I'm a bit late on this one, but the Post-Gazette reported last week that a wastewater pond used in Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling caught fire. Two nearby residents of the site, which is operated by Atlas Energy Copr. (one of whom is already suing Atlas for "ruining his land with toxic chemicals") say that they had smelled a gas odor for days . . . and had reported it to the Department of Environmental protection without hearing back:
Mr. Lengauer said he contacted a hotline for the state Department of Environmental Resources on Sunday, but was unable to reach agency officials because their voicemail boxes were full.
"I tried to call them for three days straight," said Mr. Lengauer.
I've called DEP for updates or further response, since the P-G seems to have dropped the story for now.
One thing that's interesting about this story is that it was the wastewater pond that caught fire. I've had several officials indicate that these ponds (like the one pictured above) are mostly storing freshwater yet I reported on a toxic mud spill resulting from a similar pond last week, and, before that, on an incident of pollution in Clearwater county that resulted from the lining of another waste pit being ruptured.
Contaminated mud from Marcellus Shale gas drilling spills in state forest; Rendell may be changing mind on additional leasing
|Constance Merriman, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture)|
Just a week ago, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget which relies on more than a $100 million in revenue from new leasing of state forest for drilling in the Marcellus Shale (a third of the state forest has already been leased for drilling).
That decision, as I reported in February, ran contrary to the advice of former Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who warned shortly before resigning that further leasing would "scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest," as well as overburden the Department's limited staff.
Among the dangers associated with Marcellus Shale drilling is the potential for spills a danger heightened by the rapid pace at which the industry has developed.
Yesterday, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported that 8,000 to 12,000 gallons of contaminated mud were spilled at Sproul state forest in Clinton County, Pa. a site operated by Anadarko E&P Co. Inc. that was part of the governor's most recent lease of forest land for drilling, in January.
While about half of the mud spilled over the boundary of the well pad, it didn't spread far enough to contaminate any surface waters, ground water or wetlands in the area, said Mr. Spandoni. A contractor began cleanup work Friday night. DEP officials have taken mud samples to determine a proper disposal method.
The mud is used as a cooling agent in drilling operations. Since the mud that spilled is synthetic-based, it doesn't contain any diesel fluids as some other agents do, said Mr. Spandoni.
This certainly isn't the first case of "errors" resulting from hydraulic fracturing operations: There were 56 "illegal discharges" in 2008 and 2009.
Nor is this the first spill affecting state forest land: City Paper has learned of two more incidents (confirmed with the Department of Environmental Protection) at a site adjacent to state forest in Clearfield County. In August 2009, a drilling pit utilized by EOG Resources Inc. leaked drilling fluids into a nearby spring; in October, there was a spill of "a water/chemical mixture used for cleaning wells" at an adjacent well, also operated by EOG.
These spills resulted in impacts to Alex Branch and Little Laurel Run streams, which are wild trout fisheries, and a freshwater spring used by local hunters.
Representative Greg Vitali, working with a coalition of environmentally-minded House representatives, has sponsored a bill calling for a moratorium on the leasing of more state land for drilling.
Despite what he says was a deal made between House "green dog" Democrats, who opposed such leasing, House leadership, and Governor Ed Rendell, the governor came out in favor of leasing additional land for this year's budget.
But, according to the Times-Tribune, he was singing a different tune yesterday:
Mr. Rendell expressed optimism Monday the state can meet next year's revenue target without leasing additional acreage of state forest land. He said more details will be forthcoming. Mr. Rendell also said for the first time he supports a moratorium bill.
If this is true, it's big news. Maybe Rendell has decided he doesn't want his legacy to have been pillaging the state forest to plug budget holes, after all.
In my cover story last week ("Drill Baby Drill"), I described, among other things, the potential for wastewater spills from hydraulic fracturing, the process used to drill for gas in the Marcellus Shale.
In the latest news of contamination linked to drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a Pennsylvania driller has admitted to dumping some 200,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into an abandoned well just outside of Allegheny National Forest.
The story was reported today by Pro Publica, a non-profit dedicated to investigative journalism in the public interest:
As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, part-owner Michael Evans, 66, of La Quinta, Calif., and John Morgan, 54, of Sheffield, Penn., admitted dumping 200,000 gallons of brine salty wastewater thats created in the drilling process down an abandoned oil well. The maximum penalty for both Evans and Morgan is three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Sentencing will be June 24. Attorneys for both men declined to comment.
Swamp Angel Energy was drilling in the Allegheny National Forest, in McKean County in northwestern Pennsylvania, and the brine was dumped just outside the border of the federal land.
The company, Pro Publica reports, has 77 active, permitted wells in Pennsylvania, all in McKean county.
Read more CP coverage of drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The Marcellus Memos: Privately, Rendell's State Forest tsars expressed deep concern over leasing state forest for drilling
|Former Secretary Michael DiBerardinis cautioned Rendell against leasing forest.|
A few days ago, we reported (and the Inquirer re-reports today) [correction: the Inquirer first reported in October, 2009] that Governor Rendell is considering authorizing yet another lease of state forest land for drilling into the Marcellus Shale, a geologic structure containing billions (if not trillions) of dollars worth of natural gas.
If he does, it will be the third such sale in three years âbefore 2008, state land hadn't been leased for drilling since 2002.
There are a few reasons to ask whether this is a good move. For one thing, fully one-third of our state forest has already been leased for drilling. For another, while only four Marcellus wells are currently active on forest land right now, at least 40 wells are expected to be in production by the end of the year and DCNR officials say that we could see over a thousand in the next decade â all that on land already leased.
We have, in other words, barely begun to see what impact drilling will have on the state forests already leased â leasing even more of it now could be risky indeed.
But don't take my word for it: Rendell's own state forest officials have made their concerns very clear â albeit mostly in private.
Memos and emails obtained by City Paper show that both former DCNR Secretary Michael Diberardinis and Acting Secretary John Quigley have repeatedly cautioned Rendell against leasing additional state forest for Marcellus Shale drilling.
So, in a CP exclusive, we bring you excerpts from said documents in . . . The Marcellus Memos
Background: in 2008, Governor Rendell authorized the first leasing of state forest for gas drilling since 2002. He did so at the suggestion of then-Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who suggested leasing the land as a way of preventing the state legislature, hungry for revenue, from usurping the authority to do so from DCNR.
Perhaps to Diberardinis' surprise (he has declined comment), Rendell shortly thereafter asked DCNR to perform yet another leasing of state forest for drilling. On March 11, 2009, Rendell's office announced Sec. DiBerardinis' resignation. The following memo (abridged) was written just a week before Mr. DiBerardinis' last day of work.
Memo â March 27, 2009, Sec. DiBerardinis to Gov. Rendell
"Wholesale leasing will damage our State Forest landscape. It would scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest â especially the most wild and remote areas of our state in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Your years of work and investments in rural economic revitalization through outdoor experiences in the Pennsylvania Wilds could be erased."
" . . . A rush to drill threatens the certification of our State Forests as sustainably managed. . . Our ability to sustainably manage our State Forests is threatened by unplanned, excessive leasing activity."
". . . Finally, and perhaps most important of all is the environmental legacy you want to leave. I'm deeply concerned that your tireless work [for the environment] will be in jeopardy with large scale leasing."
"One hundred years ago, the land that would become the state's forests was a denuded landscape that was scarred by rampant resource extraction. Our State Forest system â the largest swath of publicly owned land east of the Mississippi River â grew from a visionary effort to reclaim this landscape and restore to Pennsylvania's citizens their natural birthright . . . A rush to drill places the state forest and all its benefits at great risk. . . "
Background: In this email, Acting Sec. Quigley says that DCNR is comfortable leasing only 40,000 more acres for Marcellus Shale drilling. As you'll see int he next email, within 2 days, Rendell's staff would ask DCNR to double that acreage.
Email â May 4, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Gov. Rendell
"It is important to emphasize that we cannot lease 620,000 more acres. We are approaching questionable territory with future lease sales. We are comfortable with a maximum of 40K acres for an additional lease sale . . ."
Background: Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of forests in the United States certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as a sustainable forest. Here, Acting Secretary John Quigley warns Rendell that that certification could be in danger if more state forest is leased.
Memo â May 6, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Scott Roy, Mary Soderberg (Gov. Rendell's office)
"You have asked DCNR to be prepared to offer at least a total of 80,000 acres of state forest lands for Marcellus gas development in 2009. . ."
"I want to be very explicit about the situation that this will place us in. These would likely be the last gas lease sales on State Forest land that we could manage within the context of our sustainable certification for the foreseeable future."
Yesterday, as you might have heard, Governor Ed Rendell announced that he would, after all, support a tax on gas drilling in Pennsyvlania.
What you didn't hear was that he's also considering authorizing the third leasing of state forest for drilling in three years.
Yesterday, the Gov's press office confirmed to CP a rumor circulating Harrisburg that Governor Rendell is considering unilaterally directing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to lease more state forest land for drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation covering much of PA and which contains billions of dollars worth of natural gas.
By law, the leasing of state forest for oil and/or gas activities has been at the sole discretion of the Secretary of DCNR. And, for more than fifty years, state law has required that the proceeds of any such leasing go directly to conservation â specifically to the Oil and Gas Lease Fund.
This year, for the first time in Pennsylvania history, the legislature and governor â hungry for a slice of the booming activity surrounding gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale â raided that pot and overrode the DCNR Secretary's authority to decide when, where, and how much to lease. They included in the 2009 budget that required DCNR to raise $60 million from leasing to drillers.
It was the first time DCNR been required to lease land to meet a set financial goal; and the first time forest lease proceeds been redirected wholesale to the state's general fund and away from conservation.
It also seemed to ignore warnings from former DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who wrote in May that too much leasing would "scar the economic, scenic, ecological and recreational values of the forest," and that "a rush to drill threatens the certification of our state forests as sustainably managed."
This point â that further leasing could pose threats to the long-term stability and quality of our forests â will have to be explored further in later posts. But it's worth noting here that both former Secretary DiBerardinis and acting Secretary John Quigley have both voiced concerns over the possible impact of further leasing. In May, for example, Quigley wrote in a memo to the governor's office that
"This would likely be the last gas lease sales on State Forest land that we could manage within the context of our sustainable certification for the foreseeable future . . . DCNR remains very apprehensive about the leasing of additional forest land."
Fully one-third of state forest has already been leased for drilling â and while only four Marcellus Shale wells are currently active on that land, the state expects as many as a thousand or more over the next decade. We haven't, in other words, even begun to see how drilling on state forest may play out.
Today's news â that the Governor intends to do it again, and without bothering with the legislature â confirms environmentally-minded legislators recent fears.
For several weeks, rumor had been that legilsators were going to insert language into the coming 2010-2011 budget that would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to lease, for the third time in three years, more forest land for drilling â this time $180 million worth.
Environmentally-minded legislators (so-called Green Dogs) planned to fight this clause.
On Monday, though, a new rumor was afloat: the Governor would simply require DCNR to lease the land himself, without the legislature, and he might do it soon.
"He could do it tomorrow," Rep Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), who is sponsoring a bill that would impose a moratorium on further leasing of state forest for drilling, told CP on Monday.
Indeed. Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma confirmed yesterday that the Governor was considering authorizing another lease himself:
As things now stand, he would have the authority to do so in the 2010-11 budget year, and yes he would consider doing it because it was part of the two-year agreement with the legislature.
That last bit, the idea that further leasing "was part of the two-year agreement with the legislature," is disputed.
In fact, Mr. Tuma originally told City Paper that the $180 million sale had been written into law already. When CP pointed out this wasn't the case, Mr. Tuma wrote back that:
There was a very clear and very public agreement in October that the Governor and the legislature had jointly agreed on a plan to balance the budget for two years, and that $180 million from leasing in 2010-11 was part of that.
Tuma did not respond to CP's question of where, exactly, this "clear and very public agreement" had been publicized.
Rep. Vitali directly disputes this claim. "The opposite is true," he told CP today. He and several other Green Dogs, he said, had been aware of the legislature's and governor's intention to include more leasing in the budget but opposed it.
"We negotiated and the negotiated agreement was that for 2009-2010, there would be $60 million in leasing. There was no agreement with regard to 2010-2011, simply no agreement."
Representative David Levdansky (D-Allegheny, Washington) agrees:
"We insisted that they take year two off the table, and they did," he told CP today. "If the governor's claiming otherwise, it's not accurate and it's just an effort to double-cross us."
"I supported Ed Rendell when he ran against the real Bob Casey in 1986. I supported him when he ran against young Bob Casey. I've been his legislative ally on every major policy. But the governor is dead wrong on this. He's a city slicker â he doesn't understand that a century-old state forest system is a treasure of the Commonwealth."
Stay tuned for updates on the Clog. Tips are always welcome.
Breaking: Rendell rumored to be considering unilateral leasing of even more state forest for drilling
Governor Rendell is rumored to be considering directing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to lease more land for Marcellus Shale gas drilling, even before the 2010-2011 budget, which he proposes tomorrow, passes.
"The fear is that governor will lease out more land in the spring," said State Representative Greg Vitali (D-Delaware). "The governor does not need legislative approval to lease out more land for drilling. He could do it tomorrow."
Vitali has sponsored a bill that would impose a moratorium on further leasing of state forest for drilling.
For the past few weeks, rumor had it that the four main caucuses of the General Assembly had made a closed-door agreement to require DCNR to authorize the lease of even more forest land for Marcellus Shale gas drilling to the tune of $180 million.
As I reported in this week's column, Man Overboard ("Uh-oh" 2/3/2010), the legislature included a similar â and totally unprecedented â clause in last year's budget, requiring DCNR to lease $60 million worth of state forest, effectively usurping DCNR Secretary John Quigley's job of determining himself what and whether to lease:
For years, Gov. Ed Rendell and legislators have rubbed their hands in anticipation of this windfall. And during the 2009 budget wars, they did something completely unprecedented: Lawmakers ordered the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which oversees state forests, to lease land to gas drillers to the tune of $60 million which the state would keep.
That decision ignored the advice of former DCNR Secretary (and current Philly Parks and Rec czar) Michael DiBerardinis, who in a March 2009 memo warned that too much leasing would "scar the economic, scenic, ecological and recreational values of the forest," and that "a rush to drill threatens the certification of our state forests as sustainably managed."
They did it anyway.
Governor Spokesman Michael Smith confirmed in a phone call with CP last week that Rendell would indeed seek $180 million from "gas drilling revenues of some sort" - but whether that amount would include a possible proposed tax on drilling or include the leasing of state forest â he declined to specify.
That, he said, would be up to the legislature.
But maybe not. If the rumor's true (the governor's office has not yet responded to a call for comment), the Governor may decide to lease state forest for drilling all by himself â effectively letting legislators who might face opposition on such a vote off the hook.
Currently, one-third of all state forest land has already been leased for drilling. And while thousands of wells are expected on the land already leased, only three are operational.
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