PA Marcellus News Digest
November 16, 2012
DEP Approves Modified Pipeline Crossing in Chester County
NORRISTOWN -- The Department of Environmental Protection today approved a project that will allow Williams-Transco to replace a portion of its existing pipeline in East Brandywine and East Caln townships, Chester County.
EPA chief Lisa Jackson may be moving on
In the Loop
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, said by insiders to be en route shortly back home to New Jersey after four years here, was in fine form last week at the big Environmental Law Institute gathering two days after President Obama’s re-election.
Corbett facing more scrutiny
Gov. Tom Corbett will be in the political crosshairs even more starting in January as a pair of newly elected Democratic officials aim investigations his way.
DEP chief Krancer defends agency from critics of water testing practices
The chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection fired back at critics of his agency’s water testing policy while in Pittsburgh on Thursday, calling it an issue manufactured by personal injury lawyers.
Link: The chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection fired back at critics of his agency’s water testing policy while in Pittsburgh on Thursday, calling it an issue manufactured by personal injury lawyers.
DEP chief: State can be 'energy superpower'
State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer said Thursday that Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale gas reserves have positioned it to become an "American energy superpower," and the state is up to the task of regulating its extraction.
Developer announces 2nd power plant in Porter Township
GOOD SPRING - A Canadian power developer is planning to build a second 300-megawatt generation plant in the county on a site where it had once envisioned a plant fueled by coal.
Trustees seek limits on brine disposal
Vote bans wells in certain areas
In an effort to show support for its residents, Brookfield Township Trustees voted to ban salt-water injection wells in any area of the township that doesn’t have city water.
Exclusive: Former DEP Hanger Looking to Challenge Corbett
If a person’s command of campaign messaging is a good barometer for interest in running for office, then John Hanger is all but in the 2014 race for Governor.
Department of Error Propagation
After several experts on gas production complained this year that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's website included inaccurate production data, the agency leapt into action.
The Nod-Nod, Wink-Wink Gimme Rumba: Snausage politics
The dispute between Range Resources and state Rep. Jesse White shines some sunlight on behavior that has been standard operating practice in politics for ages — pols perpetually pimping for campaign cash becoming pains in the posterior.
“Pipelines Explained: How Safe are America’s 2.5 Million Miles of Pipelines?”
NPR State Impact
Community College of Philadelphia Offers Training for Drilling-Related Jobs
NPR State Impact
Trio charged with illegal frack water dumping
Philip A. Holmes
MUNCY - The owner of an area trucking company, along with two of his employees, has been charged with dumping thousands of gallons of gas drilling waste water onto the company's grounds without first getting the required state permits, according to the state attorney general's office.
Major driller releases e-mails with Pennsylvania lawmaker
PITTSBURGH — A major natural gas drilling company shared emails it received from a southwestern Pennsylvania lawmaker who once supported the company's efforts but is now a critic of the impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling.
Gas driller releases emails from former Pennsylvania legislative ally
HARRISBURG -- Was it the smaller-than-expected campaign donation he collected from a Range Resources event and declined request for a ride to the Super Bowl that sparked the conflict between the energy firm and outspoken Democratic Rep. Jesse White?
Range Resources’ battle with state Rep. Jesse White intensifies with Latino postings
Brad Bumsted and Timothy Puko
When state Rep. Jesse White talked about Hispanics and Mexicans in Internet posts on the Marcellus shale job debate this summer, it touched a nerve among locals and drew fire from the top corporate lawyer for Range Resources Inc., Washington County’s biggest gas driller.
Groups push for more Pennsylvania water testing data
More than 20 environmental groups are calling on the state to release more data from its water contamination tests, according to a letter the groups released Wednesday.
Williams Transco to replace line that crosses Brandywine Creek
WEST CHESTER — The Department of Environmental Protection approved a project Wednesday that will allow Williams-Transo Gas Pipeline to replace a portion of its existing pipeline in East Brandywine and East Caln.
Environmental group makes disclosure data easier to access
(full text below)
The nonprofit environmental group SkyTruth is offering free downloads of hydraulic fracturing information from the FracFocus.org registry, making data public in a way the industry-backed disclosure program has not.
"With the tools provided by FracFocus, data aggregation and analysis is impossible," the Shepherdstown, W.Va., organization said in a release. "The SkyTruth Fracking Chemical Open Database is the first free resource designed to enable research and analysis on the nationally significant issue of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production."
The SkyTruth database will enable researchers, journalists and others to do broader analysis of fracturing chemicals than the FracFocus site allows.
For example, using privately obtained data, EnergyWire had previously reported that diesel fuel is still used in fracturing fluid (EnergyWire, Aug. 17), and that two-thirds of all FracFocus reports omitted chemical information companies deemed to be "trade secrets" (EnergyWire, Sept. 26).
The organizations that run FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, say they designed their site to be used by people who live near oil and gas wells to look up what chemicals were used to frack those wells, not for broader analysis.
GWPC is a private nonprofit group governed by state water regulators. IOGCC is a government compact, formally governed by governors of oil- and gas-producing states.
The two organizations, which are both headquartered in Oklahoma City, did not respond yesterday to requests for comment.
The oil and gas industry opposes making the fracking data available in such spreadsheet format for fear that drilling opponents might misinterpret it or use it for political purposes. Industry groups have said they don't want to see drilling opponents use such data to take certain toxic chemicals and add up how much was used in a state or across the country.
Two Washington-based industry lobbying groups, the American Petroleum Institute and America's Natural Gas Alliance, pay the website's operational costs.
FracFocus, launched in April 2011, was originally designed as a voluntary disclosure site for drillers amid growing calls for increased public disclosure of fracturing chemicals.
Since then, at least eight states have made such disclosure mandatory. Many have allowed or required disclosure through the FracFocus registry, which has the effect of putting government-mandated disclosure data in the hands of a private group, GWPC.
The White House and Interior Department officials are considering incorporating FracFocus into the federal government's plan to require disclosure of fracturing chemicals used on public lands, even though the administration's advisory panel on fracturing faulted the site for not making data easily accessible (EnergyWire, June 21).
Open-government and environmental groups say the registry limits its usefulness in a way that provides less transparency and accountability than standard government disclosure.
In a July report, the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized the use of FracFocus to satisfy state disclosure requirements. Though many states and drillers are using FracFocus, the report said, the site lacks any way for companies to record much of the information required by some states.
"Because the information provided by FracFocus is so limited, there is not a single state in which disclosures on the site contain all information required by the state rule," NRDC wrote.
In response to interest from states that are allowing drillers to use the site to satisfy state disclosure requirements, GWPC has been planning an upgrade that will allow people to search disclosures by date, chemical name and chemical identification number. It's not clear when those public features will debut, and that would still not allow aggregation into a spreadsheet format.
GWPC and IOGCC have both refused to release the database (EnergyWire, Aug. 13). IOGCC said it is not subject to federal or state open records laws.
But SkyTruth has managed to "scrape" the data from more than 27,000 pdf-format documents on the FracFocus website, and put it into a spreadsheet format.
Pivot Upstream Group, a Houston consulting firm, has already extracted the FracFocus data and integrated it into its "D-Frac" database. But it charges for the information, and SkyTruth is offering it for free.
SkyTruth officials noted that the database has its limits. There are data-entry errors, and posting to FracFocus is still voluntary in many states. It also does not include many other chemicals used in drilling processes other than hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking fluid isn't likely to migrate from shale wells, geologists say
E&E News, EnergyWire
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the enduring fears about shale gas extraction is that the millions of gallons of chemical-laden water drillers pump into the ground will, over time, migrate into aquifers and contaminate groundwater supplies.
About 11 percent of the injected water returns to the surface after drilling, according to industry data from the Marcellus Shale. About 90 percent remains underground, and no one quite knows what happens to it. Some residents near wells worry the wastewater may move through fractures created during hydraulic fracturing to one day emerge in their water supply.
But within the ivory towers of academia, a consensus is slowly emerging that the injected fluids will remain sequestered in the formations for what geologists would call a "long" period of time, and what the layperson would call "forever."
That means that the greatest danger to groundwater is not hydraulic fracturing itself. The threats instead are from improperly cemented and cased new wells and from abandoned wells whose steel casings were stripped out during World War II's manufacturing rush or from an even earlier era when oil wells were cased in wood.
"There is a fair amount of agreement among the scientists on many of the basic findings, and different groups are starting to etch out things here and there about what is going on," said Mark Engle, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in El Paso, Texas.
The issue is of interest to geologists because hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a significant alteration of the Earth's subsurface with many unknowns. Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressures to create fractures in formations through which trapped gas can migrate out of shale rock. Some of the water returns to the surface as flowback.
Within days, the nature of the wastewater changes. It becomes "produced water," saltier and containing radioactive decay products of uranium, as well as toxic metals spanning the periodic table.
The injected fracking fluid will likely remain sequestered in the ground, said Terry Engelder, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University who works closely with industry. He proposed a theory of fluid movement underground based on real-world data from oil companies.
The companies operating on the Marcellus Shale are increasingly shutting down their wells for up to year after they frack them, Engelder said.
While the well lies dormant, the fracking fluid moves in the earth, governed by pressure gradients. It bumps into methane trapped in nano-sized pores in the shale. The water gets pulled into the pores, where it displaces methane, said Engelder. The same pulling force is at work when you prop a straw into soda can and the liquid climbs up the walls of the straw, above the level of the surrounding fluid.
Once production starts, the methane that was displaced by the water flows out of the well. The fracking fluid remains in the pores. The longer companies shut in a well, the greater the displacement and, eventually, gas production.
Other geologists acknowledged that Engelder's theory for underground flow is possible. If so, it would be good news for homeowners, Engelder said, because it means that once the fracking fluid gets trapped in pores in relatively impermeable rock, it will not migrate through into aquifers.
The situation muddies with time. At first, the wastewater coming out of the well, called flowback, is pretty much the fracking fluid. As days go on, the wastewater becomes more saline, rising to about 300,000 milligrams of salt per liter, up from 100 milligrams. The ocean contains 35,000 milligrams of salt per liter of water.
This water contains toxic metals including bromine, strontium, barium, manganese and radium. The liquid, at this point, is "produced water" or brine naturally occurring in the deep surface, said Jennifer McIntosh, a geologist at the University of Arizona.
When the well begins operating, the natural brines flow up the well bore. Geologists think some of the brines may be coming from formations above and below the Marcellus Shale.
The liquids have been documented to migrate to aquifers near the surface over thousands of years, according to a recent study out of Duke University. These migrations are naturally occurring and happen even in the absence of fracking (EnergyWire, July 10).
Water on fire
Since the documentary "Gasland," tap water catching on fire due to dissolved methane has been one of the defining images of the shale gas revolution. The Duke researchers had earlier found that drinking water wells within a kilometer of shale gas sites contain 17 times more methane and other hydrocarbons than water wells farther away (E&ENews PM, Oct. 5, 2011).
Since then, one of the larger questions confronting the researchers has been the mechanism by which the stray methane gets into the water supply. In this context, the significance of the finding that brines can migrate naturally into aquifers is that stray methane released during fracking may very well use the same conduits.
But the group is now pretty sure that the mechanism for stray methane contamination of water wells is poorly constructed wells, or older abandoned wells, according to Duke researcher Avner Vengosh. When drilling a well, companies place a steel pipe, called casing, into the well bore. The casing is cemented on the outside. The setup is supposed to isolate the well from the surrounding groundwater supplies and prevent contamination.
Faulty casing and cementing can be fixed with regulation, said Vengosh. But the gas can easily migrate through older abandoned wells, of which nearly 200,000 dot the Pennsylvania landscape, according to a recent report by NPR.
Shell Exploration & Production Co. is now doing flybys with a helicoptor in Pennsylvania to help the Department of Environmental Protection find these abandoned wells. It uses magnetic sensors for well deduction, with a 69 percent success rate, said Bryce McKee, a geologist with the company.
The danger from methane leaking out from improperly cased wells is significant, said Scott Bair, a geologist at Ohio State University. In October 2007, a company drilled a gas well in Bainbridge Township in northeast Ohio but did not case it properly. Over two months, methane began moving out of the well and collected in shallow water wells about 1,000 feet away.
Then one night, at about 2:45 a.m., methane exploded in the basement of a nearby home. A water well outside the house spouted like a geyser, 15 feet into the air. The entire neighborhood was evacuvated. The problems only ceased after the company redid the cement job on its well.