Both sides agree on tough new fracking standards
BY KEVIN BEGOS
PITTSBURGH – Some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast that could lead to a major expansion of drilling.
The program announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its familiar UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet its standards.
In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations. If they are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive the blessing of the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, created by environmentalists and the energy industry.
Many of the new standards appear to be stricter than state and federal regulations.
If the project wins wide acceptance, it could ease or avert some of the ferocious battles over fracking that have been waged in statehouses and city halls. And it could hasten the expansion of fracking by making drilling more acceptable to states and communities that feared the environmental consequences.
Shell Oil Vice President Paul Goodfellow said this is the first time the company and environmental groups have reached agreement to create an entire system for reducing the effects of shale drilling.
“This is a bit of a unique coming-together of a variety of different interests,” said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia.
In agreeing to the self-policing system, members of the industry said they realized they needed to do more to reassure the public about the safety of fracking. On the other side, environmentalists said they came to the conclusion that the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas underground is going to be extracted one way or another and that working with the industry is the quickest path to making the process safer.
“We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed,” said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, a charitable foundation that has bankrolled anti-fracking efforts. “We think that it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment.”
In addition to Shell and Chevron, the participants include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, EQT Corp., Consol Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the organizers hope to recruit others.
The new standards include limits on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted gas; reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less toxic fracking fluids; and seismic monitoring before drilling begins.
For example, the plan requires companies to recycle 90 percent of their wastewater and to check water supplies around a well for pollution for a year after drilling is completed.
The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio – where a frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and Utica Shale formations – as well as New York and other states in the East that have put a hold on new drilling.
The cooperation between the two longtime adversaries may be part of a trend.
Earlier this month, industry and environmental groups in Illinois announced that they worked together on drilling legislation now pending there. But the Pittsburgh project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, would be voluntary – and would bypass the often turbulent legislative process altogether.
“We believe it does send a signal to the federal government and other states,” said Armand Cohen, director of the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force. “There’s no reason why anyone should be operating at standards less than these.”
Shell said it hopes to be one of the first companies to volunteer to have its operations in Appalachia go through the independent review. Chevron said it expects to apply for certification, too, when the process is ready to start later this year.
Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund, said many oil and gas companies claim to be leaders in protecting the environment, and “this can be one opportunity for them to demonstrate that leadership” by submitting to an audit.
During fracking, large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected into the ground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. In some places, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water.
The Pittsburgh project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent figures, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency chief.
The center’s proposed 2013 budget is $800,000, with the two sides expected to contribute equal amounts, said Andrew Place, the project’s interim leader and director of energy and environmental policy at EQT, an Appalachian energy company.
Mark Frankel, an expert on ethics and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the idea sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if the new standards are a significant improvement over existing laws. He said there are also ethical and policy questions.
“What does it mean to have an independent board? Who’s on it? How do they get on it?” he asked.
George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, one of the participants, said the industry’s involvement makes this different from past debates over fracking.
“Buy-in from them is huge. That provides leadership from within,” Jugovic said. “It’s very different from someone from the outside saying, ‘You can do better.’”
But some critics of fracking weren’t swayed by the new plan.
“Fracking is an inherently dangerous industrial process that takes us away from sustainable energy solutions. Its costs to humans and our environment just aren’t worth it,” said Kathy Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper, which is fighting fracking in New York state.
Preliminary study says minimal impact from fracking
By Farzad Mashhood
Published: 10:42 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
As shale gas harvesting has increased in recent years, so have the questions about the process’s environmental effects. As a result, the techniques of the extraction and its possible effects on groundwater are facing closer scrutiny, and both the Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Texas’s Energy Institute are currently conducting long-term studies of the process.
Preliminary findings from the Energy Institute’s study released Wednesday suggest there is no link between the extraction operations and groundwater contamination, said the study’s leader, Charles “Chip” Groat, a UT geology professor.
He noted that the dangers associated with shale gas drilling — which is accomplished by hydraulic fracturing, a process commonly known as fracking — are largely the same as other oil-drilling operations.
“Hydraulic fracturing doesn’t seem to be of concern to groundwater,” Groat said. “If there has been water contaminated related to shale gas development let’s not look at fracturing, let’s look at surface processes.”
As in other types of drilling operations, poor casing or shoddy cement jobs have often been to blame for regulatory violations or contamination in shale gas drilling, Groat said.
Fracking is a process in which a combination of millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, is injected into rock thousands of feet underground to extract natural gas.
The relatively new process of horizontal drilling has allowed for the extraction of natural gas that is otherwise inaccessible if using conventional drilling techniques.
Surface spills of the hazardous chemicals across the country have killed livestock and contaminated waterways, the Houston Chronicle has reported.
Texas is home to one of the nation’s largest shale gas deposits, the Barnett Shale. The Fort Worth area is a hotbed for fracking that shale, and there have been many questions surrounding the process.
Democratic state Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth told The Associated Press in September that in the past five years, air pollution in North Texas has steadily increased, which he said is related to the drilling in the Barnett Shale.
Groat downplayed the problems associated with fracking.
“The violations that we’ve seen are of no, minor or small impact,” Groat said. “The impact on groundwater, the impact on the surface is not of anything substantial, certainly not compared to coal mines or metal mines.”
However, spills have come under closer scrutiny as shale gas drilling occurs in urban and suburban areas, Groat said.
“Fort Worth is the poster child for this,” Groat said. “They are drilling under subdivisions, and those people are asking questions.”
Shale deposits are spread out over broad areas, and drilling operations could easily move out of densely populated areas and stay in the fracking game, Groat said.
Groat briefed government officials, regulators, energy company executives, community group representatives and reporters in Fort Worth about the Energy Institute’s preliminary findings.
Researchers expect to present their final report early next year, looking not only at the environmental effects of fracking but also at policy and regulatory issues as well as media coverage of the controversial technique of capturing natural gas.
The yearlong $330,000 study was paid for entirely by the University of Texas, Groat said.
The study’s early stages have looked at regulatory violations and frameworks in states with major shale drilling operations, including Texas, Louisiana, New York and Pennsylvania, Groat said.
The EPA has said it expects to release preliminary findings by the end of 2012 and a final report in 2014.
The difficulty and uncertainty in predicting natural gas resources was underscored last week when the Energy Information Administration released a report containing sharply lower estimates.
The agency estimated that there are 482 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the United States, down from the 2011 estimate of 827 trillion cubic feet — a drop of more than 40 percent. The report also said the Marcellus region, a rock formation under parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, contained 141 trillion cubic feet of gas. That represents a 66 percent drop from the 410 trillion cubic feet estimate offered in the agency’s last report.
Fracking poses environmental and public health challenges for Texas
Fracking: Bane or boon? A look into industry’s presence in Pa.
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Set amid steep, forested hills on the banks of the west branch of the Susquehanna River, this little northern Pennsylvania city has always had its charms.
It once was considered the lumber capital of the world. West Fourth Street was dubbed Millionaire’s Row for the baronial homes that lined it. And, of course, Williamsport has for decades been home to iconic Little League baseball and hosts the kids’ world championship every summer.
But Little League and aging Victorian mansions only go so far. If Williamsport’s charms hadn’t faded, neither had they been renewed. Then, about five years ago, natural-gas land leasing agents swarmed into northern Pennsylvania, and residents began to realize that, for better or worse, the gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale deep below their feet was about to change everything.
Today, this metro area of 120,000 — slightly larger than metropolitan Ithaca — has drawn at least 110 new businesses that have brought as many as 2,000 jobs. Its economy was the seventh fastest-growing in the nation in 2010. The city is festooned with new hotels and restaurants.
“It’s transformed our community,” said Vincent Matteo, president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. “We went from an economy that was holding steady to one that literally is booming.”
Likewise, the countryside that lies between Williamsport and the New York state line is awash with money from new jobs, and lease and royalty payments from gas companies.
But a visit to northern Pennsylvania lays bare the problems associated with the huge influx of money and well-paid workers. Two-lane country roads and village streets are clogged with a startling number of gas-industry trucks. Environmental and land-use complaints are common. Crime and social service costs have gone up. Soaring rents have displaced many people of modest income.
Churches in Pennsylvania’s largely rural Tioga County, south of Corning, have begun sheltering homeless families with nowhere else to turn.
Ralph Kisberg • Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Left out of my comments was the assertion that locally there are more loosers in this than winners: by far. Out county has 1% of our state’s population, with the tax breaks and accounting wizardry the gas industry has, and no hope of a severance tax in PA’s near future, the economic impact on the whole state is far from impressive. This whole thing has oversold to the public in many ways. NY state rural land owners ought to think about the advantage to their property values by holding a gas industry invasion at bay for a long time. With your proximity to the large Ontario market and the higher NG prices there, there goes the energy independence argument. In fact, your state would be doing the nation a favor by keeping the gas in the ground because much of it will end up out of country now and in the future we may need it here. Leased landowners will learn what a crapshoot it is as to who ends up with gas in production and when royalties come their way. The price keeps dropping, and with the steep decline curves from these wells, that doesn’t really help those landholders who aren’t in dire need of the money, if they do happen to get into production early. One more thing for NYers to think about, last January in a public meeting in Hughesville, PA, the geologist Dr. Terry Engelder, the “father of the Marcellus” stated, ” Those people in Ithaca are right to be acting like Luddites..” ( in regard to gas drilling in their area)”. He went on to explain why at a 6,000 ft or more depth, migration of fluids up from the formation into aquifers is not a concern to him, but shale depths of 3,000′ are a different story. Don’t take my word for it or my exact wording, ask him to explain the statement.
18 December 2011 at 12:41
The burgeoning energy industry in Ohio will create or support 65,680 jobs by 2014, according to the latest estimate trying to pinpoint the economic benefit the state will get from the huge supplies of natural gas and oil beginning to be tapped in eastern Ohio.
Results of the study released yesterday for the Ohio Shale Coalition — a group of local chambers of commerce, businesses, development organizations and others — fall between two other recent studies. One, by an Ohio State University professor, pegs job gains at 20,000 over the next several years; another, backed by the industry, projects a gain of 200,000 jobs and investments totaling $14 billion during the next four years.
Study doubts shale gas to be job gusher
By Mark Williams
The Columbus Dispatch Friday December 16, 2011 7:07 AM
The huge discoveries of natural gas and oil just starting to be tapped in eastern Ohio are expected to generate jobs — but only a fraction of the number that the industry forecasts, according to a report led by an Ohio State University professor.
The study released yesterday predicts that the boom in drilling will lead to 20,000 new jobs over the next several years, far fewer than the 200,000 that the industry has predicted will come from drilling in shale formations for oil and gas. The 20,000 jobs would be those created both directly and indirectly from drilling.
“We need to be setting realistic expectations,” said Mark Partridge, an economics professor specializing in urban and rural development at Ohio State. He led the study with doctoral student Amanda Weinstein.
Partridge said there is plenty to like about Ohio’s natural-gas finds, especially given how cheap gas is for consumers. Also, it is cleaner to burn than coal, he said.
But historically, energy booms often have had a long-lasting effect, he said. “If anything, they are often associated with negative outcomes,” he said.
Like studies by other industries, a major industry study is flawed, he said.
That study, released during a conference in Columbus in September, predicted that drilling would create 200,000 jobs and lead to $14 billion worth of investment over the next four years.
The study, conducted by Cleveland research firm Kleinhenz & Associates, found that the oil and gas industry would produce 4,614 jobs this year in positions tied directly and indirectly to the industry. That number would rise to 204,520 by 2015, it said.
Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, defended that study.
“It was based on confidential data from the industry, taking a look at their five-year business plan,” she said.
The industry study was based on reports from energy companies about hiring and spending plans, which were analyzed by the firm and faculty members at several colleges, including Ohio State. It also was based on hiring data in other parts of the country where shale projects are more developed.
The industry study anticipates that drillers will have 20 wells completed in the Utica shale in the eastern and central part of the state this year, increasing to 1,501 wells completed in 2015. Reda said hiring will increase over the next three to five years.
Gov. John Kasich has said the discovery of gas and oil in the eastern part of Ohio can transform its economy, leading to new jobs and other wide-ranging benefits.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols, responding to the new study’s projections, said: “Whether it’s 20,000 jobs or 200,000, that’s tens of thousands of families living in a part of the state that’s starving for good economic news who would say, ‘Sounds good, sign me up.’ ”
Ohio’s oil and gas industry employed 4,490 workers last year, according to the industry study. State figures show that Ohio employed 12,000 workers in mining and logging as of October, an increase of 700 since January. Both numbers are small in the context of a state labor force that tops 5 million.
Partridge’s report found that the industry study made unrealistic assumptions about the percentage of spending and hiring that would remain in Ohio when the industry matures. It also ignored, he said, the costs that a boom in drilling could have on other sectors, such as the potential for displacing coal miners and causing environmental damage that could hurt tourism and other activities. It also doesn’t account for the costs to communities for such expenses as maintaining roads, he said.
Instead, Partridge figures that the 20,000 jobs probably coming to Ohio would about equal the number that has been created in Pennsylvania, where widespread drilling has gone on for years. Those 20,000 Pennsylvania jobs are far fewer than the 100,000 that the industry contends were created between 2004 and 2010, he said.
TIM MAPEL (GOLDIE1)
Hey People I’m from Eastern Ohio and own a farm of 125 acres. Already have been paid my (BONUS) money. It’s good for us Land Owners. We’ve been buying Trucks Tractors and other needed equipment. But as for Jobs all I see is OUT OF STATE PLATES. Texas, Oklahoma, and Pa. Pa. people are being used because they were first to get Drilled on in Washington Cty. The only ones that are going to due good is the Land Owners, Company, and Crooked Government which is you Kasich !
Shale gas drilling’s dirty secret is out
The EPA’s findings about fracking’s contamination of ground water have sent a shockwave through a gas industry in denial
Disposal of brine into well halted
Owner agrees to wait while state explores possible link to quakes
By Ann Sanner
ASSOCIATED PRESS Saturday December 31, 2011 5:13 AM
The owner of a northeastern Ohio fluid-injection well has agreed to stop injecting brine used in drilling after a series of earthquakes were reported in the area this year.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced the agreement with Northstar Disposal Services LLC yesterday, saying that the wastewater injections were halted as a precaution so that any potential links with earthquakes can be further assessed.
“We are going to make sure this process is done right and won’t hesitate to stop operation of disposal sites if we have concerns,” the department’s director, Jim Zehringer, said in a statement. “And while our research doesn’t point to a clear and direct correlation to drilling at this site and seismic activity, we will never gamble when safety is a factor.”
Northstar Disposal Services of Youngstown is also the permit holder for the well. A message seeking comment was left yesterday.
The injection well, located in the Youngstown area, is used to dispose of wastewater that’s a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. Thousands of gallons of brine are injected into the well daily, and much of it is shipped in from out of state.
Ten minor earthquakes have occurred this year within 2 miles of the well, the department said. Each registered at 2.7 magnitude or lower.
Earthquakes that register above 4 magnitude are typically known to cause surface damage, the natural resources agency noted.
There are 177 similar injection wells around the state, and the Youngtown-area well has been the only site with seismic activity, the department said. Injections there started in June 2010.
More detailed data from Columbia University about a Christmas Eve quake prompted the agreement, the department said. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 2.4 magnitude earthquake occurred early on Dec. 24.
Zehringer said the department reached out to Columbia University researchers, who positioned four seismometers in the area to capture more information about the earthquakes. The department received its analysis Thursday afternoon.
Information from the university’s scientists indicated the Christmas Eve earthquake occurred “ approximately 2 miles below and within a mile of the injection site,” Zehringer said.
Patti Gorcheff, a Mahoning County resident who has raised concerns about drilling-related activity in the region, welcomed the state’s action as good news.
“I think it’s about time,” she said. “I’m glad someone’s paying attention.”
JEFF COX (EXCELL)
Youngtown-area well has been the only site with seismic activity, the department said. The increase of fluid pressure from the injection of liquids wastes in northeast Ohio and near Lake Erie by the Stauffer Chemical Company into a nearly 6,000 feet deep sandstone formation was implicated by Ohio University researchers to have triggered a 5.0 magnitude earthquake and two aftershocks on January 31, 1986 at site 56 Two and possibly three prior earthquakes in that area during 1983 are thought by researchers to have likely also been caused by the same deep well injection site.56 The Ohio Geological Survey and other geologists determined that a sequence of earthquakes of magnitudes ranging from 2.6 to 4.3 that shook downtown Ashtabula, Ohio from 1987 to 2003 were caused by a nearby deep well site injecting hazardous waste fluids near two faults into a 5,900 feet deep basal sandstone formation.57 The researchers state, “like many faults that rupture in … stable subcontinental region earthquakes, the faults were previously unknown…”
Jan 02, 2012
Ohio quakes linked to oil-drilling waste pumped into wells
By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Oil-drilling wastewater pumped into a northeast Ohio well “almost certainly” triggered 11 minor earthquakes around Youngstown since last spring, including one Saturday, a seismologist tells the Associated Press.
Ohio officials closed four inactive “fluid injection” wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well, which is near a fault that geologists apparently weren’t aware of. Pressure from the wastewater caused the fault to shift.
Northstar Disposal Services has used the wells to dispose of brine wastewater from shale oil and gas drilling, which officials said is different from so-called fracking, the Youngstown Business Journal and AP report.
Despite the disclaimer, The Christian Science Monitor writes that the disposal wells — and the earthquakes — are related to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing (“How fracking caused an Ohio earthquake”).
The seismologist interviewed by the AP, John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said more minor shakes can be expected throughout 2012.
“The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you’ve caused them to occur,” he said. “This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it’s going to be spreading out for at least a year.”
Pa. farmer, 73, jailed over beef with gas drillers
12:37 PM, Dec 18, 2012
Opinion about Fracking
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