Monday, August 31, 2009

Man-camps Come With the Territory

This is a man-camp, folks. A 400-bed facility in Colorado. Gas drillers stay here. It looks like it takes up a huge area of real estate- just one more facet of the natural gas industry which is taking up space in otherwise beautiful landscapes, forests, and natural habitats all over our country. In Bradford County, PA, some motels are completely taken over by gas drillers, for example, the Towanda Motel. Tourists are just out of luck. So man-camps may alleviate that problem. It's still not a welcome addition to our communities. Finding lodging for gas drillers while they go from place to place is wreaking havoc. I have heard reports that some landlords are evicting tenants of longstanding in order to rent to gas companies from whom they can command high rents- as much as four times greater than the average rent now.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pipelines Are Not Our Friends

A pipeline is installed at the Otten well in Bradford County, PA. The high part will be above ground.

Just a few weeks ago (May 2009) an explosion occurred in a home in Irving, Texas. State regulators blamed the blast on a natural gas leak. Atmos Energy is being held responsible for the incident which demolished the house and severely injured its owner who suffered third degree burns. Not surprisingly, Atmos says it is not at fault. The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency which regulates the natural gas industry, says the culprit was a compression coupling joining two natural gas pipes under the street. Apparently elasticity of the rubber gaskets holding the pipes together deteriorates over time, perhaps 45 years or more. The rubber contracts after being in service for a number of years. Investigations into other similar explosions also have revealed improperly manufactured fittings. An Atmos operations manager testified the couplings, called NORMAC couplings, are known to leak. This problem has been known to pipeline technicians for decades. There are an estimated 800,000 aging compression couplings still in the ground. Small leaks are not necessarily reportable by federal safety standards. Yet s
ome call these couplings "ticking time bombs." The Railroad Commission still has not taken steps to have faulty couplings removed, although the agency does have a standing order to have them removed if they are discovered. Atmos officials have declined an interview with a local TV station, News 8.

Has the American public gotten so used to natural gas use and the pipelines buried underground that the dangers are not taken into account? The deterioration and corrosion of pipelines take place underground where no one can detect problems until it is too late in some cases. Now we face massive new pipeline networks going in to get the so-called shale gas to market. These pipelines are often buried very close to homes, schools, and playgrounds. Land owners get a small fee for rights-of-way. Is it worth the money?

Read more here.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Wrongful Death: Gas Drillers Pose Serious Danger On Our Roads

I just got back from a trip to Bradford County, PA. I'm glad I am still in one piece and my car is okay. The gas drilling truck traffic is horrendous. And, on the country roads where I was, you just have to pray when a truck approaches. There is nowhere to go except to pull over as far as possible and hope you don't end up in the ditch. These trucks go very fast. And they are tearing up little country roads. The potholes are huge. The pavement is broken up into little pieces in many places.

Last September (2008), a woman from Cleburne, TX, was not so lucky. She was killed when two pieces of oil field equipment fell off a truck and crushed the driver's side of her Ford Explorer. The truck driver reportedly had numerous driving infractions on his record. He had several tickets, a suspended license, and was not qualified to be driving the tractor-trailer.

When gas drilling comes to your neighborhood, watch out. Prepare to be scared. It's a terrible feeling.

Read the article from the Cleburne Times-Review (07/08/2009) here.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Family Matters: Is Signing a Gas Lease Worth It?

Walking down our path to the Susquehanna River, French Azilum, PA. Our family's sacred spot since 1930.

Families are being stressed by the gas drilling industry, some almost to the breaking point. This serious effect of natural gas wells is not getting much press. I can tell you from personal experience that, in my case, a major rift has occurred in my family in the last year because of controversy surrounding our options. Should we sign a lease or not? That is the question. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in of Greater Binghamton:

.... is it worth it?

Not for Pennsylvania landowner Wayne Smith. He told Reuters recently that he regrets the $1 million in royalties he earned over three years from drilling on his land. Smith says his blood has elevated iron levels, his drinking water is tainted, and four cattle have died from drinking contaminated water.

Then there's Stephanie Hallowich and her husband, Chris, who moved with their two children from suburban Pittsburgh to enjoy rural life in Hickory, Pa. Now they are hemmed in by four gas wells, a three-acre reservoir containing water for drilling, a liquid extraction plant, and a gas compressor station. Hallowich would like to relocate because of noise and health concerns but can't imagine that anyone would buy their home.
A reader commented:
Hello Jennifer - Tough decision about drilling for your family, the lure of easy money is strong, even though landmen can't say how much your royalties will actually be. Remember that most things that sound too good to be true usually aren't true.
I look back over the last 2 weeks around Hickory and Pittsburgh, oily-looking stream pollution from one spill by Red Oak cleaned up by Weavertown Environmental. That story never made the news, hence industry-types can continue to falsely brag that there are no documented cases of drinking water pollution -- Get Real! These streams run into the rivers where Pennsylvanians get their drinking water.
Another reader wrote:
Ms. Tomsey,
If you are asking advice - don't sign! We didn't. At least you can say you tried to stop the damage and put your ethics and morals above "dirty money". I have a neighbor that signed the lease some time ago and spent a lot of time trying to convince us to sign - I haven't spoken to him in quite some time because of this. He talked to my husband the other day and now wishes he didn't sign and that the drilling can be stopped. He signed in part because he was blinded by the prospect of all that money and because he wasn't aware of the damage to the environment because of the gas company's lies. Now that he is more aware he's sorry for the damage he may be a part of. It's not too late!
The writer of the article from pressconnects says she has educated her family "about the risks of the largely unregulated drilling process," but she is not sure what her family will ultimately decide. This hits home with me. I have spent a year researching the gas industry on behalf of my family, but have been shunned because of it. Most family members are apathetic or, worse, hoping to get free money in the form of royalties. The Board of Directors (we are incorporated) is not even convinced it should inform family members about potential health risks as the wells are drilled all around us. This industry is capable of breaking relationships between family members and neighbors alike. At a time when people need to come together and support one another, just the opposite can happen.

Read the article here.


More Weight Restrictions on Bradford County (PA) Roads

Trucks line up during well drilling.

The residents of Bradford County have been noticing more signs regarding weight limits on state roads. This trend will continue. PennDOT reports that at least ten more roads will be posted with permanent, year-round, 10-ton weight restrictions. Weight limits will apply to all trucks with the exception of local delivery trucks and school buses. A major problem are the gas drilling operations now in progress in the county. An average truck used in hauling water or brine to and from gas well pads weighs about 80,000 pounds or 40 tons. The road damage caused by these large trucks is almost inevitable. Hundreds of trips back and forth to wells are required for each installation. Necessary repairs in Bradford County will be huge. Traffic and engineering studies have indicated the need for more restriction of road use.

Read more here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Apartment Rents Soar in Bradford County, PA

If you are looking for an apartment in Bradford County these days, you might have a hard time finding affordable housing. The gas drilling industry has come to town, and they need lots of places for their employees to stay. This has caused rents to skyrocket. Two, three, and even four times as much according to a report by WBNG-TV in Binghamton, NY. A two-bedroom apartment on Main Street in Towanda is renting for a whooping $800 a month these days. Even single rooms in private homes can command $750 a month. This problem is due to the influx of gas drillers who are coming in from Texas and other areas of the country.

Gas companies are considering renting or buying large warehouses as well. A dormitory is planned for Athens to house gas industry workers. Local motels are experiencing a high volume of business, but tourists and other travelers often cannot get rooms. At a recent meeting in Sayre (PA), a Chesapeake Energy spokesperson explained why gas drillers are planning for residential facilities:
One audience member said that Sen. Gene Yaw's office has heard many concerns about the proposed Athens Township residential facility, and has heard people saying that they think Chesapeake is trying to isolate themselves and won't be much support for local businesses.

Grove said that Chesapeake is not trying to isolate their workers by using a housing facility, but they are looking to build the facility because they don't have many places to put their workers. Currently, he said, they have leased the entire Towanda Motel to house their workers.

"The nature of our business requires that we can provide our workers with a good safe place to rest in their off hours," Grove said. "These guys work very hard."

Read more here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Letter to My Family: Where Do We Go From Here?

My family owns property in French Azilum Township, Bradford County, PA. Since July of 2008, our family corporation, which has about 150 members, has been engaged in debate about gas drilling. The gas industry has arrived in our valley, the Susquehanna River valley. Cousins, aunts, and uncles who used to be glad to see each other now dread the sight of one another. Our summer home we call Camp used to be a place of refreshment, peace, and tranquility. It has become a battleground, a war zone. I hope some people who specialize in social implications of gas drilling will do research and publish their findings. Family dynamics and neighbor-to-neighbor relationships are becoming more and more strained as gas drilling moves in. Here is a letter written by a family member which may cast some light on the complexities that many families face. The names have been changed to protect the innocent!

Dear Family,
Inspite of strong denials that we will ever be offered a gas lease of any kind, and inspite of strong assurances from Steve and Mona that there is no lease to consider (even though there was one offered last fall which has never been seen), and, if there were a lease, the Board of Directors, which now has complete control over any gas-related decisions, would likely not sign it for Camp, I remain concerned. Why? Because since the family meeting I have heard talk of consulting a high-powered attorney from Williamsport should we have a lease to consider. I guess I am supposed to be pleased about that, but I am not. Why? Because consulting a lawyer begs the question, "Should we even be considering doing this in the first place?" A lawyer, especially one who deals with gas leases for a living, is only going to look over a lease to make sure everything is supposedly in there that should be and advise some deletions, etc. But a lawyer is not necessarily going to counsel us on the rightness or wrongness of signing a lease. A lawyer is not going to make ethical or moral decisions for our family. We have to make those decisions first before we would ever go to a lawyer. We have to know what questions to ask. Otherwise we will open ourselves up for legal entanglements which will require many hours on the part of someone in our family to sort things out. Who will that person be?

So while Steve and others still adamantly claim that they are not necessarily in favor of signing a lease, nevertheless, their discussion of finding a lawyer indicates that the idea of a lease is still alive and well. I do not think that going to a lawyer comes close to doing our homework first. Just running a lease by a lawyer before signing may give some people a sense of security, but it is a false sense of security at best. Have any of you read about people who have signed great leases and still had major problems with gas companies? There is a myth going around our family which I have heard quite often that the only way we can cover ourselves against damage from gas drilling is to have a lease. This really has not worked well for a lot of people who thought a lease protects a landowner. It really protects the gas company first and foremost. Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, for example, can declare bankruptcy and skip town if the going gets rough, and its parent company Chesapeake Energy is not liable. The first thing a gas company does is deny responsibility for anything no matter what it is. Then a long process of legal proceedings ensues. The DEP has been known to come out of the gate talking tough, but then backs down. Some litigation I've read about has gone on for a decade or more. So perhaps a lease could eventually cover us down the road, but who in the Sam Hill is going to be around to collect the money? And in the meantime, if it involves water, who is going to fight to get a water supply put in at Camp? Gas companies have supplied water to some people after trying to avoid doing that, but it is not automatic, and it can take months to actually get a tank put in (which has to be maintained and filled up frequently). Talk to the people in Dimock just a few miles from Camp. They will tell you how their lives have turned into nightmares and things continue to get worse there as I write. I encourage anyone who would even consider any lease with any gas company to go to well sites locally in French Azilum (there are quite a few to choose from) or go to Dimock which is probably in the shape we will be in a few years from now, but they are already there. Nothing can compare with actually seeing what gas drilling really is and what it really looks like. Before any lease is signed, go see for yourself.

Frenchtown will be unitized soon (a unit is 640 acres). Your board will most likely be approached when this happens. So decisions will have to be made in the near future. There are agreements for wells, pipelines, rights of way for above ground water pipes, seismic testing, even compressors, meter stations, injection wells, all sorts of things which come with gas drilling. This is only the beginning. I, as probably everyone knows by now unless you have been living under a rock, am not interested in signing a lease or any agreement with a gas company. For one thing, we don't have to do it. And secondly, I want Camp to remain unattached to such an industry. Any money we would get, and there are no guarantees, would probably not make us more solvent in the future, at least long term. All we can do is protect Camp from the industry and make the drillers go around us. It is not good, no matter how you look at it, but at least we can say to our children and grandchildren, "We did everything we could to save and protect Camp from harm and destruction. "

Love to all,

August 14, 2009


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chesapeake Energy Wants Gas Lease at Towanda, PA, Elementary School

The Towanda School Board met August 10th to consider, among other things, entering into a gas lease agreement with Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Chesapeake is offering an embarrassingly meager $750 per acre and the minimum royalty of 12.5%. That percentage is required by law, the very lowest allowable. A school board member said that there are two wells planned to be drilled right behind the school. Even though money is tight, it was decided to delay a decision in order to try and negotiate for more royalties.

Does anyone on the Towanda School Board know about the toxic chemicals that come with every well drilled? Do they realize that the children attending Monroe-Franklin School will be exposed to serious air pollution which cannot be detected by the naked eye? Have they thought about water pollution, soil pollution, dangerous truck traffic, noise pollution, and health hazards? Other areas of the US have experienced all sorts of problems related to the natural gas drilling industry. Gas wells have no place next to a school. Chesapeake Energy Corporation should be hanging their heads in shame. Here is a classic example of the total lack of concern for people. It is all about money. People are expendable. Even children who are the future.

Read the article from The Towanda Daily Review (James Loewenstein) here.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Frozen Waterfall of Fracking Fluid

A frozen "waterfall" of drilling fluids was visible near Parachute, Colorado, in February 2008. The state says 1.6 million gallons of fracturing fluids leaked from a pit, was transported by groundwater, and ended up seeping out of the cliff. (Colorado Department of Natural Resources)

According to state records, the spill migrated underground until it seeped from a cliff side and froze into a gray pillar of ice more than 200 feet tall. When it melted, the fluids dripped into the torrid currents of Parachute Creek and finally dumped into the Colorado River.

Leaks are common on well pads. Sludge pits are one of the most common locations of leaks. Gas drilling is a very messy business. There is a huge price to pay for getting shale gas out of the earth.

Click here to read a ProPublica article published in December 2008.

[Thanks to for this photo.]

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wyalusing Council Struggles With Pipeline Issues

Wyalusing Hotel, Wyalusing, PA

The Wyalusing (PA) Borough Council monthly meeting last month opened with a presentation by Anson Belcort of Mason Dixon Energy. His company is busy securing agreements with local landowners to install a gas pipeline for Chesapeake Appalachia. It will run right through Wyalusing Township. However, there was a problem, Belcort said. They need about 12 miles of pipeline, and one landowner was dragging his feet. Pipelines need 50-60 feet width. (The pipe is buried 3-5 feet, or beneath the frostline.)
We've got a deadline, said Belcourt. If we had you guys signed up, we could go ahead and go around Chadwick.
When asked if there was big problem with negotiations, Belcourt assured the Council that there was no big issue or concern with the private landowner. It was just a matter of timing. Mason Dixon needed the right of way right away! Several members of the Council, including President George Anderson, were prepared to vote yes, but toward the end of the meeting before a vote could be taken, Mayor Joan Cashin cautioned the group:
Doing this without consultation with an attorney is, I think, irresponsible.
It was agreed that an attorney should be consulted.

Hats off to the Wyalusing Borough Council for exercising caution rather than giving the gas industry the green light. There are things that local governing bodies can do to at least slow down the process. This is not just an effort to make trouble. It is the smart, responsible thing to do when so much is at stake for local citizens. It is their environment, health, and well-being that may hang in the balance. The gas companies don't live in Wyalusing.

Read the Rocket-Courier article here.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Daily Review Thanks Voldemort

Main Street, Towanda, PA

Heaping praise on a corporation which is bringing air, water, and soil pollution, health hazards, deforestation, road deterioration, and habitat depletion to the county is questionable. Thanking Chesapeake Energy Corporation for a paltry $6,000 donation for Partners in Education is like thanking your executioner for cooking your last meal steak to perfection. We all realize, do we not, that $6,000 to Chesapeake Energy, which reported a top line income of 1.67 billion this past June, is imperceptible and only given to create the illusion of community support. Why do some Bradford County citizens feel they must be grateful and appreciative for this little manipulative "gift?" Isn't it obvious that they are being led down a rosy path that leads to a gravel road and a toxic well pad? Make that hundreds of well pads. Some gifts carry a heavy price.

Read the Daily Review article here.


I See Gullible People


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Poison Sumac Is Bad, But Well Pads Are Worse

Photo by David Keeler

It is interesting what people spend their time worrying about. For instance, the view from Wyalusing Rocks (PA) has been a highlight of my visits to the area since childhood. Looking down from there, and with the aid of my binoculars, I can see my family summer home on the banks of the Susquehanna River. A white steeple can be seen through trees. That's what I call "The Little White Church," otherwise known as French Azilum United Methodist Church. My great grandparents attended there faithfully every Sunday in the summer months years ago, starting around 1930, and are now buried in the old adjacent cemetery.

In a recent article in the Wyalusing Rocket-Courier, David Keeler laments the overgrown sumac trees that block the spectacular view of the Susquehanna River and French Azilum below.

Beneath those famous rocks, the future is being changed irreversibly by the day. Almost every land owner in French Azilum, except for my family, has signed a gas lease, mostly with Chesapeake Appalachia. And before long drill pads will begin to show up on this beautiful landscape. Frenchtown, as I call it, will be an industrial zone in a year or two. Maybe sooner. The view from these rocks will reveal the future of our family's land. There will be no future. There will be well pads everywhere you look. No more floating down the river in inner tubes, no more sitting on the cottage porch enjoying the rain or the full moon and stars, the brightest stars on the planet. No more family gatherings. No more introducing our grandchildren to "Camp," as we call it. No more walking down the country road to that Little White Church for Sunday worship. No more skipping flat round stones from the river bank. No more peace and quiet and fresh country air. It will be gone soon. The dangers of living in a toxic chemical area with its air, soil, and water pollution, will make it an unsuitable place to come in the summer.

Sumac can be cut back. Well pads cannot be erased. After the gas is gone from these wells, the land will never be able to support crops, animals, or people, at least not for decades, and probably never again. These areas will be Superfund sites. I understand why it is easier to worry about sumac. Sumac is a problem that can be solved. Gas drilling is a problem that will outlast all of us and will ruin our children's and grandchildren's future in the Susquehanna Valley in Bradford County.

Read the Rocket-Courier article here.


A Dirty Secret Caught On Video: Watch This

Above is official video from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It reveals fugitive emissions from several Barnett Shale gas well sites.

This is what Dr. Theo Colborn wrote in response to this video:

The tanks you see in this picture can be found across the gas fields in the US. They look harmless as you drive by just like the other stationary equipment you see on well pads. Without an infrared camera, as in this case, that picks up the plume of the highly active volatile chemicals escaping from the tanks, no one would suspect that the tanks could possibly pose a public health problem. As natural gas extraction continues to increase, federal, state, and local public health authorities and regulatory agencies are unprepared to deal with the problem.

Theo Colborn, PhD
President, TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange)
PO Box 1407
Paonia, CO 81428
direct:970-527-6548 office:970-527-4082

Don Young of FWCanDO (Fort Worth) wrote:
"The thermal imaging demonstrated in this video is proof that you and your family, your pets and wildlife are breathing this new source of smog - 200 tons per day, on average, in the Metroplex - because an unscrupulous industry exploits a loophole in the federal Clean Air Act."

For more information, click here. Thanks to Texas Sharon for her fine work in the great State of Texas!


Pipelines Are Okay, Right?

In a recent drive through parts of French Azilum Township, Bradford County, PA, I encountered this dreadful scene: Installation of gathering pipelines in the backyards of residents. Can you see the swing set? I saw the little girl who swings on that swing set. She was selling cookies to the workers who were tearing up the land right behind her house. The pipeline has since been buried five feet down and covered over, leaving a landscape of miles and miles of telltale "roads" of dirt over which I suppose grass will grow before long, giving the illusion that all is back to "normal." But is it ever going to be the same? Last Sunday in the Wise County (TX) Messenger, an article was published, telling the story of nurseryman Melvin Mitchell, who noticed something odd last Tuesday morning: mud was spurting out of the ground on his property.
As he plowed his land, he saw the fountain of mud out of the corner of his eye. As he approached, he found a pool of mud located just over a Devon gathering line.
He called Devon Energy Corporation, owner of the pipeline. Representatives came out to look the situation over. Chip Minty, media relations manager with Devon, described the problem:
The pipe that runs across Mr. Mitchell's land developed a very small hole- a hole large enough to put a toothpick through. Under pressure, enough gas leaked through from that size hole to make itself obvious.
Minty said the hole was caused by corrosion by bacteria. The area of the leak required much attention and effort to correct the problem: replacing the pipe, removing two barrels of liquid, replacing the contaminated soil, analyzing all the soil and liquids, among other things. Would that this could be a "happily ever after" kind of story. However, there is still much to be concerned about. Mr. Mitchell's son and business partner, Darin, told reporter Mandy Bourgeois that the trees on his property have been suffering and dying since 2001. He said they are dying, not from bacteria or disease, but rather from asphyxiation.
It's like growing trees on concrete.
There is some kind of gas in the soil which eliminates the presence of oxygen. The tree roots grow out rather than down as they should. Darin can't sell them with confidence because the trees may not survive. Devon tested the soil in 2007 and did find problems, but the company claimed no culpability and said its operations did not cause the damage. Darin hired an independent company to test is soil in July 2008. The test revealed the presence of gas in the soil. Darin said he never dumped anything on his land or had anything leak gas in the area. He and his father have spent their adult lives in the nursery business. Never have trees died like this before they started planting on this land.

Read the article by Mandy Bourgeois here.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Gas Drillers Help With Archaeological Dig

An archaeological dig was undertaken this summer in French Azilum at the historic site where French settlers briefly established a community in the late 18th century. A doctoral candidate at Cornell is doing her doctoral thesis on French Azilum history. During the dig this summer, many volunteers came to help with the digging of the site, which took place from June 9 to August 8. About four or five different people came each day, with about 10 regulars who came to help often. Along with individuals getting to experience the work of an archaeologist, Boy Scout troops, school groups, and families came to experience the dig.
Even a gas company from the area had 10 employees come over to work at the site for a while.
Drilling for artifacts instead of natural gas just seemed like a logical progression I guess. Gas drillers try to be such good neighbors as we all know. And they are so interested in the natural beauty and historical significance of French Azilum and Bradford County, PA., one of the areas being destroyed by natural gas drilling day by day, well by well. Perhaps the gas drillers were from Chesapeake Appalachia. This company has given money for a day care center and donated to the Daily Review in Towanda to help teachers use the newspaper in their classrooms. Their philanthropy is questionable, of course, but they do claim to care about the people of Bradford County. I think they have claimed that people are their first priority. The person who is at the top of the list of people they care about is their CEO Aubrey McClendon who got millions of dollars in bonuses last year. I don't think Bradford County has seen that kind of money yet.

Read the article about this dig in the Towanda Daily Review here.