Posts Tagged ‘The Times’

Area’s first well nearing gas lode

By Steve Mocarsky
Staff Writer

FAIRMOUNT TWP. – Having drilled 8,100 feet straight down into the earth beneath the Buda 1H Well Pad, Encana Oil & Gas is now preparing to begin the horizontal leg of the first Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Luzerne County.

Company officials on Thursday provided a tour of the well pad off state Route 118, out behind Ricketts Glen Hotel, explaining various parts of the drilling operations and noting extra safety measures employed, given the proximity to wetlands.

As an automatic pipe handler lifted 40-foot sections of drill pipe, each weighing about 650 pounds, from a storage area on the ground onto the drill rig, Encana operations engineer Joel Fox explained the purpose of some of the equipment used on-site.

“This is one of the modern rigs with an automated pipe handler. … In the old days, you had roughnecks out there handling that pipe, two or three guys muscling around, fighting that pipe. This system’s a lot safer,” Fox said.

Joining Fox were Encana operations engineer Ashley Lantz and environmental health and safety coordinator Jarrett Toms.

Toms said there have been no health or safety related issues on-site since the drilling began last month.

Fox showed some large steel pipe, called casing, stored there. Surface casing is run down into the well bore about 425 feet and is “what provides the protection of your fresh-water aquifers. That’s been run already and cemented,” he said.

He also showed intermediate casing, which is run down to 2,150 feet. The intermediate casing is cemented inside the surface casing, and cement is also pumped around the exterior pipe to prevent gas from seeping up the outside of the casing and into ground water.

A third string of steel casing – production casing – will be run into the total depth of the well after horizontal drilling is complete. The horizontal drilling begins by drilling a curved path from a vertical well bore to 90 degrees over a 900-foot span.

“The pipe is pretty flexible. It’s stiff and strong, but it will bend,” Fox explained.

During drilling, rock and drill bit cuttings must be removed from the well bore.

Fox pointed out pallets full of bags of chemicals that are mixed with synthetic food-grade drilling oil to make the drilling mud.

“It looks and feels like baby oil,” he said. Emulsifiers are added to the oil and water to make the mud viscous so it will carry the drill cuttings to the surface of the well for removal.

When drill cuttings come up, they’re cleaned, mixed with sawdust, stored in covered containers until tested by the state Department of Environmental Protection and then hauled off to a landfill.

Fox also noted there is no reserve pit to hold the cuttings at the Buda site.

“This is an entirely closed system. In other words, there are no open pits that you hear people talk about a lot in the newspaper. All fluids are contained in tanks; drill cuttings, fluid is all in tanks,” Fox said.

“We consulted with DEP, and because we’re in a wetlands area, a closed system made a lot of sense,” Fox said, even though a closed system is more expensive to operate than using a reserve pit.

It also made sense to use a closed system at the site because the water table is high in the area, so a pit could not be dug very deep, he said.

To protect the ground from potential spills of any fluids on-site, the part of the well pad under and around the drill rig and all of the tanks and equipment is covered with liners hung over berms that look like barricades, Fox explained.

“We call these duck ponds. If something gets spilled, it stays in there. And we have what looks like a large Shop-Vac device. So as soon as any fluid or rainwater gets on that liner, we can suck it up like a Shop-Vac in your basement,” he said.

Fox also pointed out four monitoring wells the company drilled at strategic locations between the site and Ricketts Glen Hotel, which has the nearest water well.

Also on-site are five trailers for office space and to house some staff. There are five people with the drilling contractor – Horizontal Well Drillers – plus two to five Encana employees, drilling specialists and contractors on-site at all times.

It should take 10 days to two weeks to drill the 3,500- to 4,000-foot horizontal leg of the well, also called the lateral, in a southeast direction. The company uses computerized equipment near the drill bit to make sure the well bore is going exactly in the direction the engineers want it to, Fox said.

“It’s like a GPS on the (drill) bit,” he said.

View article here.

Copyright:  The Times Leader

Gas firm looks to hearing on 10 new well permits

Those against Encana Oil & Gas plans ponder appeals for permits already granted.

By Steve Mocarsky
Staff Writer

As Encana Oil & Gas officials await a hearing next month on zoning permits for 10 new natural gas wells in Luzerne County, gas-drilling opponents are contemplating a second appeal for permits that already have been issued to the company.

Encana recently filed applications with the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board seeking temporary-use permits and special exceptions for drilling five natural gas wells and height variances for building a gas processing facility at a site nestled between Loyalville, Hickory Tree and Meeker roads in Lake Township.

The company also applied for the same types of permits for drilling wells on two properties in Fairmount Township – two wells on a site northeast of the intersection of state routes 487 and 118, and three wells on adjoining land to the northeast.

The zoning hearing board has scheduled a hearing for 7 p.m. Aug. 3 to hear testimony on those applications.

The Lake Township site, owned by 4P Realty of Blakely, is about 600 acres. The two Fairmount Township sites consist of 13 parcels – some owned by William Kent of Benton and others owned by Jeffrey Hynich of Lake Township – spanning nearly 480 acres. They are referred to as the Red Rock/Benton Gas Consortium Lands in a lease with Encana.

Encana would move forward with drilling wells on those properties if two exploratory wells in Lake and Fairmount townships prove successful.

Drilling on the Fairmount Township property of Edward Buda is expected to begin within five to 10 days, Encana spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenbeck said.

Encana won zoning approval for drilling on a Lehman Township property owned by Russell W. Lansberry and Larry Lansberry in April but withdrew the application last week – less than a month after township residents Dr. Tom Jiunta, Brian and Jennifer Doran and Joseph Rutchauskas filed an appeal of the zoning approval in county court.

Rutchauskas said on Tuesday that attorneys for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition are checking into the possibility of appealing the issuance of zoning permits about two weeks ago for Lake Township property owned by Amy and Paul Salansky on which Encana plans to begin drilling later this summer.

The county zoning hearing board approved the permit applications for the Salansky property in May.

Rutchauskas said he was told by a zoning official that it was too late to file an appeal on the Salansky permits because one must be filed within 30 days of the zoning hearing board’s decision.

“We’re having lawyers check into the timeframe of when the permits were approved and when they were issued. Our stance is that the 30-day timeframe is from the day the permits were issued, not from the day they were approved,” Rutchauskas said.

He said the permits could not be issued until the board received several response plans from Encana, such as a traffic management plan and an emergency response plan.

Eight permits for the Salansky property were issued on June 25 – the same day Encana submitted the plans – and two more were issued on June 28, according to zoning office records.

Rutchauskas said there’s no way zoning officials could have reviewed all the plans the same day, and the permits should not have been issued until the plans were thoroughly reviewed.

“How can you issue a permit without reading the required plans? You can put a Superman comic book in there and they wouldn’t know the difference. Do it slow, take your time, at least open them. I’ve been going through those books almost eight hours,” Rutchauskas said.

Luzerne County Planner Pat Dooley said officials are checking into how an appeal can be filed on the issuance of a zoning permit.

Dooley said he’s not aware of anyone ever appealing the issuance of a zoning permit, only the approval of a permit.

Contact the writer

View article here.

Copyright:  The Times Leader

Some urge suspension at forum on drilling

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak holds a meeting at Misericordia University.

By Sherry Long
Staff Writer

Published on June 13, 2010

DALLAS TWP. – Property owners concerned about the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling on water reservoirs made their views clearly known Saturday afternoon during a packed town hall meeting at Misericordia University’s library.

They wanted a moratorium enacted immediately on all gas drilling throughout the state until more is known on how to safely drill natural gas wells without using dangerous chemicals in the hydrofracturing process. The process uses between 1 million to 1.5 million of gallons of water per well laced with chemicals and dirt under high pressure to force the ground open to release natural gas, geologist Patrick Considine said.

Considine and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak, whose campaign organized the town hall forum, said that during President George W. Bush’s administration, requirements on oil and gas companies were dramatically lifted. Considine, president of Considine Associates and forum panel member, explained that federal and state officials are not entitled to know what mixtures of chemicals each gas drilling company uses because it is considered a trade secret formula.

He warned that the federal and state governments need more officials to oversee the drilling processes, so the companies are not tempted to cut corners when disposing of the water after the fracking.

“Oil and gas companies need to be held to the same standards as other companies. We don’t need more regulations; we need to find ways to enforce the regulations we have,” Considine said.

People wanting the moratorium drowned out the drilling supporters, including business owner, economist and farmer Joe Grace of Morris in Lycoming County, who sees this industry being one of the biggest Pennsylvania has ever experienced by bringing 88,000 jobs to the state just this year and generating millions in revenue.

Worried about the environment and safety of area water systems, local podiatrist Dr. Thomas Jiunta adamantly disagreed with Grace, pointing to the recent gas well drilling incident in Clearfield County and a gas pipeline accident that killed one worker in Texas.

“This is not a safe activity as we know how to do it right now. We need to stop it first. We are putting the cart before the horse when you are talking about economic boom. You can’t drink gas,” said Jiunta of Dallas, a Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition founding member.

Jiunta added more focus should be put jobs that will support and grow green and renewable energy sources.

Sestak told people he sees gas drilling as an economic boon to the state, yet it needs to be done in a responsible way.

“I think this would be a good way to yes, exploit our resources, but not our communities. Business has to pause. Harrisburg has to stop until we get it right,” Sestak said, adding that he supports enacting a 5 percent severance tax on the drilling companies. He said is in favor of a moratorium

No representatives from the campaign of Sestak’s opponent, former U.S. rep. Pat Toomey, attended the forum.

A statement from the Republican candidate’s campaign staff said Sestak’s plan for taxing the drilling will backfire by pushing those companies to focus on other states.

“Marcellus Shale has the potential to provide Pennsylvania with over 200,000 new jobs and millions of dollars in added revenue, but Joe Sestak’s plan to tax natural gas extraction will chase these jobs out of Pennsylvania. A recent study warned that a tax on Marcellus natural gas output would very likely divert investment to other states like Colorado and Texas. This is further proof that Joe Sestak’s ‘more government, less jobs’ approach is bad for Pennsylvania,” Toomey’s Deputy Communications Director Kristin Anderson said.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, did not attend the forum, but issued a statement Friday stating she was working to develop legislation to protect drinking water from gas drilling practices. Knowing that will take time to become law, she is urging Gov. Ed Rendell to issue an executive order implementing four additional rules before permits can be issued.

Her opponent, Richard Shermanski, a Democrat, attended the meeting, telling people he would not support any form of drilling if he knows it will damage water reservoirs.

Many attending the forum reside in Luzerne County, but some people, including Leslie Avakian of Greenfield Township in northern Lackawanna County, drove an hour to voice their views.

She believes the state’s Department of Environmental Protection needs to be spilt up into two separate agencies because DEP currently issues the permits and regulates the gas companies.

Lynn Hesscease of Dallas told her story of how she became deathly sick after three years of oil leaking in her cellar from a rusted pipe.

She explained how she can’t use any type of products made from petroleum – polyester clothing, petroleum jelly or use plastic cups.

“We have to be very careful it is not near our drinking water and we are not exposed to the chemicals or fumes because if we are, people will get sick,” Hesscease said.

Sherry Long, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7159.

Copyright: The Times Leader

Gas-leased land borders dam

By Steve Mocarsky
Staff Writer

 LEHMAN TWP. – Back Mountain residents and local legislators knew parcels of land leased to natural gas companies for exploration were close to two major water sources – the Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs, but some had no idea just how close.

There is at least one parcel of leased land on the shoreline of the Huntsville Reservoir, and another parcel just a few hundred feet from the shoreline, The Times Leader learned on Monday.

The discovery was made by title searcher Eric Gustitus, of Exeter, and verified by the newspaper through a Luzerne County property records check.

“I was doing a title search on property next to Penn State Lehman and I came across a gas lease on land close to the reservoir. I was shocked,” Gustitus said, explaining that he heard local activists expressing concerns about potential gas well sites being within a mile or two of water sources.

Gustitus located a 3.72-acre property on the shoreline of the reservoir owned by Paul and Janet Siegel, and an adjacent 10.88-acre property to the west owned by their son, Christopher Siegel, and his wife, Maureen.

“Oh my God, am I concerned,” said state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, when told of the proximity of the leased land to the reservoir.

“I’m very concerned about the potential for drilling so close to the reservoir. If you’ve been following the news about Clearfield County and how frack water spewed from the well for 16 hours, you can see why potential for contamination of our water supply is of grave concern to me. And I know my constituents are concerned,” Mundy said.

A blowout at a natural-gas well in Penfield shot explosive gas and polluted water as high as 75 feet into the air last week before crews were able to tame it more than half a day later.

EnCana Oil & Gas plans to drill two exploratory wells this summer – one next month in Fairmount Township and another in Lake Township. After drilling an initial vertical well on a site, the company will drill horizontally, using a process called hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to release natural gas from the thick layer of shale about a mile beneath the earth’s surface.

Mundy is a co-sponsor of legislation that would create a 2,500-foot buffer around water sources such as the reservoirs to protect them from possible contamination from gas drilling-related activities.

The Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs serve as a water supply for Pennsylvania American Water Co., which serves many of Mundy’s constituents.

Mundy said Pennsylvania American President Kathy Pape had expressed concerns to her about water contamination.

Pape said on Monday she is working with Mundy to prepare testimony for the state Public Utility Commission on Marcellus Shale drilling.

Harveys Lake resident Michelle Boice, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition and a commentator on environmental issues related to gas drilling at local meetings, said allowing any kind of gas drilling operations so close to the reservoir is “beyond any kind of reasoning., and it goes to show there are no rules or protections in place for the people.”

Dr. Tom Jiunta, a founding member of the coalition, said it’s “insane how close they are with these leases” to water sources.

Paul Siegel said he’s just as concerned as his neighbors about the potential for reservoir contamination, and that’s why there’s a protective clause in his lease with EnCana. “We have the right not to let them on our land, and we wouldn’t do that because we want to live here,” he said.

Siegel said he agreed to lease the land because he got the impression that everyone around him was signing gas leases.

“When everyone around you is signing, it gets kind of like a mad rush. So, if they’re going to be drilling next to us, and they’re going to be down there anyway, we said we don’t mind if they go under us,” Siegel said.

Christopher and Maureen Siegel could not be reached for comment. Neither could EnCana spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenbeck.

To view this article, click here.

Copyright: The Times Leader

Greenfield considers zoning change for gas drilling

By Libby A. Nelson (Staff Writer)
Published: May 28, 2010

Families appealed decision

GREENFIELD TWP. – A decision on the fate of the first Marcellus Shale natural-gas well in Lackawanna County will be delayed for up to 45 days, as the township’s zoning board considers arguments over a zoning change that allowed the drilling.

Exco Resources (PA) Inc., a gas exploration company formerly named Exco-North Coast Energy Resources, drilled the well in late September and October. In December, a resident complained to township supervisors that the land where the well was located, on Route 247 adjacent to the Skyline Golf Course, was not zoned to permit gas drilling.

The family that owned the land requested a zoning change from commercial recreational to rural agricultural, which would permit drilling as a conditional use, and Exco agreed to stop work until the question was resolved.

The board of supervisors unanimously approved the zoning change in March. A group of six families opposed to the drilling appealed the decision, arguing in a hearing Thursday night that the change was an example of “spot zoning” and should not be permitted.

Spot zoning occurs when a municipality rezones a small parcel of land to permit uses that are not allowed on similar land in the surrounding area. Greenfield’s zoning law permits drilling in rural agricultural zones, but opponents of the change said that the drilling is at odds with the township’s rural atmosphere.

“In my opinion, it is not a compatible use,” said Marvin Brotter, a planning expert who testified that he believed the ordinance constituted spot zoning. “I would not want that use next to my residence.”

In Susquehanna County, drilling has ruined roads and produced “disturbing” dust and noise, said Victoria Switzer, who was party to a lawsuit over contamination allegedly caused by gas drilling near Dimock.

“It’s a total industrialization of a rural community,” Ms. Switzer said.

About 35 people, including some who testified, attended the appeal. The zoning board has 45 days to issue a written decision.

Contact the writer:

To see the original of this article, click here.

Copyright:  The Times-Tribune

Shale coalition president promotes drilling’s economic benefits

Orginally published on May 21, 2010


SCRANTON – The president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition on Monday told regional community leaders that development of the Marcellus Shale not only will help the economy on a large scale, but it’s just as important to recognize the effects on the area business owners and the area job market.

Kathryn Klaber, who was hired four months ago as the first president of the fledgling coalition, said it was formed in 2008 to advance responsible development of natural gas from the geological formation that lies more than a mile below a good portion of the state.

She was a guest speaker at the annual Lackawanna-Luzerne County Indicators Report presented by the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at the Radisson Lackawanna Station hotel.

The report looks at many factors in the area, including jobs, economics, housing and education. All of those are being influenced by development of the Marcellus Shale, Klaber said.

Klaber said macroeconomics are important, “and every shale play has them. But we also realize we have to make this more understandable, that these are real jobs with real companies in Pennsylvania,” she said.

“Around a well site, you’ve got basically a $4 million construction project for each well. And with that comes all sorts of stuff that we make here in Pennsylvania. This is a chance to kind of rebuild that making-and-doing economy,” Klaber said.

Klaber went through each step of well development and explained the types of companies are involved, the kinds and quantities of materials used, and the opportunities that already are being realized by local and Pennsylvania companies.

With new well cementing regulations being proposed by the state Department of Environmental protection, “there is more cement manufacturing that we could be doing here. Rail has been seeing record months of cargo with their hauling related to the Marcellus, she said.

“When we think of it, we just think, oh, the handful of people running that one piece of equipment to drill the well,” Klaber said.

“Oh my gosh, no. In site operation, who’s going to bring backhoes and graders from out-of-state? No, it’s the companies that own the backhoes and graders that is going to be hired to do the site preparation work. Compressors, we’ve got a lot of companies that build components for compressor stations here,” she said.

“Chief Oil & Gas had a 4,000-ton order they just placed with U.S. Steel in the Mon Valley (near Pittsburgh). It’s 50 miles of pipe and that’s only a fraction of what you need in the course of a year,” Klaber said.

Klaber said the coalition is 92 members strong and “growing by the dozens every month.”

Contact the author:

Copyright:  The Times Leader

State has no active drill leases here

The Times Leader staff

There are approximately 49,000 acres of State Game Lands throughout Luzerne County and portions of that are near areas being eyed by natural gas companies.

Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said the agency doesn’t have any active leases for gas drilling at this time in Luzerne County, but in other areas where drilling has occurred on game lands, use by hunters is restricted to a degree.

According to Feaser, the drill sites aren’t classified as safety zones but the access to active sites is restricted. Boundaries are determined by the Game Commission and the gas companies. Once the drilling process is complete, Feaser said, the area is available for hunting and trapping.

On Game Lands where the PGC owns the gas rights and enters into a lease, Feaser said, they typically reach agreements with companies to avoid activity during peak hunting seasons. Also, the agency can prioritize setbacks or limit where drilling can occur near environmentally sensitive areas and other habitats on game lands where it owns the rights.

“Our focus is protecting wildlife habitats, and if there is a possible threat to sensitive areas, we don’t allow drilling,” Feaser said. “However, the complication is when we don’t own the rights to the gas resource, we then lose the ability to control the project.”

Copyright: Times Leader

New gas entry alters picture

People are wondering just what EnCana will bring to Marcellus Shale drilling.

By Steve
Staff Writer

Edward Buda had been dealing with representatives of Whitmar Exploration Co. for about two years since he, his late brother and sister-in-law negotiated a lease with the company for natural gas drilling on their Fairmount Township property.

Crews clear the way Thursday along Route 118 in Lake Township for construction of a road to the Buda natural gas well to be drilled by EnCana Oil & Gas.


• Based in Calgary, Alberta, EnCana was formed in 2002 through the business combination of Alberta Energy Co. Ltd. and PanCanadian Energy Corp. It is one of North America’s leading natural gas producers with a land base of 15.6 million acres in North America.

• The company produces 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and operates about 8,700 wells.

• EnCana operates in the United States through its subsidiary Encana Gas & Oil (USA) Inc., with its U.S. headquarters in Denver, Colo., and field offices in Denver, Texas, Wyoming and Louisiana.

• In addition to the Marcellus Shale, EnCana is active in four key natural gas resource plays: Jonah in southwest Wyoming; Piceance in northwest Colorado; and the East Texas and Fort Worth, Texas basins. The USA Division is also focused on the development of the Haynesville Shale play in Louisiana and Texas.

• EnCana Corp. reported sales of $11 billion in 2009. Its stock trades under the symbol ECA. It has traded between $27.56 and $63.19 per share in the past 52 weeks and closed Friday at $30.28.

Many area properties are leased for drilling

The list of Luzerne County properties leased for natural gas drilling is long – more than 1,000 just with EnCana Oil & Gas. Chesapeake Energy holds dozens more leases, although the company so far has not begun any drilling operations.

Work began last week on the site of Encana’s first exploratory well in Luzerne County, off Route 118 in Lake Township.

The Times Leader obtained drilling leases filed with the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds as of last week. They range from slivers of land – less than one-tenth of an acre – to huge spreads of hundreds of acres. Most are with individuals, others with well-known organizations, such as the Irem Temple Country Club.

All of them are in the Back Mountain or other areas in the north and west parts of the county. Most of the land will never host a gas well but may be needed for access roads, equipment storage and to buffer drilling pads from neighbors.

The lists are in pdf format, sorted by municipality. Duplicate filing numbers were removed, but most properties show up twice because leases originally signed with Whitmar Exploration Co. have been assigned to EnCana. The lists can be searched by name using later versions of Adobe Reader, a free computer program.

Find the lists accompanying the main story under “Related Documents” at

Now, there’s a new player in the mix, since Whitmar announced a partnership with EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. in November for a joint venture in drilling and development of the Marcellus Shale in Luzerne and Columbia counties.

Like others in the Back Mountain, Sweet Valley and Red Rock areas, Buda is a bit wary of the Denver-based energy company.

“We did business with Whitmar. How (Encana is) going to be, I don’t know. How they honor the contract, that’s to be seen. I still don’t know much about them,” said Buda, 75, who lives in Ross Township.

Buda’s brother Walter and Walter’s wife Eleanor signed a fairly simple three-page lease with Whitmar in February 2009, a month before Walter died. Eleanor passed away in November, Edward said, and he became the new lease holder just as EnCana came into the picture.

Now, EnCana wants to lease Edward’s property in Ross Township, but he isn’t too impressed with the $1,000-per-acre offer. And the 16-page lease proposal that has undergone many revisions is written in legalese, he said.

“They wanted to put a drill pad on my property (in Ross Township). I said I want to wait and see what happens in Red Rock (section of Fairmount Township). Everybody’s waiting to see whether it’s going to be a gusher or a fiasco in Red Rock,” Edward said.

Wendy Wiedenbeck, a public and community relations adviser for EnCana, said the well on Buda’s property and a second well planned for a Lake Township property owned by township Supervisor Amy Salansky and her husband, Paul, are exploratory ventures.

If those wells produce an acceptable amount of natural gas, EnCana will develop a plan for expanded drilling operations in the area, Wiedenbeck said. Drilling is expected to begin in July on Buda’s property and gas production should start by October. Clearing of an access road to the site began last week.

Company has won honors

For the past few months, Wiedenbeck has been the face of EnCana locally, arranging and attending meetings with people who live or own property within a mile of the planned drilling sites as well as attending meetings with local groups concerned about drilling activity in their communities.

A self-described “Army wife” with two sons – one in first grade, the other a senior in college, Wiedenbeck has lived in Colorado since 1989 and has been working in community/public relations since the early 1990s. She’s been with EnCana for five years.

“They’re a cultural fit for me. I believe they truly believe in responsible development,” Wiedenbeck said of her employer.

To prove her point, Wiedenbeck provided a long list of awards EnCana has received over the past few years. Just a few include:

• The 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Natural Gas STAR award, recognizing outstanding efforts to measure, report and reduce methane emissions;

• Interstate Oil & Gas Conservation Commission Chairman’s Stewardship Awards, recognizing exemplary efforts in environmental stewardship by the oil and natural gas industry;

• The 2009 Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission Award for Courtesy Matters program in the Denver-Julesburg Basin surrounding Erie, Colo.

“Courtesy Matters” is EnCana’s community engagement program that brings EnCana staff and third-party contractors together with the community to discuss the nuisance issues associated with company operations,” Wiedenbeck said.

“Courtesy Matters creates a working environment where open and ongoing dialog are paramount. Discussions generally include concerns with traffic, noise and dust associated with our operations,” she said.

Community investment vital

Marty Ostholthoff, community development director for Erie, Colo., said in a teleconference that EnCana is one of four major energy companies drilling in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, the others being Noble Energy Inc., Kerr-McGee Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

Fred Diehl, assistant town administrator in Erie, said he would be remiss if he didn’t point out “how far ahead of the other operators EnCana is” when it comes to community investment.

Diehl said he mentioned to Wiedenbeck that officials wanted to install solar panels on a new community center being built, and EnCana donated $250,000 to make that happen. A month ago, the company donated $175,000 for eco-friendly lighting at community ball fields.

“It’s not a requirement that they make notifications to our residents (about drilling activities or problems), but they do. It’s not a requirement that they make financial investments into our community, but they do,” Ostholthoff said.

Of course, there’s a downside to the presence of the drilling companies in the suburban area, which lies in one of the largest natural gas fields in the country, Diehl said.

“These things are still loud,” he said of the drilling rigs. “People come into our offices complaining, ‘We can’t sleep.’ But we worked with the operators to put up hay bales and cargo trailers to minimize the noise. The only good thing is, (the drilling is) temporary.”

As far as addressing concerns of residents, Diehl said all of the companies seem willing and responsive. “If they’re not, one of them can give the whole industry a black eye,” Diehl said.

Wiedenbeck said EnCana will have a toll-free number posted at its drilling sites that people can call to report concerns. Callers who choose the Pennsylvania prompt will be automatically directed to her office or cell phone. An operations phone number also will be established, she said.

And while EnCana will hire someone locally to help with community relations efforts, Wiedenbeck said she will continue to be “that face” for the community. She has spent about half her time in Pennsylvania since EnCana partnered with Whitmar, sometimes bringing her youngest son, Sammy, on trips here.

“He loves Pennsylvania,” she said.

Steve Mocarsky, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.

Copyright: Times Leader

Company defends its environmental record

EnCana’s hydraulic fracturing has never impacted a water well, spokeswoman says.

By Steve
Staff Writer

Wendy Wiedenbeck acknowledges that Luzerne County residents might be troubled by the fact that EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. paid $1.5 million in fines over the past four years.

But Wiedenbeck, the community and public relations adviser for the natural gas company that will begin drilling in the Back Mountain and Red Rock areas this summer, said the company is “committed to responsible development” and today is “a leader in environmental stewardship.”

According to data Wiedenbeck provided at the request of The Times Leader, EnCana was assessed $542,000 on nine fines in 2006; $663,000 on 19 fines in 2007; $306,000 on 19 fines in 2008; and $3,000 on 10 fines in 2009. The data for 2009 is subject to change, she said.

Some Back Mountain residents and elected officials have expressed concern that drilling activities could contaminate water private water wells or the Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs.

Wiedenbeck said EnCana has never had an instance in which the company’s hydraulic fracturing process affected a water well.

“In fact, there has never been an instance where the fracking process impacted water wells. We have, however, experienced operational failures, which resulted in regulatory violations and fines. These range from issues with lost circulation during cementing, which resulted in permanent changes to cementing protocols in 2004, to deficiencies with location signage,” she said.

Encana’s violations have ranged a wide gamut, from a $1,000 fine after a contractor’s truck broke down on a mountain road during a restricted time period, preventing parents from picking up their children from a bus stop in 2002, to the largest fine issued by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission for allowing gas to migrate into a creek.

The commission fined EnCana a record $371,000 after one of the company’s wells leaked into West Divide Creek in Western Colorado in 2004. The seep was found to contain the carcinogenic chemical benzene.

Wiedenbeck said that fine is included in the total assessed in 2006, and the seep resulted from a failure in cementing procedures at the well.

“We made a mistake. We moved too fast. But we worked with the commission to modify and improve the cementing procedure in Colorado. Since then, we’ve drilled hundreds of wells in Colorado without incident. But (the Divide Creek incident) is part of the reason why we’re taking a very thoughtful and measured approach to our operations in Luzerne County,” she said.

Wiedenbeck also pointed to a vast improvement in EnCana’s record related to spills.

In 2009, EnCana had 75 reportable spills totaling 4,036 barrels of material, a volume reduction of 38 percent from 2008 and 87 less than in 2007, she said.

Dave Neslin, executive director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, said commission staff views EnCana as “a responsible operator.”

Neslin said EnCana’s compliance has improved since the Divide Creek seep, and the company implemented an extensive remediation plan. “Much of the impact has been remediated,” he said.

Neslin said EnCana is one of the largest operators in the state, responsible for nearly 10 percent of the approximately 40,000 active oil and gas wells in the state.

He noted that the company was the first to voluntarily establish a wildlife mitigation program encompassing 44,000 acres to ensure wildlife populations will be protected, and that EnCana won a commission award last year for the company’s Courtesy Matters community outreach program.

Steve Mocarsky, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.

Copyright: Times Leader

Much of Back Mt. leased

Partnership of two energy companies lines up area covering over 25,000 acres in the Back Mountain for gas exploration.

By Jerry
Business Writer

Just a few sites have been approved for natural gas drilling in Luzerne County, but a partnership of two energy companies has signed leases for more than 25,000 acres, primarily in the Back Mountain, to explore the Marcellus Shale formation that runs underneath.

Since September, Whitmar Exploration Co., of Denver, Colo., has been signing leases with property owners in nine townships and Harveys Lake borough. The company has been working with EnCana Oil & Gas USA Inc. in a joint venture to develop the properties. EnCana holds a 75 percent interest in the leases and is responsible for drilling.

Whitmar wanted to partner with an experienced operator, said Wendy Wiedenbeck, a public and community relations adviser for EnCana.

“This is what we do,” said Wiedenbeck. “We have a team working on this project that possesses deep experience gained from working on similar projects across North America.”

EnCana received approval Tuesday from the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board to sink a well in Lake Township and set up a natural gas metering station in Fairmount Township. In April, Lehman Township officials approved drilling for another well.

Wiedenbeck on Wednesday confirmed a map provided to The Times Leader was one EnCana prepared for the Back Mountain Community Partnership to show the extent of the leaseholds.

She cautioned that “the map is quite dated,” having been created in February. Whitmar has signed additional leases into April, according to a search of the county property database.

Wiedenbeck said EnCana’s presence will grow in the region. “As we move forward, EnCana is acquiring new leases.”

When pieced together, the leases cover large swatches of land in the largely rural northern and western sections of the county. The leaseholds range in size from under 1 acre to over 100 acres.

Fairmount Township had the most coverage with approximately 7,500 acres leased, according to the map. Lehman and Ross townships each had nearly 4,300 acres leased; Lake Township, close to 2,600 acres; Jackson Township, 2,400 acres; Huntington Township, 1,400 acres; Dallas Township, 1,300 acres; Hunlock Township, 700 acres; Union Township, 400 acres; Plymouth Township, 200 acres; and Harveys Lake, 50 acres.

The region has also attracted the attention of another major player in the natural gas industry.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. has signed 93 leases since August 2007. More than two-thirds of them were filed this year, according to county property records.

Copyright: Times Leader