Source: Guardian Web, October 3, 2013
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Scientists have for the first time shown dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. If the UK follows in the steps of the US “shale gas revolution”, it should impose regulations to stop such radioactive buildup, they said.
The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year.
Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters, the study found.
Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing known as fracking. Sometimes that “flowback” water is re-injected into rock deep underground, a practice that can cause seismic disturbances, but often it is treated before being discharged into watercourses.
Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream. Such elevated levels of radioactivity are above regulated levels and would normally be seen at licensed radioactive disposal facilities, according to the scientists at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in North Carolina.…
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 2013
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The Marquardt well site is indistinguishable from most Marcellus Shale drilling locations: It encompasses about five acres of graded farmland, covered with gravel, containing two active natural gas wells.
But this well pad was the scene of a crime, according to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office, which on Sept. 10 announced charges against a subsidiary of the oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. for a spill that occurred here in 2010.
Three years ago, the site contained about 50 steel storage tanks, parked side by side, including some that held toxic drilling wastewater to be treated and recycled. The state says that more than 50,000 gallons — about 10 tractor-trailer loads — leaked through an open valve, flowed through a ditch, and polluted an unnamed creek.
Exxon Mobil’s subsidiary, XTO Energy Inc., is mounting a fierce legal and public-relations defense, saying the criminal charges are “unprecedented, baseless, and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
XTO portrays the spill as a minor event — closer to 6,300 gallons leaked — for which it has already made amends, and says there was no lasting environmental damage.
“They cleaned it up pretty quickly,” said Robert Marquardt, the cattle farmer whose fields of corn and alfalfa surround the wells.
He has no beef with XTO. But Kane does.
“The severity, the extent of the spill, was significant in this case,” said Joe Peters, a spokesman for the attorney general.…
Source: The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), September 13, 2013
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A federal judge on Thursday granted preliminary approval to a $7.5 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed against natural gas producer Chesapeake Appalachia by several thousand Pennsylvania leaseholders.
U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion said he reviewed the terms of the proposed settlement and agrees it adequately represents the interests of potential claimants.
Attorneys for the leaseholders and Chesapeake agreed on Aug. 30 to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company, the second largest natural gas producer in the nation, wrongly charged them post-production fees related to the refinement and transportation of gas extracted from Marcellus Shale wells drilled on their properties.
According to the suit, Chesapeake deducted post-production fees from royalties paid the leaseholders, despite terms in the leases that preclude them from doing so. The suit further alleged the fees charged were in excess of the actual and reasonable costs the company incurred.
In his ruling, Judge Mannion said the agreement adequately compensates leaseholders, providing a payment of 55 percent of all post-production cost deductions made before Sept. 1 and a 27.5 percent payment of deductions made after that date. The settlement also negates the need for leaseholders to file individual lawsuits, which will save both sides a potentially protracted and expensive legal battle, the judge said.
The order clears the way for attorneys to move forward with implementing the settlement.
The judge directed the settlement administrator, Total Class Solutions, to mail notice of the proposed settlement to all potential class members by Oct. 10. A hearing regarding final approval of the settlement is set for Dec. 10.…
Source: http://energyindepth.org, September 16, 2013
By: Steve Everley
For years, critics of hydraulic fracturing have alleged that “methane leaks” from development are not only astronomically high, but also make natural gas from shale a climate “disaster” and “gang-plank.” But a new, highly anticipated report from the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund might put that theory to rest – at last, and for good.
The UT-EDF study released today looked at 190 onshore natural gas production sites in the United States. During completion activities (including hydraulic fracturing), the authors found that emissions were “nearly 50 times lower than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency.” Based on its findings, the researchers estimate that total annual methane emissions are “comparable” to EPA’s estimates.
The UT-EDF study’s findings (along with data from the latest EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory) suggest a leakage rate of only about 1.5 percent, if not less than that. That rate is comfortably below the threshold required for shale to maintain its obvious and significant climate benefits.
In 2011, a few activist-researchers from Cornell University (Howarth, Ingraffea, et. al.) released a study purporting to show high levels of methane “leakage” from natural gas systems, including wells that had been hydraulically fractured. The Cornell study suggested as much as 7.9 percent of natural gas developed from shale was leaking into the atmosphere.…
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 2013
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s decision to prosecute a major Marcellus Shale natural-gas driller for a 2010 wastewater spill has sent shock waves through the industry.
But environmentalists Wednesday hailed the prosecution of the Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary as a departure from the soft treatment they say the industry has received from Pennsylvania regulators.
“We have been very concerned about enforcement in the Marcellus, and we welcome the attorney general’s taking an active role,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.
Kane’s office announced charges Tuesday against XTO Energy Inc. for discharging more than 50,000 gallons of toxic wastewater from storage tanks at a gas-well site in Lycoming County.
XTO in July settled federal civil charges over the incident by agreeing to pay a $100,000 fine and deploy a plan to improve wastewater-management practices. The consent decree included no admissions of liability.
The Fort Worth, Texas, drilling company, which Exxon acquired in 2010, said it had worked cooperatively with federal and state authorities to clean up the spilled waste, known as “produced water.” XTO excavated and removed 3,000 tons of contaminated soil from the site.…
Source: http://www.lexology.com, September 5, 2013
By: Scott J. Bent, Baker & Hostetler LLP
Oil and gas drillers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation may soon find themselves subject to more stringent environmental protection standards under regulations proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“the Department”). The Department announced on August 27, 2013 that the proposed regulations were approved by the state’s Environmental Quality Board. The proposal now moves to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Office of General Counsel, followed by a public comment period.
The proposed regulations address four general issues: 1) protection of public lands and resources; 2) orphan and abandoned well identification; 3) pollution containment practices; and 4) protection of water resources.
Protection of Public Resources
Under the proposed regulations, applicants for well permits must notify the appropriate public resource agency (such as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Pennsylvania Game Commission) if a well site is within a certain distance of public lands or resources. For example, notice is required if a site is within 200 feet of a national natural landmark or within 1,000 feet of a water well, surface water intake, reservoir, or other water source used by a water purveyor.
The resource agency has an opportunity to provide comments and recommendations to the Department and the well operator. The Department makes the final determination on the permit application, and it may add conditions to the well permit to mitigate potential impact to public resources.…
Source: http://www.lexology.com, July 30, 2013
By: Wayne J. D’Angelo, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
The image of water flowing from a tap being ignited with a lighter has become heavily associated with hydraulic fracturing in the minds of the public. But a research paper produced by the National Ground Water Association suggests this widespread image may be a mirage. The paper, published in the May/June issue of the journal Groundwater, details the results of a study of 1,701 water quality analyses from drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The study found that the use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction has not created pathways for rapid gas migration into shallow groundwater. Rather, the concentration of methane in the region’s groundwater is disproportionally high in water wells located in valleys, regardless of their proximity to shale gas wells. The findings suggest that the topography of the region, rather than shale gas development, explains elevated methane levels in Susquehanna County water wells. The paper’s authors extrapolate that the findings have significant implications for the understanding of risks associated with shale gas extraction.
The authors also examined the results of isotropic and molecular analyses of hydrocarbon gases from 15 water wells in Susquehanna County by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA, and concluded that the gases in the water wells are most consistent with those found in the spaces around the casings of local gas wells. These gases originate in relatively shallow shale formations, and do not exhibit features consistent with gas produced from deeper Marcellus shale.
These findings, while significant, are very much consistent with numerous other studies across the nation, none of which have found an instance of methane contamination in water from the fracturing of shale well below the aquifer.
With assistance from Andrew McNamee
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 31, 2013
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The question of fracking the shale layers above and below the Marcellus has transitioned from an “if” to a “when” for many oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania. On that, they agree; how to do it is another story.
In recent discussions with analysts, executives at three of southwestern Pennsylvania’s largest oil and gas firms shared contrasting views about what they believe happens when two wells are fracked on top of each other.
They were talking about their companies’ experiments with the Upper Devonian formation, which is a group of shales that lies only a few hundred feet above the Marcellus.
Downtown-based EQT Corp. has changed its strategy after monitoring four Upper Devonian wells for a few years. Rather than drill Marcellus wells now and come back for the Upper Devonian bounty later, the company decided to drill more of these shallower shale wells at the same time as the Marcellus ones.
Their Upper Devonian wells aren’t the most stellar in terms of gas production, executives said, but it makes sense in the context of an already constructed well pad and paved access road, with all the necessary equipment already on site, to toss another horizontal spoke into the ground.
Philip Conti, EQT’s CFO, told investors that waiting too long after the Marcellus is fracked before tapping the Upper Devonian could deplete the shallower formation or cause interference between the two.…
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com, July 28, 2013
By: Kevin Begos
The boom in oil and gas fracking has led to jobs, billions in royalties and profits, and even some environmental gains.
But some experts say arrogance, a lack of transparency and poor communication on the part of the drilling industry have helped fuel public anger over the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“It’s a big issue for the industry. I have called for greater transparency. That is the only way to have an honest conversation with the public,” said John Hofmeister, a former Shell Oil Co. president and author of “Why We Hate Oil Companies.”
As an example, Hofmeister said, some industry leaders have suggested that the fracking boom has never caused water pollution. But while the vast majority of wells don’t cause problems, “everybody knows that some wells go bad,” Hofmeister said.
Over the last five years, advances in technology have led to a surge of drilling in states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arkansas and North Dakota. Previously inaccessible deposits of shale oil and gas have been unlocked by fracking, a process in which large amounts of water and sand along with chemicals are injected deep underground to break apart the rock.
One of the biggest promoters of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom in Pennsylvania says that while fracking opponents have exaggerated some risks, the industry hasn’t always handled key issues well, either.…