Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013 Pa. Marcellus Shale and Energy News Updates, Mar. 18- Mar. 25

Please click on headlines to read the articles.

Pa. DEP secretary Krancer stepping down
Gov. Tom Corbett's often-combative environmental protection secretary will leave the post next month after two years of guiding the agency that regulated Pennsylvania's natural gas boom amid clashes with environmental advocates, federal regulators and Democratic lawmakers.Michael Krancer, who was a state environmental law judge and lawyer for energy giant Exelon Corp. before joining the Republican governor's administration, helped oversee Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and handled emerging issues of river and air pollution as Pennsylvania worked to modernize its laws to address new drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques.
Pennsylvania Judge Orders Records Opened in Fracking Case
A Pennsylvania judge, handing a victory to local media and health groups, ordered documents unsealed in a settlement between gas-drillers and homeowners who accused the companies of contaminating their water.
Common Pleas Court Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca said in a ruling today that the natural-gas drillers failed to overcome the presumption that the records should be open unless the companies, including Fort Worth, Texas-based Range Resources Corp. (RRC), showed they’d suffer harm to trade secrets or reputation.
“The defendants’ assertions of a right of privacy under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are meritless,” O’Dell-Seneca wrote.
In disputes from Wyoming to Texas to Pennsylvania, gas drillers have often demanded homeowners keep quiet about their complaints in exchange for buying their properties, delivering fresh water or paying out a settlement. Without the information about those individual cases, health and environmental groups say they can’t assess the risks of fracking.
Secrecy Lifted in Fracking Case
In December, a Pennsylvania appeals court had ruled in favor of two newspapers seeking to unseal court records in Hallowich v. Range Resources. The case is one of the most closely watched cases involving claims of health impacts and property damage against a Marcellus Shale gas driller. But when the case was settled, the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County sealed all the records at the request of Range Resources. Reporters from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had been barred by court employees from observing a hearing that had been held several days before it was listed on the public docket. The paper’s publisher sued, and was later joined by another daily newspaper, the Observer-Reporter.
In a ruling issued in December, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania said the lower trial court erred in not considering the motion to unseal court records. The trial court had dismissed the newspaper’s motion because it was filed after the case was closed. The Superior Court ordered the Court of Common Pleas to take a look at the newspaper’s requests to unseal the record, and rule based on the merits of the case. On Wednesday, the Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the newspapers to unseal the records, saying the gas driller’s privacy arguments had no merit and the public had a right to know details of the case. StateImpact Pennsylvania has posted all 971 pages of the court document here.
$200M plant coming to Blair
A private company will spend $200 million to build a gas-to-liquids processing plant in Blair County.
Marcellus GTL LLC of Gilberton, Schuylkill County, will build its first Clean Energy Center near the Duncansville intersection of Route 764 and Old Route 22 on land that straddles Allegheny and Blair townships.
The Clean Energy Center will take natural gas and produce about 84,000 gallons per day of regular gasoline and propane to be marketed locally as transportation fuel and for heating uses.
Race is on to ship Pennsylvania natural gas liquids to Gulf sites
Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas via pipeline has become the hottest ticket in the energy industry.
Over the past year, several energy infrastructure firms have announced plans to transport Pennsylvania liquids to the petrochemical facilities and export markets available in towns near the Gulf Coast like Beaumont. Oftentimes, the deals are financed with help from joint venture partners, all trying to solve (and cash in on) Pennsylvania's energy problem. What's the problem? We have the goods but nowhere to take them.
Enterprise Products Partners LP will start building a pipeline next month that will lead from Houston, Pa., to outside Houston, Texas, and should be in service by early 2014. This month, the Williams company announced plans for a joint venture with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners to transport Marcellus liquids from their "infrastructure-constrained" region in Appalachia to a site in Louisiana. Several other firms, including El Paso and Sunoco Logistics, have similar plans.
Fracking companies, environmentalists and philanthropies join forces
A first-of-its-kind effort to set cleaner shale gas development standards and reduce the industry's air and water impacts was launched today by a consortium of gas drilling companies, environmental groups and philanthropic foundations in Pittsburgh.
The new Center for Sustainable Shale Development is a collaborative attempt to reduce the environmental risks and improve the performance of companies working in all phases of Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale development by setting higher performance standards and independently certifying those companies that meet them.
The initial set of 15 performance standards includes limitations on gas well flaring, use of "green completion" including no-leak vales and piping, storage tank emission controls, reduced compressor station and fracking engine emissions, development of groundwater protection plans, improved impoundment integrity, reduced toxicity of fracking fluids and improving water recycling to at least 90 percent.
New Fracking Standards Not Supported by Environmental Organizations
EcoWatch
Environmental organizations are objecting to a misleading announcement coming from the oil and gas industry that says they have “made peace” with environmentalists by agreeing to voluntary fracking standards.
According to the announcement made, the oil and gas industry believes the new standards “could ease or avert some of the ferocious battles over fracking that have been waged in statehouses and city halls.” They’re wrong. In fact, the anti-fracking movement is large and getting larger as evidence mounts that fracking cannot be done safely, contributes to climate change, endangers the human and animal health and safety, tears apart communities, and pollutes our air and water.
“The cynical intentions of the drillers are stated clearly in the announcement. They say they want to ‘hasten the expansion of fracking.’ They say they want to ‘bypass the often turbulent legislative process altogether.’ They say they want to make ‘drilling more acceptable to states and communities that fear the environmental consequences.’  Making drilling more acceptable and making drilling safer is not the same thing. These statements reveal the industry’s self-serving attitude known all too well to those whose lives have been impacted by drilling,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth.
Pennsylvania pushes drillers to frack with coal mine water
Each day, 300 million gallons of polluted mine water enters Pennsylvania streams and rivers, turning many of them into dead zones unable to support aquatic life. At the same time, drilling companies use up to 5 million gallons of fresh water for every natural-gas well they frack.
State environmental officials and coal region lawmakers are hoping that the state's newest extractive industry can help clean up a giant mess left by the last one. They are encouraging drillers to use tainted coal mine water to hydraulically fracture gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation, with the twin goals of diverting pollution from streams and rivers that now run orange with mine drainage and reducing the drillers' reliance on fresh sources of water.
After Fracking Wastewater Spill, Residents and Regulators Believe Water is Safe
Paul Ruhf’s home is just 300 yards away from the gas well on the hillside, outside Tunkhannock, about 30 miles north of Wilkes-Barre.
When the spill was discovered, he spent the night in hotel with his wife and six-year-old daughter. Two other families were also evacuated over fears of a natural gas build up.
When he returned home, he found something waiting for him.
“On my porch was four cases of fresh water, if we didn’t want to use the water that we had for drinking, for now.”
The drill operator, Carrizo Marcellus, has agreed to provide the evacuees with bottled water until testing can be completed. The company has also said they’ll provide water testing to anyone in the neighborhood who asks for it.
Marcellus Production Tops Haynesville
Pipeline expansions serving the Marcellus Shale gas boom have helped boost production rates above seven billion cubic feet a day, according to an analysis by IHS. The report says the Marcellus now leads the Haynesville Shale as the most productive shale play in the country. The Haynesville Shale formation stretches beneath northwestern Louisiana, eastern Texas and southwestern Arkansas.
The largest winners according to IHS are two companies that began tapping the Marcellus ahead of the pack — Range Resources and Cabot Oil and Gas.
Fracking the Farm Part 1: Shale Gas Drilling Divides PA Organic Community
In June 2012, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) asked the governor and legislature of the Commonwealth to place a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction. Like NOFA-NY, they asked that hydrofracking be halted until studies could determine that the industrialized drilling practice will not harm farms, the food they produce and the people who eat that food.
Both NOFA-NY and PASA call for the federal government hold the oil and gas industry to the same environmental regulations as other industries – currently drillers are exempted from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. Both organizations call for drillers to report publicly what chemicals they are using, and to be held accountable for negative impacts.
As far as certification goes, NOFA-NY allows organic farmers to lease their land for drilling – as long as they provide a “safe” buffering distance between drilling activity and their organic fields.  But how close is too close when it comes to growing food near a gas well?
An Enlightening Study on Shale Gas and Water Quality
A team at Resources For the Future (RFF) led by Sheila Olmstead has a neat new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that takes a rigorous look at water pollution due to shale gas development in Pennsylvania. (Hat tip: John Quigley.) The team collected thousands of data points measuring shale gas activity and water quality across a wide geographic area and more-than-ten-year span, and then used careful statistical analysis to test a series of hypotheses about how shale gas development might have affected water quality. What’s particularly interesting about this study is that it doesn’t require physical assumptions. It can also shed light on the cumulative impacts of large-scale shale gas development, going beyond analysis at the level of single pads and wells.
The team’s conclusions are fairly straightforward. They find enhanced chlorine concentrations downstream of waste water treatment facilities but not downstream of drilling sites. Chlorine is a good marker of contamination from well flowback. What the RFF analysis suggests is that leaks or spills aren’t statistically detectable, at least at the watershed level, but that impacts of poorly processed wastewater are. That points to the value of focusing on wastewater treatment facilities if one wants to reduce the impact of chemical contamination resulting from shale gas development. The authors are clear to point out that Pennsylvania has made significant changes in the last couple years in how it handles wastewater; whether those are sufficient given the costs and benefits of additional controls remains to be seen.
Study: Shale Gas Fracking Taints Rivers in Pennsylvania
A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows how two pollutants associated with shale gas — chloride and total suspended solids — enter rivers and streams. 
Used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped deep underground to break apart shale formations to release the natural gas trapped within the rock. There is concern that the chemicals used in fracking may contaminate groundwater and that the fracking process itself causes methane to seep into wells. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a study — to be released in 2014 — regarding the effects of fracking on drinking water.
Typically, groundwater gets most of the attention in the fracking debate, but rivers are also affected by the rush of shale gas development across the United States, according to Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, which are responsible for the PNAS study.

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