Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some protection for our state parks after all?

Pending the outcome of Tuesday's election (which might possibly bury the issue of such a policy), this could be some very good news for PA's state parks and forests.

[This article appeared on  the website for Scranton's Times Tribune].

Policy targets drilling in parks
By Robert Swift (Harrisburg Bureau Chief)
Published October 30, 2010

HARRISBURG - A new policy to minimize the impact of potential natural gas drilling on state park and forest land where the state doesn't own subsurface mineral rights is being established by state environmental officials.

The policy by the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources requires applicants for drilling permits to specify all areas of a tract that will be disturbed.

DCNR will then evaluate how drilling on the tract will affect wildlife, water resources, public recreation and environmentally sensitive areas and recommend steps to limit its impact.

Prospective drillers will include DCNR's environmental review when they submit an application for a well-drilling permit to DEP.

A clear review policy is needed because the state doesn't own the mineral rights to 80 percent of state park land and 15 percent of state forest land, said DCNR Secretary John Quigley. In these situations, DCNR lacks the ability to put controls in place that would come with a standard lease agreement. But DEP can compensate for that by attaching conditions to a drilling permit to address environmental issues, officials said.

Sixty state parks are located in the Marcellus Shale formation, the focus of a new type of drilling for deep gas pockets.

DCNR officials are concerned about potential drilling at the popular Ohiopyle State Park in Southwest Pennsylvania, said agency spokeswoman Chris Novak. Some companies are interested in doing seismic tests at Ohiopyle and the state owns the mineral rights to only 4,000 acres of the park's 20,000 acres.

A group of Susquehanna County residents is taking action to protect Salt Springs State Park from the impact of drilling. Several Marcellus Shale wells have been drilled on nearby land outside the park.

The Silver Lake Association petitioned the state Environmental Quality Board in March to grant an "exceptional value" designation for the Silver Creek watershed which includes the state park.

This designation would ban activities that can degrade the watershed's water quality.

To read the remainder of this article, please click HERE.

Gas Boom Mints Instant Millionaires

[The following article appeared via CNN Money by way of Yahoo News]:  
Tuesday, October 26, 2010  
by Steve Hargreaves, senior writer

TOWANDA, Pa. — In the hills of northwest Pennsylvania, the boom in natural gas production turned mechanic Chris Sutton into a millionaire practically overnight.

Sutton recently leased his 154 acres of land on the Marcellus Shale to Talisman Energy for a $900,000 up front check, plus a 20% cut of the revenue of the natural gas extracted from his land.

A half hour away it's a very different story. Truman Burnett's retirement home is ruined: His pond is contaminated by a drilling accident on land owned by a neighbor and his well water is undrinkable.

Burnett doesn't blame the neighbor for the mishap, but the fortunes of Burnett and Sutton illustrate just how dramatically the shale gas phenomenon is dividing Pennsylvania.

Some are getting very rich, while others see nothing but problems.

Nearly everyone appreciates the economic benefits derived from the development of the cleaner, domestic energy source in the Marcellus, which stretches under Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio.

But as shale gas production takes off in the Northeast and in other shale formations across the country, people should pay attention to Pennsylvania.

Here, debate about the speed of development, the influx of out-of-state workers, the safety of the drinking water, and the changing character of the area is dividing this state's rural communities.

**A Boom in Bloom**

Towanda, a town of some 3,000 people about 60 miles northwest of Scranton, is in the midst of a full-on energy boom.

Hotel rooms are impossible to get — one hotel was booked through December. Rents on two-bedroom apartments have gone from $400 to $1,500 a month. The downtown is jammed with traffic, much of it tractor trailers loaded down with drilling materials and equipment. One resident counted over 100 passing his house in an hour.

"We're being invaded," Jim Stuart, a longtime Towanda resident, said from the counter of a downtown diner. "And I don't deal well with things being shoved down my throat."

The invaders, mostly workers from Texas and Oklahoma, are here for the vast deposits of natural gas.

It's been long known that gas exists in this part of Pennsylvania, but extracting it was too costly. But a few years ago, shale gas became economical. The reason: Higher gas prices and advances in drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing is a process that involves breaking the shale with vast amounts of pressurized water, sand and chemicals. It's being described as one of the biggest developments in energy in a long time.

It was pioneered in Texas, then Louisiana and Arkansas. Now it's in Pennsylvania.

"It's been the opportunity of a lifetime," said Jodi Edger, who runs a construction and excavating company that builds the well pads and services the rigs. "If it wasn't for the oil and gas industry, there wouldn't be a whole lot up here."

Edger has doubled the size of his staff in the last year or so, going from 50 employees to over 100.

Laborers get $14 an hour, and backhoe and bulldozer operators earn $18 or more. Everyone has full benefits and gets overtime, which adds up fast. He says his people are putting in 60 and 80 hour weeks.

"You hear the doom and gloom about what's happening with the economy on the national news, and then you see what's happening up here," he said. "I can't even find a truck driver."

On the other side of town, Joe Snell sells welding gas and equipment to contractors working the rigs.

Snell said his sales exploded from about $10,000 a month last fall to over $50,000 a month now.

Lunching with three of his customers at a local diner, it was all jokes.

"Working up here, we found out the difference between northerners and southerners," said one of the welders. "Down there we're rednecks, up here they're hillbillies." Everyone laughed.

For Brianna Morales, proprietor of the BriMarie Inn a half hour north of Towanda in the town of Sayre, the influx of workers has meant more business and the opportunity to meet new people.

"It's neat to learn some of the south's traditions, and the food they like," she said.

**Hot Tempers**

But the mood isn't always so light.

A few months back, there was a 15-person brawl outside a Towanda bar, supposedly over a girl. Such incidents are getting more common, said Mike Holt, owner of the Red Rose diner, who witnessed the rumble.

"These guys come up here, with their southern accents, all 'yes m'am, no m'am,' flashing lots of money, and the women are impressed," said Holt. "The local men feel intimidated."

At a bar in Sayre, one roughneck from Louisiana was seen carrying on with the local women, drinking, and pulling out a wad of bills.

After he left, one patron was overheard talking about the greed in town, and the damage this drilling may be causing the environment.

**The Water**

The traffic may be the most visible and most complained about thing in this region. But it's likely temporary — after the wells are drilled it'll be gone.

To read the remainder of the original article, please click HERE.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great move, but a little late

Given that three quarters of a MILLION acres in PA state forests are already under lease which could ultimately produce 1,000 well pads--each with 6-10 wells....

Let's pause here and let this sink in: 6,000 to 10,000 state forests.  I'm still stunned this could even happen.  Why designate land a state forest to be enjoyed by  hikers & campers, for hunting & fishing--if it's not a protected resource?  I don't get how this is even legal.  Regardless, there's not a thing that can be done about it now but (1) hope the gas companies won't drill there on moral grounds (ahem) or (2) slap them with a tax on gas extraction to clean up the mess they're going to make of a beautiful natural resource and to replace all the lost tourism revenue PA will be seeing in the not too distant future.  Every other state with gas drilling imposes severance taxes...except PA.

So Gov. Rendell has decided to put a moratorium on future gas drilling in state forests now that he lost the recent battle on imposing a severance tax for gas extraction.  After 700,000 acres in state forests have already been leased and two months before he leaves office.  Really?  If Corbett, who has received nearly $1 million in campaign donations from gas companies, wins the gubernatorial election on November 2, what do you think his first move is going to be?

Corbett thinks the tax will send "thousands of jobs elsewhere."  The last time I checked, the Marcellus Shale isn't going anywhere.  Does he really think the companies will just not drill in an area that's been described as the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas?"  And as for those jobs, my general observation in my own neck of the woods is that the large percentage--and I mean 80-90%--of those jobs are being filled by company men from  out of state.  These companies are building entire hotels--or buying existing ones as has been rumored--to house their workforces; traffic in town(s) is now gridlock much of the time; and most of the pickups I'm seeing all have out of state plates.  But again, this is my own general observation.

At any rate, read all about the moratorium in yesterday's article posted on (Pittsburgh's)

Rendell to order halt to gas wells
Plans moratorium on state forests after losing battle to enact gas tax
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- "Gov. Ed Rendell plans a moratorium on further leasing of state forest land for natural gas drilling after losing a grueling battle to enact a Marcellus Shale tax and watching Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett -- who opposes a tax -- take in campaign cash from natural gas companies.

The Democratic governor will hold a news conference today in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he will "sign an executive order instituting a strategic moratorium on future drilling operations in the state," according to a news release.

However, a future moratorium wouldn't stop natural gas drilling planned for 700,000 acres of state forest land located in the vast areas of Marcellus Shale -- land that has already been leased to private companies. There have been two lease sales since 2008, bringing in a total of $296 million for the state's Oil and Gas Fund.

Only 25 wells are now producing gas on that forest land, but eventually 1,000 "well pads," each with six to 10 wells, could be located there, according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Mr. Rendell will leave office in January, so whether a moratorium on leasing forest land would continue beyond January would be up to either Mr. Corbett or Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato. They'll face off in the Nov. 2 election.

As for Mr. Corbett, a new report by, compiled by Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania and Common Cause/Pennsylvania, listed his political contributions from the gas drilling industry at $856,220 over the last 10 years, with most of the money coming in over the last two years.

The new Corbett total is up from the $700,000 reported a few weeks ago and the $373,000 reported in June. Mr. Onorato has received significantly less in the last decade -- $124,300. Mr. Onorato favors a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas, while Mr. Corbett does not.

"In the last weeks before the election, drilling industry CEOs went all out for Tom Corbett because he thinks that ordinary Pennsylvanians should pay to clean up the messes that their drills leave behind,'' claimed Josh McNeil of Conservation Voters.

Mr. Corbett said the natural gas industry is just in the beginning stages in this state and he doesn't want to impose a tax that could send thousands of jobs elsewhere. He said his policies will not be swayed by campaign contributions.

The Marcellus Shale, a rock bed a mile or more beneath three-quarters of Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia, contains as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The extraction process involves a high-pressure procedure that pumps up to 8 million gallons water and chemical additives into the wells to fracture the shale and release the gas.

Also in Philadelphia today, Mr. Rendell will continue his criticism of Senate Republicans for their "unwillingness to enact a severance tax on the natural gas industry." He said Monday the Legislature is displaying "recklessness" regarding a projected $3 billion or more budget shortfall in 2011 by its failure to enact a gas severance tax.

He claimed it's "senseless" for Pennsylvania to ignore the $100 million or more that could be generated by imposing a "fair'' extraction tax on the thousands of cubic feet of natural gas being extracted from Marcellus Shale.

He said he had offered a compromise tax plan that is reasonable for both the drillers and the state, one that's less burdensome than his original severance tax plan, proposed in February and modeled on the tax used in West Virginia.

He criticized legislators for taking large campaign contributions from the shale drillers, claiming there is "no question'' that those donations have led to the Legislature's reluctance to enact a shale tax.

Senate Republicans favor a tax of 1.5 percent on the selling price of gas at the wellhead for the first five years of a well's life, then rising to 5 percent. Mr. Rendell favors a 3 percent tax the first year, rising to 4 percent the second year and then 5 percent thereafter.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who has gotten $143,000 from the gas industry, said the drilling industry has created many jobs in his district, especially in Tioga County, and he doesn't want drillers to go to other states if Pennsylvania enacts too high a tax.

Mr. Rendell said all other states with Marcellus Shale drilling have an extraction tax. He said it makes no sense for Pennsylvania to be the only state without such a tax, especially when the state faces a large budget shortfall next year. He called on Senate leaders to return to session after the Nov. 2 election to work on a shale tax, saying, "I will negotiate night and day.''

But GOP Senate leaders say they won't meet during the "lame duck'' session after the election. The Democrat-led House plans to come back for a few days in November, but without the Senate, no tax bill could get final action.

This version corrects details of Republicans' gas tax proposal. Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: or 1-717-787-4254."

You may also read the article as it appeared by clicking HERE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Satellite imagery shows destruction caused by gas well drilling in Marcellus Shale

Recently, Jay Langham, a concerned resident of Washington County, PA authored a photo essay on the gas well activity in his area.  Combining his own images with those freely available from Google Earth, Langham does an excellent job illustrating exactly how Marcellus Shale extraction is forever altering the landscape of these communities.  Since many of the images are taken from Google's satellite photography, the breadth of environmental destruction will be shocking to those who may have only seen the sites from nearby roads or land.  In some cases, Langham notes that some nearby residents were seemingly unaware of the landscape's destruction as some sites are not easily visible.  To view the pdf document of Langham's photo essay, please click HERE.

Please note that you will need (free) Adobe Reader software to view this document.  Most pcs already have this installed but if yours does not, click HERE to get the download.