Posts Tagged ‘Wayne County’
Experts say area should prepare because drilling is not far off
SCRANTON — Drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale in Monroe and Pike counties? It’s not a question of if, but when.
That was the word from around the state Thursday at a forum at Marywood University, where experts said the region is rich in the valuable fossil fuel.
The bulk of the drilling now in northeast Pennsylvania is along the northern tier but could eventually extend into the Poconos.
Kathryn Zuberbuhler Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said areas more conducive to the entire operation — including roads and pipeline — are the first areas that will be drilled. Once more companies get involved and more money is available, drilling could expand to other parts of the state that haven’t seen it yet.
“There’s only so much capital right now,” she said. “By its nature, you’re going to see that concentrated development.”
Currently, there are no Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Monroe or Pike counties. There is only one in Wayne County.
One roadblock from local drilling right now is the Delaware River Basin Commission, which stopped issuing drilling permits in 2009 until it can formulate a list of regulations gas companies must meet.
Clarke Rupert, spokesman for the DRBC, said the commission hopes to have those regulations finalized by the end of the summer and adopted by the end of the year, admitting that’s an “optimistic” schedule.
Marcellus Shale is found in most of Pennsylvania and parts of New York and West Virginia, about 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the surface. It had been considered too expensive to drill, but advances in technology and the rising cost of natural gas made it more attractive, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The new method of drilling — hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” — uses large amounts of water mixed with sand and other items to fracture the shale and allow the gas to flow, according to the DEP. The water used is then treated before it is released back into the water system.
However, residents near some drilling operations have complained that local water supplies have been damaged. That’s led to some in the state to wonder if this is another coal industry, which ravaged the land of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area before it was gone.
U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-11, called the shale movement “our second chance” to correct the mistakes of the coal industry.
“Don’t exploit us, and we’ll work with you,” he said our message should be to gas companies. “Exploit us, and you don’t know the (bother) we can be to you.”
John Quigley, secretary of the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said about half of Pennsylvania’s state parks are in areas where Marcellus Shale is thought to be present, and about 700,000 of the 2.1 million acres of state forest land already is leased by gas companies.
He called for the state to stop issuing permits to gas companies until there is more known about the industry.
“Frankly, I think we need to take more than a timeout, we need to take a stop,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., encouraged local government leaders who may not have many avenues of protecting themselves to write and even pressure their state and federal representatives to make sure the Marcellus Shale industry is regulated.
“There is almost no area that can look and say, ‘That’s someone else’s problem,’” he said. “We all have to do what we can to make sure this is done the right way.”
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Copyright: Pocono Record
By Steve McConnell (Staff Writer)
Published: August 16, 2010
Although a natural gas drilling ban is in effect for much of Wayne County, one company is lining up permits for what may become the county’s first producing wells – in a small area just a hop across the Delaware River watershed boundary.
Hess Corp. has natural gas development permits either pending or recently approved for at least six hydraulically fractured Marcellus Shale wells along the county’s far northwestern border, according to state Department of Environmental Protection and Susquehanna River Basin Commission records.
Nearly all of the county lies within the Delaware River watershed, a vast 13,539-square-mile area that drains into the Delaware River. But this sliver in its far northern reaches is in the Susquehanna River watershed. There, the presiding Susquehanna River Basin Commission has granted hundreds of water-use permits to the burgeoning industry centered regionally in Susquehanna and Bradford counties.
Hess, which has leased at least 100,000 acres in northern Wayne County in a joint-development partnership with Newfield Exploration Co., had received regulatory approval from both the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and DEP for three Marcellus Shale wells in the Susquehanna watershed as of Saturday, according to a record review.
The permits were issued in late June and July. The pending and approved wells are concentrated in an area that encompasses Scott and Preston townships and Starrucca. The company will be “drilling and hydraulically stimulating one or more horizontal natural gas wells,” according to each permit application.
“An accounting of how (the companies) are going to use the water” is made before the commission decides to issue a permit, Susquehanna commission spokeswoman Susan Obleski said.
Efforts to reach officials with the New York City-based Hess Corp. were unsuccessful.
Drilling in Wayne County’s portion of the Delaware River watershed is a different story.
The Delaware River Basin Commission recently enacted a moratorium on the drilling of producing natural gas wells, which may be in effect for at least six months to a year. Meanwhile, Wayne County does not have a single producing well, nor has it seen any wells hydraulically fractured.
The only natural gas company that has attempted to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Wayne County, Lafayette, La.-based Stone Energy Corp., was issued a stop-work order in the summer of 2008 for its partially completed well in Clinton Twp. because it lacked a permit from the Delaware River Basin commission.
The Delaware River commission, a federal-state environmental regulatory agency charged with protecting the environmental integrity of the watershed, has stringent jurisdiction over the watershed and over natural gas drilling operations there.
It has placed a blanket moratorium on natural gas drilling until it develops its own industry regulations which are expected to exceed some DEP enforced laws.
“(Delaware) River Basin Commission consideration of natural gas production projects will occur after new … regulations are adopted,” said spokesman Clarke Rupert.
Mr. Rupert said draft regulations are expected to be published by the end of the summer. They will be followed by a series of public meetings and comment periods prior to final approval by commission vote.
“I expect those draft regulations will include provisions relating to the accounting of water movement since we would want to know the source of water to be used to support natural gas development and extraction activities in the basin,” Mr. Rupert said.
Meanwhile, the Delaware River commission is allowing 10 natural gas exploratory wells to go forward in Wayne County. They will not be hydraulically fractured, produce gas, or require much water. Hess Corp. and Newfield Exploration Co. received approvals for these wells from DEP prior to the June 14 moratorium.
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Copyright: The Scranton Times
What They’re Saying: Responsible Marcellus Development “A wonderful thing,” Creating “much-needed jobs and economic growth”
- “Business is booming thanks to the lucrative gas drilling industry tapping into the Marcellus Shale”
- Marcellus development “enables those of us who have farms to keep our farms so they can be passed on to our families”
- “Safe and responsible gas development could provide the three counties with much-needed jobs and economic growth”
- WV small business “having a banner year in 2010”
“Marcellus Shale region creating growth of business and industry”: “With the development of the Marcellus Shale region creating growth of business and industry within Bradford County, we feel there is tremendous opportunity for this new hotel. In addition to our locations in State College and Lock Haven, it becomes our third Fairfield Inn and Suites in the region.” (Star-Gazette, 7/14/10)
Marcellus development positively impacting local businesses; WV small business “already is having a banner year”: “Assuming the landowner group agrees to $3,000 per acre, the resulting $79.2 million could have a major impact not only on landowners, but on local businesses. Karen Knight, a partner at Knights Farm Supply in Glen Easton, said her company already is having a banner year in 2010 as both property owners and the drilling companies themselves scramble to acquire heavy equipment and other items. “We have seen a big increase in tractor sales, farm equipment sales, grass seed for reseeding at the drilling sites, straw for reseeding and other items. It’s a better year than 2009 for sure,” she said. “Our counter is swamped every day with residents and representatives from the drilling companies. In fact, our parts and counter people are about done in. We’ve been extremely busy.” (News-Register, 7/18/10)
“Prosperous Plans For Bradford County”: “As gas companies tap into the Marcellus Shale in Bradford County, businesses are looking to cash in on what many now consider a booming local economy. … A once abandoned warehouse is now the home for a trucking company. A hotel — gutted for refurbishing. And a excavator sits in this empty lot ready for its next construction project. One thing is clear in Bradford County — business is booming thanks to the lucrative gas drilling industry tapping into the Marcellus Shale, as thousands of workers and their families flock to the area. “I think there are many small towns across America that would die to have a natural resource that they can sell and revitalize their economy,” said Mike Holt of Red Rose Diner in Towanda. (WBNG-TV, 7/13/10)
Marcellus Shale helping to keep family farms in tact: “Nearly 600 residents attended Wednesday’s day-long DRBC meeting to plead their clashing cases: That drilling is needed not only to produce relatively clean energy but to save economically desperate communities … Landowners like Judy Ahrens of Hanesdale, Pa., argued that they should be able to lease the mineral rights to their land. “It enables those of us who have farms to keep our farms so they can be passed on to our families so they don’t have to be split up and developed,” she said. (Associated Press, 7/15/10)
“Gas drilling not only creates local jobs, but increases the nation’s energy independence”: “Gas drilling not only creates local jobs, but increases the nation’s energy independence, pro-drillers say. “I support gas drilling,” said David Jones, as part of a three-hour public comment period with more than 250 speakers. “I also believe that the industry is being unfairly treated. This process has been delayed for too long. Let’s get the regulations out,” he said, to the jeers of most of the crowd. “We don’t need further studies. The process should move forward.” (Bucks Co. Courier Times, 7/15/10)
Responsible Marcellus development “a win win situation all around”: “Some landowners in Wayne County want natural gas drilling to start and start now. They are upset over a decision to halt drilling by a group watching out for the land and water in the Delaware River Basin. Landowners are ready for the halt on gas drilling to be lifted in Wayne County. “It will help to maintain open space and keep our forest grounds grounded and our farms farming.The influx of cash is desperately needed in the state of Pennsylvania, and particularly in the depressed areas of Wayne County, said Alliance Executive Director Marian Schweighofter. … “The effect this has had is its given us the ability to make a college fund for our family members. We think it’s a win win situation all around, most definitely for the economic ability of Wayne County,” said Schweighofter. (WNEP-TV, 7/13/10)
Marcellus production providing “much-needed jobs and economic growth”: “The bottom line is this: If natural gas drilling has economic benefits for Wayne County and can be conducted safely with people mindful about protecting our natural resource, the Delaware River, then shouldn’t we explore the possibilities? … Mary Beth Wood, WEDCO’s executive director, said it best in stating that the coalition — through pooling resources — can gather the best information available. “Safe and responsible gas development could provide the three counties with much-needed jobs and economic growth,” Wood said. (Wayne Independent Editorial, 7/14/10)
Marcellus economic “ripple effect will benefit everyone”: “The Marcellus shale gas drilling boom drew companies from across the country. More than 100 of them packed the Indiana County Fairgrounds Wednesday. The PA Gas Expo was a job fair, a networking event, and a chance for folks to find out what Marcellus shale gas drilling means in employment for thousands. County Commissioners said they have already noticed hotels and restaurants in Indiana County filling up with gas company workers. They said ripple effect will benefit everyone. “The growth element for the region will not be in just one area, but in many areas. And we need to be prepared for that,” said Rod Ruddock. (WJAC-TV, 7/14/10)
“Is this a golden era for Pennsylvania? Absolutely it is.”: “In a sour economy, the word out of Renda Broadcasting Corp.’s first Pennsylvania Gas Expo was sweet: Now hiring. Several companies at the expo, held Wednesday at the Mack Park fairgrounds, reported thatthey are in a hiring mode as they ramp up operations in the Marcellus shale fields underlying the region. The expo brought together 120 or so natural gas producers, drillers, land brokers, well-service companies, suppliers and job seekers. … “Is this a golden era for Pennsylvania? Absolutely it is,” said Rod Foreman, Vanderra’s director of growth and corporate development, speaking during a panel discussion. (Indiana Gazette, 7/15/10)
Pa. landowner on Marcellus development: “I think it’s a wonderful thing”: “The tiny farming community has struggled to strengthen its economy ever since Mosser Tanning Co. left town in 1961. … So, when a gas company comes and injects millions of dollars into a community that has seen half a century pass by since its industrial backbone collapsed, residents are more than excited. “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Ms. Race said. “It’s got to help financially; much more taxes, much more money. “We’re going to finish paying our mortgage off.” (Times-Tribune, 7/19/10)
Homeowners getting in on Marcellus Shale benefits: “In this struggling economy homeowners have been coming forward hoping to make a big buck from Marcellus shale natural gas drilling boom. Mary Elwood and her husband own a farm in Saltburg, Indiana County. They already have three gas wells and a lease with PC Explorations. Elwood said it is a very profitable endeavor. She wants to sign a lease with another gas company for Marcellus shale drilling. “We get a nice check four times a year,” said Elwood. (WJAC-TV,7/14/10)
Filling county coffers: Marcellus “lease, permit fees good for tens of thousands of dollars”: “The governmental fees related to natural gas drilling that industry officials have been dangling as a cash carrot of sorts to local officials are starting to add up in Luzerne County. A review of county Zoning Office records revealed that just on Wednesday, the office took in $4,450 in permit fees for the construction of a natural gas metering station on property owned by Thomas Raskiewicz near Mossville and Hartman roads in Fairmount Township. … Butthe big winner among county offices to date – as far as revenue associated with natural gas drilling – is the Office of the Recorder of Deeds. (Times-Leader, 7/19/10)
An organization funded by the natural gas industry disputes the HBO film’s conclusions.
After Josh Fox was offered nearly $100,000 to lease his 20 acres in Wayne County to a gas company, he heard two different accounts – one, a story of easy money, the other a tale of horror.
The 37-year-old independent filmmaker set out to find the truth about natural gas drilling, and his conclusions can be seen in his documentary film “Gasland,” to air on HBO at 9 p.m. on Monday.
And while representatives of the gas industry call the film a piece of propaganda filled with exaggerations and inaccuracies, Fox stands by his work and says it’s the industry’s response that is propaganda.
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, as he was getting ready for a special screening of the documentary at the HBO Theater in New York City that night, Fox said a land man with a gas company told him in 2008 that the company probably wouldn’t even drill on the land. But he heard from others that environmentally, gas drilling was “very polluting.”
“There was such a disparity between what was being said and what was being offered, I needed to see with my own eyes,” Fox said.
So, Fox set out for the village of Dimock in Susquehanna County to talk with folks whose well water was polluted by natural gas migration from leaking gas wells.
“It was completely a disaster area. There were Halliburton trucks swarming everywhere. Water was bubbling and fizzing; some you could light on fire. There was a feeling of regret and betrayal in the air,” Fox said.
Residents were unaware of the contamination until Norma Fiorentino’s water well exploded on Jan. 1, 2009, Fox said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection fined the drilling company and ordered the wells capped.
Fox visited 23 other states where natural gas drilling was taking place. He interviewed people whose health and quality of life were negatively impacted; scientists, one of whom warns of the dangers of drinking water infused with chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), which releases the gas from the underground shale formations; and government officials on both sides of the issue.
One of the officials Fox interviewed was DEP Secretary John Hanger, who minimized the negative effects of fracking but refused to drink a glass of water from an affected well, according to a synopsis of the film on the HBO website.
On the same day as a special screening of the film in Montrose earlier this month, Energy in Depth – a gas-industry-funded organization, released an alert on its website entitled “Debunking Gasland,” pulling out numerous quotes from the movie and disputing them.
Energy In Depth claimed that Fox was “misstating the law” when he said that a 2005 energy bill exempted the oil and gas industry from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law and other regulations. The industry is regulated under every single one of those laws, said Energy In Depth spokesman Chris Tucker.
The organization states that Fox was “flat-out making stuff up” when he said the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah gas fields of Wyoming are directly in the path of a 1,000-year-old migration corridor of pronghorn antelope, mule deer and sage grouse, each species of which is endangered.
Energy in Depth countered that three species of the pronghorn are endangered and none are found near the Pinedale Anticline, citing the Great Plains Nature Center; that only mule deer from New Mexico, noting that mule deer are so plentiful in Wyoming, there is a mule deer hunting season; and citing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife report stating that the sage grouse is not on the endangered list and there are “robust populations” of the bird in Wyoming.
Fox also blamed an algae bloom that killed fish and other aquatic life in Dunkard Creek in Washington County on natural gas development, Tucker said. But DEP reports show the bloom was caused by coal mine drainage.
The organization also cites a reference in the documentary to Colorado resident Lisa Bracken, who reported to environmental regulators occurrences of natural gas in the West Divide Creek, which she believed was related to natural gas drilling. “Fox blames methane occurrence in West Divide Creek, Colo., on natural gas development,” the release states.
Energy In Depth published links to reports on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website that showed the methane was naturally occurring. Tucker said those reports were available long before “Gasland” was released.
Theo Stein, communications director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said a commission investigation revealed that the methane Bracken reported bubbling in her beaver ponds near the creek was naturally occurring swamp gas from rotting vegetation.
Stein confirmed, however, that about a quarter-mile upstream, some methane gas was still present from a gas migration into the creek from a leak in a well drilled in 2004 by EnCana Oil & Gas, the company that will begin drilling in Luzerne County next month. EnCana received the largest fine in Colorado’s history for allowing that leak to occur.
Tucker, who is a native of Kingston Township and has been closely following the development of the Marcellus Shale in Northeastern Pennsylvania, said the press release was addressing only Bracken’s claims in the documentary. He was unfamiliar with the incident involving EnCana and said the issue alert was not meant to be misleading.
Copyright: Times Leader
Sporting groups, conservationists and anti-drilling neighbors protest the large-scale gas exploration.
MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press Writer
PLEASANT MOUNT, Pa. — A few hundred yards from Louis Matoushek’s farmhouse is a well that could soon produce not only natural gas, but a drilling boom in the wild and scenic Delaware River watershed.
Energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in Pennsylvania’s unspoiled northeastern tip, hoping to tap vast stores of gas in a sprawling rock formation — the Marcellus Shale — that some experts believe could become the nation’s most productive gas field.
Plenty of folks like Matoushek are eager for the gas, and the royalty checks, to start flowing — including farmers who see Marcellus money as a way to keep their struggling operations afloat.
“It’s a depressed area,” Matoushek said. “This is going to mean new jobs, real jobs, not government jobs.”
Standing in the way is a loose coalition of sporting groups, conservationists and anti-drilling neighbors. They contend that large-scale gas exploration so close to crucial waterways will threaten drinking water, ruin a renowned wild trout fishery, wreck property values, and transform a rural area popular with tourists into an industrial zone with constant noise and truck traffic.
Both sides are furiously lobbying the Delaware River Basin Commission, the powerful federal-interstate compact agency that monitors water supplies for 15 million people, including half the population of New York City. The commission has jurisdiction because the drilling process will require withdrawing huge amounts of water from the watershed’s streams and rivers and because of the potential for groundwater pollution.
The well on Matoushek’s 200-acre spread in the northern Pocono Mountains in Wayne County is up first. The commission is reviewing an application by Stone Energy Corp. of Lafayette, La., to extract gas from the well — the first of what could be thousands of applications by energy companies to sink wells in an area roughly the size of Connecticut.
Stone Energy’s application has already generated more than 1,700 written comments to the DRBC. The company, which paid a $70,000 penalty for drilling the Matoushek well without DRBC approval in 2008, has already received a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Eager gas companies have leased more than 300 square miles of watershed land, conservation officials estimate.
“This is certainly just the start. There’s a lot of acreage out there, and a lot of people interested in leasing their land,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the anti-drilling Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation 6,000 to 8,000 feet beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, including about 36 percent of the Delaware River basin. New drilling techniques now allow affordable access to supplies in the Marcellus and other shales in the U.S. that once were too expensive to tap.
Energy companies combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a technique that injects vast amounts of water, along with sand and chemicals, underground to break up the shale and release the gas.
While gas companies refuse to identify the chemicals they use — claiming that is proprietary information — critics cite contamination problems in other natural gas drilling fields. They worry that unregulated fracking can taint drinking water, deplete aquifers and produce briny wastewater that can kill fish. In Dimock, Pa., about 40 miles west of the Matoushek well but outside the Delaware basin, state environmental regulators say that cracked casings on fracked wells have tainted residential water supplies with methane gas.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it will study the impact of fracking on the environment and human health. The EPA said in 2004 there was no evidence that fracking threatens drinking water quality, but critics, including a veteran engineer in the Denver regional EPA office, argued that report’s methodology was flawed.
The industry contends environmental concerns are overblown. It says the drilling techniques are safe and that there has never been a proven case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking — in part because fracking occurs far below the water table. Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal oversight in 2005.
Dozens of people told the DRBC at a recent public hearing why they oppose the watershed drilling. A few supporters called it an economic boon and a property-rights issue.
Richard Kreznar, who owns property in the Pennsylvania riverfront community of Damascus, said gas drilling primarily benefits large landowners and exploration companies.
“After the Delaware River and the stream next to my house are messed up, what compensation will I get? Who will put it back together again?” he asked DRBC staff.
Lee Hartman, the Delaware River chairman for Trout Unlimited, worries that large water withdrawals required for fracking will create low stream flows in the Delaware’s tributaries, damaging fish habitat. For the Matoushek well, Stone Energy wants to take 700,000 gallons a day from the Lackawaxen River’s narrow west branch.
Hartman and others say the DRBC should first study the cumulative environmental impacts of drilling in the Delaware watershed, and pass drilling regulations, before it allows any gas extraction to take place. The agency has asked for $250,000 in federal funds for a study, but commissioners have not said whether they will wait before voting on Matoushek’s well.
Opponents say they will sue if Stone Energy’s application is approved.
Downstream communities that rely on the Delaware for drinking water are worried about the coming gas boom. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes any drilling in the watershed, while the Philadelphia City Council has asked the basin commission for an environmental study.
New York state regulators have put a moratorium on drilling in the Marcellus region, saying they won’t approve permits until they are finished drafting new regulations.
Back in northeastern Pennsylvania, Matoushek, 68, a semiretired farmer who signed a lease with Stone Energy three years ago, said he is counting on royalty checks from gas production to help fund his golden years and secure the land for future generations of his family. As far he’s concerned, the benefits far outweigh any theoretical harm.
Copyright: Times Leader
As energy companies and lease holders extol the benefits and safety of natural gas drilling in the state, and environmentalists and people who live near drilling operations point to chemical spills, water pollution and noise, a congressman last week called for an effort from opposing sides in the energy debate to work together for compromise.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware County, who is running for the U.S. Senate, came to The Peace and Justice Center in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday to host a forum on Marcellus Shale development.
Panelists included James Shallenberger, a Pennsylvania-licensed geologist and senior project manager at consulting firm Princeton Hydro who spoke on behalf of the gas drilling industry; David T. Messersmith, an extension educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Wayne County who is an expert on Marcellus Shale; and Dr. Thomas Jiunta, a Lehman Township resident with a podiatry practice in Kingston who founded Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Water.
“There was a lot of passion in that room. … One side is saying one thing, one side is saying another. I want to be a person who brings people together for a principal compromise, not a compromise of principles,” Sestak said last week in a phone interview.
“I personally believe this is a great economic opportunity for our state, particularly if we are able to benefit by a proper excise tax and if we put the proper protections in place,” Sestak said.
Sestak also said a priority should be enabling community and area colleges to train people for gas industry jobs to ensure Pennsylvanians are getting jobs associated with the drilling industry, rather than leaving energy companies with no choice but to hire experienced people from out-of-state.
Sestak said he learned much about the economic benefits as well as the environmental problems associated with natural gas exploration when he visited several counties in which Marcellus Shale drilling has been ongoing while he was on the campaign trail.
He noted that former Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Arlen Specter voted for “the Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts the gas and oil industry from complying with the Safe Water Drinking Act. And he said he supports the “FRAC Act” – Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to include the gas and oil industry.
Steve Mocarsky, a Times leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.
Copyright: Times Leader
A panel offers an update on legislation, which turns out to center on money.
BENTON – With interest increasing in drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, there’s a whole swirl of legislation related to it being considered in Harrisburg, but much of it comes down to money.
“A lot of what goes on in Harrisburg is who’s gonna pay to make the pie and who’s going to get a piece,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming. “The fight is how we’re going to divide up the pie. … We want to see the Commonwealth get its fair share, but we also don’t want to … go New York on them and drive them away.”
Everett was among two other representatives – Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and David Millard, R-Columbia – who spoke on Thursday evening at a meeting of the Columbia County Landowners Coalition.
A state Department of Environmental Protection official and a Penn State University educator were also on the panel.
Everett described the intention and status of nearly 20 bills throughout the legislature, noting that they fit into four categories: taxation and where the money goes, water protection, access to information and surface-owner rights.
While some likely won’t ever see a vote, Everett said a few will probably pass this session, including a bill that would require companies to release well production information within six months instead of the current five years.
He said a tax on the gas extraction also seems likely “at some point.”
For the most part, the industry received a pass at the meeting, with most comments favorable. One woman suggested companies might underreport the amount of gas they take out and questioned what’s being done to help landowners keep them honest.
Dave Messersmith of Penn State suggested that an addendum to each lease should be the opportunity for an annual audit of the company’s logs.
Robert Yowell, the director of the DEP’s north-central regional office, said the rush to drill in the shale happened so quickly that DEP is still trying to catch up with regulations. Likewise, he said, companies are still becoming acquainted with differences here from where they’re used to drilling.
“When they first came to town, I don’t think they realized how widely our streams fluctuated,” he said.
He added some public perceptions need to be changed – such as the belief that people aren’t naturally exposed to radiation all the time – and that he felt confident that “this can be done safely.”
In response to contamination issues in Dimock Township in Susquehanna County, DEP is upgrading and standardizing its requirements for well casings, Everett said. He added that it’s being suggested the contamination in might have been caused by “odd geology.”
“Every time humans do anything, there’s an impact on the land,” he said. “We just need to balance this right so that we end up with something we’re happy with when we’re done.”
Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.
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Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale that underlies much of Northeastern Pennsylvania is expected to create hundreds to thousands of jobs, depending on who’s doing the projections, and have other widespread economic effects.
Company jobs should come with good pay
Some of those new work opportunities will be with the drilling and gas companies, but others are expected to be with subcontracted services, from land surveying and engineering to hauling and construction. Legal and banking services also will be needed.
Chesapeake Energy has invested significantly in not only leasing land in Pennsylvania, but in doing business with private companies.
With 94 wells drilled in the state in 2009 and more than 200 additional wells planned for this year, the company has paid subcontractors and vendors in Pennsylvania $269 million since January 2009, company spokesman Rory Sweeney said in an e-mail.
Among the first employers to see the effects of natural gas exploration are law, surveying and engineering firms.
“We are seeing an increase in our business volume,” said Mark Van Loon, a partner with Rosenn Jenkins & Greenwald, a law firm with offices in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton.
“We’ve represented quite a few people in relation to the Marcellus Shale and land leases in Luzerne County, north to the New York border, and east and west from there in Susquehanna, Bradford, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. There have been some in Wayne County, but not as much,” Van Loon said.
Lease holders also will also need to protect their financial assets, and that’s where banks come into the picture.
David Raven, president and chief executive officer of Pennstar Bank, said the financial institution is seeing a significant increase in business related to Marcellus Shale at branches in Susquehanna County.
“It’s specific to folks who receive lease (bonus) payments and eventually will receive royalties on the gas that’s produced,” Raven said.
In addition to landowners who want to protect their rights while negotiating the most lucrative deals, firms and individuals that enter into large contracts with the gas and drilling companies – engineers, construction firms, suppliers and haulers, for example – will want to have those contracts vetted before signing, according to Van Loon.
“If somebody has a contract that’s large enough, they’re likely to have it reviewed by their legal counsel because it involves too much risk for them not to. And there could be contractual disputes in relation to the delivery or performance of services,” he said.
Van Loon said his firm has five attorneys actively working on oil and gas lease issues, but at this point the partners have not seen the need to hire additional staff.
That’s not the case with Borton Lawson, an engineering firm based in Plains Township that also has offices in Bethlehem, State College and, as of two months ago because of the business generated by the Marcellus shale, in Wexford – a town in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs.
Chris Borton, company president, has referred to the Pittsburgh area as “the heart of the gas and oil industry” in the region.
Last year, Borton Lawson laid off some of its survey crew workers as companies hurt by the recession cut back on land development. But over the last six months, the firm has hired six to eight people – including several surveyors – for jobs directly related to the Marcellus Shale.
And the company is looking for 13 more employees right now to fill positions such as environmental engineers and scientists, an electrical engineer, an automation engineer and a mechanical engineer.
Salaries for those jobs range from $40,000 to $80,000 depending on the type of job and experience of the employee, Borton said.
Borton said his firm is working with five natural gas companies in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The company will open a satellite office in the borough of Towanda, the county seat of Bradford County, on April 15 because of the extensive natural gas exploration and drilling in that area.
County drilling near
One of the gas companies – Encana Oil and Gas Inc. – has leased 25,000 acres of property in Luzerne County. The land is mainly on the north side of Route 118 in Fairmount, Ross, Lake and Lehman townships.
Encana so far has obtained permits for drilling one well in Lake Township and another in Fairmount Township and is seeking a permit for one in Lehman Township, said company spokesman Doug Hock. Hydrogeological studies are now under way, and officials hope to begin constructing wells by May.
“For every well drilled, that creates about 120 jobs, either directly or indirectly. … The bulk of these jobs as we begin operations are done by subcontractors,” Hock said.
Subcontracted work includes water haulers, truck drivers, construction crews for well pad grading and construction and rig hands after the wells are built. Local average wages could see a boost, given that salaries even for less skilled positions range from $60,000 and $70,000, he said.
Hock said Encana prefers to hire local contractors, “but it’s not always possible because of the skills available in the labor market.”
He couldn’t predict how many new jobs will be generated by Encana operations because officials won’t know how many additional wells – if any – might be drilled until they see the results of natural gas production from the first two or three.
“By the end of 2010, we’ll have an idea if we have a good program, something that’s economically viable that we can continue to develop,” Hock said.
Steve Mocarsky, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7311.
Copyright: Times Leader
Beaver County lawmaker opposes bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Casey to close “Halliburton loophole.”
Concern over environmental damage from natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region has increased enough to attract federal attention, but at least one state representative believes regulation should be left to the states.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is strengthening its regulations for well construction, and Gov. Ed Rendell responded to the concern last week by announcing a plan to begin hiring 68 more DEP workers for inspections and compliance of gas drilling.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week an “Eyes on Drilling” tip line for citizens to report – anonymously, if preferred – anything that “appears to be illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity,” according to an EPA news release.
Also, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, has introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would close the so-called “Halliburton loophole.”
In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” was exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, creating the loophole. Fracking forces water, sand and chemicals into rock formations underground such as the shale to crack the rock and release natural gas.
In a resolution introduced in the state House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee last week, Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, called for lawmakers to urge the U.S. Congress to not pass Casey’s proposal.
Noting that fracking itself has not caused any known groundwater contamination at more than 1.1 million wells in which it’s been used, Christiana’s resolution supports continued state regulation of the process. The resolution refers to the 2005 energy act, indicating that Congress specifically meant to exclude fracking.
It also states that a federal Environmental Protection Agency report from 2004 found that hydraulic fracturing in coal bed methane wells “poses minimal threat” to drinking water sources.
State Rep. Jim Wansacz, D-Old Forge, wasn’t sure whether he supported the resolution, but felt confident that it doesn’t really matter either way. Congress members “don’t pay much attention to that,” he said. “Resolutions don’t mean a whole lot.”
He said a federal regulation might help by keeping all states at an equal minimum, but he said treading on states’ rights would “bother” him.
Wansacz said he doubted the bill by Casey would overrule states’ authority, but he was sensitive to the issue.
“Once the feds come in, they take over … so we’ve got to be careful what we ask for.”
State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, isn’t so sure the resolution is focused on states’ rights. “This resolution is obviously industry driven” she noted in an e-mail.
“The industry somehow got hydraulic fracking exempted from the (drinking-water act) and now Senator Casey has a bill to eliminate this exemption. I support the Casey bill. … It would protect drinking water and the public health from the risks imposed by hydraulic fracturing.”
Separately, the EPA is offering citizens a way to report drilling problems. The announcement comes in the wake of several controversies over whether companies are reporting all spills.
The state Department of Environmental Protection fined a Towanda company earlier this month for spilling seven tons of drilling wastewater last year. The incident was reported only after a nearby Pennsylvania Department of Transportation crew witnessed it.
In October, a complaint was filed with DEP to investigate a suspicion that trees were damaged at a Wayne County site from an unreported drilling-fluid spill.
According to the release, “public concern about the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas drilling has increased in recent months, particularly regarding development of the Marcellus Shale formation where a significant amount of activity is occurring. … The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources.”
The EPA doesn’t grant drilling permits, but its regulations may apply to storing petroleum products and drilling fluids, the release noted. The EPA wants to have “a better understanding of what people are experiencing and observing as a result of these drilling activities,” the release noted, because “information collected may also be useful in investigating industry practices.
The new DEP employees will be paid for through well-permitting fees that were increased last year. There will also likely be more of them: Rendell said the industry expects to apply for 5,200 permits this year, three times as many as last year.
The new DEP regulations they’ll have to obey include increased responsibility to repair or replace affected water supplies, procedures to correct gas migration issues without waiting for DEP’s direction and re-inspection of existing wells.
The draft regulations were opened for public comment on Friday.
Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.
Copyright: Times Leader
By Tom Veneskytvenesky@timesleader.com
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.
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