PA DEP Slowing Down Permits to Construct Well Pads & Pipelines

In 2012, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) launched an “expedited” review process for erosion and sediment control general permits that it grants when drillers or pipeline companies plan to push dirt around on more than 5 acres at a time. Which means every pipeline built and every shale well pad constructed. The expedited review process shortened the time to get a permit down to as little as 14 days–provided the paperwork was filled out correctly. The DEP conducted an internal review and found that 59% of the time they didn’t get the paperwork in a form they wanted, so they disqualified those applications. Now the DEP is revising its rules for expedited review, meaning they’re pretty much doing away with it. Welcome back to long delays in getting permits to push dirt around. This action appears to be a response to stinging criticism from the PA legislature that permits, which are supposed to be issued in 14 days, are taking over 100 days–a charge leveled by PA Sen. Camera Bartolotta who is introducing legislation to put a burr under the DEP’s saddle. So the DEP is saying fine, we’ll just change it back to the way it used to be. You can now expect long permit delays from the outset. Your state government at work, serving the people…
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Shale Cuttings Used to Rehab Site of Future Business, Amphitheater

A story from Hazelton, PA totally refutes the argument that drill cuttings (leftover rock and dirt from shale drilling) are radioactive and will make you glow in the dark–a claim frequently made by anti-drillers. The scars of coal mining dot the landscape in northeastern PA. In one such area, on the edge of Hazelton, sits a 270-acre site with abandoned mines and an old landfill. The location, known as Hazelton Creek Properties, is in the process of reclaiming part of the site by using (yes) drill cuttings. The site will eventually host an amphitheater for concerts and other businesses. People will one day be sitting directly over top of shale cuttings!…
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Earth to Mars: We’re Coming to Frack You!

No, this is not a spoof nor a joke. A petroleum engineer and professor at the Colorado School of Mines, Alfred William Eustes III, will address a meeting of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) in Aberdeen, United Kingdom on May 28th. The topic of his discussion? How oil and gas drilling techniques developed here on earth may help us discover whether or not there currently is or previously has been life under the surface on Mars…
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Range Floats Plan to Use Drill Cuttings to Build Roads

This one is sure to set the anti-frackers into a tailspin. Range Resources has applied to the PA State Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin using drill cuttings (leftover rock and dirt that comes out of the ground) as an “aggregate” or material to build roads to drilling sites. There’s nothing wrong with drill cuttings, but sometimes there are low levels of radioactivity found in them–far below any kind of health threat. But we can see the headlines now: Radioactive Roads! Run for the Hills! Drillers Want to Poison Mother Earth! That’s how the shrill anti-fossil fuel lobby will try and spin this.

We’re sure Range knows they’ve opened a can of worms with this one. Let’s see how it all plays out in the coming 60 days, the time period authorized by the DEP to receive public comments on the proposed plan…
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WVU Prof Stokes Radioactive Fears, Says DEP Study Missing Research

Say What?Here’s a story that we confess, we’re having a tough time wrapping our brains around. Allegations are swirling in West Virginia that one of three officially conducted studies for the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) released last year overlooked important data collection. The study in question was completed in December 2011 and released in February 2012. Titled “Pits and Impoundments Final Report,” the report looks at frack wastewater impoundments and water pits used in horizontal Marcellus Shale drilling (see WVU Study Finds Potential Problems with Frack Wastewater Pits for a copy of the full study). From what we can determine, solid waste, like drilling mud and “cuttings” (leftover rock and soil from drilling) were not part of that study–at all.

But now, the Charleston Gazette identifies and quotes a WVU professor who supposedly worked on that study (although his name doesn’t appear in the study) who says researchers tried to test drill cuttings for radioactivity and were either denied access or put off/delayed until they finally ran out of time and had to file the report without doing the analysis. It’s now a big deal because anti-drillers are raising the specter that everyone is about to glow in the dark from radioactive drill cuttings going to landfills across the state. The WVU prof seems to be intentionally stoking those fears…
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More on MSC/PIOGA and PA DEP Dueling Radiation Studies

Last week MDN told you that two somewhat competitive drilling industry organizations in Pennsylvania–the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA)–announced they would launch their own study of the “does drilling create radioactive waste” issue (see MSC/PIOGA Team Up to Study Radiation in Shale Drilling). Since the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection is currently conducting a 12-14 month study of its own on that topic (see PA DEP Announces New Study of Radiation in Shale Drilling), we wondered why the MSC & PIOGA would launch their own study.

Additional information has come to light. According to an interview with Acting (soon to be full) Sec. of the DEP, Chris Abruzzo, the DEP views radioactivity in drilling waste as the possible “next frontier” of the agency’s oversight of the industry. No wonder the industry is concerned. Also, back in August, the MSC & PIOGA jointly issued a lengthy document (copy embedded below) challenging the structure and scope of the DEP study. The view of the MSC/PIOGA seems to be the DEP study as outlined is flawed (our words) and therefore will produce flawed results. Hence, they’re launching their own study to “do it right” (our words). An update on this developing story…
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MSC/PIOGA Team Up to Study Radiation in Shale Drilling

questionsIn January 2013, MDN brought you the news that the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) was launching a 12-14 month study of radiation in shale drilling (see PA DEP Announces New Study of Radiation in Shale Drilling).

Yesterday the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) announced a joint effort to conduct their own study of radiation in shale drilling. The two organizations say their study will “complement” the study now being done by the DEP. Yesterday’s announcement raises some important questions:

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Radioactive Bilge Emanates from ‘Radioactive Waste Alert’ in OH

Unfortunately the old Chinese proverb has come true: We live in interesting times. We live in a day and age when thinking, contemplation and logic are foreign concepts to many people. Instead, we get the pablum of headlines, sound bites and billboards. The latest pristine example of non-thinking comes from a billboard near Columbus, OH that targets a business doing great work for the shale drilling industry by recycling drill cuttings–the leftover dirt and rock from drilling a bore hole.

The billboard (see our Pinterest pics on right) says, “Don’t Frack My Water – Protect Columbus” and is sponsored by “RadioactiveWasteAlert.org” with a picture of a girl drinking what appears to be contaminated water from a bottle with a radioactive symbol on the side. It’s aimed at stopping Ohio Soil Recycling from doing the important work that they do (see OH Company Turns Drill Cuttings into Clean Fill Dirt in 24 Hours). What’s the average Columbus commuter going to think? Hopefully at least some of them won’t fall for this cheap shot–this un-thinking gimmick–from a fringe group of anti-fossil fuel nutters…
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Pittsburgh Water-Testing Lab’s Certification Pulled, $60K Fine

We don’t know if any Marcellus drillers in Pennsylvania were previously using Pittsburgh-based Microbac Laboratories to test water or soil for drilling purposes–but we do know they aren’t using them now. The PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated Microbac and found 50 violations at their Baltimore, Maryland lab. Microbac has voluntarily relinquished its accreditation and will pay a $60,000 fine. Ouch. They will also pay to have an independent third-party audit (i.e. someone will come in and tell them what they’re doing wrong)…
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OH Anti-Drillers Worked Up over Radiation

Anti-driller Dr. Marvin “Radon” Resnikoff has found some new clients to buy his recycled reports about killer radioactivity from shale drilling. His latest takers? The FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio (FWAPO). You may recall the U.S. Geological Survey was none too impressed with Resnikoff’s wild radioactivity claims (see Radon Debate: USGS Responds to Marvin Resnikoff Accusation). But hey, a guy’s gotta make a livin, ya know? So he continues to peddle his “radioactive” reports.

Last week the FWAPO released one of Resnikoff’s recycled light-on-facts reports (just change the headers and add the word “Ohio” in a few places)–see a copy embedded below. Resnikoff now has the anti-drilling faithful in Ohio all worked up over radiation…
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MarkWest Fined for Soil Erosion/Creek Damage Near WV Plant

MarkWest Energy has been slapped with a $306,000 fine by the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection for polluting a small stream near its new Mobley processing plant in Wetzel County. The plant just went online in December (see MarkWest’s Mobley, WV Wet Gas Processing Plant Goes Online). During construction of the plant, the DEP says MarkWest’s work caused landslides of dirt, trees and other debris into a nearby creek.

MarkWest has agreed to pay the fine and “accepts responsibility” for the damage, yet they officially admit no wrongdoing under the proposed settlement order. Hmmm.

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PA DEP Announces New Study of Radiation in Shale Drilling

Although the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) “routinely reviews radioactivity data in wastes the oil and natural gas industry and other industries generate,” they announced yesterday a new 12-14 month in-depth study to examine radiation levels more closely in PA’s shale drilling industry to ensure “that public health and the environment continue to be protected.”

The DEP is currently seeking a peer review of the proposed study plan (plan embedded below) and will then start sampling and analyzing naturally occurring radioactivity levels in drilling wastewater, drill cuttings, and the equipment used to transport, store and dispose of drilling wastes. The study will be conducted by the DEP working with an outside firm—Perma-Fix Environmental Services of Pittsburgh.

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West Virginia Officials Say Radioactivity from Gas Drilling a Non-Issue

One of the issues raised in Marcellus Shale drilling is a concern that pumping water into, and then extracting it out of the ground will bring with it radioactivity from naturally occurring sources deep underground. In particular, the “cuttings” or leftover rock and dirt that come out of the bore hole might contain higher than normal levels of radioactivity. Officials in West Virginia say there’s no reason for concern in their state:

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Will Soil be the New “Water” in the Fight to Stop Marcellus Gas Drilling in NY State?

MDN finds it necessary to periodically post disclaimers such as the following: We think drilling can be done safely, but we must remain vigilant. The more we know about drilling, the more we are convinced it is a good thing for the economy and the nation’s energy future. We are not anti-science, we’re not blind, we do care about our neighbors and we welcome opposing opinions. No one wants water supplies to be poisoned, and no one wants enjoyment of the great outdoors to be spoiled by drilling activity. And it doesn’t have to be that way if drilling is done right.

With that said, the other side of the drilling debate seems to stop at nothing to instill irrational fears into the general population under the guise of science. Put the name of a prominent educational institution next to a committee or group, invoke the name of someone with a Ph.D., and viola, instant credibility. And if you dare say, “but the Emperor has no clothes” out loud, you’re shouted down as an industry shill or accused of being greedy at others’ expense. Such loving and caring people those who disagree with us.

Since “your water will be poisoned” doesn’t seem to be getting sufficient traction these days as a scare tactic, we now find out that soil is “sensitive” (bet you didn’t know that!) to drilling activity:

Researchers have developed the Cornell Soil Health Test to evaluate soil response to management on different types of land. It’s intended to assess changes due to gas drilling work.

The construction necessary to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in southern New York could affect the soil around drilling sites and pipeline right-of-ways, says a Cornell soil expert who has helped develop a new soil health test to assess such impacts.

“Soil is sensitive to heavy construction, and while there are a lot of construction standards and practices, there isn’t really a standardized way to measure construction impacts on soil behavior,” said Robert Schindelbeck, a Cornell extension associate in crop and soil sciences and member of the Cornell Soil Health Team.

To fill in that information gap, Schindelbeck and his team have developed the Cornell Soil Health Test (CSHT), a set of tests designed to evaluate soil response to management on different types of land.*

*PhysOrg.com (Apr 1) – New test assesses gas drilling effects on soils