Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dunkard Creek Massacre

A major fishkill was first detected in West Virginia on September 1st and reported a week later. The problem occurred in Dunkard Creek, a beautiful stream along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Don Hopey explained that a bloom of toxic algae was being blamed for killing thousands of fish, mussels, and other aquatic creatures in more than 30 miles of the creek. The type of algae, golden algae, is usually found in hotter and desert environments, so it is baffling how this algae ended up in the creek. There are two mine treatment facilities in the area near St. Leo, West Virginia. There is also a new borehole which was being used as an injection well for drilling wastewater.

Consol Energy operated the two deep mines. A subsidiary of Consol, CNX Gas Company, is also involved with these mine operations. CNX had been cited for violations at its Morris Run injection well in 2007-2009 and fined $157,500. It is possible that these mines are not the source of the polluted creek water. Several environmental groups, watershed and sportsmen's organizations, and the PA Campaign for Clean Water are calling on the EPA to stop all gas well drilling discharges into Dunkard Creek and require Marcellus shale gas drilling operations to document where they are disposing of all wastewater.

Meanwhile, many people who have enjoyed the creek are devastated by what has happened. Betty Wiley, president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, said,
We've just been decimated down here. Everything is being killed almost from the headwaters of the creek to where it flows into the Monongahela River. It's such a tragedy for the creek. An ecosystem has been destroyed.
Preliminary counts have estimated that more than 10,000 fish have died. Environmental agencies say it is the worst they have seen. Eighteen species of fish and at least 16 species of freshwater mussels have been been all but wiped out. The salamander mussel and the snuffbox mussel are both being considered for the federal endangered species list.

Federal and state investigators have reported extremely high total dissolved solids (TDS) and chlorides- properties found in wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas well drilling operations but not mine water. Furthermore, dead fish were found about a mile and a half up the creek above the treatment plant, making it quite unlikely that the mines could be solely responsible for the lethal discharge. State agencies are now looking at the possibility that someone has illegally dumped drilling wastewater into the creek to avoid the expense of complying with laws governing disposal. West Virginia DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco says,
The elevated levels of TDS and chlorides in the creek indicate oil and gas drilling wastewater. We are following up on every lead that people give us. If they saw a truck pull up to the creek and put a hose in, we want to know about it. We want the name on the truck, a license plate number, anything we can use to identify it.
Ed Presley, who owns property along the creek said,
It's disgusting to see that much life wiped out. To see the quality and beauty of that stream and then to see what happened to it, well, it really tears at you.
The gas industry is the most unregulated industry in the nation. However, even the regulations that are in place, such as the treament of wastewater are almost impossible to enforce because there are not anywhere near enough inspectors. Another problem is the remoteness of many areas which makes it easier for gas industry employees to cut corners and discharge wastewater into streams and rivers without permits or proper treatment. If this is happening, it must be stopped. Citizen watches may become necessary in every area where drilling is taking place.

More information on this fishkill:
Here (United Business Media) and here (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Read Don Hopey's poignant article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, September 20, 2009. We are going to experience more and more fishkills and polluted streams. Gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is only just beginning to invade Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Ohio.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Pennsylvania Taxes the Little People, Gives Big Oil a Free Pass

In Pennsylvania, if you are a gas drilling corporation, you get a free pass on taxes (no severence tax for them). But if you are a small non-profit service, fraternal or arts organization, a hunting or angling club, a veterans organization, a museum, zoo or aquarium, you will be taxed.

Here is an excerpt from today's issue of Session Daze from PennFuture:

Survival of the fittest

The proposed budget agreement between
Governor Rendell and the leaders of the Senate Republican, Senate Democratic and House Democratic caucuses does not include a severance tax. Senate Republican opposition to the tax ultimately prevailed in the negotiations--if the agreement holds. In this Darwinian outcome, the well-heeled, huge multinational drilling firms, which spent more than $1 million lobbying state government between January and June, get a free pass on a tax they pay in every other major gas producing state. So, to cobble together enough revenue to balance the budget absent a severance tax, budget negotiators decided to tax small non-profit service, fraternal and arts organizations. These groups didn't spend a dime lobbying to avoid new taxes because they had no idea that they looked to budget-makers like easy-to-pick-off prey.

Exxon-Mobil strikes gold, firefighters get the shaft
Since multinational
drilling companies get a pass on taxes, volunteer organizations- vital to public and personal safety in our communities- and other local groups have to pick up the tab. Volunteer firefighter and ambulance companies in Pennsylvania often struggle mightily to raise funds to operate, train and buy new equipment. Small games of chance are a significant source of funds for many companies. But now the proposed 20 percent tax on small games of chance could cripple the ability of many of these volunteer companies to raise funds. The same goes for hunting and angling clubs and fraternal and veterans' organizations.

Conoco-Phillips strikes gold, the arts get the shaft
While multinational drilling companies get a pass on the severance tax,
non-profit community arts and cultural organizations across Pennsylvania woke up last Saturday to discover that they were being hit with a sales tax on their tickets. Many of these organizations have been struggling in the recession. The proposed tax also applies to museums, zoos and aquariums.

Read this issue of PennFuture's Session Daze here.


Friday, September 18, 2009

A Dirty Secret Caught On Film: Invisible Air Pollution

The "clean-burning" bridge fuel's dirty secret is exposed with this OFFICIAL VIDEO FOOTAGE obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The video shows fugitive emissions from several different gas wells in the Barnett Shale.

Comment from Dr. Theo Colborn who viewed the raw 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:970-52... office:970-52..."

About the camera used:
From David Greer, TCEQ -
Question: Can you describe the type video camera that was used?

The camera is a FLIR GasFind IR camera. The infrared gas-imaging camera used by Leak Surveys, Inc., consists of a modified Indigo (FLIR/Indigo Systems Corp., Goleta CA) Merlin MID camera with a nominal spectra range of 1- 5.4 micrometers.

The spectral range is limited with the use of a notch filter specifically designed for the detection of hydrocarbon infrared adsorptions in the 3-micron region. The narrow bandpass range of the filter is less than the infrared spectral adsorption of gas phase hexane. The filter notch is positioned such that alkane gases have a significant response within the bandpass range.

Question: What exactly is that "stuff" that looks like smoke?
The GasFind IR camera technology offers a unique technological advancement in pollution detection capability, and has proved to be highly effective in the detection of hydrocarbon compounds. However, the camera does not quantify, nor does the camera speciate the compounds that are detected. The "clean-burning" bridge fuel's dirty secret is exposed with this OFFICIAL VIDEO FOOTAGE obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The video shows fugitive emissions from several different gas wells in the Barnett Shale.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Dimock Story Continues: Another Major Chemical Spill

PressConnects of Greater Binghamton, NY, reported today that between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of an agent used to stimulate natural gas production LEAKED from a pipe at a drilling operation and contaminated a nearby wetland and stream in Dimock, Susquehanna County, PA, according to the PA Department of Environmental Protection. The spill occurred Wednesday, September 16th, at the Heitsman Well and flowed into Stevens Creek and a nearby wetland. Cabot operates the well. There were two separate spills Wednesday- one in the afternoon (25-50 barrels) and one in the evening (about 140 barrels). An investigation is underway to determine what chemicals were released into the environment. Read the full article here.

September 19th Update from


The New Snake Oil Salesmen: Natural Gas Lobbyists

PennFuture has published an article about natural gas lobbyists who have spent more than one million dollars lobbying the PA legislature so far this year.
The natural gas lobbyists - who have spent more than $1 million lobbying the Pennsylvania legislature so far this year to avoid a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling - have a lot in common with the snake oil sales reps of old. They are making spectacular claims about the benefits of gas drilling even as they poor-mouth about economic fragility of their industry. A look at the facts makes it clear that virtually none of the lobbyists' claims are true. Our message to state legislators - Buyer beware.
The gas industry is taking the approach that they are in a delicate position right now, being as they are in their infancy. A comment in the Philadelphia Inquirer reads:
If the natural gas industry is an infant, it was born with a silver spoon in its mouth.
The annual bonuses that the CEOs are getting really belies this argument. Cheasapeake Energy's CEO Aubrey K. McClendon got a compensation package last year of $112.5 million. Range Resources' CEO received $5 million. Atlas America's PA subsidiary paid Richard Weber nearly $2.5 million.

Claim: PA consumers will be hit with higher costs for natural gas. PennFuture says NO.
Claim: We (gas companies) already pay too much in taxes. PennFuture says NOT EXACTLY.
Claim: We're (gas companies) bringing jobs to PA. PennFuture says NO.

However, the drillers may successfully dodge the severance tax which is required in most gas producing states, and will also make "sweetheart" deals with the state to buy leases in PA state forests and parks. They will buy low now and make a killing later.

PennFuture says,
We weren't born yesterday. All of us should let the legislature and the governor (Rendell) know that this is a very bad deal all around.
Read PennFuture Facts Vol.11, No.19, here.


Steuben County Compressor Station: Number One Polluter

Compressor Station in Dimock, PA. Photo by Mary Sweeney

The focus has been on well pads, of course, but compressor stations are required, too. What problems will they bring?

Steuben County's (NY) Woodhill compressor station is not only the greatest source of pollutants in the county, it's approximately 3 times greater a polluter than the Corning glass manufacturing plant; and the compressor station also emits nearly 3 times the number of different pollutants than Corning does.

Compressor stations pump gas through a pipeline by compressing the gas at intervals along the system. The engines run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. (For a short description of how compressor stations work, click here. Keep in mind that the information is provided by El Paso Pipeline Group.)

Click here to see the Planet Hazard map, showing the location of the Woodhill compressor station. Note the close proximity to the Pulteney Hill School (a mere .46 miles) and less than five miles from 13 other schools. Can we not at least provide our children with safe, quiet places to go to school?

Read how Lamar County, TX, residents won a lawsuit after an eleven-year court battle with the Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America. Complaint: noise and pollution from a natural gas compressor station near Howland, TX. Award: $1,242,500 in damages. But remember it took eleven years of blood sweat and tears to get there. How many Americans are going to have the wherewithal to do that? William "Bubba" Justiss, who brought the suit, said,
I was tickled to death by the verdict, I never did think it would happen. I didn't think it would ever come to trial. I am glad it did. It might help some other people on down the way.
All the years he was fighting this uphill battle, he said,
I cried every time I got up to speak to people at meetings. I was trying to warn people what will happen when these compression stations are built, the amount of problems residents will have and the devaluation of their property.
Landowners often complain about noise levels associated with natural gas compressors. The noise level varies with the size of the compressor and distance from the compressor; and it changes with shifts in wind direction and intensity. According to the Powder River Basin Resource Council, "Depending on the wind direction, the roar of a field compressor can be heard three to four miles from the site. Near the compressor stations, people need to shout to make themselves heard over the sound of the engines."

One Wyoming landowner has described compressor noise in this way:

"....the dreadful noise generated by a nearby large compressor station. Noise that was so loud that our dog was too frightened to go outside to do his business without a lot of coaxing. Noise that sounds like a jet plane circling over your house for 24 hours a day. Noise that is constant. Noise that drives people to the breaking point. My neighbor called the sheriff, state officials and even the governor and was told nothing could be done about the noise. Like I said, the noise drives people to the breaking point, and my neighbor fired 17 rifle shots toward the station."
(This comment comes from Earthworks: Click here.)

How many thousands of people will be pushed to the breaking point before this is over? Perhaps it will be you or I. This is just one more reason to strengthen our gun laws. Arming everyone could be a very bad thing. Our very lives, our families, our planet are threatened. How much can we take?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PA Landowner Appeals To the State Supreme Court

Tomorrow one Pennsylvania landowner from Susquehanna County will take his grievances to the state Superior Court. More than 70 lawsuits have been filed in federal and state courts by plaintiffs seeking a judgement that the leases signed were never valid. The issue is all about royalties. The state law requires that all land owners receive 12.5 %, or one-eighth, minimum royalty from the production of oil and gas on their land. The controversy arises when gas companies subtract costs, such as taxes, assessments, or transportation, BEFORE paying the 12.5 % royalty. Is this a violation of state law? The land owners say yes. And they feel that the gas companies came in and took advantage of them at a time when very few people knew anything about the Marcellus shale. However, the law does not define "royalty" in clear terms. Is it before or after expenses? David Fine, lawyer for two gas companies, maintains that it is standard language in leases to deduct costs, but this is disputed by land owner advocates in PA and elsewhere. Two cases in lower courts rendered different legal opinions. Mr. Fine asked the state Supreme Court to take up an appeal, Kilmer vs. ElexCo, immediately in hopes of settling this question for all future cases. One problem is that records of oil and gas leases dating back to the royalty law of 1979 are kept in county courthouses, often in arcane filing systems, making it very difficult to know how many land owners and leases would be affected.

Let the fun begin!

Read the full article by Marc Levy, The Associated Press, here.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Check Is In the Mail

The weeds may grow very tall around your mailbox before your royalty check arrives. Find out why.

Read Peter Gorman's original blog post, "Barnett Shale Mailbox Money," here and Texas Sharon's award-winning blog commentary here.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

No Permits At All

Overwhelming evidence now exists that the Halliburton gas drilling process causes contaminated drinking water, carcinogens in the farmland and food chain, torn-up roads, risk of explosions, toxic air pollution, plummeting real estate values, and screeching noise pollution.

What does the gas industry have to give back to the land and the people who live on the land? Practically nothing. The gas industry has a way to avoid consequences. Lots of money and lots of lawyers and lots of public officials and community leaders who can't wait for the drilling to commence. Why do people make decisions which are not in their best interests? It is the hope of striking it rich. The only people who do that for sure are the gas drilling corporations.


Friday, September 11, 2009

1 Killed, 4 Injured In Gas Well Accident

Two friends and I recently visited a well site in the Spring Lake area of Asylum Township, Bradford County, PA. We stopped to talk with some of the workers who were taking a break near their white pick-up trucks. They were very friendly and pleasant and seemed to enjoy a little break, talking with a few local ladies. We asked them about the loud noise. They said it was a frack pump which has to provide a lot of pressure while the horizontal drilling is in progress. My friend asked one man if he was concerned about hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas when inhaled in even small amounts. He said, "Nah! We don't worry about that. We have alarms. It just doesn't bother us really."

Thursday a service rig operator, an employee of Chipco Oil and Gas Well Services, died from inhaling hydrogen sulfide in Guernsey County, Ohio. Four men were injured; one is in critical condition. Read the story here. The video is powerful.

The men, who were preparing to cap the well, were injured while trying to rescue the man who subsequently died. They had encountered what is commonly called "poison gas" or "sour gas." This lethal gas is NOT uncommon in the gas drilling industry. A volunteer fire department chief said,
It happens all over. It's something they're trained to deal with but, sometimes it happens so fast that their protective clothing doesn't warn them quick enough....
What do we know about hydrogen sulfide? What about the public? How far away does a person have to be to keep safe? Is there hydrogen sulfide in the frack fluid deposited in the sludge pits?

NEOGAP ASKS: What measures are in place to protect residents? According to ERG and the Gas Research Institue 100 ft is not a safe proximity to a gas well during hydrogen sulfide events.

NEOGAP/Grendell Bill will increase these setbacks and require hydrogen sulfide monitoring to protect the public.
SB 165 just introduced by Niehaus DOES NOT.

Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sir, Have You Been Drinking? (Update below)

The police chief of Towanda Borough, Bradford County, PA, told the borough council on Monday night that gas drilling has caused an increase in crime in the area. Responding to questions from borough council member Bob McLinko, Police Chief Mitch Osman said that police calls have gone up, especially the severity of the calls. Drinking at the bars in Towanda seems to be contributing to this problem. There used to be some predictably quiet nights in town, but not anymore. The borough recently applied for a federal grant to hire an additional full-time officer but was turned down. The request will automatically be re-considered in the future. Chief Osman says Towanda could actually use two more officers.

Alcohol and drug use has been reported as a significant problem in other areas of the country that have experienced gas drilling. The work is very hard. Fatigue is omnipresent. Loneliness may be a big factor since many of the drillers are far away from home and family. However, Towanda will now have to deal with this problem at taxpayers' expense. Along with a higher crime rate comes the need for more jail space, more staff to process people, and even more worrisome, more danger to the citizens of the community. Why is Chesapeake Appalachia, a self-described advocate of good community relations, not offering to pay for these additional expenses? It would be unconscionable for the natural gas industry to ignore these social problems. Bradford County deserves compensation from the private gas drilling corporations whose employees are causing trouble, no matter how small a percentage of the gas drilling workforce is involved.

Read the full article in the Towanda Daily Review here.


UPDATE: Yesterday the Bradford County Prison Board decided to begin housing inmates from Sullivan County at the Bradford County Jail. Sullivan County has no jail and has used the Wyoming County jail which is now full. Bradford County Jail has 198 beds and is not currently full. Until now, Bradford County has not housed inmates from other counties. It costs Bradford County $51 per day to house its own inmates, but, since the county would not be responsible for the medical costs and transporting inmates to court, the cost for inmates from other counties might be less.

In light of this news, and taking into account the rise in crime in Bradford County as described by its Chief of Police, it may be wise to plan ahead for Bradford County and all area counties where gas drilling is in progress. Future needs may require more and more sharing of resources for county correctional facilities. Take note also that Bradford County pays. not only for food and a jail cell for its inmates. It also pays for any medical treatment that may be necessary during incarceration.

Read the full article in the Towanda Daily Review here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Water Is In Danger In Pennsylvania

A glass of water from a well in Dimock, Pennsylvania

Our friends who live along the Delaware River from New York to Philadelphia need our support. They are more and more concerned about their drinking water. Gas drilling has begun along the banks of the Delaware River. Mark Barbash from Center City said:
The major problem that comes from all this drilling is the fact that we will not have drinking water because you cannot filter this stuff out. That means that 72 million people in the northeastern United States are close to not having any drinking water.
Do we really know what it would mean if we had NO DRINKING WATER? None! We have never had to think about such a thing. Would it not bring our lives to a complete standstill?
I once experienced a 4-day period with no electricity after a hurricane. It transforms your life into a survival mode. Nothing gets done except the bare essentials of living.
The Delaware River Basin Commission will hold meetings on the process on September 23rd and October 22nd. Citizens of the affected area are asking for an Environmental Impact Statement BEFORE any drilling begins. However, if this goes according to the current trends, the gas drilling industry seems to be notorious for doing things backwards.
Drill now; apologize later. Fines? Bring 'em on. We've got money for that in the budget.
The natural gas industry got a big headstart in lining up landowners and getting leases signed well in advance. This makes everything hard for citizens to protest. However, if enough people find out the truth, if enough people learn about what is about to happen to them and the planet if things don't change, then maybe there is a lot we can do to stop the destruction. I hope so.

Read the article in full here


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Extra! Extra! Texas Blogger Down!

A Texas woman, Elizabeth Burns, who with her husband owns a 38,000-acre ranch in South Texas and has experienced countless problems with Exxon Mobil because of gas drilling, has been served with a gag order, forbidding her to blog about Exxon Mobil. For the past year or so, Mrs. Burns has been taking pictures and videos, and posting on her blog about the pollution she finds within plain view of her home. She is very diligent and thorough in her reporting. El Paso Corp. just got a totally unconstitutional protective order to interfere with her blogging. According to Mrs. Burns, the gas company claims that what she films on her own property or in plain view of her ranch is a trade secret.

Mrs. Burns is a house wife and she has just one pro bono lawyer, a very excellent one she says! She needs our support. We cannot tolerate our own independent news reporting being silenced! We have the right to tell our stories and document what is happening in our own backyards.

Visit Mrs. Burns' web site. She is a good writer, very entertaining, but fearless in her approach. Her story is truly remarkable! You won't believe what she has found out in her investigations. She's called the Spatula Blogger because she holds a spatula as a microphone when appearing in her videos. You'll enjoy her sense of humor, but most of all, you'll admire her for her sense of justice and her concern for the environment.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Methane Contamination Linked To Drill Site In PA

A Bradford County (PA) well pad.

An article published in the Wayne Independent on July 30, 2009, reported a serious problem unfolding in McNett Township, Lycoming County, PA. A well casing may have breached, causing a substantial methane leak to spread from a drill site operated by East Resources. The PA Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the incident. It is believed that this leak entered the local aquifer, thus tainting well water in the vicinity. Methane is a major component of natural gas. It is colorless, odorless, and extremely flammable and combustible, especially if it builds up in an enclosed space. It can cause asphyxiation when it concentrates. Dimock, PA, has also fallen victim to methane migration. Several households there are unable to use their well water, and have even been instructed to open a window when using the shower.

The DEP found out about the problem when a concerned citizen from McNett contacted them, reporting that his water was discolored in a tributary and nearby spring. The state agency collected water samples from these water sources and sent them to their Harrisburg lab for evaluation. DEP comfirmed that in two Lycoming Creek tributaries bubbling was observed. Methane creates bubbles in water.

Gas corporations always downplay these incidents, using terms like, "rare," "unique,", "an anomaly." However, these words are deceiving. According to a recent article by Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica,
Methane has contaminated water wells in at least seven Pennsylvania counties since 2004 and is common enough that the state hired a full-time inspector dedicated to the issue in 2006. In one case, methane was detected in water sampled over 15 square miles. In another, a methane leak led to an explosion that killed The Rev. Charles Harper, a recently retired United Methodist pastor, his wife Dorothy, and their 17-month-old grandson, Baelee Harper. Their home was reportedly reduced to "a pile of rubble." Debris was found across the road, and insulation hung from trees 30 feet in the air.
Methane is the largest, but by no means the only, component of natural gas. It evaporates out of drinking water and is not considered toxic. (A friend who lives in Dimock, PA, told me that some days her tap water bubbles, indicating the presence of methane. This is a common experience in her daily life now. She doesn't drink her well water.) But there is a real danger when methane is in the air, which, of course, happens in every case where it is bubbling in the water. It can lead to explosions.

Gas companies, perhaps fearful that their industry will be blamed for these extremely dangerous situations, try very hard to find other causes for methane migration. In many cases, the methane seepage comes from thousands of old abandoned gas wells that are all over the PA landscape. (In fact, many of these old wells are not mapped and may exist without a landowner knowing about them.) But other cases of methane leaks, including several this year (2009) and the 2004 disaster that left three people dead, were linked to problems with newly drilled, active natural gas wells.

Read the Wayne Independent article here.

To be continued.......