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PA Governor Gives Energy Executive Supreme Authority Over Environmental Permitting

Pennsylvania’s governor has appointed an energy industry executive to oversee the state’s job creation effort and wants to give him unusual authority to streamline state permits, including for gas drilling.

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (AP Photo/Daniel Shaknen)

Pennsylvania has come under fire lately as pollution from drilling in the Marcellus Shale threatens water resources across the state. But instead of ratcheting up oversight, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to hand authority over some of the state’s most critical environmental decisions to C. Alan Walker, a Pennsylvania energy executive with his own track record of running up against the state’s environmental regulations.

Walker, who has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal, which was once among Pennsylvania’s largest coal mining companies. He also owns or has an interest in 12 other companies, including a trucking business and a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company.

Walker was Corbett’s first appointee—he chose him to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development in December, before taking office. Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking.

C. Alan Walker It’s not clear how Corbett can delegate such sweeping authority to the economic development office, which would be reorganized to focus on coordinating with corporate interests and creating job growth. It also isn’t clear how the state would address the legal conflicts that could arise if, for example, Walker pushed for approval of a permit that conflicted with the Clean Water Act or other federal laws. The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests to clarify Walker’s role, and other state agencies deferred to the governor.

Environmental groups think Corbett will need to issue an executive order or some other legal clarification to allow Walker’s office to wield so much influence over regulations.

“I have never seen anybody give an economic development director the authority to tell every other agency in the state what to do with regard to its statutory responsibilities,” said Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group active on drilling issues. “The law requires that you not pollute the waters of Pennsylvania, and if he tries to speed up an application that makes it possible that that is going to happen then I think he is clearly operating outside of his authority.”

A spokesman for the economic development office said Walker will not speak publicly until his confirmation. But Walker did post a statement on the department’s website.

“The budget introduced today represents a completely new way of doing business for DCED and its economic development partners,” the statement said. “In a tough economic climate, we need to send a powerful message to the Pennsylvania Business Community that Pennsylvania is open for business.”

Walker’s ties to the energy industry are deep. He is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He also has firsthand experience with the state’s environmental regulations, because his companies would likely have applied for permits similar to those the oil and gas industry is now pursuing in the Marcellus. And like many energy companies, his, too, have run into problems with the state.

In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater as required by state and federal law.

Corbett’s budget, which was introduced Tuesday, emphasizes job creation and proposes eliminating economic development hurdles by streamlining permitting processes in the DEP and the Department of Transportation.

“To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators,” the budget says.

In the budget Corbett says drilling will bring Pennsylvania 200,000 jobs and $18 billion in economic benefit by the end of the decade. But the drilling industry’s explosive growth has also caused environmental problems and the budget raises questions about whether the DEP—which could lose nearly 20 percent of its funding—will be able to address them.

Private water wells have been contaminated with methane gas and other pollutants across the state, and in many cases the DEP has found that hasty or insufficient gas well construction was to blame. Several drilling site accidents have led to spills where wastewater, including from hydraulic fracturing, contaminated streams.

A 2009 ProPublica investigation revealed that Pennsylvania’s sewage treatment plants were accepting millions of gallons of drilling wastewater, but lacked the technology to remove or treat many of the chemicals and pollutants the water contained. In 2008 people along one stretch of the Monongahela River were advised to drink bottled water because the level of dissolved minerals and salts in the river was almost twice as high as the DEP considers safe.

The state has since more than doubled its workforce of inspectors and strengthened regulations for how gas wells are drilled, permitted and constructed. The DEP has installed additional water-quality monitors along the Monongahela and required drillers to report where they will take their wastewater after a well has been hydraulically fractured. The agency has also required that wastewater treatment plants be equipped to remove the minerals and salts. And it has received proposals for 24 new waste treatment plants that are now in permitting or review processes—the type of projects Walker could conceivably influence.

In January, the Associated Press found that about 150 million gallons of Marcellus Shale wastewater—the majority of the wastewater for the period examined—had been dumped into rivers and streams after only partial treatment. A subsequent story from the New York Times revealed that much of that wastewater was dangerously radioactive, and that drinking water facilities have not been testing their intake for this radioactivity.

On Monday the EPA leaned on Pennsylvania’s DEP to tighten its oversight of drilling waste disposal. The next day, Gov. Corbett released his budget, reducing DEP funding and stating that job creation should trump lengthy permitting delays.

“It’s an expression of a philosophy that doesn’t value environmental regulation,” said Jan Jarrett, president of PennFuture. “It seems to be the desire of the governor to have this guy be able to pick up the phone and expedite any program that might impact jobs.”

The Governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the policy shift, the role of the economic development office, or funding for the DEP. Spokespeople for both the DEP and the state Attorney General’s office also declined to comment, saying that only the Governor’s office could speak to the issue.

ProPublica Director of Research Lisa Schwartz and researcher Liz Day contributed to this report.

WHERE is the Mainstream Media News Channels pointing out this power-grab? Why is it so impossible for them to fill our TV’s with anything other than Charlie damn Sheen? When will people finally wake up and realize that the GOP has simply sold the Country to the highest bidders? Look at what they have just done in Wisconsin… when the GOP has finally created their longed-for one-party State (which seems to be their driving objective), will people finally sit up and ask what happened?

Anyone that states that the Media has a liberal bias, is either lying, insane or blowing smoke up your ass! The Media is complicit in this power-grab, because even though they are VERY aware of what is happening, they are doing NOTHING to point this out to the Citizens!

This is all fine. Just make sure that Walker’s and Corbett’s drinking water comes from the affected areas. Walk the walk…

Malcolm Dickinson

March 10, 2011, 7:22 a.m.

It’s all part of the UN, corporate globalist plan to control all of the planets resource’s. They own the media and our elected representatives. If you don’t believe me Google Agenda 21 and read for yourself. WAKE UP and drink the water!

I don’t think putting an energy executive in charge meshes with a sustainability protocol to be honest, Malcolm. In fact reading about Article 21 it seems like a good idea. Get all the places with the biggest environmental impact to minimize it, and to lessen the global inequality between the rich and poor nations sounds like a pretty good deal, considering the poor nations are usually the ones that actually have the natural resources the rich nations consume.

Malcolm Dickinson

March 10, 2011, 8:22 a.m.

Nothing like putting the fox in control of the chicken coop!. When all the water is undrinkable people will have to live in the worker areas.
I’m tired of having to watchdog the fat cat corporate money mongers.
There is no morality anymore. Why should I have to worry if these guys are polluting my drinking water. What is wrong with people being responsible for their actions. The EPA already gave these fracking companies a free pass on the pollution laws. WHAT THE FRACK! Time to wake up there Charlie.

Private water wells have been contaminated with methane gas and other pollutants across the state, and in many cases the DEP has found that hasty or insufficient gas well construction was to blame. Several drilling site accidents have led to spills where wastewater, including from hydraulic fracturing, contaminated streams.
Not so fast buckaroos. There has never been one confirmed case of fracturing fluid being found in well water … zip, zilch, nada, nyet, nine, zero, and Lustgarten has even admitted as much. In 2008 people along one stretch of the Monongahela River were advised [2] to drink bottled water because the level of dissolved minerals and salts in the river was almost twice as high as the DEP considers safe. Think back to Lustgarten ’s Aug. 2, 2010 article titled “ Why Gas Leaks Matter in the Hydraulic Fracturing Debate in which he clearly stated the following: 

The question of whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for this contamination, and whether it is causing other contamination, remains unanswered. Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with [3], has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point.

For you to continue to make this claim now, in light of prior statements is ridiculous and begs the question: are you lying now, or were you lying then?

Last comment got mangled, so let me repost.

Private water wells have been contaminated with methane gas and other pollutants across the state, and in many cases the DEP has found that hasty or insufficient gas well construction was to blame. Several drilling site accidents have led to spills where wastewater, including from hydraulic fracturing, contaminated streams.

Not so fast buckaroos. There has never been one confirmed case of fracturing fluid being found in well water … zip, zilch, nada, nyet, nine, zero, and Lustgarten has even admitted as much. Think back to Lustgarten ’s Aug. 2, 2010 article titled “ Why Gas Leaks Matter in the Hydraulic Fracturing Debate in which he clearly stated the following: 

The question of whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for this contamination, and whether it is causing other contamination, remains unanswered. Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with [3], has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point.

For you to continue to make this claim now, in light of prior statements is ridiculous and begs the question: are you lying now, or were you lying then?

Well said CKNJ…. word needs to be spread about this to the citizens of Pennsylvania, and intend to do my part!

In 2008 people along one stretch of the Monongahela River were advised [2] to drink bottled water because the level of dissolved minerals and salts in the river was almost twice as high as the DEP considers safe.

To quote a popular car rental commercial “not exactly”. In layman terms, TDS refers to water hardness .. anyone with a well and water softener deals with it. The 2008 TDS exceedance in the Monongahela had exactly zero human health implications. The TDS limits are set for equipment protection (plumbing, pumps, water distribution networks, etcetera) not human health concerns. The bulk of the TDS was attributed to treated mine drainage and not produced water discharge although it certainly played a factor.

The advisory for people to drink bottled water was for aesthetic reasons only.

Yet another fine example of the authors being ill-informed of the subject matter they cite or deceptive in their presentation of the material.

welcome to fascist america

Mike H that is complete bull and flies in the face of even the most uneducated person’s common sense. Where there is smoke, there is quite often a fire burning. There is a definite and provable link between fracking activity (and the proprietary chemical mixes used in the process, not to mention the fresh water that is wasted) and water contamination and other affects on the water table and public drinking sources. Perhaps the reason not enough studies have been done (and I suspect that contrary to your posts, there are definitely EPA data that prove a link) is that corporate interests and their puppets in the legislature (both State and Federal) are actively trying to defund and cripple the very agencies that carry out those studies.

Maybe YOU want this country to be dragged back to 1922 so we can all sit at the feet of Robber Barons and beg for bread, but I certainly don’t.

The wrinkle in PA (as opposed ot many states in the Southwest) is that people are getting paid for the access to their land because they own the mineral rights, and anyone with a fistful of cash is not going to oppose the industry that put it in their hand. They are selling out the health of their neighbors and their community for financial security. Fracking has has a disastrous effect on water quality and human health in the Southwest, and it is having, and will continue to have, the same effect in the Marcellus Shale region unless we get serious about enforcing environmental regulations and start taxing the extraction.

These businesses absolutely have a right to operate. THEY DO NOT have the right to skirt the law, cut corners, and endanger the health of my fellow Pennsylvanians and Americans while they do it. And it is shameful and completely un-American that they have decided to bribe their way into positions of power to change the rules in their favor. Even more shameful that you are making excuses for them, Mike.

Mike H

Your argument in rebuttal of the article is interesting in that it mimics so many other anti-environmental blather.  “There is no proof.  Zip, zilch, nada, nyet, nine, zero.”  The authors are “ill-informed.”  It makes me feel better to think that the billionair, multi-nationals that control these mines are much more well informed and are so willing to share their knowledge.  They certainly have no perceived reason to lie. 

But, lets play the Devils Advocate here.  A little reasonable speculation.  What happens if the owners really don’t care and they are willing to blatantly lie, use subterfuge (it won’t be the first time it has ever happened), and slight of hand misdirection (like jobs are more important than the possibility that we are poisoning kids)? 

Peoples children will grow up sick, crooked in body and mind, genetically altered due to contaminates in their drinking water.  These owners don’t care, it isn’t their children drinking this water.  Besides, God put them in charge because they are worthy.  The peasants are not.  So, what difference does it make?

Or, on the other hand, we let the EPA do their job.  What is the ultimate consequence?  Loss of jobs.  Decreased profits? Actually, no.  Water is cleaner, and, as past experience proves, using a little care and scientific innovation, actually increases profits and jobs, usually due to sustainability of the industry.  Of course, it is a long term, and not short term jerk off mentallity that sees this through.

Whose side did you say you were on??

Everyone thinks these problems started when they invented this new process of Fraciking.  Read your history of oil. They were fracing oil wells in the 1800’s using dynamite & nitro glycerin. It is not a new process and has never been proven to cause problems with well water.
Oil & Gas was seeping up out of the ground in that region forever, thats why they drilled the first wells there. Where do you thing the name Oil Creek came from.

Mark, your simpleton rant aside, there is simply no conclusive evidence that fracturing fluids have contaminated an aquifer anywhere. Oh, sure, we have cases where low levels of chemicals used both in fracturing fluids and thousands of household and commercial products have been detected in trace quantities in water wells but that begs the question: were these chemicals present before drilling began? In at least one case, that of Bainbridge Township in Ohio, an inadequately cemented well casing leaked natural gas into an aquifer but when local well water was compared to pre drilling baseline data, there wasn’t a corresponding increase in the hundreds of organic and inorganic industrial compounds that were tested for including the presence of hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Your dismissal of the studies done to date displays the hallmarks of what has been referred to as “The Paranoid Mind” in that you round the square of the inadequacy of your argument with tales of grand conspiracies to keep contradictory data and reports hidden from the public. Got any evidence for this? Of course not, but that’s critical to your paranoia … in fact a lack of such evidence only adds to your argument.

From my perspective, “even the most uneducated person’s common sense” should lead them to conclude that the possibility of contamination is low because the shale beds sit miles under the water table and the two are separated by miles of impermeable bedrock.

Carol Brouillet

March 10, 2011, 10:28 a.m.

The process of fracking, well documented in Gasland by Josh Fox, has been rampantly expanded since Cheney advocated for deregulation and exemption from oversight of the process which Halliburton helped pioneer many years ago.  The New York Times recently published a series of damning articles on this topic and there is legislature now before Congress to close the exemption from the Clean Water Act which accelerated the free for all by the gas industry to drill thousands upon thousands of wells across the country which have put at great risk much of the nation’s water, land and air.

    I was horrified to learn about this problem, on top of all the other problems and issues that I have been working on for the past two decades.  I watched the documentary, did some reading on the topic, interviewed filmmaker Josh Fox and award winning journalist Emily Green on my radio show Community Currency.  I had just spent weeks organizing an event looking at the oil industry’s crimes in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, that were echoed by their activities in South America, Africa, wherever oil was to be found.  The patterns of corruption, collusion with government officials tasked with regulation and oversight was so extreme that I couldn’t help but worry about the efficacy of tasking a compromised government agency with the oversight of those notorious energy companies.

    The verdict against Tim DeChristopher, the idealistic graduate who bid on lands in order to protect them from the gas industry, exemplified the inability of the “Justice Department” to recognize justice and true criminality, and its ability to bend rules and laws in favor of corporations to the detriment of human health and at great cost to the planet.  The only things the courts seem to recognize is privatizing profit for the powerful and insuring that everyone else pays the costs economically, spiritually, and physically.

  This article confirms the corruption of government and the need to oust officials who serve corporate interests and don’t give a damn about the people, land, future, so as long as they can get their money and run.

This process of fracking must be stopped and we need to come up with action ideas that will mobilize massive support.

GrandmaBarb, lets see if I can sum your argument up thuswise: wont somebody PLEASE think of the children

The EPA has done its job and it stated, quite clearly, that hydraulic fracturing poses little or no threat to drinking water supplies.

Carol Brouillet .... its makes me smile to see that someone so wedded to the 9/11 truther movement would dig in deep over this too.

GrandmaBarb:  If Fracking is stpped you will all be chocking on fumes from Coal Firred Power Plants. Bring on the NG!!!!

Mike I see you are quick with the insults and vague refutations but short on facts, citations, or any other reasonable references that should make me think you are anything other than blindly conservative, directly connected or benefiting from the oil and gas industry, or a lobbyist/shill paid to spread disinformation on the internet.

Anyone who has followed Pro-Publica’s exhaustive reporting on this issue, read DEP and EPA reports, followed the stories in the New York Times over the past two weeks, or even concerned citizens who have seen Gasland or Split Estate is informed enough to understand what is going on, and that is corporate manipulation of the political and legal process to get their way. I and many others are informed on this issue whether that is convenient to your position or not.

Fortunately, with your insults and rhetoric, you have made it very easy to ignore anything else you have to say that doesn’t include citations. If you have any links to studies on fracking and its environmental impacts NOT funded by the oil and gas industry I would be very keen on reading them.

And of course, if fracking doesn’t contaminate or affect the water table, then there is no reason it should be exempt from scrutiny under the Clean Watr Act, correct? After all, there is no conspiracy and there is nothing for the industry to hide, correct?

Your problem, Mike, is exemplified in your first response to me: You think we common citizens are simpletons that you can talk down to, and can’t tell when someone is pulling the wool. Keep telling yourself that.

Mark M,

Well, ProPublica doesn’t allow links in it comments, so you are just going to have to find them on your own, I can’t Google it for you. Aside from the EPA’s 2004 report, there have been many other studies that corroborate the impermeability of the bedrock layer and the inability for fractures to propagate through them. No doubt, you wont find them here on ProPublica or at Greenpeace’s website, but I am sure a well educated man like yourself wouldn’t have any problem digging them up and digesting the data.

Anyone who has followed Pro-Publica’s “exhaustive” reporting knows damn well when they aren’t outright lying about the material they are presenting. they are taking sources out of context, misrepresenting sources, and playing bait and switch with facts all in an attempt to lead readers to their predetermined conclusion.

Mark M.

You are a simpleton … no doubt about that. You are one of those guys who has an dogmatic opinion on everything regardless of your level of knowledge of the subject. Once your “approved” facilitator of information provides you with the requisite talking points and factoids, your mind becomes closed and everyone who doesn’t agree with you is a shill.

Fracking was given an exemption to the Clean Water Act because the act covers activities like deep well injection for the disposal of some kinds of wastes. Fracking is similar to deep well injection with a major distinction: what is injected in returned to the surface. The process was seen as similar enough that a broad reading of deep well injection regulations could be applied to hydraulic fracturing making in unfeasible. That’s the reason for the exemption not some sinister conspiracy. I know it soothes your paranoid mind to think otherwise but the facts state different.

Again Mike, no citations, no references to studies, organizations or resources where you gotten your info that can back up your insults and repetitious postings. No meaningful dialog, just name-calling and condescension. “Look it up yourself” is a common battle cry of the internet troll, and that’s all you are to me, nothing more.  You have to live with your conscience and yourself, not me. How fortunate.

Mike H, as a first point, calling people “Simpleton’s” doesn’t make your case for being reasonable. 

Secondly, with respect to the claim that noone has shown that drinking water has been fouled I would point you to the case of Dimock Pennsylvania, discussed on this site in the article: “Science Says Methane in PA. Water Is from Drilling, Not Natural Causes” That town found its drinking water fouled and a subsequent state investigation ruled that it was, in fact, the drilling operation led by Cabot Oil that released the gas and thus caused the contamination (see “Pa. regulators shut down Cabot drilling” by Michael Rubinkam).

You, in your comments, claim a general lack of evidence on the matter.  That is, however, reason for caution not reason for comfort.  The very problem with the hydrofracking is that it was exempted from major studies before now so there is little evidence to cite either way.  The full-scale EPA study is ongoing.  The ongoing lawsuit in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania is just warming up so studies have not been done entirely, and issues such as the Arkansas earthquakes (see AP Article “Two natural gas companies to suspend hydrofracking in Arkansas earthquake zone”) are still being investigated. 

With respect to your earlier comment about “miles of impenetrable bedrock” can you elaborate on that?  The Marcellus Shale is a complex geologic structure containing a variety of rock types as well as organic compounds, hence the natural gas, and is prone to fracturing, hence the drilling.  It is also, as I understand it, in variable depth to the surface so I don’t see how there is a guarantee of impenetrable bedrock above it.  Indeed the methane leak case cited above would seem to belie that. 

Additionally you stated that “what is injected is returned to the surface” do you mean that they achieve 100% recovery?  If so I have found no data to support that and my own recollection is that the recovery rate is actually much lower, around 60%.  If you have sources that can cite them will you please post it.  A title and author name is sufficient as is done in print media and as I have done here.

I stand somewhat corrected.  According to an article on ProPublica “In New Gas Wells, More Drilling Chemicals Remain Underground” the amount restored is, according to industry testimony, variable and in newer Marcellus Shale wells may leave as much as 85% underground.

I guess there is a reason that Fox news chose its name: they are all in favor of FOXES being put in charge of hen houses.

There is no longer even the appearance of propriety, of fairness.

The oil industry is one of the biggest and MEANEST in the world.

Virtually every right wing politician in America is paid for by big Oil.

When will people get it?

CL, I never said that there have not been and cases of drinking water being fouled from drilling activities, I said that fracturing fluids haven’t been found in well water. The gas contamination cases, as cited in the Nov 9 article, are not exclusive to hydro fracking operations. In fact, construction of ordinary water wells have run into gas deposits leading to issues similar to what was experienced in Dimock, and in some cases much worse. In fact, just 2 months ago crews drilling a water well in Dryden NY hit a shallow pocket of pressurized methane and it took the fire departments of three towns to get it under control.

With respect to the “miles of impenetrable bedrock”, why do you think the gas is still there? This gas has been trapped under the bedrock for millions of years, if the bedrock was permeable or if there were extensive cracks of fissures that propagated from the shale layer to the aquifer, the gas would have escaped eons ago. In fact, one of the reasons the gas in Dimock was able to be positively identified as coming from the shale layer is because its been down there so long that it has a distinct isotopic signature, different from newer biogenic natural gas. The methane leak in Dimock was from an improperly cemented casing, not from shale layer to water table migration. As to why only gas escaped and not drilling fluid think “viscosity”.

As far as the lack of evidence, I’ll let that speak for itself. I understand that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and I also understand the precautionary principle and its application but there have been 100,000’s of wells that have undergone hydraulic fracturing and only a handful of noteworthy incidents.

I also realize that there is not 100% recovery, but that matters how? The correlation made was to deep well injection for hazardous waste, which is almost all waste, and hydraulic fracturing, which is almost all water and sand, is what I was getting at.

CL

According to an article on ProPublica

That was your first mistake.

Ryan Langemeyer

March 10, 2011, 2:16 p.m.

Well folks… we can emulate Tunisia and Egypt, or we can follow in the footsteps of Libya. Which will it be? With the Police State fully in control of the country, I guess I expect it will have to be Libya. Take stock, people. We are coming to a place where we will be forced to make a choice.

Mike H.  With regards to your comments on the fracturing fluids not having been found I would point to my comments regarding the ongoing nature of these studies as well as additional open cases such as this one: “Hydrofracked? One Man’s Mystery Leads to a Backlash Against Natural Gas Drilling”.  In short the jury is still out, and will likely be out for some time, on whether the chemical compounds found are due to the fluids or not.  In discussing contamination due to drilling I am not focused solely on the fluids but on contamination that can result from allowing other chemicals to make water undrinkable.  Either way, fluids or other discharge, the water is fouled and the damage is done. 

With respect to the “Miles of impenetrable bedrock” I think that we are talking past one another.  I was under the impression that you were saying that the shale was under a separate layer of bedrock that would protect it from discharge.  What you seem to be saying is that the shale itself is the bedrock that protects from leaks.  I disagree.

Shale is by its nature a complex structure composed of multiple compounds, some of them organic, as well as stone.  The natural gas as I understand it is not exclusively below the shale layer but is actually within it, mixed in with layers of rock.  The whole purpose of the drilling is to fracture that shale layer thus releasing the natural gas.  Once you crack that layer to release it you cannot safely rely on the ability of the shale to retain it.  Thus it does not count as sealant. 

As to your point about Dimock being fouled by a faulty pipe rather than by subsurface seepage.  Fine if that is the case the fact still remains that their water was fouled and is thus undrinkable so the root premise encoded in the Governor’s move today, that oversight needs to be reduced not increased, remains faulty.  Risks exist and must be addressed. 

As to the 100.00’s of wells that you point to I would point out that current drilling in the Marcellus Shale is occurring in different geologic structures than before and, by the public reporting, much faster and lower than before.  Given the time it takes for wells to be made and for water to seep from point a to point b underground it is, in my opinion, not wise to simply rest on the fact that only a few reported incidents exist so far.  As I stated major investigations are still ongoing.

Mike H, With respect to the “That was your first mistake” what specifically is wrong with that article?  Why can’t it be trusted?

I was waiting for the word “impermeable” to show up. The person who wrote that is clueless. Google “Susquehanna River Sentinel” and find my 2/14/2010 post. If the renowned Dr. Engelder says there’s no such thing as 100% unfractured/impermeable bedrock…who are you to say otherwise? Get you facts right or get out of the game.

It’s amazing how many people buy the corporate crap.

In short the jury is still out, and will likely be out for some time, on whether the chemical compounds found are due to the fluids or not.

CL, No, the jury is not out. These same chemicals are found in thousands of other products, and as much as I sympathies with the plight of the landowners, its far more likely that the contamination came from someone pouring Windex down the kitchen sink or a leaking radiator.

Refer to Bainbridge Township on this one. Here we had the worst case: bad casing, leaking gas, but when compared to a baseline water sample taken before drilling started, no fracturing fluid contamination.

In discussing contamination due to drilling I am not focused solely on the fluids but on contamination that can result from allowing other chemicals to make water undrinkable.  Either way, fluids or other discharge, the water is fouled and the damage is done.


Once again, this is not specific to hydraulic fracturing, or even gas drilling. Any construction activity has the potential for chemical spills. The author of this series would sure like us to believe that chemical spills and the like are hazards exclusive to hydraulic fracturing of gas deposits but that’s just a bunch of hooey.

I was under the impression that you were saying that the shale was under a separate layer of bedrock that would protect it from discharge.  What you seem to be saying is that the shale itself is the bedrock that protects from leaks.  I disagree. Once you crack that layer to release it you cannot safely rely on the ability of the shale to retain it.  Thus it does not count as sealant. 

No the shale lies underneath the bedrock, which lies underneath the water table. If you were to look at a cross section of the crust in question you would see many layers, but in general there is a few hundred feet of soil, sand, and loose rock, then a few thousand feet of bedrock and then a few hundred feet of shale, followed by more layers of bedrock. The bedrock has kept the gas there for around 400 million years since the devonian period (hence the term devonian shale). If there was a way for the gas to escape from the bedrock layer, it would have by now.

As to your point about Dimock being fouled by a faulty pipe rather than by subsurface seepage.  Fine if that is the case the fact still remains that their water was fouled and is thus undrinkable so the root premise encoded in the Governor’s move today, that oversight needs to be reduced not increased, remains faulty.  Risks exist and must be addressed.
 
The water is not undrinkable, people have been dealing with dissolved methane in their drinking water for a long time. Plumbing and pumphouse modification could eliminate any dissolved methane in drinking water supplies. People have lost confidence in the water from the tap, but it wont hurt them to drink it. 

As far as risks and oversight, are the problems experienced in places like Dimock the rule or the exception? If they are the rule and the 10,000’s of wells that have been vertically hydrofractured in Pennsylvania and Ohio we should be seeing hundreds, if not thousands of examples of problems like those experienced in Dimock. If it is the exception, then we should only be seeing a handful.

Since we are, in fact, seeing only a handful of widely publicized cases, it seems to the exception and additional oversight wont stop the exception.

I agree with Ryan. Take a long look in the mirror America, this is not the country it once was. Government has sold us to the highest bigger and that’s corporate America or corporate “Anywhere.”  The American dream is all but gone. We are loosing our rights at an alarming rate, have become politically correct to a fault, are being exploited, poisoned and maneuvered by big business. I feel helpless, I vote every election but now one of my Senators is pushing a bill to prohibit baseball players from chewing tobacco during a game. So why vote if this is all I get.  I’m angry and I’m not alone. Politicians should be looking at Egypt and wondering…..........

@ Don Williams

We are talking about hydraulic conductivity coefficients of 10^-7 and 10^-8 ft/day. So yeah, its pretty much impervious.

Mike H., what are your intentions? Is C. Alan Walker an associate of yours that you want us to ignore while you take the criticisms to take attention away from him or Governor Corbett? Mr. Walker is not the man for the job.

Mike H - Your ‘arguments’ (mostly sharp, derisive statements, short on information) are not convincing. If I understand it right, nobody argues with the information that millions of barrels of contaminated water - post treatment, but still contaminated - are being released into river systems that supply drinking water. This amount is increasing despite vigorous recycling efforts. Applying even a minimal degree of analysis, or merely common sense, how can anyone believe there will be no consequences, that concerns are are completely misplaced?

Mike H you should take a good look at the names and qualifications of the people running this organization. They clearly come from credible experience from all sides of the political spectrum, from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times and beyond. They don’t appear to have a political bias to present. They seem much more interested in doing the job that those in the mainstream media used to do so much more, but the MSM seem to have dropped the ball. They seem to be more interested in protecting all of us and our children and neighbors. You strike me as someone who IS shilling for a corporate interest. I think we should err on the side of caution when it comes to matters as basic as the water we need to use for the rest of our lives. I am very pleased to see they are looking out for our interests. All of our interests and long term too. I encourage you to take a deep breath and see if you can say the same about yourself. Frankly what you say strikes me as short sighted and i find your vitriol scary. Keep up the good work Pro Publica (for the people).

Mike H, think about it.

Millions of gallons of tainted, toxic water being injected under high pressure into the ground X hundreds of gas wells. And the, up it comes but this timelaced with high levels of radioctivity. But you say,it’s OK, don’t worry.

That’s precisely when I worry. When politico’s and Industry Lobbyists tell me not to worry.

The Governor has appointed a man with a clear Conflict of Interst, regardless if he has the authority to regulate or permit anything.

Gee, they are starting to act like they have something to hide.

This type of reckles industrial activity is absolute lunacy.

The worse part is, if we hold them to task, the drilling Industry would find a safe way to do it. The gas isn’t going anywhere, so why not wait?

Oh, I forgot - greed got inthe way.

@ Joe

Mike H you should take a good look at the names and qualifications of the people running this organization. They clearly come from credible experience from all sides of the political spectrum, from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times and beyond.

You ever watch the Blues Brothers? Your statement reminds me of the scene where they played the gig at Bob’s Country Bunker and the proprietor told them that they like both kinds of music: country and western. Partisan or even ideological diversity isn’t much of a feature amongst journalists. Come talk to me when they get someone who used to write for National Reivew.

They don’t appear to have a political bias to present.

That’s not what one of Lustgarten sources, Mark Thiesse, has stated:

I’d like to thank you for your recent editorial on the ProPublica article. I was one of the folks (I’m with the WY Dept of Env Quality) interviewed for this article by Mr. Lustgarten. I spent several hours on the phone and around a dozen follow up emails to try and help him write a factual article. Unfortunately he seemed to have his own agenda. The one error that was most blatant from my perspective was the “20 mile long plume” that he mentions. I must have told him 5 times that it was individual impacts to separate water wells due to water well drilling practices – not related to oil and gas drilling at all – but that did not make it into his article that way.

They seem to be more interested in protecting all of us and our children and neighbors. You strike me as someone who IS shilling for a corporate interest.

Ah, yes, its all for the children. Thanks for clearing that up.

I think we should err on the side of caution when it comes to matters as basic as the water we need to use for the rest of our lives. I am very pleased to see they are looking out for our interests. All of our interests and long term too.

Truth be told, I am in the energy business, but my particular “business interests”, as they are, run directly counter to natural gas users. You could say that the cheaper and more widely used natural gas is, the less potential work I have. But that’s OK, because I understand this shale gas development is vitally important to our national economy, our national security, and our general prosperity. But I am good at what I do, and if my work dries up, I can always find another job somewhere.

But if the environmental loonies have their way, none of us will be able to find work someday and won’t be able to feed our children. So please, I beg of you, think of the children!

The problem with most articles involving technical matters is the reporter usually has at best a superficial grasp of the issue. With the tens of thousands of pages of material, you need a trained eye to know what to emphasize, what’s important and what’s truly relevant to the subject at hand. When issues need clarification, you need to have reliable well respected technical experts (and no, cranks Theo Colborn don’t count) who can help clarify issues.

Of all the articles I have read here at Propublica, I have seen very little of any of this. Whether its on gas drilling or pipeline safety it mostly garbage. And I hate using that term on the off chance that the authors might actually have sat down to write something impartial.

But in this case, as David Kopel demonstrated, this series isnt worth the pixels its written on, and I will be here every step of the way to remind readers of that.

The discussion about the 2004 EPA study on the safety of hydraulic fracturing should include a careful review of that study.  It was limited to the fracturing of coal seams to recover methane (natural gas), since that was the issue at hand in 2004.  Those coal seams studied were very shallow compared with the depths Marcellus shales are found, and as such the hydraulic pressures necessary for a successful fracture of the coal seam were far less than the pressures required to fracture Marcellus shales.  Most coal seams tend to fracture horizontally, while deeper rock tends to fracture vertically (the geology here gets away from me, but just read the report). 

My point here is that the 2004 EPA study cannot be applied when discussing the safety of hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus shales.  The application of hydraulic fracturing within Marcellus shales is still new, and there just isn’t much to put one’s finger on.  While there is an awful potential for groundwater contamination should a frak operation go terribly wrong, there’s no evidence it has happened yet.  Yet. 

Groundwater moves, usually very very slowly.  An incident releasing contaminants from a frak operation that occurs deep underground will not be noticable until the contamination migrates somewhere that fresh water is utilized, whether it’s a well or stream. Once contaminated fluids get into a groundwater aquifer, though, there’s no practical way to remove them.  And pity the regulatory agency trying to prove who did what a mile underground.

Mike H - Those darn journalists - they are all so biased - always trying to convince us that the sky is falling or some such crazy thing. You can’t believe anything they write. Its a good thing you are here to give us fair, impartial information.

You state: Once again, this is not specific to hydraulic fracturing, or even gas drilling. Any construction activity has the potential for chemical spills. The author of this series would sure like us to believe that chemical spills and the like are hazards exclusive to hydraulic fracturing of gas deposits but that’s just a bunch of hooey.

I agree. You guys are all actively polluting the earth. Why should fracking be treated any different? What’s a little methane or radioactivity in the environment? After all its all natural.

You do the condescending expert role pretty well. How much do they pay you?

Guivion Zumbado

March 10, 2011, 5:17 p.m.

I always wonder what else we can do aside from a virtual discussion to make a difference. I do fear that there is a big-business-first mentality which pervades our nation. I am afraid this has been the case for a long time already. I further believe that natural gas, along with most other sources of energy we rely on are not helping us to improve our relation to the our natural surroundings. Therefore, our livelihood would be best served if we should rescind plans that simply perpetuate our dependance on non-renewable fuels, state-sponsored or not. Politics are so isolated from the populace!

Conversely, I am convinced ProPublica has a major stake in disseminating useful information to our nation’s scores of willing, empowered generation that will make a difference… ideas and reports such as this publication, which so many other news networks have overlooked. It behooves such unconventional spaces as the news comments threads to enliven our great nation’s values… values still clinging to hope… do we call it hope? Is there a hope we can secure Pennsylvania’s environmental future? Is there hope that our views, words and actions can yet reverberate in the interest of those who inherit a posteriori or is this a mere whimsical speech of separatist minority?

Wow…remember back when the Republicans were reticent about letting the the American people find out that they didn’t work for the citizens of America but rather worked for one or two wealthy individuals or corporations?

All I can figure is that the Republicans have supreme faith in their ability to use the Supreme Court’s anti-democratic gift of Citizens United to throw all future elections forevermore.

Pretty bad…the corruption I couldn’t countenance in Congress and the Supreme Court is now metastasizing throughout America.  The bad thing is I’ve not seen a Republican in 30 years who did anything other than get more arrogant and more contemptuous of “average Americans” once they received a little power…and now they’ve got a lot of power.

Which is a perhaps obscure hint along the lines of “The worst is yet to come.”.

The NY Times also ran another series of articles on another radioactive threat to every household - Granite Countertops!!

These articles ran in 2008 failed to raise their newspaper sales when experts testified that one would have to eat many pounds of the counter top to provide the remost threat.

Thank you NY Times for making sure that we do not drink several hundred gallons of Marcellus slurry.

As was suggested earlier in this thread maybe Mike H and the other condescending short term profit thinking people join these threads to distract us from concentrating on what we really need to concentrate on. We should be trying to try to figure out how to stop the greedy folks who tell us that we are destroying our futures and our job outlooks because we express our concerns. There will probably never be a way to convince the Mike H’s of the world of the arrogance or greed of their positions. maybe we need to let them spew their smoke clouds while we try and figure out what we can do to help ourselves and yes our children (whom he so snidely derides) get some real thoughtful protection from greed. Maybe we are letting him frame the agenda and we might be better off ignoring him. I don’t think it would be at our own peril. I am still old enough to remember the tobacco company shills claiming there was no “definitive” evidence linking their product with cancers or other deleterious side effects while they knew from there own secret studies that they were not telling the truth. Once our water table gets polluted by short sighted greed then we may be in a worse position. Like Mike H says he will be here forever to obfuscate. Is it time to move on from him and concentrate on what we can do? After all it really doesn’t matter to him what we say.

Mike H, I disagree.  You say you find it likely that they came from deposits of household chemicals but that does not prove that they did.  Nor does it prove that they are safe.  One is not supposed to drink Windex.

In the case of Dimock the state focused on the methane but according to an AP report published on (see “Report: Fracking chemicals found in Dimock, Pa., water wells already contaminated with methane”) at least one outside investigator has claimed to have found fracking chemicals.  Clearly this needs to be checked separately but it is not the case that the chemicals have been ruled out. 

The case of Pavillion Wyoming that I cited above points to this.  In the preliminary investigation released by the EPA in September 2010 they found a variety of chemicals ranging from benzine and methane to diesel in the wells.  Yet they stated that they had not yet determined what the source of the contamination was and continue to search.  Ergo the jury is still out. 

As to the depth of the shale I would like to see the geologic chart you mention.  According to a generalized chart, available via Wikipedia, the Marcellus Shale lies below the Tully Limestone and the Harris Shale but that is only in the generalized layout.  As a chart lower on the site shows the wear face is not consistent and thus the shale itself is even exposed in areas thus negating the global guarantee of sealing.  If there is another uniform layer of bedrock blocking it I would be happy to hear of it.  What did you mean in your response to Don Williams?


As to the water being safe to drink that does not seem to be the consensus.  In Dimock the town was hooked up to a neighboring town’s water supply and in Pavillion the EPA issued a recommendation that the water not be used for consumption or cooking even for some wells that were thought to be safe as they had no obvious taste. 


To step back a bit you and I seem to be talking past one another.  You seem to be arguing that because no case has been shown, to your satisfaction, to be the exclusive result of fracking chemical contamination.  You do not seem to include, as I do, the prospect of contamination due to other chemical release or geologic changes due to the fracking of the type that seem to be affecting Arkansas.  And you argue that given what has been done we should be fine.  I disagree.

In my view more work needs to be done and is being done on this.  The existing 2004 EPA report was focused on drilling as it had been done to that point.  Current drilling efforts are going fast and furious and drilling much deeper than before with newer techniques.  There is therefore no basis to say that the preexisting wells guarantee new safety.  Moreover, given the short age of many of these wells there is little reason to assume that any problems that they might cause have already appeared. 

In general I believe that more comprehensive work and monitoring are required not less.  As a resident of Pennsylvania I also believe that our long-term economic health is better sustained by improving oversight and guaranteeing stable and healthy water supplies to our citizens, healthy from all sources of contamination not just the chemicals, and thus I worry about our Governor’s latest decision to hand the process to a person who has had a poor track record with oversight.

Fracking aside, I find it unbelievable someone can give a politician a few hundred thousand dollars and be appointed to a position that oversees the industry in which he made his millions. And they do it right in our face with impunity. Does it say something about them, or something about us.

It’s not only fracking that is a danger! The dangers of horizontal drilling is a danger in and of itself. The fallout and percentage of contaminated wells is far too great by any engineering standard that is happening in our area of PA. It appears as a trial and error industry and an industry of sub contractors with little to no oversight.
I am surrounded by this contamination of private water wells. I am friends with some and talked with most. I have seen white water, brown water, black water grey water. This was NOT a preexisting condition. They simply would not have been able to get a mortgage on their home. This contamination was caused by wells being drilled and have not been fracked yet. Putting aside the argument that fracking pollutes wells. If you want to see the truth yourself, I can help get you a first hand look at it. I may even be able to arrange for you to have a nice tall glass of brown, black, grey white, water…......your choice!
There are near 15 contaminated wells within a 5 mile radius. Please don’t tell me these people were hiding this condition before the drilling began, as that would be such a foolish thing to say in light of these people’s suffering. Three new homes built within the last 5 years, all have been recently reappraised because of contaminated wells and the average loss to property is 85%. The replacement water is so chlorinated they boil the bathing water for their babies and toddlers every evening for bathing. You really can’t understand the sacrifices and hardships you have to make when your private water well becomes contaminated. Pictured in our local paper today is a guy with brown water…..He would be the guy with the light brown chocolate water that I could get you, if this is your preference. Yes, methane, radium, barium etc are all naturally occurring substances…...but left alone, they did no harm.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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