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Lessons Learned

"Mineral rights trump surface rights"

The Oil and Gas Industry is a behemoth and spends tens of millions of dollars every year lobbying State and Congressional Representatives for the votes they desire. Only one other industry spends more on lobbying while trying to get their way with Congress. We saw huge profits realized by oil companies in the early 21st Century, while the average citizen was struggling to make ends meet.
The Oil and Gas Industry balks at more regulations (such as complete labeling of frac fluids) saying it will violate their right to have exclusive, patented formulas for use in fracking. With exemptions from major parts of 7 of the 15 environmental regulations most companies must obey, they have little reason to change their ways.

Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling site
Horizontal drilling in progress


Farmers around early Marcellus Shale exploration and production activities were frustrated and totally disgusted to find that many companies were too cheap to provide dozens of workers around gas drilling and pipeline construction sites with proper toilet facilities. Whether people step in piles of human feces, or their dogs get into it, this is clearly an OSHA health violation that needs to be enforced.
OSHA Regulation 1928.110 - FIELD SANITATION
"Toilet facility means a fixed or portable facility designed for the purpose of adequate collection and containment of the products of both defecation and urination which is applied with toilet paper adequate to employee needs. Toilet facility includes biological, chemical, flush and combustion toilets and sanitary privies."

Restored Marcellus gas well site
Restored Marcellus shale well site

New Kids on the Block

The gas industry will be quick to tell you that hydraulic fracturing is nothing new, having been around for several decades, dating back to the late 1940's. What they don't tell you is that hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus Shale is still very new. The first well was drilled on Marcellus Shale in 2004.

Some will admit the Hickory area has been the 'guinea pig' since there is ongoing experimentation, and the typical learning curve that accompanies the first use of new methods on a new shale play. Hickory area citizens who signed the early gas leases were never told the hydraulic fracturing process would be used for their gas wells, expecting instead the more basic vertical gas wells that present less risk to surface water, well water and the environment.


Something in the water

The old joke about 'it must be something in the water' is no longer a joke. While the industry folk continue to repeat their standard line that gas drilling has "never contaminated water" we now know that is not true. Research Dimock Pennsylvania.
So then, why do the companies fight so hard to keep all their exemptions from complete environmental supervision, and enhanced safe drinking water legislation? In Pennsylvania, drilling operations have contaminated water wells and been responsible for surface spills causing documented fish kills.

Don't count on the DEP to do your water tests, do them yourself
"Well owners should have their water tested within a few months before the start of the drilling. Once a company has started drilling, it's too late because there won't be a record of the well water's quality before drilling. If a resident decides to test for any impacts after the drilling has occurred, that needs to be done within six months because drillers are presumed responsible for any damage to water supplies within six months after drilling has begun." Source: Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist with Penn State Cooperative Extension
It would be a good idea to test for as many chemicals as possible, even though it will cost more money.

Spring house replaced by a water buffalo
Water buffalo has replaced water from this Spring house

Break a leg
Some drilling companies boldly proclaim they will restore your leased land to as good, or even better condition than it was before drilling started. More than one Hickory farmer will tell you that just wasn't the case.
Below is a photo of a crack in the farmer's field that developed from soil fill work against the high wall of the drilling site being hastily done. That round silver object is a quarter.
Would you want to risk your livestock breaking a leg while grazing in a field with this kind of fault line? The rest of the restored area is full of ruts, bumps, and large chunks of gravel, nowhere near its original condition before drilling started.

Soil crack that developed after land was restored around a gas drilling site in Hickory
Large crack in the soil along the former high wall of the drilling pad


Limited supervision
During presentations, drilling companies promote the idea that they are extremely well monitored and inspected by multiple agencies. The fact of the matter is that in Pennsylvania the only agency watching over them is the overworked and understaffed Pennsylvania DEP. West Virginia has been in worse shape with less than two dozen inspectors in the early years of Marcellus development.
The western part of Pennsylvania doesn't have an effective river basin commission like you find in the eastern parts of the state, only ORSANCO. Therefore, even though drillers are required to file a water usage plan, it is pretty much 'take all you want for free' when it comes to taking water from creeks, streams, lakes and rivers. Fracturing one gas well can require up to 6 million gallons of water. What if there is a drought watch in place?

Three vacuum tanker trucks withdrawing water from Chartiers Run

Unique distinction

Marcellus Shale drilling in western Pennsylvania is unique in another way when it comes to water. Wastewater that is. Some other parts of the US get rid of drilling wastewater using deep injection back into the ground. While that method has its own set of concerns, it is still better than the "Pennsylvania Way."
In Pennsylvania it started out as: Haul it to any wastewater treatment plant that will accept it, so they can partially process it by diluting it with treated sewage, and then dump it back into the rivers. Yes, the same rivers that citizens draw their drinking water from.

Some regulation finally caught up with this method in 2010, placing tighter restrictions on which treatment plants can accept produced water, and how much they can take. Many plants that accept residual waste are not equipped to process the heavy metals and high salt content of the waste water. Also of concern is radioactive content and a long list of frac fluids that may still be present in wastewater. If water authorities aren't removing these chemicals, just what are you drinking?

This sort of 'catch-up' restriction (aka: better late than never) is what leads some environmental activists to ask, "Why don't we have a gas drilling moratorium until we have all the proper environmental legislation in place?" The reply comes back loud and clear, "Drill baby drill" and "Money, money, money"

Photo below: Two brine tankers dumping their loads at the Municipal Authority of McKeesport, which was still authorized to accept 80,000 gallons of wastewater per day in November 2009. Drilling wastewater was diluted with treated sewage, then dumped into the Monongahela River (foreground). Clairton Municipal Authority also dumped wastewater into the Mon River.

Municipal Authority of McKeesport on the Monongahela River upstream from Pittsburgh






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