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Shale drilling and well water pollution

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2009/5/8 23:25
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Do you know people who live around the new natural gas drilling in PA? Maybe you are one of them. Was reading PA outdoor news and in one section, it states that 7 wells in McKean county have been polluted with methane. The company that did it is providing water to the families. Wonder how many times this is going to happen in the next decade. Can you shower with methane in the water safely? Anyone know good PA local papers or sites to read about the drilling and the problems it's causing?

Don't these new horizontal drilling methods go down 6,000 feet? I don't think that is deep enough to cause earthquakes-not sure. I know in Germany they had problems drilling geothermal and causing quakes over 3, but I think they were over 2 miles down.

Posted on: 2009/6/2 17:01


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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Yeah, there's one a few hundred yards behind my dads house (not his land, though, so not his say in whether they did it, and he gets no money). It was in plain site from his back window so we could watch them without walking down there.

They cleared a surprising amount of land, over an acre, but probably not 2. Bulldozers and the works, evened it out and made piles of mud, and a lined pit that apparantly was "just in case" of a leak. Basically the whole thing was a muddy mess. While the drilling was occurring it was also really loud and bright, and they'd do it all night, they ran shifts (8-4, 4-12, 12-8). It was like daytime in the house, they had to shield the windows, and it kept them up a few nights till they got used to it. There was a trailer on site and trucks coming in and out, both workers and water.

Thats the bad, now the good. The access road was really nothing, no worse than making a gated logging road, and it was returned as best as possible to how it was before. Now that the drilling is done (maybe 4 months worth? I'll have to ask) and the heavy machinery is gone, the well is small, quiet, and nonobtrusive. The area wasn't forest to begin with, it was just weedy field, and they replanted it and its returning to its former self. We even kind of wanted to see the mounds stay, they'd have made nice deer stands. There was no obvious leaking of any fluid, the mud was rainwater, and the frac fluid never saw the light of day, pumped down and back out right into the tankers. Other than the mud it seemed clean. There's even a small stream (way too small for fish) running within 50 yards, I went and checked; the crayfish, minnow, and nymphal life appears to have not been harmed. Even frogs and toads still around, which are usually the first to go with pollution. At least 7 wells went in within a 5 mile radius in the last year, and all the others were the same story, probably by the same company.

I don't know where they got the water initially. The workers told him that water had been used on other wells, and would be used on more, so this company doesn't take new water for each well. I don't know if they treat it between uses or not. He was told it may be refracked (sp?) one day if the production wanes, but the chances of that were slim. It basically looks like the thousands of other gas wells that have been in PA for years. The only difference was the time at which drilling was occurring, basically a much bigger scale. More land cleared, louder, brighter, more people, more mud, etc.

There are many companies doing this in PA. Not all might be as responsible, so I guess he was lucky in that sense.

Posted on: 2009/6/2 18:36


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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Well, it's good that there have been no major problems. Does your father has his own well water? Hopefully that stays fine if he does. I have to do more research on this, but from what I understand methane floats through the layers they drill and goes up and taints the wells.

Like you said, if they frac, I think they need 5 million gallons to do it, then they pump it out, not sure how much they can totally recover(I read half somewhere), but 6,000 ft is well below the water table, so that water is down there for good. Then they eventually have to process this waste, which I am reading takes a facility that we don't have many of at all, and then they still discharge the treated water.

I know one company alone has committed 1 Billion to exploration in the state.

Still need to do lots of research, but I think this will be one of the biggest problems in the state in terms of conservation in the foreseeable future. I am not too sure what kind of say tax paying citizens of these counties have, but I am guessing the Clean Water Act is the main body of law that would give them a voice.

Posted on: 2009/6/2 19:40


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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I believe that my Aunt & Uncle's camp well is polluted with methane. They don't drink it, but use it for all hyigene needs. I remember this because when you shower, the soap wouldn't sud up much.

JH

Posted on: 2009/6/2 21:07
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Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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flyfishermanj,

I don't think the soap sudding thing means much regarding methane. Not saying its not polluted, I just don't think whether or not the soap suds up is any indication of that. Hard water does that, its minerals, not methane. Calcium and such. Perfectly natural but perhaps a bit unpleasant due to the deposits you'll get. Limestone water is hard water, for instance.

Brownout - no, they're on city water. And a few years ago they added public sewage too, and built a garden over the old septic tank caps.

They typically, or at least they're supposed to, protect the top of the well, everything above the water table. Not saying there can't be failures or companies cutting corners. Regarding the water usage, they have to get permission from Delaware and Susquehanna watershed associations in the appropriate areas, and I believe the DEP or DCNR handles the permission in the Ohio and other drainages. I don't know details, like if they're limited to high flows or just get a permit to go anytime they please.

Posted on: 2009/6/2 22:05


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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No soap sudds don't have anything to do with methane, it is just plain hard water. There was an methane induced explosion in Wyoming county due to drilling and 10 wells there are contaminated too.

Posted on: 2009/6/5 19:31


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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This is from 2008:

According to a chemical analysis by the Environmental Working Group and The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), a Colorado research organization, of the more than 300 suspected hydraulic fracturing chemicals used in Colorado, at least 65 are federally listed hazardous substances, and little is known about the rest. Despite the risks associated with the 65 hazardous chemicals, the drilling operations are exempt from environmental reporting requirements and use of the chemicals is not controlled. The drilling industries are exempt from numerous environmental regulations — and the accompanying reporting requirements and public scrutiny — authorized by such laws as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), John Salazar (D-CO), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) introduced legislation, H.R. 7231, on Sept. 29 to remove the SDWA exemption originally created by the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The legislation is expected to be reintroduced in 2009.

The health risks from fracking chemicals was made clear in the summer of 2008 when a Colorado nurse almost died from exposure while treating a gas field worker whose clothing had been doused with the chemicals. Despite the nurse suffering from heart, lung, and liver failure, plus kidney damage and blurred vision, the drilling company refused to reveal to her doctors the "proprietary" chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. While the nurse eventually recovered, she was never told to what she had been exposed.

For Colorado health officials, the chemical exemptions, regulatory loopholes, and missing data are a cause for concern. "We are just working in the dark," says Dr. Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a report for Newsweek. "We don't know the impact on the potential health on humans might be. We need to."

Claiming that the specific chemicals used in the drilling process are confidential business information and that disclosure would threaten their "competitive advantage" over competing firms, drilling companies have managed to operate wells nationwide without revealing what chemicals they are using. Halliburton, the oil and gas services firm and a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing, has threatened to pull its affected operations out of Colorado if it is forced by the state to disclose the chemicals it is using.

A major expansion of natural gas drilling is being planned for upstate New York within the region supplying New York City's water. However, New York City and state officials have asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ban all gas drilling in the city's watershed, which overlaps the Marcellus Shale, a geologic region of high natural gas potential underneath New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, until further studies on its impact can be done. The Marcellus Shale is estimated to contain enough natural gas to fuel the country's gas needs for fourteen years.

There has been a dramatic expansion of gas and oil drilling across the United States during the last eight years. The Bush administration has allowed more oil and gas drilling on western public lands than any administration in at least 25 years, and fracking is used in nine out of ten of these natural gas wells. Not only has the government allowed fracking to occur with lax oversight and regulatory exemptions, the government has also actively encouraged oil and gas companies with significant federal subsidies for exploration and drilling, including fracking. An analysis by Friends of the Earth released in July found that oil and gas companies would receive more than $32.9 billion in different subsidies over the next five years, including seven new provisions that were included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (PL 109-58). A report released by Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) on Nov. 14 details those seven new provisions, calculating they will cost taxpayers $2.3 billion through 2015.

Posted on: 2009/6/22 11:43


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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2009/5/29 6:40
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bottom line, drilling is not good. saying is will help PA's economy is BS. the only economy that will be helped is that of the drilling and gas companys, the rest of us get screwed. the streams will die, wells contaminated, increase burden on the taxpayer. but boy, those windmills and solar panels sure are troublesome. I guess we haven't learned a thing from cleaning up the mess left from the last 150 years of mining/drilling/raping the land. and no, I'm not an eco-nut, but I can see beyond the short term, is 14 years of gas supply worth the destruction of our wild lands? how long will it take to restore what is lost, if it will even be possible. only thing we can do is act with our votes. when election time comes, drill the candidates, whatever office they seek, on thier views about this subject.

Posted on: 2009/6/22 19:48


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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I agree, no way is 14 years worth it. We have a lot of wood in PA, and some harvesting can be good for certain species. Too many people to make it practical or clean..I think. Some pellet burners put out 5,000 BTUs and the pellets are around 1,000 bucks I've heard for a winter of heating, something around 3 tons. We need to get some power from wind turbines on the Great Lakes or the coast states to the East. And nuclear is not pretty, but now we are going to ramp up gas drilling tremendously.

Posted on: 2009/6/22 22:56


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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Well, I'm all for solar and wind, so long as it doesn't result in PERMANENT deforestation. Yes, logging is good so long as you let it come back.

Unfortunately, when you run the numbers, they don't add up to much. 5%, 10% maybe for solar + wind combined assuming we take them to their realistic maximum (which we won't). That amounts to 1 to 3 years of the yearly increase in power consumption, without touching the bottom line. They have their uses because they can be done very locally, they are quite often the cheapest solution if you're in a place where its expensive to run lines. But unfortunately, if you're looking at it from a total energy percentage standpoint, they're essentially nothing. Without an absolute massive increase in production, they won't even be able to keep up with increased demand. Don't fall for the "one windmill supplies 10 households" type statements, households are only a fraction of the energy usage. Industry is what uses the power, and thats not even one industrial furnace.

While I'd love pixie dust, gas gets my vote well ahead of more coal, or even wood (on the kind of scale if you were to actually create significant electricity with it). It's not perfect, but nothing is.

But yes, I agree, nuclear is the way to go over all of the fossils. And a side benefit of nuclear is a cheap source of hydrogen, hello fuel cell cars (when the tech is there, of course).

Posted on: 2009/6/22 23:39


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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The EPA, during 2004, conducted studies on this drilling, and of course, they found nothing wrong. The EPA admin was a lobbyist pick pushed through by Rove. So the drillers just keep citing this study and saying, EPA says everything is A OK guys, no worries, but that article I linked to in this post or the other one says that they traced the gas in the wells to a layer deep where the drilling took place. Chemical matching or something....isotopes. Then you get geolobbyists, who give you the old line"the chances of this are 1/mill, these people are nuts."

That bit about the nurse above indicates that obviously these fluids are dangerous.

I just can't imagine being told, when you have a clean well, somewhere in one of these rural counties, that, yeah, your well water can't be used for anything, and oh, if you turn your facets on for a prolonged period of time, you might blow up your home.

Posted on: 2009/6/23 3:14


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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Bikerfish- good point, we don't want to be left with another acid mine drainage legacy. If we’re not careful in how Pennsylvania proceeds with gas drilling, the tax payers are going to be left paying for the damages of drilling, while drilling profits leave the state to the big, multi-billion dollar gas companies.

And you’re right, we don’t know how drilling will affect our natural lands. I keep hearing proposals to open up more of our state forests to drilling. 31% of our state forests are already open to drilling. I think we should see what the effects of this drilling will be on our streams, fish and forests before we open even more to drilling.

Posted on: 2009/7/8 16:06


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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There are well over a million gas wells already in operation, a couple of hundred thousand in PA alone.

So far I've seen evidence of one water contamination case in Ohio and perhaps a few in Colorado.

1 in a million may be an exaggeration, but not that much of one.

This is a problem, and we need to monitor for the contamination and find out the causes, and prosecute to the fullest if it turns out it was due to a company cutting corners. However, Marcellus is no different in this respect than the thousands of wells that are already in use and have been consistently being drilled for many years now.

The difference with Marcellus is increased (tremendously increased) water use and increased land disturbance.

Posted on: 2009/7/9 8:24


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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With all this rampant fracking that occurred during Bush's tenure we should have ample statistical evidence to determine if well contamination or house explosions are an issue. Anyone know how many houses blew up?

Posted on: 2009/7/9 11:06


Re: Shale drilling and well water pollution

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Umm, are you talking about the elder, or younger, Bush? Fracking has only recently picked up again. The working wells that are out there were fracked 10-50 years ago.

Posted on: 2009/7/9 11:54



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