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Opinions and observations from environmental experts, activists, and luminaries
If these allegations prove false I wonder if you will provide a full retraction. People have been trying to penalize this legitimate boom for some time to no avail. Could very well be a disgruntled employee
Thank you for commenting. I certainly would comment if the allegations prove false. Remember, though, that the company's violations record and the contamination of 19 wells in Dimock from poor company practices are facts. The facts must speak for themselves, and judgments made based upon them. The industry must perform at a much higher level to gain public trust. I believe they can.
Dear Mr. Quigley, I want to thank you for the effort you made while head of the DCNR. You spoke truthfully, and were not afraid to do so. I came down to Temple University in March of 2010 to attend a day long seminar in which you participated on the panel. You gave a clear, straightforward, evaluation of how PA DEP was "playing catch up", unable to enforce the inadequate, existing, regulations at that time. You also described bluntly how the republican Senate was blocking efforts to increase regulation, and to establish a severance tax. You did this despite the constant refrain from industry, the lessors, and PA DEP, on how safe shale gas extraction was, and how well regulated the industry was in Pennsylvania. Your evaluation of the inadequate regulations, and enforcement, and the hostile regulatory (political) climate generated by the Republican legislature was honest, amidst a sea of dishonest dialogue. Thank you again, and I hope you continue to keep up your good work. Please keep speaking out.
Thank you for the kind words, James. I want to be clear about my view of PA's regulations - then and now. I think DEP did heroic work in the last 2 years of Governor Rendell's term to catch up; important, strong regulations protecting water quality and more were put in place, and enforcement staff was doubled. New well construction standards were written that went into effect this year. The work to strengthen PA's regs in the face of the new demands of shale gas exploration was on the right trajectory at the end of 2010. There is more work to do. Our regulations, in my view, are not yet strong enough in a number of areas. I urge every citizen to join the debate on 2 bills that are currently before the General Assembly - SB 1100 and HB 1950. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the state depends on enacting the right regulations, enforcement, and taxation of this industry. It will reshape our state. Whether it is for the better is up to all of us.
I agree - there are a number of additional improvements needed to the regulations and oversight, but the answer is not yelling, but seating down and having a discussion and working out the issues. We need to work as a Community to not reshape our state, but provide a vision for our future. Just my thoughts - I hope all PA residents that read this support the Free Citizen Groundwater and Surfacewater Database at Wilkes University. By the way, it was good to read your article - I meet you at a League Event
Thanks, Brian. There are many improvements needed...among them, regulation of air emissions from drilling and pipelines (including methane), more work on water, cumulative impacts, protection of local authority...the list goes on. So far, there is limited evidence of the right climate for collaboration. DCNR and its lessees have developed a set of best management practices to manage the surface impacts of drilling in the state forest. It's among the best work of its kind in the nation. I hope that collaborative approach can grow. I agree with you about Wilkes. The university is going great work. (Full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board of Wilkes' Institute for Energy and Environmental Research for Northeastern Pennsylvania (IEER)).
Laura Legere offered an article a while back on the violations on RECORD. You cannot rewrite history to suit your new improved image Cabot...science is science. I too thank John for his words and work in this rapid exploitaton of rural Appalachia. We have to get it right. From my front row seat here in the Gasfield? The first order of business is to acknowledge mistakes and correct them if possible. How about "We are sorry we were in such a hurry and were careless. What can we do for you folks to restore something of your lives? Thanks again John for speaking out. Victoria Switzer
Thank you for reading and commenting, Victoria.
John, This is my first visit to this blog. I have been following your commentary from time to time. Thanks for your good work on this and other issues. I know about the places you are talking about. I have seen them when Michael DiBeradinis was the Secretary several years ago.The areas look like moonscapes now. It is very sad to see. Our environment needs protection,thanks for being such a strong advocate. all the best,Pat
Thank you, Pat. I appreciate it. All the best.
Always enjoy reading, John. My latest article speaks to the DEP's ability to properly regulate, enforce, and protect, as well as to other industry practices that need to be addressed as well. I find the stretching or rewriting of simple definitions of words like 'independent' to be of particular interest. Thanks for writing. http://www.publicherald.org/archives/14334/investigative-reports/energy-investigations/
Thanks, Melissa. I admire your work. Your articles are must-reads.
Mr. Quigley, Excellent question! How many more Dimocks? It's been several years now since the aquifer in Dimock was impacted by gas drilling. How many more "Dimocks" has there been since then? We've moved past the initial stage in the Marcellus now. There are over 3,000 wells that have been drilled... safely and without incident. There have been some "growing pains" that have (for the most part) have been widely recognized and addressed by both the DEP and the industry. The swiftness with which the DEP has acted on things from well casing standards to waste water disposal can't be characterized as anything less than lightning fast when compared with any other wing of government acting on any other issue. When they could not react quickly enough within their own powers to deal with the high bromide situation, what did they do? They ASKED the industry to stop doing it. The result? 100% compliance (or damn close to it) within 30 days. A decades old practice abandoned in a month. No lawsuits, no standoffs, no disgruntled dismissals from the industry. Just faithful compliance. Yet the tone and implication from yourself, the folks at PennFuture, and many other organizations is one that absolutely demonizes the industry. I will give PF credit, they have no problem extolling the virtues of natural gas, and they do great work on many other issues, but every time the severance tax comes up you all seem to be frothing at the mouth like rabid dogs whenever the industry dares to suggest that maybe, just maybe, it might not be fair to burden it with an extra special gas-industry-only tax that would take tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes to fix problems here in Pennsylvania (environmental and otherwise) that they had NO PART in creating. On top of the billions they are already paying in taxes. The GOP legislators go against their governor and propose a still rather exorbitant "impact fee" that will generate *ONLY* hundreds of millions of dollars per year. They earmark huge revenues from the oil and gas lease fund for environmental initiatives with a big chunk to Growing Greener. Penn Future's response? ABSOLUTE HORROR! Drag every politician and the industry through the mud. "They're all corrupt! They're on the gas industry payroll! How much did Corbett take in campaign donations again?!?! The impact fee is a handout for drillers. It's an absolute gift for them." I'm sure glad Jan Jarrett isn't picking the presents for under my Christmas tree, I can't imagine an annual bill for a couple hundred million dollars will conjure much holiday spirit, no matter how much egg nog I've annihilated. You know as well as I do that most companies go far above and beyond the regulations in place with their best practices. That these companies are very committed to a culture of safety and responsibility for both their employees and their subcontractors. That these companies are trying very hard and spending a lot of money on doing this the "right" way. You have a lot of clout. You are very respected. But when you twist and spin and unfairly and routinely bring out the old broad brush and paint this industry the way you have, you really are hurting Pennsylvania. I respect the fact that you are fighting for tougher regulations. Good companies support tougher laws and enforcement, as long as they are reasonable. Those regs are written not for them, but for the small percentage of operators out there that wouldn't do so on their own. I understand you are fighting for money for your initiatives, but you don't have to hit below the belt to do it. Doing so only pushes your voice out of the realm of reason, and into the realm of the extreme... which (in case you hadn't noticed), is not currently hurting for help. Please, be the reasonable, rational, respected voice in this debate, and encourage your colleagues at Penn Future to do the same. There are not many that fit the qualifications to be able to do so. I hate to see it squandered. Respectfully, Mike Knapp President Knapp Acquisitions & Production Kittanning, Armstrong County, PA
Thanks for commenting, Mike. I really don't think anything that I wrote comes close to hitting below the belt. The facts speak for themselves, in the case of Dimock, and in the continued racking up of violations of PA's not-yet strong-enough regulations by the industry. Frankly, I do not accept the "growing pains" argument. This is a mature, heavy industry. Yet, for example, it averaged 8 violations each month in the first 8 months of 2011 of the new well construction standards you mention. That is a very, very small percentage when considering that there have been thousands of wells drilled, but the consequences of even one violation can be severe. The industry simply must do better and perform at a higher level to build public confidence. And regulations must be strengthened. We are still in the early days of this play. There are still many unknowns, cumulative impacts prominent among them. Pennsylvania is still playing catch up and will be for some time. We must find the balance. As for taxation, the industry pays a drilling tax in every other state in which it operates - and at much higher rates than proposed in PA to boot. It is a part of doing business; part of a public licence to operate. Resistance to it also undermines public confidence.
I'm sorry John, I didn't mean in this piece so much, but continuing to invoke Dimock as some sort of regular inevitability if drastic action isn't taken really seems like a scare tactic. I'm sure you're well aware of the unique geologic conditions there, and the drastic actions the DEP took to rectify the situation, and that the steps Cabot took to remedy the situation were ultimately successful. I know that it was an awful inconvenience for some folks, and I'm not trying in any way to make light of that, but no one was hurt. No one was poisoned. No one was sickened. They were inconvenienced. Many who live there who are very much offended by its portrayal as some sort of wasteland forever ruined by drilling. As far as those violations are concerned, I don't know the story behind them, but I know that many of the violations we have been hit with have sounded far more sinister than they actually were. We were once fined for accidentally discharging top hole water into a nearby stream, even though the water being discharged was of much higher quality than the creek itself. But the violation read: "Discharging pollutants into the waters of the commonwealth" or something damning like that. That's not to say there isn't cause for concern, but I think some context is necessary to fully understand the severity of those violations. I often hear people speak of cumulative effects. We've drilled hundreds of thousands of wells here in PA. I'm hard pressed to think of any sizable cumulative effects from the last 150 years of drilling, the vast majority of which was done in an era of ZERO regulation. What sort of effects concern you?
You mischaracterize why Dimock is so important and why it needs to be cited. Having your only source of water contaminated by poor drilling practices is not merely an inconvenience. Seeing the value of your home disappear because of poor company performance is not merely an inconvenience. Whether there are any lingering health effects to be dealt with remains to be seen. There is too much riding on Marcellus - economic, climate, and security benefits, environmental and public health impacts, and impacts on people and lives - to gloss things over. To move on. Dimock is the cautionary tale for why we need strong rules and why the industry must step up. Until both things happen, Dimock needs to be in the public consciousness, in my view. As to cumulative impacts, shale gas drilling is a completely different animal than shallow gas drilling. The impacts of the former are vastly greater. Here is a link to 2 pieces I wrote on cumulative impacts: http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/06/adding-up-impacts.html and http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/06/every-picture-tells-story.html.
You're leading us down a slippery slope again Mr. Quigley. What exactly, beyond inconvenience, have the residents of Carter road been subjected to? I agree that home value impact is a tangible impact, and it was addressed in the proposed settlement, where residents were offered double the value of their homes. Lingering health effects? From methane? Methane is non-toxic. It has been proven to be not harmful and is found naturally occurring in a very significant percentage of water wells. See this PSU publication from before the Marcellus boom: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/XH0010.pdf Moving on from Dimock, which is EXACTLY what we need to do, is not glossing things over. The mistakes that were made have been learned from. New regs have resulted. The mitigation techniques worked and the water is back to normal. How much stronger must the rules be and how much further must the industry step up?!?! Even more new regs, bigger setbacks, etc. are on the way, and industry BMP's still far exceed the regulations! At some point, the law of diminishing returns comes into effect. No company will be perfect. No company will be without the occasional violation. But they can be very very good, and they already are. As far as the state forests, which is where I see you (and many other folks) take the "cumulative effects" argument... Are these the same forests that where nearly clearcut out of existence in the early 1900's? The "Pennsylvania Desert"? The forest were decimated to extinction, replanted, and 75 years later, it's so fragile that gas wells can't be drilled there? How much of that forest land continues to be timbered every year? Why can't gas well drilling be done in a managed, sustainable fashion the same way timber is?
I would leave your question about impacts (reread the additional allegations about spills) to residents to the residents themselves. You are right that perfection is impossible. Incidents and accidents are inevitable. Risk management is the key. The industry should be expected to embrace the concept of continuous improvement. See http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/08/shale-gas-subcommittee-embraces.html. As for the state forest, it is all about finding the balance, and knowing the limits. A 2 year analysis by DCNR concluded that we have reached the limits of leasing that involves additional surface disturbance. See http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/naturalgasexploration/leasingmore/index.htm. And as for why that is important, see here: http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/03/gas-trees-dollars-jobs-pick-one-lose-3.html, here: http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/10/wilderne.html, and here: http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/10/green-is-color-of-money.html. Thanks for the dialogue.
PS: The cumulative impacts issue extends to the entire state, not just the public lands. Pennsylvania is a forested state. About 17 million acres out of 28 million acres total in PA are forested. The Nature Conservancy study that I referenced in an earlier reply looked at a very conservative estimate of 60,000 wells drilled in PA in the next 20 years. That would result, they estimate, in damage to or loss of as much as 8% of the state's total forest cover. That is a large impact whose full implications are not understood. And it is based on a very conservative estimate. There are many variables involved; for example, the average number of wells per pad is growing (for a variety of reasons). This is a postive trend which could reduce impacts. Only time will tell. An abundance of caustion is justifiable.
I have no problem with caution. I encourage study. You reference the study which says how much forest cover could be taken down, but what sort of "cumulative impacts" would come from such a disturbance? The gas industry certainly isn't the first large scale land use industry to exist in PA... What sort of impacts were seen from the coal industry or the lumber industry and the deforestation that their operations caused?
Mike, you ask the right question. What cumulative impacts would come from a large scale landscape disturbance? The fact is, we don't know. That's why caution and much study are needed. DCNR is performing a comprehensive monitoring program of the state forest that, if it continues for decades, will provide critically important data that can help answer the question. They are gathering data on air, water and soil quality, habitat, invasive species, and more. As I wrote in "Every picture tells a story" blog that I linked to earlier, the scale of deep gas drilling is vastly greater in aerial extent than all previous waves of resource extraction in PA (oil, shallow gas, timber, and coal) COMBINED. We have in PA 5000 miles of acid polluted streams that can't support aquatic life and 180K acres of abandoned mine lands from coal mining alone. They are effectively - in the case of AMD - permanent scars. Deforestation can be succeeded by regeneration IF the land is properly managed and IF wells are not refracked, reopening the wound. Two big ifs. The scale of the play - two thirds of PA land area is underlain by Marcellus/Utica - and the heavy industrial activity needed to get the gas and pipe it to market - are the issues.
I've interacted with several of the folks on Carter Road... litigants and non-litigants. The non-litigants seem very pleased with the way things have gone and report minimal disruption to their lives. Many were especially happy as their water quality has increased substantially due to the water treatment systems provided to them for free by Cabot. To put things in perspective: When the DEP was proposing the 12 mile water line, over 1,500 people showed up to protest against it, appropriately calling themselves the "Enough, Already" movement. When the Dimock litigants proposed a rally after it came out that Cabot would stop delivering water, they have about 20 people show up, most of them from out of state. The industry doesn't just embrace the concept of continuous improvement, they are living it. Look at the way drilling was conducted just a few years ago. Open loop drilling with earthen pits and discharging wastewater through municipal systems, to mostly closed loop drilling, lined pads, redundant leak prevention/detection/mitigation systems, and nearly 100% water recycling. I appreciate the dialogue as well. I support your work and the work of PennFuture, which makes it that much more aggravating when I see them taking the hard line and really tossing mud.
Mike, Not that I don't believe you, but I think it is important to demonstrate your claim of "mostly closed loop drilling, lined pads, redundant leak prevention/detection/mitigation systems, and nearly 100% water recycling." What companies are and are not employing those methods? On every well, or "most" wells? Where is the data? "Mostly" and "nearly" leave a lot of room, given that tens of thousands or hundreds of thousand of wells will be drilled. We need to have - and require by regs - uniform standards...closed loop systems, closed container systems, cradle to grave wastewater tracking, use of best available air pollution control technology...And those standards need to continuously improve in a transparent way. We are., at least, a long way from this transparency. We need to get there. Thanks.
I don't think what you are seeking is a lack of transparency on the part of the gas companies. I'm not out on every single site, so obviously I cannot say things with absolute certainty. Companies are taking these precautions, but aren't really advertising it. It's not sexy, so it doesn't draw many headlines. That lack of sunlight is not a lack of transparency. But I agree, best management practices should be made into regulations that create (to borrow a phrase from Heather Sage), a "sturdy floor". We have all but abandoned conventional slick water fracing on our vertical shale wells in lieu of liquid nitrogen based "foam" fracs. We've cut our water and chemical usage by 85%. We don't even need an impoundment anymore, we can frac out of a couple of 500 bbl tanks, averaging about 200,000 gal per well. This has allowed us to reduce our site size from 4-5 acres down to 1-2 acres. Even us little guys are trying to do what we can to cut down on our impact.
It's not just the direct toxic pollution from fracking. A peer-reviewed paper by Cornell Professor Robert Howarth found methane emissions from fracking, and the natural gas industry, are a major factor inducing climate change. Worse than coal, when all is added up. For about the first two weeks, each well is vented into the atmosphere, releasing tons of methane and other gas pollution. Standard industry practice. The storage tanks and the general delivery systems also release methane. Find my Radio Ecoshock blog on this here. http://www.ecoshock.info/2011/11/fracking-gas-climate-crash.html Or listen to the 1 hour radio program on the climate impacts of gas fracking here. http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock11/ES_111123_Show_LoFi.mp3 Alex Smith Radio Ecoshock Broadcast on 50 college and community radio stations.
Alex, the Howarth study is often referred to by opponents of fracking, but it has been completely and thoroughly debunked by at least 4 studies (Carnegie Mellon University, Worldwatch Institute, National Energy Technology Laboratory, and a second study by others at Cornell University). All of those studies found that on a lifecycle basis, natural gas, when combusted for electricity, if at least 50% cleaner than coal from the standpoint of carbon emissions. See http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/08/cmu-study-says-marcellus-gas-cleaner.html and http://cce.cornell.edu/EnergyClimateChange/NaturalGasDev/Documents/PDFs/FINAL%20Short%20Version%2010-4-11.pdf. All of that said, however, Howarth did perform the service of bringing the importance of methane emissions control to light. it is critically important to make sure that methane emissions from producing and transporting natural gas are minimized, and preferably eliminated, because methane is over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
The Howarth study is absolute hogwash. Anyone that continues to invoke that garbage is turning a blind eye to obvious science in the name of promoting an anti-gas agenda (which is exactly what the authors of that study were trying to do). As Mr. Quigley mentioned, professors at Cornell were so embarrassed by Howarth's report besmirching the university's good name that they did their own study to set the record straight.
December 2 update: Cabot Oil and Gas missed a dead­line for respond­ing to the allegations discussed in my blog: see http://tinyurl.com/dx3ceu8
Mr. Quigley, According to the article in your link, the deadline was a self-imposed one and the delay is because Cabot's lawyers had to respond to the emergency injunctions filed by the Dimock residents. I'm anxious to see this report as well though. Did you see that the federal EPA came out last week and affirmed the PA DEP findings that the drinking water is safe in Dimock?