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New York Times Exposes Gas Drilling Dangers – Feb. 28th 2011 Newsletter

Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

New York Times Exposes Gas Drilling Dangers

In a lengthy article published in yesterday’s Sunday edition of the New York Times, investigative reporter Ian Urbina exposes the frightening lack of regulation for wastewater generated by gas drilling. RDA encourages you to read the full text of the article, and share the links below with those in your sphere of influence. Here’s a brief excerpt: High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing—or hydrofracking—carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas. With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene, and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself. While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood. The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle. Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law. The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. Read the entire NY Times article: View the interactive map: View the documents referenced in the article:

PA suspends air pollution controls at drilling sites

Just a week after repealing a policy requiring an environmental assessment of Marcellus Shale gas well permit proposals in state parks, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has announced it is suspending and reconsidering key air pollution controls governing the drilling industry. The latest policy changes would eliminate a December guideline that regulates emissions from all well operations in a region together, which could result in stricter pollution controls than if the wells are regulated individually. The department is soliciting public comments on “whether any guidance or policy should be considered on this topic, and, if so, what such a policy or guidance might provide.” The DEP also is seeking public comment on a policy adopted last summer that regulates emissions from non-road, “stationary engines,” including natural gas compressor station engines, which can be diesel or natural gas-powered and can be sources of smog producing emissions. “This is troubling,” said Jan Jarrett, President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, “These are the first Marcellus policies the Corbett administration is trotting out and it appears they are all rolling back environmental protections related to the gas industry.” Excerpted from an article by Don Hopey: Read full story here:

Environmental impact unknown

Since Marcellus Shale first became a household name in Pennsylvania, it has been touted as a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity for the state. The installation of thousands of additional miles of pipeline in Pennsylvania is one of many impacts Marcellus Shale development is having on Pennsylvania’s environment, resulting in air and water pollution and forest fragmentation. But the possible environmental impact resulting from drilling may hurt some local industries like tourism, and harm the overall quality of life in central Pennsylvania. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Pennsylvania, accounting for $9 billion in annual revenue and employing 132,800 people. Tourism contributes $16.9 billion to the state gross national product, representing 3 percent of Pennsylvania’s total gross state product, according to a 2009 report by Schneider Downs, a Pittsburgh-based business advisory firm. Industry officials insist that the drilling process, if performed correctly, poses no risk to the environment. With more than 1,600 environmental violations to its name since 2008, though, some are concerned the potential for harm to Pennsylvania’s forests, water and quality of life are greater than the industry is letting on. Highly regarded trout streams such as Spring Creek have an indefinable impact on Pennsylvania’s economy, attracting visitors to the state and maintaining a high quality of life for residents, said Dave Sewak, a field organizer for Trout Unlimited. “If you have a famous stream that gets eradicated, that could be affected by a spill even if it’s not in an area that has Marcellus (drilling), there’s an economic ripple effect,” Sewak said. “Fly shops, guide services, hotels, and the list goes on — a lot of people’s livelihood is tied to that good, clean water.” Even without a major disaster, the cumulative effect of many minor environmental violations could negatively affect water quality and trout stocks, Sewak said. “We’re very concerned about [drilling] because of the massive quantities of water that are going to be used to drill wells, then come up dirty and have to be disposed of,” Sewak said. “A lot of the drilling is actually occurring near our headwater streams, and there’s concern about erosion, sedimentation and pollution.” Terry Maenza, a spokes­man for Pennsylvania American Water, which supplies water to 2.2 million Pennsylvanians, including thousands in western Centre County, is also worried about the potential impact a drilling accident or incorrect disposal of frack water might have on the state’s water supply. Maintaining Pennsylvania’s water supplies as clean and potable, he said, is vital to the state’s future. “People aren’t going to live here if they don’t have access to clean water,” Maenza said. Mike Jacobsen, an associate professor of forest resources at Penn State, is concerned that the increasing amount of drilling being done in Pennsylvania’s wooded areas could result in further forest fragmentation. The combined effect of building thousands of miles of new roads and pipelines in remote areas and clearing thousands of acres of forest land for gas pads could divide woodlands into smaller, more isolated parcels, damaging the forest ecosystem and harming its biodiversity and overall health, Jacobsen said. Excerpted from an article by Cliff White

Drillers set sights on shale reserve deeper than the Marcellus

Another underground strip of shale [the Utica] in Pennsylvania, much deeper than the Marcellus formation, is drawing attention from natural-gas drillers.  The rock layer stretches far beyond the edges of the Marcellus, covering most of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia, along with eastern Ohio and parts of other states. “A number of companies are taking a careful look at this shale, and in eastern Ohio there’s been a fair amount of leasing” for well development, Penn State University geosciences professor Terry Engelder said Monday. Gas producers could drill down and then horizontally, and inject high-pressured water, sand and chemicals to fracture the shale and free gas deposits, just as they do in Marcellus fields, Engelder said. The additional depth isn’t a hindrance, he said. “There’s the Haynesville formation in Louisiana, where drillers are going as deep as 13,000 feet using the same technology,” Engelder said.  The Utica is about 7,000 feet below the Marcellus in central Pennsylvania. In Western Pennsylvania, the Utica layer runs 11,000 to 12,000 feet deep. Excerpted from an article by Kim Leonard: Read entire story here: Â

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