Standalone Marcellus Shale Bill Will Pass

On Tuesday, January 17, 2012 0 comments

HARRISBURG - Marcellus Shale well operators would be required to provide sophisticated siting information and develop an emergency response plan under legislation moving close to final passage this week.

The well site safety bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., is one of a few bills addressing Marcellus drilling that's moving separately from comprehensive impact fee legislation that includes stronger regulation of drilling activities.

The measure requires operators to post signs at the well site bearing their GPS coordinates, give the coordinates to local, county and state emergency officials and develop response plans. The bill specifies this information is to be posted on reflective signs at both the access road entrance and well pad.

Read more:

Shale Drilling: Answer to Abandoned Wells?

On Monday, January 16, 2012 0 comments

The lastest gas-drillking rush focusing on Marcellus Shale could play a key part in plugging old abandoned gas wells, but also brings the risk that old wells could contaminate the soil and water with the migration of gas and chemicals from the old wells.  

"The whole area up here is like Swiss cheese," said Weltner, 80, secretary-treasurer of Belmar Association Inc., which operates the treatment system. "It just has holes through all the different strata in the ground, so there's an awful lot of opportunities for contamination of the groundwater. And I think a lot of people are concerned about it, and a lot more communities are getting a public system" to replace water wells.

Most of the state's abandoned wells are in Western Pennsylvania. They arc though McKean, Venango and Butler counties and, in smaller clusters, around the Pittsburgh area.

Unplugged wells pose risks of illegal dumping, water pollution, cave-ins, gas seepage and even explosions, but the state can afford to plug only about 130 a year. At that rate, it could take the state more than 61 years to plug the 8,262 remaining wells that officials know about, and more than 1,350 years to plug the rest -- if crews could find them.

In the past, drillers abandoned wells because there was no rule that said they couldn't. Companies that no longer exist cannot be held liable.

The rejuvenation of the fuel-drilling industry in Pennsylvania could provide a chance to deal with abandoned wells, officials say. With the backing of Gov. Tom Corbett, the Senate and House in November passed preliminary bills that would establish "impact fees" on the industry, and some of that money would be put toward plugging old wells.

Abandoned wells can appear -- or hide -- in a number of forms. Some are holes that are several feet wide and more than 100 feet deep. Others are a few inches of pipe at the wellhead poking up from the ground. Some are camouflaged by cave-ins and overgrowth, appearing as small dips in the landscape.

The Department of Environmental Protection ordered an emergency plug of a well in Moon in 2010 when residents near J.A. Allard Elementary School reported smelling gas from an abandoned well. A house in McKean County exploded last February, leading the DEP to order the owner of three abandoned wells there to pay to have them plugged.

Drillers pay a surcharge when they obtain permits, which amounts to about $1.5 million annually that the state uses to plug wells, according to DEP figures. The cost of plugging can vary. DEP contracts since 2009 have ranged from as little as $3,027 per well to as much as $194,082, an agency spokesman said.

The Senate's bill, which proposes higher well fees than the House measure, would generate an additional $25 million annually for statewide environmental projects that would include well plugging, mine drainage cleanup, parks and water quality monitoring.

"We're trying to tie in ancient environmental problems with new development, which is fantastic," said David Strong, a Jefferson County environmental scientist who sits on several of DEP's citizen advisory boards. "We can find new money to fight these old problems."

It's in the industry's interest to help solve those problems, said Strong and several others, including industry officials. One of the biggest problems is finding most of the abandoned wells. If a company unwittingly drills a well near an abandoned well, it can create a path for gas to flow uncontrolled to the surface or into groundwater, costing profits and causing a safety hazard.

The old holes usually range from 1,500 to 3,500 feet deep, said Cleason Smith, who owns Hydrosystems Management Inc. in Washington County. Smith's family photos of Washington, taken in the 1800s, show about a dozen drilling derricks next to buildings in the foreground -- and another dozen in the background, to the fading horizon. The state never had records of where those wells and others like them are located, according to its website.

Even if an old and new well don't cross, gas migrating from deep wells can reach abandoned ones and cause contamination through natural fissures, or if man-made seals don't hold, Smith said.

"Drilling through the rocks that have previously sealed in the formation ... a lot depends on the efficiency of those borehole seals in preventing any leakage," Smith said. "If there's any leakage from a Marcellus well, there's potential for it to make contact with an old, abandoned oil and gas well."

Shale Drilling Rally Set For Tuesday

On 0 comments

Advocates for tighter regulations and appropriate taxation of drilling operations within the State of Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region have announced plans to rally at the State Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg next Tuesday, January 17th.

The goal of the rally is to urge legislators, who will be returning to work after a winter break, to reject House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100.

Both bills have been sharply criticized by environmental and conservation groups for failing to set adequate regulations on drilling operations, failing to adequately tax energy companies and for removing from local governments the power to regulate drilling operations.

Read more from Hatch Magazine

WSJ: PA Data Missing Nearly 500 Gas Wells

On 0 comments

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection undercounted the number of wells producing gas from the Marcellus Shale, frustrating industry, environmental groups, and elected officials, according to a newspaper report.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that an analysis of DEP data found 495 more wells producing gas, or ready to produce gas, than the DEP has recorded as ever being drilled, and that 182 of those wells don't even show up on the state's Marcellus Shale permit list.

The discrepancies with DEP's Marcellus Shale data have caused headaches for Senate and House staff members who have been trying to make accurate projections about how much revenue an impact fee on wells might generate for local governments, the newspaper reported Sunday.

"There has been a frustration over the last six or seven months that DEP does not have information that is always beyond reproach," said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

Crompton, who has tried to make sense of DEP's data as the Senate began crafting an impact fee bill last year, said the information problems are so befuddling that it helped delay approval of the bill. Legislators simply haven't been able to get accurate projections on the financial impact.

"Every time I think I've got something locked down, it changes," said Crompton, who discovered the same data issues that the Post-Gazette did.

The paper reported that the data problems span both the Ed Rendell and Tom Corbett administrations.
Data collection and reporting errors were "something identified through the transition period in the first few months" of Corbett's term as governor in early 2011, said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday. "And it's one we hope to clear up and get more consistent at."

"We acknowledge that there are issues in both how the data is presented and how it's coming in," Sunday told the paper.

Vast stores of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation under Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia have set off a rush to grab leases and secure permits to drill using the extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking involves the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemical additives, to liberate gas from the earth. Environmental advocates have complained about fracking's effects on drinking water, while the industry insists the practice is safe.

The DEP says that since 2007 there have been about 4,200 wells drilled in Pennsylvania, so the 495 missing wells is about a 12 percent error rate on data that are widely quoted by politicians, environmentalists and the industry.

"That's a significant error rate," said Bruce Stauffer, vice president of geographIT, a Lancaster-based company that provides geographic information services to industry and governments.
His company also ran into the same problem with the DEP's data when last year it began putting together Marcellus monitor, the company's interactive mapping tool that it sells to companies and governments.

"It's obvious DEP's data isn't clear and accurate," Stauffer said. "Why? I don't know. And I don't think they have the answers."

Read article from Wall Street Journal

Powered by Blogger