particular rights and immunities, providing for actions to quiet title involving subsurface rights. Abandonment of Mineral Rights Jan. 17, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 259 Sen. Yaw An Act amending the act of July 20, 1979 (P.L.183, No.60), entitled “An act regulating the terms and conditions of certain leases regarding natural gas and oil,” adding definitions; providing for payment information to interest owners for accumulation of proceeds from production; and making editorial changes. Division Order for Royalties Feb. 5, 2013(50-0) [Senate] –Third consideration and final passage
SB 291 Sen. Erickson An Act establishing a program for the purchase of certain types of environmental liability insurance and for subsidies for the costs of premiums; and providing for powers and duties of the Department of Environmental Protection. Jan. 24, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 355 Sen. Yaw An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, consolidating the Oil and Gas Conservation Law with modifications relating to definitions, standard unit order, process, administration, standard of review, hearings and appeals, establishment of units, integration of various interests, lease extension and scope; providing for gas and hazardous liquids pipelines; and making a related repeal. Jan. 31, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 356 Sen. Yaw An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for lease extended by production. Jan. 31, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 411 Sen. Kasunic An Act amending Title 27 (Environmental Resources) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for definitions, for eligibility and project inventory, for landowner liability limitation and exceptions, for project liability limitation and exceptions and for exceptions. Use of Acid Mine Water for Hydraulic Fracturing and Industrial Applications. Feb. 12, 2013 – First consideration
Mar. 13, 2013 -Laid on the table
SB 459 Sen. Costa An Act relating to safe drinking water; establishing the Emergency Drinking Water Support Fund; and providing for testing, for purchase of clean drinking water and for surcharge. Well Water Testing Fund Feb. 8, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 504 Sen. Dinniman An Act amending the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929, in powers and duties of Department of Environmental Protection, further providing for cooperation with municipalities. DEP Public Notification and Access to Information Act; Pipeline Acre-for-Acre; and Condemnation Approval Feb. 26, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 506 Sen. Dinniman An Act amending the act of December 22, 2011 (P.L.586, No.127), known as the Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Act, further providing for definitions; and providing for recreational use and for storm water runoff.  DEP Public Notification and Access to Information Act; Pipeline Acre-for-Acre; and Condemnation Approval Feb. 26, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 507 Sen. Dinniman An Act amending the act of June 30, 1981 (P.L.128, No.43), known as the Agricultural Area Security Law, further providing for limitation on certain governmental actions. DEP Public Notification and Access to Information Act; Pipeline Acre-for-Acre; and Condemnation Approval Feb. 26, 2013 – Referred to Agriculture and Rural Affairs
SB 512 Sen. Kasunic An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, further providing for enforcement orders. Feb. 20, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 540 Sen. Leach An Act providing for a moratorium on leasing State forest lands for the purposes of natural gas exploration, drilling or production; imposing duties on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and providing for report contents and for Legislative Budget and Finance Committee study. Moratorium on Leasing State Forest Land for Natural Gas Drilling Feb. 21, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 544 Sen. Leach An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in development, further providing for hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure requirements. Physician access to and disclosure of chemicals in Marcellus Shale hydro-fracking Feb. 21, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 555 Sen. Scarnati An Act establishing the Health Advisory Panel on Shale Gas Extraction and Natural Gas Use; and providing for its powers and duties. Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel. Physician access to and disclosure of chemicals in Marcellus Shale hydro-fracking Mar. 20, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare
SB 592 Sen Fontana An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for protection of water supplies. Co Sponsorship: Water Testing Results by DEP Mar. 1, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SB 738 Sen Yaw An Act providing for distribution system extension and expansion plans to increase natural gas usage in this Commonwealth. Pennsylvania Natural Gas Expansion and Development Initiative. Co Sponsorship: Water Testing Results by DEP May 7, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Appropriations
SB 739 Sen Yaw An Act amending the act of July 9, 2008 (1st Sp.Sess., P.L.1873, No.1), known as the Alternative Energy Investment Act, further providing for Commonwealth Financing Authority. Co Sponsorship: Water Testing Results by DEP May 7, 2013 – Re-Referred to Senate Committee on Appropriations
SB 941 Sen Yudichak An Act amending the act of June 28, 1995 (P.L.89, No.18), known as the Conservation and Natural Resources Act, further providing for forests. Legislation to Require A Public Hearing Before Leasing State Land. Co Sponsorship: Water Testing Results by DEP May 15, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy
TBA Sen. Ferlo An Act enacting a moratorium on unconventional well natural gas drilling in the Commonwealth. The moratorium would prohibit the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from issuing new unconventional well permits while a seven member commission studies the varied environmental impacts that the natural gas industry has on the Commonwealth. . Memorandum posted on April 30, 2013
SR 29 Sen. Yaw A Resolution directing the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to study the potential for increased residential, commercial and industrial natural gas distribution infrastructure by Pennsylvania’s public utilities to unserved and underserved areas of this Commonwealth. Mar. 14, 2013 – Transmitted as directed
SR 38 Sen. Solobay A Resolution directing the Department of General Services to conduct a study to determine the associated costs and feasibility of converting and retrofitting State-owned vehicles with compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas engines for the purpose of modernizing the State fleet. State Fleet Natural Gas Vehicle Study. Mar. 1, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on State Government
SR 39 Sen. Alloway A Resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study of the establishment, implementation and administration of fees for the consumptive use and degradation of water. Consumptive Use of Water Mar. 13, 2013 – Referred to Environmental Resources and Energy
SR 57 Sen. Cornman A Resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study on the feasibility and effectiveness of converting the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority bus system to natural gas fuel. LBFC Natural Gas Fuel Study for SEPTA Buses. Consumptive Use of Water Apr. 4, 2013 – Referred to Senate Committee on Transportation

Last updated: June 3, 2013

Controversy in the Loyalsock

Controversy in the Loyalsock

By Mark Szybist, Staff Attorney, PennFuture

What are the Clarence Moore Lands?

The Clarence Moore lands are 25,621 acres of “split estate” lands in the Loyalsock State Forest where the surface rights are owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the oil and gas rights are owned by two private parties – an affiliate of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (Anadarko) and a private company called International Development Corporation (IDC). The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) calls this acreage the “Clarence Moore lands,” after an individual who once owned the area’s oil and gas interests.

What is the controversy over the Clarence Moore lands?

The Clarence Moore lands have become controversial because Anadarko wants to drill gas wells on them (and build compressor stations, water impoundments, pipelines, and new roads). Because of the ecological and recreational sensitivity of the Clarence Moore lands, PA’s conservation community (and much of the general public) wants the DCNR to use its substantial powers to minimize surface activities, if not prevent them altogether.

In general, when a “split estate” exists in PA, the party that owns or controls the oil and gas estate has an implied right to use the surface that it does not own in order to extract oil and gas. The Clarence Moore lands present an exception to this rule. Due to a provision in the Commonwealth’s deed, the DCNR has the power to deny Anadarko access to 18,870 acres of the Clarence Moore lands – almost 75%. To obtain access, Anadarko needs a right-of-way from the DCNR. Conservationists are arguing that given this power, the DCNR has leverage to protect all of the Clarence Moore lands – including the 6,841 acres where Anadarko appears to have traditional “split estate” surface rights.

In March 2012 Anadarko submitted to the DCNR a development plan for the Clarence Moore lands. For almost a year, a coalition of conservation, recreation, fishing and hunting organizations (and thousands of private citizens) have been pressing the DCNR to conduct a public input process on the Clarence Moore lands before making any agreement with Anadarko. The coalition wants the DCNR to make public its environmental impact analyses, allow public comment on all development and non-development alternatives, and protect the Clarence Moore lands for future generations of Pennsylvania citizens. In April 2013 the DCNR conducted an invitation-only meeting about the Clarence Moore lands for “local stakeholders,” followed by a webinar in collaboration with the Penn State Extension of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. The DCNR announced on May 22, 2013 that it would hold a public meeting in Williamsport on June 3rd.

Why are the Clarence Moore lands so important?

The Clarence Moore lands are a wealth of ecological and recreational resources. They include the Old Loggers Path (OLP), an acclaimed 27-mile hiking trail that follows former logging trails and opens onto stunning vistas. According to DCNR documents, the OLP “will be taking the brunt of development [from Anadarko’s activities].”

The Clarence Moore lands include most of the watershed of Rock Run, an Exceptional Value (EV) stream widely hailed as the most beautiful stream in Pennsylvania. The headwaters of Rock Run and Pleasant Stream, another EV stream, emerge from ridge-top wetlands that provide habitat for several threatened or endangered plant and animal species.

The Clarence Moore lands provide habitat for numerous plant and animal species that Pennsylvania has classified as threatened, rare, or at risk (or determined to be candidates for these classifications). Among these species (to name just a few): the timber rattlesnake, northern water shrew, creeping snowberry, northern bulrush, northern goshawk, and yellow-bellied flycatcher. The Clarence Moore lands have been designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. (See p. 82 of this PDF).

Finally, the Clarence Moore lands are one of only a few large public land areas in north-central PA that have not been opened to gas development, and still contain relatively unfragmented forests.  The DCNR has already leased almost 21,000 other acres of Loyalsock (the forest is around 114,000 acres in all), and has also leased much of the Tiadaghton State Forest to the west and the Tioga State Forest to the north.

FracTracker map of Clarence Moore Lands and Activity

The map above shows the Clarence Moore lands as yellow and blue areas within the Loyalsock State Forest. In the yellow areas, the DCNR has exclusive control of the surface. In the blue areas, Anadarko has the right to use the surface to extract oil and gas. The locations of the yellow and blue Clarence Moore areas are based on documents obtained by PennFuture through the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law (RTKL) and on maps that the DCNR presented at the April 2013 webinar noted above.

The map also shows the oil and gas wells, pipelines, roads, compressor stations, and impoundments that conservationists believe Anadarko has proposed to build in the Clarence Moore lands. The locations of this infrastructure are based on the RTKL documents and on hikers’ observations of survey flags within the Loyalsock State Forest.


Questions and comments about this issue or the June 3rd public meeting can be directed to Mark Szybist: Szybist@pennfuture.org.

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

A Fresh Opportunity in the FRESHER Act

By Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition

Love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that Stephen Colbert can grab a headline. Recently he’s had a lot to say about environmental protection, energy and water. Last week he reported on the Pegasus Pipeline Spill in Arkansas and reminded us that what’s “out of sight” and “out of mind” might still be in our drinking water. Those of us in Pennsylvania familiar with Talisman Terry have yet to forget his exposé on the children’s coloring book that attempts to teach kids about hydraulic fracturing through the expertise of a friendly Frackasaurus. This leaves me wondering if Colbert might ask Congressman Matt Cartwright about his legislative attempts to apply stricter federal protections to oil and gas development when the Pennsylvania Congressman appears on Stephen’s “Better Know a District” segment in early May.

In March 2013, Congressman Cartwright (PA-17) introduced the “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act” or FRESHER act. Because of expanding development of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania and exploration, construction, and operations in almost 30 other states, Mr. Cartwright introduced legislation aimed at fixing a federal Clean Water Act loophole to control stormwater runoff from for oil and gas operations. Under the Clean Water Act, industrial facilities are required to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their sites and develop “Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans” if disturbing more than one acre of land. However, Congress exempted oil and gas operations from both of these requirements. By closing the loophole, the FRESHER Act would provide for stronger oversight as both regulators and the public would be aware of industry plans to control pollution. The bill would also require a federal study of stormwater impacts in areas that might be contaminated by stormwater runoff pollution from oil and gas operations.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Many of us working in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are often asked about the impacts that increasing natural gas activity may have on our local waters and the larger Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Considering the ongoing challenges we have with sediment impacts to our local waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the pollution limits we now have in place to bring the Bay back to health, many are asking how we quantify these impacts. In addition to increased sediment pollution largely carried by stormwater runoff, others are also asking what impact a change in our land use might have as we convert farm fields and forests to well pads. Furthermore, many are asking about roads and pipelines and cumulative impacts. All good questions – and these are just related to natural gas development and its relationship to existing pollution limits and cleanup plans. There are a host of additional questions being asked about drinking water, emissions, groundwater contamination, methane migration, and health and safety.

Mapping a Better Picture

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells in PA’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Click here to view dynamic, PA map of unconventional wells

To get an idea of the impacts of the oil and gas industry in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we turned to our colleagues at the FracTracker Alliance. FracTracker is committed to working with partners – citizens, organizations, and institutions – in a quest for objective, helpful information to perpetuate awareness and support actions that protect public health, the environment, and socioeconomic well-being. FracTracker collects, interprets and shares data through a website and mapping tool. When it came time to understand impacts, we asked for and received some numbers.

In the portion of Pennsylvania that has waterways draining to the Chesapeake Bay, there have been 5,137 oil and gas wells drilled since 2005*. This number includes both conventional and unconventional wells and vertical and horizontal wells (see map on right). Pennsylvania defines an “unconventional well” as one that is drilled into an unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation between the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing. In short, the definition does include wells drilled within the Marcellus Shale formation. We are continuing to work with FracTracker to obtain similar information on West Virginia.

In Practice

I don’t want to leave the impression that oil and gas development, specifically gas development because of hydraulic fracturing, is an unregulated industry. For example, Pennsylvania already requires erosion & sediment permits for activities involving earth disturbance activities over five acres. I’m also not attempting to get into the patchwork of state-by-state regulations of the oil and gas industry, but Congressman Cartwright’s legislation would ensure that oil and gas companies have stormwater-related permits and pollution prevention plans in place prior to well pad development. The lack of oversight and permitting represents a significant threat to our waterways in places without adequate accountability mechanisms. It’s a fresh opportunity to address an ongoing challenge. We hope Mr. Colbert might just ask Mr. Cartwright about his efforts as we get to know PA’s 17th district. We think he might just say the FRESHER Act is good for his Congressional district and the region.

Written by Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition


*For those who prefer to read statistics in a table format, see below:

Number of PA Drilled Wells in Chesapeake Basin 1/1/05 – 3/20/13

Well Type Conventional Unconventional Total
Vertical 1197 461 1658
Horizontal 5 3474 3479

Total 1202 3935 5137

Life and Times of Loyalsock

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, and Samantha Malone, Manager of Science and Communications

It’s so quiet you can hear moss squish underfoot and the tapping of a woodpecker a quarter-mile distant. These are the sounds of a lesser-known Pennsylvania Wilds, the lush woodlands and rock-studded beauty of the  Loyalsock State Forest.  Picture a pristine landscape of ferny grottos, expansive bogs, and blueberries ripe for the picking.   The squeaky-clean air seems hyper-enriched, a photosynthetic side-effect of stands thick with maple, birch, hemlock, and pine. Currents of endless streams race impatiently. Rattlesnakes shy but leery, lie and rest.

Across Lycoming and Sullivan counties, the shale gas industry is leaving its industrial footprint, from the iconic Pine Creek Valley through Tiagdaghton State Forest to the Loyalsock and environs.  Yet while Williamsport booms from the infusion of gas, many of the hidden, ecologically-rich spaces of the Loyalsock – from Rock Run to Devil’s Elbow – still whisper.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), of the 2.2 million acres in the state forest system, 675,000 acres are available for gas development. This includes 385,400 acres under Commonwealth-issued leases and 290,000 acres of where the agency doesn’t own the oil and gas rights. The latter scenario applies to 25,621 acres of the Loyalsock’s 114,494 acres where “severed” rights are owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and International Development Corporation.

Circa July 2012, there is ample evidence of the changes on the horizon. The oranges and yellows of seismic testing equipment (photo left) adorn the sleepy forest roads and the electric pink of ribbon markers decorates the trees and ground. The few leased cabins look lost and lonely, but soon they could have the steady companionship of hundreds of trucks rumbling past their doors carrying water, sand, and some not-so-benign chemicals and waste fluids. The narrow, dirt roads – bound to require widening and repair – are probably inadequate for such intensive use and potentially treacherous for heavy rigs, occasionally known to roll down steep embankments and spill their secrets.  Heavy traffic and structurally-degraded roads can cause significant sediment pollution as suggested by the studies of the Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Roads. Sediment is the enemy of native brook trout, our handsome state fish, who adamantly require cool, clear water to survive. Currently, there’s an abundance of such good water within Loyalsock.

But traffic and roadway impacts are but one piece of the shale gas puzzle. Could well casings fail and methane bubble into surface waters (recent accidents in Bradford County and Tioga County are suspected of causing just such problems)? How much will air quality be degraded by diesel emissions from trucks, pumps, generators, drill rigs, and other equipment? How will floodlights and flaring affect star-packed skies or the incessant drone of compressor stations antagonize solitude? While off the beaten path, the forest sees its share of visitors, and recreational trails are a signature of the region. The 27-mile Old Logger’s Path (photo below) is a backpacker’s dream crisscrossing a world of palpable wonders and subterranean severed rights.

Hiking, a popular recreation, and the forest’s quality scenery are big components of tourism, consistently one of Pennsylvania’s leading industries. According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, visitor spending across the Commonwealth totaled $34.2 billion in 2010. Comparatively, Penn State research (p.31) indicated that, “…the Marcellus gas industry increased Pennsylvania’s value added by $11.2 billon” for 2010. In the northeastern Pennsylvania, drilling is slowing due in part to the low price of natural gas. The ramifications for the Loyalsock are uncertain but the lasting attraction of idyllic open spaces is unequivocal.

Nevertheless, Anadarko and its partner seek the gas near the Old Loggers Path and vulnerable populations of forest interior birds. Such species require large unbroken tracts of contiguous forest. A recent study in Environmental Management authored by P.J. Drohan, Margaret Brittingham, and others reports that 26% of well pads in the Susquehanna basin are located in core forests (many on DCNR lands). The study quotes a DCNR paper: “further (shale gas) development on state forests is likely to alter the ecological integrity and wild character of state forests.” The authors believe other research supports that assertion.

The Loyalsock is a microcosm of the state forest-shale gas paradigm.  As of a March 2012 DCNR presentation, 814 Marcellus well locations had been approved by the Bureau of Forestry on state forest land and 447 Marcellus wells had been drilled in the state forests including more than 80 well pads. The agency estimates a total of 3810 new Marcellus wells by 2018. With an average well pad size of about five acres, many miles of new and widened roads, even more miles of pipelines, plus intermittent water impoundments and compressor stations, it’s easy to wonder what our state forests will soon look like. And what about the legacy of silviculture cultivated by Pinchot, Rothrock, and other conservation pioneers?  The Pennsylvania state forest system is certified by the Rainforest Alliance under Forest Stewardship Council standards ensuring that the products coming from these forests are managed in an environmentally-responsible manner. At what threshold of shale gas activity will this certification – which adds significant value to finished wood products – be jeopardized?

Since it is likely that Anadarko and its partner will pursue their claims, the fate of the severed parts of the Loyalsock may be shaped by the existence or lack-thereof of a surface use agreement between Anadarko and DCNR. Where DCNR has leased and controls oil and gas rights, a surface use agreement is entered into that steers the development activity in a more sustainable manner and away from especially sensitive forest features. In the case of severed rights, there is uncertainty about the applicability of surface use agreements. However, with little else to ameliorate the collateral damage of gas development in undeveloped surroundings, prudence would suggest it’s a tool worth using.

The stakes are high. DCNR’s own list of “challenges” posed by shale gas for state forest lands include: surface disturbance, forest fragmentation, habitat loss and species impacts, invasive plants, loss of wild character, recreation conflicts, water use and disposal. With the mission of the Bureau of Forestry to “ensure the long-term health, viability and productivity of the Commonwealth’s forests and to conserve native wild plants,” they have their work cut out for them, especially as more drilling tracts are developed.

In the months to come, the industry will be watched, technologies will change, activists will speak, parties will talk; meanwhile, the big, old rattlers, wise but weary, grow restless.

Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.

Barriers to Public Health in HB 1950

By Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP – Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University; Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute; and Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.I feel very strongly that the language of Pennsylvania’s HB 1950 (found below this commentary) is detrimental to the delivery of personal health care services and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.

This legislation blocks health care professionals and public health professionals from collecting information in a timely fashion to treat workers or others who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals and from gathering information about public health hazards. There is no medical or public health rational for imposing these cumbersome and time consuming restrictions; and, conversely, there is every medical and public health reason for making this information available to medical personnel and the general public.

This legislation will also likely block any attempt at gathering information for research purposes, although, I’m certainly not a lawyer and would defer to the expertise of someone with a background in public health law.

Irrespective of one’s personal or organizational perspective on unconventional natural gas extraction, access to this information will protect individuals who have been exposed, health care workers called upon to treat these individuals, and the general public. I hope that the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the state family medicine and public health associations, with appropriate support from their national bodies, take notice of this legislation and follow up appropriately.

(This commentary was written prior to the passing of HB 1950 and has been slightly revised to reflect the current status of the bill. Learn about additional concerns related to this bill in a previous FracTracker post.)

Dr. Marilyn J. Heine, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, recently wrote an op-ed regarding this issue, as well.


Snippet of HB 1950:

18 (10) A vendor, service company or operator shall
19 identify the specific identity and amount of any chemicals
20 claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary
21 information to any health professional who requests the
22 information in writing if the health professional executes a
23 confidentiality agreement and provides a written statement of
24 need for the information indicating all of the following:
25 (i) The information is needed for the purpose of
26 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
27 (ii) The individual being diagnosed or treated may
28 have been exposed to a hazardous chemical.
29 (iii) Knowledge of information will assist in the
30 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.

1 (11) If a health professional determines that a medical
2 emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any
3 chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential
4 proprietary information are necessary for emergency
5 treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall
6 immediately disclose the information to the health
7 professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health
8 professional that the information may not be used for
9 purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the
10 health professional shall maintain the information as
11 confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may
12 request, and the health professional shall provide upon
13 request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality
14 agreement from the health professional as soon as
15 circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations
16 promulgated under this chapter.
17 (c) Disclosures not required.–Notwithstanding any other
18 provision of this chapter, a vendor, service provider or
19 operator shall not be required to do any of the following:
20 (1) Disclose chemicals that are not disclosed to it by
21 the manufacturer, vendor or service provider.
22 (2) Disclose chemicals that were not intentionally added
23 to the stimulation fluid.
24 (3) Disclose chemicals that occur incidentally or are
25 otherwise unintentionally present in trace amounts, may be
26 the incidental result of a chemical reaction or chemical
27 process or may be constituents of naturally occurring
28 materials that become part of a stimulation fluid.
29 (d) Trade secrets and confidential proprietary
30 information.–

1 (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter,
2 a vendor, service company or operator shall not be required
3 to disclose trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information to the chemical disclosure registry.
5 (2) The following shall apply:
6 (i) If the specific identity of a chemical, the
7 concentration of a chemical or both the specific identity
8 and concentration of a chemical are claimed to be a trade
9 secret or confidential proprietary information, the
10 vendor, service provider or operator may withhold the
11 specific identity, the concentration, or both the
12 specific identity and concentration, of the chemical from
13 the information provided to the chemical disclosure
14 registry.
15 (ii) Nothing under this paragraph shall prohibit any
16 of the following from obtaining from a vendor, service
17 provider or operator information that may be needed to
18 respond to a spill or release:
19 (A) The department.
20 (B) A public health official.
21 (C) An emergency manager.
22 (D) A responder to a spill, release or a
23 complaint from a person who may have been directly
24 and adversely affected or aggrieved by the spill or
25 release.
26 (iii) Upon receipt of a written statement of need
27 for the information under subparagraph (ii), the
28 information shall be disclosed by the vendor, service
29 provider or operator to the requesting official or entity
30 authorized under subparagraph (ii) and shall not be a

1 public record.
2 (e) Disclosure prevented.–The department shall prevent
3 disclosure of trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information under this section pursuant to the requirements of
5 the Right-to-Know Law or other applicable State law.


Author Contact Information:
Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP

  • Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University
  • Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute
  • Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite #317
Washington, DC 20007
202-471-4891
jpaulson@childrensnational.org
www.childrensnational.org/advocacy
www.childrensnational.org/MACCHE

HB 1950 votes and numbers of wells

Covert Affairs in the Commonwealth

trans·par·ent  [trans-pair-uhnt, -par-]

adjective

    1. admitting the passage of light through interstices.
    2. easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.

antonyms:  opaque  |  secretive  |  HB 1950

While House Bill 1950 is not actually listed as an antonym to “transparent” in the dictionary, its passing certainly acted that way. On February 8, 2012, PA’s HB 1950 was quickly bullied through the Senate and House with very little public transparency on what it contained. The lack of transparency during the move to pass the bill is similar to that of a drilled wells map for PA (yes, that’s a corny GIS joke). It now awaits the signature of Gov. Corbett – who has thanked the General Assembly for passing it. While HB 1950 institutes a sort-of impact tax that counties can decide whether or not to implement, the fee is the lowest in the country and is dependent partly on the [low] commercial price of gas. The bill also reduces the ability of local municipalities from individually zoning drilling (including pipelines). Tack onto all of that the fact that the data on these wells is just not up to speed with the pace of drilling. In one of Matt’s recent post about how many permits there are in PA right now, he notes that not even the PA DEP numbers can give you a straight answer. These numerical discrepancies make you wonder how thoroughly any permitting site assessments can be conducted when not all of the well locations can be accounted for. That issue makes the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center’s recent report looking at drilling data even more frightening. Their analysis revealed that the gas drilling industry was responsible for 3,355 Marcellus Violations  between 2008 and 2011, many of which were not simply paperwork violations. At least the money set aside in the proposed state budget for improving emergency response on drills sites will be well worth it.

Ah yes, the proposed state budget… This intriguing reading was introduced by the Governor on the 8th, as well. According to John Quigley there is much to love and even more to hate in the 2012-13 budget proposal. To start off, this version of the budget WOULD NOT reopen the state forests to more leasing, something that many environmental groups were concerned could happen to help alleviate the state’s budget deficit. However, the Keystone Fund monies ($46 million) WOULD be reallocated into the general fund. This would be a major setback to conservation work because normally the money would be granted out to land trusts and conservation groups. That means less conservation work all around – at a time when it’s is needed more than ever.

There is much more to all of these issues, but instead of reinventing the wheel, here is a nice summary about the lack of transparency related to HB 1950. If you are interested in seeing how your representative voted on HB 1950, click on these links: PA House Roll Call Votes | PA Senate Roll Call Votes or check out the map below showing two layers of data on the:

  1. Number of wells per PA Senate district on a light to dark purple spectrum (darker indicates more wells)
  2. Vote on HB 1950, with green hatching indicating “yes” votes and red hatching indicating “no” votes.
To get the most out of this map: zoom in to your area of interest, click on the identify “i” button, and then click on a place on the map that you would like to learn more about.

 

A World Without Research

When times are economically demanding, the first tendency of regulators is to suggest cutting non-essential programs. Unfortunately, many of those ‘non-essentials’ include public services and research, which are pivotal to the progress of our nation. Mostly as a mental exercise, I’d like everyone to ask themselves where we would we be if we did not fund such research:

  • You would not be reading this article on the internet, as it was pioneered by those that developed the Large Hadron Collider.
  • The paths of hurricanes and tornadoes would be terribly difficult to predict.
  • One out of every ~nine babies worldwide would be claimed by smallpox.
  • Medical MRI technology would not exist – pioneered by a chemist and a physicist.

DCNR Changes

DCNR Lands & Active Permits

Located more close to home are Pennsylvania’s recent funding cuts on ecological projects. Those in power have claimed that their regulatory decisions regarding unconventional natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale layer are based on science. However, the funding for the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR) to provide data on the health of PA’s ecosystem is aggressively being cut by those same individuals. On January 18, 2012, NPR reported that documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania (among others) suggest that the funding for scientific endeavors within DCNR currently focusing on drilling-related issues is actively being slashed by the state. The agency’s wildlife research program has been cut by almost 70%, specifically impacting the projects dealing with understanding the impacts of drilling. The rationale for why some projects were cut and not others has not been provided, nor was the reason for failing to involve the conservation team in such funding decisions. Also recently, the director of DCNR’s citizens advisory committee was fired by the Corbett administration. The committee has oversight of the state’s parks and forests. These significant changes could significantly affect the accountability of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in PA’s forests.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a major budget deficit to deal with, no doubt. However, in the face of financial crises compounded by overlapping priorities on a policy level, it is even more crucial that we use real evidence – science – to create policies and make decisions. How can we do that when we are cutting the very channels that provide us with the data? Without access to reliable data and information about how PA’s ecosystem is dealing with drilling, our policy-makers will find it more difficult to make well-informed decisions. Without programs that provide up-to-date and reliable impact data, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that lead to today’s legacy pollution sites – for which tax-payers are now encumbered to remediate!

Read more about the DCNR cuts in NPR’s full article.

Cuts as Pace of Drilling Intensifies

Inadequate access to quality data is an issue that is only going to become more concerning as the pace of the shale gas industry intensifies. (There were 785 Marcellus wells drilled in 2009; 1,461 in 2010; and 1,920 in 2011.) Forty percent of PA’s state forests are already leased out for shale gas drilling, and there has also been some discussion about the likelihood of lifting the moratorium (ban) on further drilling. Learn more here.

As another point of reference regarding the scale of shale gas drilling in PA, below is a map of all of the Marcellus Shale wells drilled in the state as of 1-12-12 created with data from the PA DEP using Data.FracTracker.org


Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH is a doctorate student in the Environmental and Occupational Health department of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Communications Specialist for FracTracker.org. She can be reached at: malone@fractracker.org  |  412-648-8641

Violations Jan-Sept 2011 PA (EHS highlighted with red dots)

A discussion on regulation and safety

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – DrPH Student in Environmental & Occupational Health; Communications Specialist for FracTracker.org

As natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region of our country moves forward, people in many states are debating over the best ways to regulate the natural gas industry. I’m not going to get into the impact fee discussion in this piece, although it is an obvious point of contention that needs addressed in PA immediately. Rather, I’d like to propose a way to manage the permitting and future development of the companies operating in this field.

Pipeline Safety

There are 2.5 million miles of pipelines in the U.S., the majority of which are for gas transmission and distribution. A recent 4-part series by the Philadelphia Inquirer brought to light the real and potential dangers of the gas pipeline system, which is being expanded in PA to handle the Marcellus gas destined for the market. The biggest concern highlighted in these articles in my opinion is the lack of oversight anywhere in the process – especially when our regulatory officials cannot even locate the pipelines. (Specific geographic locations of pipelines are often held close to the chest due to the perception that this information poses a risk to national security and infrastructure.)

Pipelines do fail, as demonstrated by the toxic liquid spills map below. This graphic was created by the New York Times, who in a earlier article discussed the lack of human and fiscal resources available to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – noting that although the number of spills have declined, pipelines are still responsible for approximately 100 significant spills per year.

NYTs: U.S. Pipeline Incidents 1990 - June 2011

NEW YORK TIMES | Source: Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

If you’d like to be able to find where pipelines are located (approximately) in your county, visit the U.S. DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) website for Pipeline Safety Awareness. The site also provides you with data about pipeline incidents. In case you would rather not go diving through the raw data, below are some U.S. pipeline incident datasets and example maps from 2010 – Nov 2011 data that  Matt Kelso obtained from PHMSA:

  • PHMSA Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Incidents: Dataset | Map
  • PHMSA Gas Distribution Pipeline Incidents: Dataset | Map
  • PHMSA Gas Transmission Pipeline Incidents: Dataset | Map
(You can do a lot more with this data, such as filtering it by whether surface water remediation was necessary or by the type of contaminant that was released.)

Violations in PA

Violations Jan-Sept 2011 PA (EHS highlighted with red dots)

Violations Jan-Sept 2011 PA (EHS violations in red)

Another concern about natural gas drilling is the risk of environmental health and safety incidents occurring throughout the rest of the drilling process.1

The map to the left created using Data.FracTracker.org shows all of the violations that were issued to drillers from Jan-Sept. 2011 in Pennsylvania. The red dots are the violations that fall under the DEP’s loose category of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS).2

As you can see, EHS incidents do occur, but is that the whole story? Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, who exactly is responsible for these incidents – pipelines and the like? When you look more closely at the data the industry’s safety record becomes less monolithic than at first glance.

Focusing on the Bad Actors

The PR surrounding natural gas drilling is controversial at best. We have seen blanket statements about how safe – and dangerous – natural gas drilling and pipelines can be. We all must recognize that the answer lies somewhere in between. However, where is the perfect medium located, and how do we address the root of the problems that do arise?

One approach that is taken by some regulatory bodies such as OSHA is to focus on the bad actors. In two of his more recent posts, FracTracker’s Matt Kelso analyzed the ‘bad actors’ that exist within the violations issued in PA. While this is certainly not an easy or straightforward task, he was able to identify operators with the highest and lowest violations per well drilled, as well as trends between 2010 and 2011. Check out these analyses here: Part 1 |  Part 2.

Bad actors are not good for the industry’s PR or the Commonwealth’s residents. If the agencies responsible for issuing drilling permits quantitatively began to take violation trends into account, this would allow the safer drillers to continue operating, while limiting those with a less than appealing track record.


1 One of the great changes made by the PA Department of Environmental Protection in the last 2 years has been the transfer from the paper record system for keeping track of the violations they issue to a digital version that allows people access to the comprehensive, raw data. This is certainly also something that should be on NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation radar prior to issuing its first permit for high volume hydraulic fracturing.

2 EHS violations are a loose category because often times when we sift through the data we will find administrative oversights like paperwork mislabeled as EHS, and more serious spills and fires mislabeled as administrative.