GAS INDUSTRY OPPOSES LAWMAKERS’ PLAN FOR NEW REGS & MORE GAS NEWS
GAS INDUSTRY OPPOSES LAWMAKERS’ PLAN FOR NEW REGS
Two groups that represent natural gas drillers say permit fees a legislative subcommittee is proposing for Marcellus shale wells are astronomically high and “an absolute deal-stopper” that could discourage or even cripple the fast-growing industry. The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association and the state’s Independent Oil & Gas Association also object to proposed restrictions on drilling locations that they believe are based on opinion and speculation rather than science—or simply cut and pasted from laws on the books in other states. “I stopped reading when I got to ‘the waters of the commonwealth,’” said Corky DeMarco, executive director of WVONGA. Pennsylvania and Virginia are called commonwealths. West Virginia is a state.
HALLIBURTON TO DISCLOSE CHEMICALS USED IN HYDRAULIC FRACTURE FLUIDS
On the heels of a subpoena from the US Environmental Protection Agency, oilfield services giant Halliburton has announced a new website where the company will release some details of the fluids used in the company’s hydraulic fracturing operations. The Houston-based company is releasing limited data in response to EPA requests for a description of the chemical composition of the fluids in use at operations in Pennsylvania, where shale gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale is booming. Shale gas exploration commonly combines the use of long-reach horizontal wells and multiple hydraulic fracture operations to unlock the shale reservoirs and allow natural gas to flow to the well. As activity has heated up in the Marcellus and other high-potential shale reservoirs around the country, environmental groups and concerned citizens have reported an increase in groundwater contamination near new wells. A frequent complaint is that Halliburton and other companies providing hydro-fracture services will reveal neither the chemicals used in the fluids nor their concentration.
PITTSBURGH FIRST PA. CITY TO BAN GAS DRILLING
Pittsburgh became the first city in gas-rich Pennsylvania to ban natural gas drilling after city council members, citing health and environmental concerns, unanimously approved the measure Tuesday. The council received a standing ovation after voting 9-0 to approve the ban within city limits. Pittsburgh sits atop part of the Marcellus Shale, a large rock formation in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and drilling companies have been flocking to those states to tap into the vast natural gas reserves underneath. The companies use what’s called fracking to break up the rock; opponents say the chemicals used in the process can contaminate water and air. City Council President Darlene Harris said her biggest concern was people’s health. She said claims by the industry of the thousands of jobs being created wasn’t worth the risk. “They’re bringing jobs all right,” Harris said. “There’s going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals. That’s where the jobs are. Is it worth it?”Pennsylvania is the center of the Marcellus Shale activity, with more than 2,000 wells drilled in the past three years and many thousands more planned, as multinational exploration companies invest billions in the pursuit.
THERE WILL BE FUEL
Three summers ago, the world’s supertankers were racing across the oceans as fast as they could to deliver oil to markets growing increasingly thirsty for energy. Americans were grumbling about paying as much as $4 a gallon for gasoline, as the price of crude oil leapt to $147 a barrel. Natural gas prices were vaulting too, sending home electricity bills soaring. A book making the rounds at the time, “Twilight in the Desert,” by Matthew R. Simmons, seemed to sum up the conventional wisdom: the age of cheap, plentiful oil and gas was over. “Sooner or later, the worldwide use of oil must peak,” the book concluded, “because oil, like the other two fossil fuels, coal and natural gas, is nonrenewable.” But no sooner did the demand-and-supply equation shift out of kilter than it swung back into something more palatable and familiar. Just as it seemed that the world was running on fumes, giant oil fields were discovered off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, and Canadian oil sands projects expanded so fast, they now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia. In addition, the United States has increased domestic oil production for the first time in a generation. Meanwhile, another wave of natural gas drilling has taken off in shale rock fields across the United States, and more shale gas drilling is just beginning in Europe and Asia. Add to that an increase in liquefied natural gas export terminals around the world that connected gas, which once had to be flared off, to the world market, and gas prices have plummeted. Energy experts now predict decades of residential and commercial power at reasonable prices. Simply put, the world of energy has once again been turned upside down.
MORE GAS DRILLING CHEMICALS IN PA. DISCLOSED
Petroleum services giant Halliburton Co. said Monday it has begun publicly disclosing the identity of chemicals in solutions it makes to be pumped into the ground by Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry. A new Halliburton website provides information on the chemicals the company says are in its three most commonly used solutions in the state, where drilling crews are rushing to exploit the Marcellus Shale, the biggest known deposit of natural gas in the nation. Halliburton does not say how much of each chemical has been pumped into the ground or identify the wells where they are used, nor does it reveal the exact concentration of each chemical in an overall solution. In general, water makes up the lion’s share. Sand comprises about 6 percent while chemical cocktails amount to less than 2 percent.
“We think it’s a great first step,” Halliburton spokeswoman Teresa Wong said.
NATURE CONSERVANCY FRETS OVER ENERGY DEVELOPMENT IN PA.
Energy development in Pennsylvania over the next 20 years could transform the commonwealth’s iconic forests and impact several hundred thousand acres of key habitat for songbirds, salamanders and trout, according to a study released Monday by The Nature Conservancy. The study focuses on the likely impacts of energy development on the state’s most ecologically important areas. “We can no longer protect nature without thinking about energy development,” said Nels Johnson, deputy director for The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter and lead author of the energy analysis. About 3,500 acres of Pennsylvania forest have been cleared and an estimated 8,500 additional acres of habitat degraded because of energy development that has spread through Pennsylvania’s forests in recent years, according to a Conservancy analysis of aerial photographs. Without action to improve planning for energy development, many times that amount could be lost, Johnson said. “If energy companies, regulators, and the conservation community don’t take this information into account, some of the special places that we’re working so hard to protect may no longer exist,” Johnson said. “Pennsylvanians have the tools to make a difference, but if we don’t act soon, there are going to be serious conflicts between energy and habitat conservation, and conservation is likely to lose.”
INTERVIEW: FORMER NY ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSIONER PETE GRANNIS ON GAS DRILLING
Former state assemblyman Alexander B. “Pete” Grannis, 68, served as the state’s top environmental official for two and a half years beginning April 1, 2007. A graduate of Rutgers University, he received a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and helped organize New York City’s first Earth Day in 1970. During his tenure as commissioner, the Department of Environmental Conservation was criticized for underestimating the risks of hydraulic fracturing—a controversial gas drilling technique that is temporarily banned in the state—but also praised for creating the nation’s first fracturing chemical disclosure rules. He was fired on Oct. 21 by Gov. David Paterson after a memo Grannis wrote criticizing the governor’s proposed budget cuts for the DEC was leaked to the press. In the memo he said the agency wouldn’t be able to perform its duties if the cuts went into effect. Grannis’ sudden departure sparked outrage from environmental groups and questions about the future of natural gas drilling regulation in New York. ProPublica reporter Marie C. Baca interviewed Grannis in ProPublica’s Manhattan offices on Nov. 5 and by phone on Nov. 10. The following is a transcript of those interviews, edited for clarity and length.
TV REPORT FOCUSES ON GAS DRILLING
A primetime network news show’s look at the pros and cons of the natural gas drilling phenomenon in the United States that aired on Sunday left people on both sides of the issue satisfied with fair coverage but concerned that comments from those who were interviewed were misleading or inaccurate. An approximately 20-minute segment of the Emmy Award winning CBS news program “60 Minutes” titled “Shaleionaires!” featured correspondent Lesley Stahl interviewing a drilling company executive, some farmers who struck it rich by leasing their farms for drilling as well as some Pennsylvania residents who say their water was contaminated by natural gas drilling activities.
Shale Gas Drilling: Pros & Cons
PIPELINE COMPANIES MAY SEEK EMINENT DOMAIN
Sitting in his family’s 1785 stone farmhouse, Fayette County’s Jim Rosenberg may look out on his 49.5 acres one day soon and see a natural gas company digging a 50-foot-wide Marcellus Shale pipeline through his property—regardless of whether he approved of it. Unlike their immediate neighbors in rural Grindstone—three miles east of Brownsville. Mr. Rosenberg and his wife have already resisted requests to drill conventional natural gas wells on the property they’ve lived on since 1974. If gas companies make pleas to build a pipeline through their land, they plan to resist those too, but they may not have a choice. It’s the latest worry for those Pennsylvanians suspicious of the growing Marcellus Shale industry. Under applications currently before the Public Utility Commission in Harrisburg, pipeline companies would be able to use condemnation powers to gain rights-of-way, even from unwilling landowners.
MARCELLUS SHALE: A BOOM AT WHAT COST?
There is no bigger issue in Pennsylvania—economically and environmentally—than the drilling for and extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas. Some have called this an opportunity for an industry boom not seen since the heydays of coal and steel. Others warn that Marcellus Shale could leave as deadly a legacy as those industries in the form of tainted water and scars on the land. One of the reasons we did not endorse Tom Corbett for governor is his stance against a severance tax for companies that are coming into Pennsylvania for the Marcellus gas. A severance tax on the gas would set aside funding for infrastructure repairs that surely will come, and would provide a financial cushion should the unthinkable occur. Now we call upon the governor-elect and other leaders of both parties in Harrisburg to convene a summit to publicly discuss the potential positives and negatives of this exploding industry, and take steps toward sound policy decisions rather than campaign rhetoric. The gas companies are anticipating a friendlier environment for drilling with Republicans taking over the governor’s office and controlling the state House and Senate. That could be a mix of good news and terrible news for the state’s residents.