Posts Tagged ‘Tioga County’

Cattle may have drunk drill water

State quarantines cattle in Tioga County after exposure to drilling wastewater.

By Steve
Staff Writer

WELLSBORO – The state Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced that it quarantined cattle on a Tioga County farm after it was discovered that they might have ingested drilling wastewater from a nearby Marcellus Shale natural gas well.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a press release the quarantine was warranted to protect the public from eating potentially contaminated beef.

“Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,” Redding said. “Drilling wastewater has high salinity levels, but it also contains dangerous chemicals and metals. We took this precaution in order to protect the public from consuming any of this potentially contaminated product.”

Redding said 28 head of cattle were included in the quarantine, including 16 cows, four heifers and eight calves. The cattle were out to pasture in late April and early May when a drilling wastewater pit on the farm of Don and Carol Johnson leaked, sending the contaminated water into an adjacent field, where it pooled.

The holding pond was collecting flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process on a well being drilled by East Resources Inc.

Grass was killed in a roughly 30-foot-by-40-foot area where the wastewater pooled. Although no cows were seen drinking the wastewater, tracks were found throughout the pool, and the cattle had access to it for at least three days until the gas company erected a snow fence around it.

Testing showed the wastewater contained chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium. Redding said the main element of concern is the heavy metal strontium, which can be toxic to humans, especially children.

The secretary said the quarantine will follow guidelines from the Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Program, which recommends holding the animals from the food chain based on their stages of development – six months for adult animals, eight months for calves exposed in utero and two years for growing calves.

None of the animals appeared sick, department spokesman Justin Fleming said.

In response to the leak, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to East Resources and required further sampling and site remediation. DEP is evaluating a final cleanup report and continues investigating drill site operations and circumstances surrounding the leak.

An East Resources spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

Carol Johnson said East Resources personnel were on-scene within an hour of being alerted to the problem and did “everything they could possibly do.” They found that the leak occurred because of a 2-foot tear in the pit liner. The contaminated soil was removed and disposed of at a facility in Ohio, she said.

DEP is putting together a new list of chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing fluids. A list the department released to The Associated Press on Monday contained not only chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing – a process used to break up the shale formation so the natural gas is released – but also all chemicals found on well-drilling sites.

Copyright: Times Leader

Marcellus Shale Gas Field Maps in Pennsylvania

Tioga County, PA – Gas Exploration

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Bradford County – Gas Exploration

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Susquehanna County – Gas Exploration

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TGP Pipeline 300 & Expansion

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Shale’s financial impact on area unknown

Potential for economic plus to area. Williamsport benefits despite no well within 12 miles.

By Steve
Staff Writer

With most of the nearby Marcellus Shale natural gas production occurring north and west of Luzerne County, the question of whether Greater Wilkes-Barre will benefit with an economic boom or be bypassed remains unanswered.

It depends on a number of factors, including the volume and quality of natural gas that can be harvested in the county.

If prospects are not good here, the proximity of natural gas development in nearby counties could have some impact locally if the infrastructure close to Wilkes-Barre has the most to offer nearby energy companies, drillers and their employees, according to an economic development official in a county that has been reaping the benefits of Marcellus Shale production.

Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, said chamber officials began seeing signs of interest in gas production in Lycoming County about two years ago when the appearance of landmen first became noticeable.

Work had begun on five to seven natural gas wells in northern Lycoming County by the end of 2007, according to records from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

By the end of 2008, 13 more wells had been drilled; another 24 followed last year, and four more have been drilled this year.

And although the closest well is about 12 to 15 miles from Williamsport, the city of about 30,000 is seeing “a number of significant areas of development,” Fink said.

A boom hits Williamsport

The first evidence of business development related to the shale came about a year and a half ago with growth in oil field services. Chief Oil & Gas has been operating for well over a year in the county and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. also has had a presence, Fink said.

Precision Drilling set up shop and Weatherford – a mechanical/technological support company for the oil and gas industry – is in the process of developing a 20-acre site in the county, he said.

Industrial Properties Corp., which is operated by the chamber, sold a 24-acre parcel to Halliburton, which is in the process of developing the property and projects the hiring of 250 employees at the site.

Sooner Pipe, which provides casing pipe for Chesapeake Energy and is one of the largest customers of U.S. Steel, just signed a 10-year lease with the Williamsport Regional Airport for a pipe lay-down yard. That project is expected to employ 50 people when operational, Fink said.

The work force at Allison Crane & Rigging – a third-generation family-owned company in Williamsport – grew by more than 50 employees early on in the well construction phase. And Sooner Pipe intends to use local trucking company Woolever Brothers Transportation to haul all of its pipe when the facility is operational, Fink said.

It’s all about infrastructure

Fink said that Williamsport is benefiting from the gas extraction activity, the heart of which is at least 15 to 20 miles northwest and northeast of the city, because it has more to offer than more rural counties to the north.

“They need to have access to certain infrastructure to conduct their business. We have a highway system, housing, hotels, restaurants – everything they need for their employees. Bradford and Tioga are more rural and have very limited hotel space,” Fink said, adding that rail service through Norfolk Southern and a short line and a nearby interstate highway also helps matters.

Bradford County saw 113 wells drilled last year, while Tioga County had 114.

Because of the influx of workers, the city saw demands for home and apartment rentals grow. Developers responded by renovating space above downtown businesses, creating new rental units.

Fink said local unemployment had been hovering around 10 percent, but he’s seen it drop to 9.1 percent lately.

“We’ve been working with the Pennsylvania College of Technology and the local CareerLink office. Really, once more local people are able to gain the skills this industry requires, I think you’ll be able to see a greater economic impact,” he said.

Would it work in Wilkes-Barre area?

“I would think Wilkes-Barre would have the same opportunities if they find gas in volumes in areas proximate to Wilkes-Barre. And the Wilkes-Barre area understands the positive side as well as the pitfalls of the acquisition of natural resources for energy purposes,” Fink said.

Todd Vonderheid, president of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, agrees.

“There’s certainly an opportunity to be captured for the region. Several things have already happened,” Vonderheid said.

Vonderheid noted that several suppliers and vendors to the gas-and-oil industry already are locating in the region and hiring locally.

“We’re trying to facilitate that and make the process as easy as possible. We’re working with energy company officials to better learn what those supply opportunities might be,” Vonderheid said, adding that representatives of Chesapeake and EnCana energy companies sit on the chamber board of directors.

Vonderheid said a presentation for chamber members on Marcellus Shale opportunities, the gas extraction process, environmental issues and the possible economic impact is in the works.

Copyright: Times Leader

Some colleges add programs to train workers

By Andrew M.
Times Leader Staff Writer

The landscape of the state’s northern tier is changing as natural gas drillers set up shop from the Poconos west to Tioga County.

The burgeoning industry also is bringing change to the curricula at some local colleges hoping to capitalize on the need for a skilled and trained work force.

Lackawanna College in Scranton and Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport have launched programs specifically catering to those interested in securing employment in the natural gas and ancillary fields. Other schools, including Johnson College and Keystone College, are investigating courses to prepare students for jobs in the industry.

When the industry made initial steps to move in to the region, Lackawanna College got in on the ground floor.

“Our goal was to try to find a niche where we could train people for jobs they could find here,” said Larry D. Milliken, director of energy programs at the college. The school, with input from the industry, created an applied science degree in Oil and Gas Production Technology program in December 2008.

The school asked Milliken, a former gas company employee with a background as an economic geologist who lives in Dunmore, to help with the program.

He sees great potential for the field and the creation of jobs, as companies look to tap into the gas supplies within the Marcellus Shale, a layer of gas-laden rock about a mile underground across most of Pennsylvania.

“I’m not sure most people realize the magnitude of what the Marcellus can mean and do for the state. … It’s going to be a huge game changer in Pennsylvania.”

Milliken said he sees hundreds of immediate jobs and the potential for thousands more as a result of gas drilling.

As an example, he said one well tender will be needed for every 20 wells that come on line. This year alone, he said, more than 1,000 wells are anticipated to be drilled and that number should double next year. This will mean 50 to 100 new well-tender jobs will be created every year for the next 20 years, he projects.

To prepare potential employees for those jobs, Lackawanna College offers an associate’s degree in natural gas technology and is developing an operating and maintenance degree program in compression technology that could debut next fall.

In addition, the college will soon start giving accounting students at its Towanda Center the option of customizing their degree to prepare them to work in the accounting side of the natural gas industry, Milliken said.

Milliken said Lackawanna relied heavily on curricula and course work offered by established programs at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, Wyo.; North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Using that material, Lackawanna created an outline for its own potential programs and sent it to 10 gas companies “for feedback and modifications before settling in on our own curriculum.”

At the moment, the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport is the only other place to get industry-specific training. The school has partnered with the Penn State Cooperative Extension to create The Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center.

Opened in 2008, the center will identify the industry’s work force needs and respond with education tracks that train people for those jobs. Careers include welders, construction workers, drivers and machine operators and fabricators.Tracy Brundage, the school’s managing director of the Workforce Development and Continuing Education programs, said that as the landscape of the Northern Tier changes, so too do course offerings at the college.

She said input from energy companies has been influential in the design of 21 new courses, including those through the Fit 4 Natural Gas program developed by work force development boards in more than a dozen Northern Tier counties using Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry funds.

Officials from Lackawanna College also lauded the affiliations and assistance offered by gas companies.

“They’ve been very active,” Milliken said.

Last week, Chesapeake Energy donated $50,000 to help Lackawanna College expand its Natural Gas Technology Program at its New Milford Center campus in Susquehanna County. The college plans to use the money for capital-equipment costs in fitting out their new facilities for the program that began last fall.

“We’ve been an eager partner in these efforts,” said Brian Grove, director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy.

Milliken said that in the short time the program’s been up and running at Lackawanna, the partnership has seen tremendous interest from potential students and positive feedback from the industry.

The companies reflected praise for the two-way-street relationship it has with the local schools.

Grove said “crafting an effective educational infrastructure will benefit the community far beyond its borders by equipping locals with skills they can market within the industry. A highly skilled work force is critical to our success as a company and the community’s long-term economic success as well.”

Brundage said that while the program at Penn Tech is still “in its infancy,” she, too, feels confident that the college’s programs have progressed nicely in a short period of time. “I think we’ve positioned ourselves pretty well with the industry. We’re not going to be able to meet all of their needs but we can help with a lot of them,” Brundage said.

So far 65 students have taken a course, including 14 who have completed welding courses. One course was created specifically at the request of the gas industry.

“They told us what they need as far as some of the welding components, so we aligned some things internally to meet those needs,” Brundage said.

Wendy J. Wiedenbeck, a spokeswoman for Denver-based EnCana Oil and Gas, said it’s too early to discuss her company’s needs because it is still in the exploratory stages. The company is looking at drilling specifically in Luzerne County.

“If we are successful and determine we would like to develop additional wells in the area, an important first step will be to understand what work-force development programs already exist in the area and how the curriculum aligns with business needs,” she said.

“New curriculum and training programs often come into existence after we’ve been operating in an area for some time,” Wiedenbeck added. “They evolve from the relationships we build along the way and are very much the result of a collaborative approach. In areas where we have established operations, we’ve collaborated with local colleges to create or build upon programs that help community members build the skills needed to compete for industry jobs.”

Andrew M. Seder, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 570-829-7269.

Copyright: Times Leader

State-owned parcels eyed for gas deposits

By Tom
Sports Reporter

Private landowners aren’t the only group being eyed by natural gas companies as potential lease partners.

Companies are also targeting two of the largest landowners in the region – the Pennsylvania Game Commission and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, hoping to develop the vast gas deposits they suspect sit below the surface.

Officials with both agencies say interest in their property – which totals thousands of acres in the region — is extremely high. Royalties and payments that companies are willing to offer to lease the land are also high, but that doesn’t mean the agencies are ready to sign on the dotted line.

Both agencies control their own destinies on those properties where they own the surface and subsurface mineral rights. When some of the properties were purchased years ago, the seller held onto the mineral rights. But on those state game lands where the Pennsylvania Game Commission owns the gas rights, numerous drilling companies have contacted the agency about its property in the northeast. The attempts have been aggressive, according to Mike DiMatteo, a geologist with the Game Commission’s oil, gas and mineral recovery program.

“Some of them came in and drew a circle from Tioga County down to Centre and over to Wayne and Pike,” DiMatteo said. “They are interested in leasing large areas.”

And the Game Commission is interested in what they have to offer … with conditions.

DiMatteo said the presence of the Marcellus shale layer under the surface of Northeastern Pennsylvania is believed to hold significant deposits of natural gas. The companies want the gas, which is at a record high price, but they need the land to access the layer of shale thousands of feet below the surface.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Mark Carmon said his office has issued less than a half dozen permits for gas drilling in the Northeast and most of the interest is in Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

Despite the high interest, the Game Commission has so far entered into one lease agreement in the Northeast (State Game Lands 123 in Bradford County). DiMatteo said two more agreements are in the works and they are looking at more.

He added it’s too early to tell how much revenue natural gas wells would generate for the agency because the process is in the exploratory stage.

Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said the agency receives an average of $2 million to $3 million a year, up significantly from an annual average of $300,000 a couple years ago. Most of that revenue is generated from active wells in the southwest and north central parts of the state.

“There hasn’t been enough development in the Marcellus formation yet to know what a typical well will produce. The companies are pretty tight-lipped about what’s there, so it’s hard to put a dollar value on the potential reserve,” DiMatteo said.

Based on the agency’s experience with wells drilled on game lands in other areas, they know what to include in a lease to protect wildlife and habitat. The agency prefers companies utilize existing timber and maintenance roads to access their wells, and areas such as wetlands, unique habitats and places holding threatened or endangered species are avoided.

Before a lease is signed, the agency conducts a resource recovery questionnaire of the game lands to assess the pros and cons. Leases typically last for five years or as long as the well is producing.

“In some areas we find we can’t take a risk with the habitat, so we won’t have any activity there,” DiMatteo said.

When the well is taken out of production, it must be capped and the area and access road must be seeded as a wildlife food plot or used as forest cover.

Like the Game Commission, the DCNR is open to the prospect of natural gas drilling on its property – just not right now. According to Teddy Borawski, minerals section chief with the Bureau of Forestry, the agency isn’t entering into any lease agreements until it completes an internal study on the matter.

The agency has wells operating from past lease agreements, and when it determines which properties it wants to make available for additional leases they will be put out for bids.

“There’s a very large amount of interest in state forest and state park land in the northeast,” Borawski said.

State park lands are off limits to gas drilling because the practice would conflict with the recreational use of the property, he added.

Borawski said leases entered into with his agency carry the strongest environmental stipulations in the state. They include a stringent environmental review, an exceedance of DEP regulations, safeguards against surface and groundwater contamination and significant setbacks from streams.

State forest and state game lands are attractive to gas companies because it is more efficient to lease large, contiguous blocks of land. Stephen Rhoads, president of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, said drilling goes as deep as 8,000 feet and extends horizontally several thousand feet, which can cover a few acres. Companies also conduct seismic exploration before they drill, and a large area is needed for the research.

Rhoads criticized DCNR’s move to wait to enter into lease agreements, because it benefited financially from the practice in the past.

“The impact of oil and gas development on the surface is trivial. There is no chronic environmental impact,” he said. “There is a more significant impact to DCNR putting wind turbines on their ridge tops.”

While DCNCR continues to study the matter, DiMatteo said the Game Commission may be ready to seek more bids in the next few months. To wait for the price of gas to increase, he said, is too much of a risk because the Marcellus formation may prove not to be profitable once drilling commences.

“These wells could be a boom or a bust. We’re willing to listen and explore, but we’ll approach it with caution,” Feaser said.

Properties breakdown

Mike DiMatteo said most of the interest in gas drilling has been for Game Lands located in Bradford, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties. Here is a breakdown of how much property the Game Commission owns in those counties:

Bradford County: 53,429 acres

Columbia County: 21,532 acres

Pike County: 24,467 acres

Sullivan County: 57,752 acres

Susquehanna County: 14,358 acres

Wayne County: 20,637 acres

Tom Venesky, a Times Leader outdoors writer, can be reached at 829-7230

Copyright: Times Leader