Posts tagged "Columbus Dispatch"
Critics’ Concerns Over Pipelines Are Largely Unfounded
Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment
As many of us in eastern Ohio have seen, there has been a tremendous amount of pipeline work happening in this portion of the state. The pipelines are necessary due to the liquids-rich gas that the Utica Shale/Point Pleasant provides– liquids that include valuable products like butane, propane, ethane and pentane. These components are what make the Utica Shale so exciting, since they sell at a rate much higher than dry natural gas.
In order to release these liquids from their gaseous state, the liquids must be processed at natural gas processing plants like the M3 project in Kensington and Scio, or the MarkWest plants in Cadiz and Noble County. In order to deliver the “NGLs” to these facilities, companies in eastern Ohio have been putting in long hours to make sure the matrix of pipelines is able to handle the influx of liquids rich gas.
In a recent Columbus Dispatch article, the reporter raised a few questions as to the safety and potential spills involved in these projects. Of course, safety and the environment are two of the most important priorities within the oil and gas industry, and operators here in Ohio have gone to such great lengths to minimize impacts (remember, in the dozens of Utica wells in Ohio, there has not been a single environmental violation to date).
Moreover, the incidents to which the reporter referred were not what one would typically think of as “spills.” But before we get to that, it’s useful to provide a little background on pipeline construction.
In order to bore a pipeline under roads and waterways (which is actually the most environmentally friendly way to site a pipeline), a company must essentially use a directional drill rig. As with all drill rigs, the operator must use drilling mud and drilling fluid to keep the bore moving along. The drilling mud consists of 95 percent water and 5 percent bentonite clay. The drilling mud helps wash away cuttings from the bore and eases the movement of the cutting head through the borehole. Bentonite clay specifically forms a casing on the borehole walls, which prevents the drilling fluid from seeping out. This is typically called a “filter cake,” making it the preferred drilling mud of operators.
In a few instances, however, this mud and water have made their way into a culvert or stream. Unfortunately, when this happens, it can settle on top of aquatic life. These spills are tightly regulated by the U.S. EPA — under the Clean Water Act, as per their Section 404 permits — and are remediated on the off chance that they do occur. If a company fails to comply, it is also subject to stiff fines. Thankfully, these spills are rare, do not consist of anything toxic, and do not threaten our drinking water supplies.
It should also be noted that this type of directional drilling is not unique to natural gas pipelines. Utilities like water, sewer, electric, cable and telephone lines all use this type of practice to route themselves under roads, waterways and railroads.
Pipelines in general — as with virtually any project — have a temporary construction phase. Easements are excavated and the pipelines are laid. Sections of pipeline may only take days to lay depending on the length of pipeline. Once the pipeline is laid underground, the land is reclaimed and seeded — returning the ground to its natural state. So when one argues that the pipelines are altering the countryside, these claims are by definition only looking at a snapshot in time — and they certainly aren’t including the fact that the reclamation and restoration is part of the process.
Pipelines are nothing new to us in Ohio, or anywhere across the United States for that matter. In fact, nearly 2.1 million miles of natural gas pipelines crisscross the country. To put that in perspective, if you laid 2.1 million miles of pipe end to end, you would have enough pipe to stretch to the moon and back — more than four times! Even more impressive? Most people couldn’t tell you where a pipeline is laid after it has been there for a couple months. Those targeting pipelines as some sort of eyesore are just looking for any reason possible to be against oil and gas development, no matter how silly their claims are.
In terms of safety, pipelines are among the safest and most reliable form of transportation we have to deliver natural gas and natural gas liquids. Even from the Columbus Dispatch article, a skeptic acknowledges that pipelines have also improved dramatically (“certainly better than they used to be,” according to a member of the group Carroll Concerned Citizens). Part of that improvement comes from what’s known as “inspection pigging,” which helps reduce leaks.
Inspection pigging is a process that cleans out pipelines while also performing a high tech inspection of pipelines from within. When “pigging” a line, a device will travel through the pipeline and use two methods to gather information about the interior condition of the pipeline: magnetic flux leakage, and ultrasonics. These methods send information back to the operator detailing thickness, imperfections, corrosion or possible leakage in the pipe. With these real time details, pipeline operators know when and exactly where to replace pipe to ensure leakage is averted. Pigging is done routinely throughout the life of the pipeline, keeping the chance of leakage to a minimum.
The bottom line? Pipelines are a necessary and proven way to transport our natural gas. While we may see new pipelines being built, we know these rights of way will only be noticeable until the seeding on the ground begins to sprout, making the right of way disappear into the neighboring fields. We also know they are safe, thanks in large part to innovations allowing companies to get real time information to ensure structural integrity.
Pipelines are nothing new, and the folks who oppose oil and gas development still oppose it in all of its forms. Thankfully, the facts also remain the facts, and they still tell a completely different story than what opponents would have us believe.
The Truth about Permitting In Ohio
Friday, May 3rd, 2013 | 0 Comments
A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch, entitled “Drillers: Ohio easy place to do business in,” left readers with the impression that Ohio has a rubber stamp system for permitting oil and gas development, and by extension a lack of proper scrutiny on safety and environmental protection. While it’s true that Ohio has an incredibly efficient permitting system, make no mistake: bringing a well online requires a heckuva lot more than a handshake and a couple of signatures.
In preparation for developing a well in Ohio — that means before securing an actual permit to drill — an operator must first fill out and submit an authority and organization form to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), specifically the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (DOGRM). This form essentially acts as a registration of your company to develop oil and gas in the state.
Once the company has filed its notice to operate in the state, the company must next follow the bonding requirements set forth by Ohio Revised Code. In addition to fulfilling the bonding requirements, companies must also make sure they meet the liability insurance requirements, also established by the Ohio Revised Code. Both of these requirements must be met before the division will even consider moving forward with permitting.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but to put this in perspective: think about filling out those lovely forms at the DMV to get a driver’s license or license plates. Not exactly a fun and simple process, is it?
Once these qualifications have been met, the company can begin obtaining a permit. The company must first fill out the application detailing how and where the well will be developed. These items include:
- Type of Well- Vertical, Directional, Horizontal, etc.
- Type of Drill- Rotary, Cable, Service
- Proposed Cementing and Casing Program- Up to 7 different casing strings, detailing Borehole depth and length; Casing depth and length; Cement volume and each formation the casings will be cemented back to the surface
- General Information- Including API Well#, Formation, Lease Name, Location, Acreage, etc
- Source of water used in production
- EMA Contact Information
- Road Use Maintenance Agreement
Even after all of the above-mentioned paperwork and filings are completed, an operator has still only barely scratched the surface in terms of developing a well.
After the company has filled out and submitted its application for permit, ODNR must review the permit to check for completeness. The permit must be filled out correctly and have the proper fees in place to permit the well. If they deem the permit not to be complete, it goes back to the company to correct and re-file. (To continue the analogy, have you ever made a mistake on a DMV form after waiting in line for two hours — and had to redo it? Yeah, that.)
If the permit is deemed complete, then local officials, possible affected mine owners, and the inspector are notified of the permit. The permit name is also posted on the ODNR website.
Next, the company must submit the Surveyors Plat, in which a certified surveyor will map the pad site the company plans to use when developing the well. The company also has to develop a restoration plan for when they plan to reclaim the site. ODNR must approve both of these plans. In addition, the company must sign and notarize the landowner affidavit certifying it is permitted to develop the resources where the pad will be located.
Operators must also fill out federal Clean Water Act 401 and 404 permits for wetlands and water quality to the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to ensure the waters of Ohio are not negatively impacted by development. Ever hear opponents of oil and gas development claim the industry is “exempt” from the Clean Water Act? Not true.
Once these permits have been reviewed and approved — and when you’re talking about the EPA, that’s hardly a given — it is now time for ODNR to perform the technical review of the drilling permit. ODNR checks to make sure the casing and cementing plan is sufficient to properly produce from the well, while also ensuring that groundwater will remain protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act (yet another “exemption” talking point from the activist community is shattered). The reviewers check the geology, casing plans, as well as any special permit conditions. Once they are assured the well construction is sufficient, technical review is complete.
Ready to drill, right? Wrong.
If there is going to be a fresh water impoundment on site, then these impoundments will also be regulated by ODNR. Two separate offices within ODNR — DOGRM or Soil and Water Division — oversee impoundments, depending on the size.
To build the actual well pad, there are still a few more items that need to be attended to.
First off, the operator must get permits from the Ohio Department of Transportation for driveway permits for lease roads, and the company must obtain overweight and/or over length hauling permits to allow them to get the materials to build the pad. Of course, these permits would all be moot if the township trustees, county engineer, and the county commissioners have not signed off on the proposed Road Use Maintenance Agreement.
Each pad site also has sanitary needs, which of course need to be permitted as well. These facilities are inspected by the Ohio EPA and Department of Health.
Okay, so the site has been constructed. The permits are in place, and now the operator is ready to notify ODNR that it is ready to spud the well.
Err, not so fast.
The operator must also work with the EPA and Ohio EPA to file a SPCC Plan. SPCC stands for Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule, which includes requirements for spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent discharges to navigable waters.
In addition to the SPCC plan the operators file with the Ohio EPA, operators must also file for an permit to install and operate (PTIO) air permits with the Ohio EPA for their production facilities that will be onsite. The PTIO regulates emissions that would be coming from a production site as regulated under the Clean Air Act — yet another one of those laws that anti development folks like to pretend the industry is “exempt” from.
Many know the industry uses an average of five million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture a Utica Shale well. But how does the industry obtain that water? There are a variety of places an operator can get its water: public water supplies, which are permitted by the Ohio EPA; drill a water well, for which they would have to obtain a permit from ODNR and the local health department; or from a pond, for which they would also have to register with ODNR.
Obviously, this extensive process is a lot to take in, so here is a diagram to give a better description of the planning and permitting that goes into developing a well.
But wait, we still need pipelines to get the gas to market!But what does it take to permit a pipeline?
Permitting pipelines is another extremely time intensive component of oil and gas development that many seem to forget.To get gas from the well to market, there are various surveys and permits that each company must follow for each and every pipeline it installs.
First off, a pipeline company must obtain a Nationwide 12 Permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to the general requirements set forth by Nationwide 12, the company must also perform due diligence on a variety of other items:
- Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species – Companies must consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and ODNR to ensure creatures like the Indiana Bats and Hellbender salamander are not negatively impacted in Ohio;
- Cultural Resources Management – Companies must also ensure they are not affecting areas that hold some historical or archeological significance like Native American burial grounds; and
- Wetlands and Waterways Surveys – These surveys help mitigate any disturbance to wetlands, stream or river crossings and ponds.
If companies run into these items and are not able to mitigate them, the companies may have to re-route to pipeline altogether — which can often entail going back to square one in this process.
Of course, these companies also have to obtain permits from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates gathering lines in Ohio. The pipeline companies have to complete a Pre-Construction Notice as well as an As Built Notice. If a company has to go through a floodplain, then the company has to submit a floodplain notification to the County Floodplain Administrator.
If the companies happen to run into an area controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in which Corps holds perpetual rights, then the company must obtain a federal Flowage Easement. ACE has the right to approve or deny any request on this matter, which is typically a three month process.
Pipelines tend to run straight and incorporate long distances of travel to get to processing plants or to transmission lines. To achieve this, companies must get Driveway Occupancy Permits and Highway Occupancy Permits from the Ohio Department of Transmission, County, Township, Village or other divisions. If a pipeline needs to cross a railroad, the pipeline company must obtain a railroad permit from the railroad operator or owner, which may take up to four months.
Of course, operators also need trucks to haul pipe and equipment, so just like oil and gas companies, the pipelines need to obtain road use maintenance agreements from the county.
Okay, but once we’ve got the well and pipeline approvals, now surely we’re done with the permitting process, right? Wrong.
To move the product from point A to B, we also need compressor stations, which are permitted the same as the pipelines but include one more significant component.
Air permitting is needed on all compressor stations to remain in compliance with the Clean Air Act (yet another “exemption” argument blown away). Depending on the facility, air permitting involves the preparation of detail permit documents, air dispersion modeling, and design drawings and calculations. Typically, permitting timelines are 3-6 months for minor facilities and can be 12-18 months for large, complex compressor stations after a complete application is submitted to the Ohio EPA. The permitting timeline also includes multiple public comment periods and public hearings.
If someone believes that permitting is easy in Ohio, they need to read this post again. The real story is that these requirements have worked: How many environmental violations have we seen among the 89 Utica Shale wells drilled since passage of SB 315? Zero.
So, the fact that this entire, cumbersome process is both effective and can be completed in an efficient manner should not be conflated with an “easy” or rubber-stamp system that ignores safety. The record speaks for itself. We just wish the folks at the Columbus Dispatch would have actually looked at it before running headlong into a false narrative based on a few out of context remarks.
Natural Gas Development Provides Much Needed Relief To Cemeteries
Friday, July 13th, 2012 | 0 Comments
A recent Dispatch article “Graveyards latest target in quest for gas” seems to have gained some traction in the past couple of days. Not only has it been covered in the Dispatch, the New York Times wrote their own piece detailing development under cemeteries in Texas.
There is an old adage in in the news business – if its not new, it’s not news. And this type of development is certainly not new. So while it may make for an intriguing headline and some sensationalist claims, the fact of the matter is that development under or near cemeteries has been happening for a number of years here in Ohio.
In fact I can think of a couple of wells within a few hundred yards of the cemetery where my both of my grandfathers and grandmother are buried.
The most recent well developed just a few hundred yards from my cemetery was developed when I was 14 years old. I remember it quite well since we used to ride bikes in the woods right by the rig. Today, the walking trail from the cemetery to the high school goes right past the pump jack.
Developing resources underneath cemeteries happens to be a great revenue source. In 2004, Forest P. Reichert, President of Knollwood Cemetery Association in Mayfield Heights, Ohio testified before the Ohio Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this very subject.
Mr. Reichert owned and maintained a 94 acre cemetery and home to the largest mausoleum in Ohio. He saw development as a safe and responsible way to raise funds to maintain and operate the cemetery.
“We have an annual budget for operations that exceeds $350,000.00 which includes payroll, equipment maintenance, equipment purchases, etc. An example of costs — a recent cost to carpet the Mausoleum was approximately $165,000.00 and a typical monthly heating bill for the Mausoleum can run $8,000.00+ per month in January or February.” – Forrest P. Reichert
Depending on where a cemetery similar to Mr. Reichert is located, it could stand to gain over $470,000 in just lease signing bonuses. This is even before the cemetery would even be developed and receiving royalties.
In today’s economy, and even back in 2004, cemeteries are not even immune from an ailing economy. When needing to provide funding for upkeep and maintenance there is still only one source of income for cemeteries.
“A modest to large cemetery has only one true source for income in perpetuity (burials). We are faced with rising costs and strong competition just as any other business is today and we are scrambling to make ends meet every month.” – Forrest P. Reichert
It only makes economical sense to allow development underneath cemeteries but there are those who believe this would somehow negatively impact those residing in the graveyard. But we have to look at the facts instead of fear, something both papers missed the mark on in their coverage.
Taking a closer look at Times and Dispatch piece, most of the highlighted opposition to these operations comes not from anyone with moral objections, but rather those who oppose the development of oil and natural gas anywhere – graveyard or not.
“What’s being done to Fort Worth in general, whether it’s to the living or the dead, it’s immoral.”- Don Young (Drilling for Natural Gas Under Cemeteries Raises Concerns, 7/8/12)
As the founder of the Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations, Mr. Young could hardly be considered an objective party on the issue.
“I think it’s a dumb idea because I wouldn’t want anyone up there disturbing the dead, number one, and, number two, I don’t like the aspect of drilling”.- Marilee Pilkington (Graveyards latest target in quest for gas, 7/9/12)
The only development they would like to see is no development. Unfortunately they are using fear instead of facts when making their argument.
Developing the Utica Shale happens at roughly 6,200 feet or deeper depending on where you reside in Ohio. The depth of a grave is 6 feet. There is no way a resident at a graveyard would be affected by shale development. Sad to say, but it is more likely that a casket would be cracked by heavy machinery lowering a neighbor into their final resting place.
It should also be noted that, with the advent of horizontal development, developing resources under a graveyard can take place at more than a mile away from the cemetery. There will be no pad on the property or in its view.
For graveyards it is a win-win. They are able to gain new revenue while maintaining and in most cases improving their grounds. They can generate royalty revenues if they are developed and will never see, hear or feel the exploration of a shale well. The residents are left undisturbed and knowing that when they are buried their cemetery will be able to provide a beautiful cemetery for their loved ones to come and visit.
*UPDATE II* Going Off The Rails On A Hagan Train
Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 | 1 Comment
UPDATE II (2/21/12, 8:00 A.M.):
We know a group of protestors disrupted the Governor’s State of the State address last week, but we didn’t know much about those protestors until today. Via The Dispatch, below is footage of one of the protestors who was removed for disrupting the address. This activist went to great lengths -and great volume – to disrupt the Governor’s speech, and provided an interesting perspective on natural resources recovery in Ohio. It’s unclear if this protestor was one of the attendees bussed to the event by State Representative Hagan, for his sake we hope there is no connection.
UPDATE (2/14/12, 4:00 p.m.) He’s back.
The Columbus Dispatch broke a story this week that Rep. Hagan actively sought to disrupt Governor Kasich’s State of the State Address. According to the Dispatch, Hagan provided transportation to 35 protestors to help them disrupt the Governor’s remarks. The Representative was also reportedly seen handing out tickets to local Occupy protestors so they could disrupt the event as well. All of this occurring as the Governor was highlighting the need for public officials to work together to ensure Ohio remains on an upward track in tackling the challenges that face residents throughout the Buckeye State.
As most know by now, on New Year’s Eve a 4.0 earthquake struck near Youngstown prompting Governor Kasich and ODNR to halt injections at Youngstown area UIC wells until more facts come to light. While investigations continue, the decision by Governor Kasich and ODNR was the right course of action and was fully supported by all stakeholders, including the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. However, Rep. Bob Hagan has used this unique event, to incorrectly disparage an industry that is already reviving Ohio’s Steel Industry and is providing thousands of good paying-jobs for Ohioans with up to 200,000 more expected over the next few years. After hearing the Representative say some statements out of touch with the facts on the ground in Ohio we wanted to take a minute to correct the record and help provide some understanding to the situation at hand.
Rep. Hagan: “56% of the chemicals,the toxic chemicals that are being shipped from out of state are being shipped into our state. Why? That question has to be answered.” (Rep. Bob Hagan, January 11th, Covelli Centre, Youngstown)
- Ohio, like every other state, must accept produced water because of the Dormant Commerce clause, which is part of the Interstate Commerce Clause. The best example goes back to the ruling in Philadelphia vs. New Jersey When the Supreme Court ordered New Jersey to accept waste, liquid or solid, from other states. As a result, all states including Ohio, can’t block shipments of disposal products like produced water.
- Produced water is not hazardous waste as defined by the EPA. If the EPA determined the produced water to be hazardous it would be disposed of in Class I injection wells.
- It’s also worth mentioning that in 1983 then Rep. Bob Hagan, Sr. led the effort to mandate Class II injection wells as the preferred method of oil and gas waste disposal in Ohio. This led to their preferred use, and phenomenal success rate in Ohio, as well as their status as the primary means of safely disposing of brine and other materials from oil and gas development activities.
Rep. Hagan: “The New York Times did a study here and that they found out, its not even being asked in Ohio, that there is radiation poisoning in these wells.” (Rep. Bob Hagan, January 11th, Covelli Centre, Youngstown, 0.18)
- A radiological survey report by the Co-Physics Corporation in New York recently concluded rock cuttings from the gas drilling operations, as sampled during this project, have radionuclide levels that do not pose any environmental health problems.
- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recent Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement On The Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program revised on September 2011 states: that based upon currently available information it is anticipated that flowback water do not contain levels of NORM of significance
- The radioactive waste Rep. Hagan references is not as dangerous as he makes seem. NORM or Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material is surprisingly pervasive in every day life. It even occurs in our bodies in the form of radioactive potassium. You can find it in public drinking water, Brazil nuts, peanut butter or the air to name a few. On average, Americans receive a radiation dose of about 620 millirem each year. None of these levels are dangerous to human health
ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Chief Rick Simmers explains there are no health implications from disposing of fluid or cuttings from exploration in Ohio:
radioactive materials that can be associated with oil and gas or injection operations are sometimes referred to as NORM or Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or TENORM Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material. These type of radioactive isotopes are literally in everything, including us.
The Ohio Department of Health is the agency that regulates NORM, TENORM and radioactive issues as a whole. The Ohio Department of Health has tested locations throughout the Utica Shale. They have looked at drill cuttings. They have looked at fluids and have found there are very low levels of NORM well within the established limits by the federal government and reflected in state law. Rick Simmers (January 11th, Covelli Centre, Youngstown)
Rep. Hagan: ”I want to know why it’s such a big secret that we can’t get information from the Governor. We can’t get information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. We can’t get information from the Ohio EPA, the US EPA and the Ohio Geological Society. All of them are hiding. And why are they hiding. Because money is making them hide.” (Rally at the Ohio Statehouse January 10th, Columbus, 1:01 )
- No one is hiding. ODNR was in fact scheduled to appear in Youngstown the very next day to address concerns of the citizens of Mahoning County with Rep. Bob Hagan at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown.
- Chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Dave Hall has scheduled a hearing at Youngstown State University on January 16th regarding the topic of disposal wells and seismology.
- The House of Representatives, and ODNR, are both stepping up to address the situation and to accuse them of completely ignoring the situation is purely political on the Representatives part.
- ODNR is currently producing a study in regards to these seismic events. It would be irresponsible to rush this study until they have conclusive evidence for or against the disposal well operator. They have already shut down 5 disposal wells as a proactive approach until the study is complete.
Rep Hagan: “Under the Clean Water Act introduced and passed under the Bush Administration in 2005, it precluded any of the gas and oil industry people from being charged from being charged they pollute water or water table itself. So the Clean Water Act certainly was supposed to be something that protected all of our aquifers and our clean water for the protection of the people and our drinking water as well Mike. Second part is the mystery of what chemical they are mixing. 97-98% is water,1-2% is sand and the mystery of what those other chemicals are… “(Rep. Bob Hagan on Sound of Ideas, 3:17 of this link)
“That is the answer we don’t even know what those chemicals are. We have no idea.” (Rep. Bob Hagan, January 11th, Covelli Centre, Youngstown, 0.11)
- Nothing of this magnitude was precluded in the Clean Water Act. The use of injection wells is regulated under the Underground Injection Control program of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, passed by Congress in 1974. EPA administers the UIC program, and delegates regulatory authority over SDWA to the state of Ohio. The underground injection program is regulated under Section 1422 of the Safe Drinking Water Act where it has always been regulated.
- The main objective of the UIC program requires Class II wells to ensure the protection on underground sources of drinking water.
- Hydraulic fracturing solution is not an unknown mystery. For starters, 99.5% of it is water and sand. The remaining .5% is comprised of additives commonly found at home or under your sink, including guar gum – commonly used as a dairy thickener in yogurt and ice-cream.
- FracFocus.org is a great resource which provides an in depth analysis of hydraulic fracturing fluids being used on a well-pad by well-pad basis. You can use this resources to see the stimulation fluids producers are using to enhance production on a well-by-well basis. It’s so secretive it’s only a mouse click away.
Rep Hagan: “Remember this, remember it loud and clear: We never had an earthquake until John Kasich was elected governor.” (0:01)
- Ohio has always had a history of seismic events dating back to June 18, 1875. All of this activity has monitored, researched and documented by the Ohio Seismic Network.
- One would assume that he would remember the earthquake in Northeast Ohio on January 31, 1986. The earthquake registered 5.0 on the Richter scale and was felt throughout Ohio and neighboring states.
- There were over 25 earthquakes of 2.0 or greater during the Strickland Administration.
Given the importance of what is at stake it is critical that we have a discussion based on fact and science. This week, the residents of Youngstown will have another opportunity to hear about shale development and have their concerns addressed by experts studying the issue (be sure to follow Energy in Depth – Ohio for more coverage on Tuesday’s event). We hope concerned citizens will attend to hear these experts and will hopefully gain some perspective on the issue.
Tags: Class II Wells, Columbus Dispatch, Hydraulic fracturing, NORM, ODNR, Ohio energy, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Ohio jobs, Produced Water, Rep. Bob Hagan, Safe Drinking Water Act, State of the State, Youngstown Business Journal
Fact-Checking the Dispatch’s Series on Shale
Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 | 3 Comments
EID kicks things off in Ohio with closer look at Columbus paper’s multi-part series on the Utica
When it comes to the potential for the Utica Shale to generate thousands of jobs for Ohioans, billions in revenue for landowners and taxpayers, and billions more in cost-savings for Ohio residents on their energy bills, let’s just say the cat — meow! — is now officially out of the bag. Earlier this week, a piece in the Wall Street Journal described Ohio’s portion of the Utica “as North America’s next big energy field.” The week before, Reuters suggested it could prove to be “one of the biggest sources of crude oil in the United States.”
Closer to home, the Columbus Dispatch filed a series of stories this week examining several different aspects of shale development in Ohio – from the technologies needed to access the energy, to the steps producers and regulators are taking to ensure water is properly managed, tracked and safely disposed of at each stage of the process. On balance, the series was, well, balanced – with lots of input from the environmental community, but also plenty of insight from the folks on the ground charged with regulating and overseeing activity.
Of course, that’s not to say that every single assertion was put in its proper context – as it was, some important facts didn’t find their way into the final copy. Here below, EID’s Ohio team takes a closer look at the Dispatch series, identifying a few areas where some additional information could help inform a more accurate representation of the risks, rewards, challenges and opportunities of leveraging this resource for Ohio.
Dispatch: “[Critics] say the chemicals used in fracturing, and the heavy metals in wastewater, are a threat to groundwater and streams.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 25)
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) sets the record straight: “Historically, since we have been tracking since 1983, we’ve done over 1,000 groundwater investigations in Ohio and there is not one incident in Ohio that hydraulic fracturing has caused ground water contamination.” (ODNR’s Tom Tomastik, as quoted by WYTV, June 9, 2011)
- U.S. Department of the Interior weighs in: “We have not seen any impacts to groundwater as a result of hydraulic fracturing.” (BLM director Robert Abbey, testimony before Congress, June 2011)
- U.S. EPA confirms: “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.” (EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, testimony before Congress, May 2011)
Dispatch: “In Pennsylvania, more than 3,800 gas wells have been drilled into the Marcellus shale since 2005. The wells produced 79 billion cubic feet of gas in 2009, enough to supply the state of Montana for a year.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Sept. 25)
- Although nearly 3,900 Marcellus wells have been developed in Pennsylvania since 2005, less than half are currently producing natural gas today – a function not of geology, but of a lack of available infrastructure to transport that natural gas to markets.
- According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state’s 1,632 producing Marcellus wells produced more than 432.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas during just the first six months of 2011. (“Marcellus gas production continues steady growth in PA,” Scranton [Pa.] Times-Tribune, Aug. 18, 2011)
- All told, Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania alone are expected to generate nearly 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in 2011. (Penn State report, May 2010). Using the Dispatch example, that’s enough natural gas to supply the state of Montana for 12 years, not one.
Dispatch: “[Beth] Voyles said fracturing chemicals seeped into the ground and evaporated into the air from a 15-million-gallon wastewater pond that a drilling company carved into a hill just east of her farm. … Voyles, 53, said the air is polluted and nearby drilling caused her well and a spring used by the family to run dry. The family’s champion barrel horse and prized boxer both died in 2010. She said the horse died after losing more than 100 pounds, and tests showed that the boxer had been poisoned by ethylene glycol.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Sept. 25)
- Pennsylvania DEP lays out very different story in letter to Ms. Voyles: “[O]ver a period of three months, on 24 separate occasions, the Department visited your property and detected no malodors..” (DEP letter to Ms. Voyles, Sept. 22, 2011)
- More context from PA DEP: “Additionally, last summer, the Department conducted a short-term study of ambient air concentrations of target pollutants near certain Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations in southwestern Pennsylvania [including your property] … Results of the ambient air sampling did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (DEP letter to Ms. Voyles, Sept. 22, 2011). According to DEP, the Voyles’ property is located less than 800 feet from a junkyard.
- DEP reiterates findings in letter to Ms. Voyles’ neighbor: “The methane gas in your water well was clearly identified through isotopic analysis to be drift gas, not natural gas that would be coming from a gas well. … The three hydrocarbons detected at low levels are common reagents in laboratories, are used as solvents and cleaning agents and can be found in groundwater throughout Pennsylvania where there has been residential or industrial development.” (DEP letter to Mr. Loren Kiskadden, Sept. 9, 2011)
- Voyles’ own veterinarian disputes her statement: “On November 10, 2010, you voluntarily supplied Range Resources with lab results from both your dog and horse veterinarians. Upon review of these results, Range contacted the canine and equine veterinarians. … [I]t was stated by the veterinarian that the test results were inconclusive for anti-freeze [ethylene glycol] poising. … The veterinarian indicated that the horse had toxicity of the liver, which he felt was not related to [ethylene glycol] poising.” (Range letter to Voyles, Jan. 14, 2011)
- Range doesn’t even use ethylene glycol in its fracturing operations, and tests for metals came up clean: “[F]ollowing conversations with the veterinarians, Range ordered additional testing of your water supplies, including testing for heavy methals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. … Upon review of the information provided [by independent, state-certified Microbac Laboratories], the test results … indicate that both of your water supplies meet all of the EPA minimum primary drinking water standards for all parameters tested. Based on your concerns, we had also tested for ethylene glycol which was not detected in the water from either of your water supplies … In addition, [neither] methane, ethane nor oil and grease were detected in either of your water supplies.” (Range letter to Voyles, Jan. 14, 2011)
Dispatch: “Some cities and states, including Pittsburgh and New Jersey, have halted oil and gas drilling in Marcellus shale while local and federal agencies investigate health and safety concerns.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Sept. 25)
- Neither Pittsburgh nor New Jersey has “halted” oil and natural gas exploration within its territory – since none was actually happening there in the first place.
- That said, in Pittsburgh, the current Democratic mayor opposes non-binding resolution passed by the city council: “Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also opposes a ban, in part because drilling would create jobs, tax revenue for the state and spinoff revenue — such as earned-income tax — for the financially strapped city, his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven said.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 17, 2011)
- And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation in August calling for a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing. According to state reports, the legislature has not taken action on a Christie proposal to institute a temporary, 12-month moratorium to give the state more time to examine other research available on the topic. (Associated Press, Aug. 25, 2011)
- Interestingly, even as a handful of areas with no potential for shale development have considered banning something that does not and will not exist, states like New York are moving ahead with new regulations that will allow responsible shale development to proceed. (NY Times, June 30, 2011). Earlier today, New York’s DEC issued several hundred pages of draft regulations outlining how the state intends to regulate Marcellus exploration there.
Dispatch: “The U.S. EPA is investigating whether drilling poses any threats to drinking water. … Agency officials say they hope to have final recommendations by 2014.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Sept. 25)
- In 2004, EPA released the findings of a five-year investigation into whether the application of fracturing in coalbed methane formations – which reside thousands of feet closer to water aquifers than shale formations – had any negative implications for ground water. The study was commissioned by EPA during the Clinton administration.
- EPA’s conclusion: “[A]lthough thousands of CBM [coalbed methane] wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.” (EPA Fact Sheet, June 2004)
- EPA explains its methodology: “In addition to reviewing more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, EPA also interviewed 50 employees from state or local government agencies and communicated with approximately 40 citizens … EPA made a draft of the report available for a 60-day public comment period in August 2002.” (EPA Fact Sheet, June 2004)
- In 2010, Congress asked EPA to undertake a new study, specifically focused on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. It’s a study that is supported in full by the industry, recognizing that a science-based, peer-reviewed research paper could play a critical role in unraveling some of the mythology that has come to surround the shale development process.
Dispatch: “A U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee staff report in April identified 2,500 products drilling companies use in fracking.” (“’Fracking’ Future,” Sept. 25)
- The report cited by the Dispatch was issued by the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) — not the staff of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
- The Waxman report stays conspicuously silent on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, choosing not to cite or even acknowledge letters from more than a dozen top environmental regulators in the states testifying to the fact that fracturing technology has never been found to adversely affect potable drinking water underground.
- To Waxman and his staff, the mere existence of a chemical (in and of itself) constitutes a hazard to human health, even if no evidence exists indicating that these materials have any ability to access underground sources of drinking water.
- But, as Energy In Depth told reporters when the Waxman report was released: “The only way that’d be relevant in a public health context is if those materials were somehow finding their way into potable water supplies underground. Naturally, this report has no ability to show that, precisely because they aren’t, don’t, and according to regulators, never have.” (EID, as quoted by Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2011.
Dispatch: “’I can’t find anything (in the lease) that says how close they can come to my residence,’ said Marilyn Byers, who owns a 72-acre cattle farm just north of Loudonville. ‘There is nothing to protect our drinking water because we all have wells.’” (“Driller snapping up rights leases in Ohio,” Sept. 26)
- Ohio law has always specified the minimum distance that must be maintained between a well and a residence. For most areas, that minimum “setback” requirement is 100 feet. In areas with greater population density, the minimum requirement is 150 feet – and those setback rules not only apply to the wellhead, but to the tank battery as well. (SB 165 analysis, p. 27; Ohio Legislative Service Commission, June 2010)
- OOGA’s Tom Stewart: “Since 1965, I am not aware of any reported incident involving the drilling of a well that occurred beyond Ohio’s existing 100 foot setback regulation. Ohio’s 100 foot setback is well within the norm established by many other states. In fact, it exceeds by 100 feet the standards in Texas and Oklahoma. Ohio’s setback distances, as applied to the 76,898 wells that have been drilled since the regulation went into effect, have a sterling track record.” (Stewart testimony before Ohio Senate, 2010)
Dispatch: Deep underground injection of wastewater is “a solution that doesn’t sit well with environmental advocates … Teresa Mills, director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, said she fears that brine will contaminate groundwater, if it doesn’t already. ‘First of all, we don’t know all the chemicals that are going down there,’ Mills said. ‘It’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and nobody follows it once it’s down.’” (“’Fracking wastewater floods Ohio,” Sept. 25)
- Injection wells have been used to dispose of fluids underground since the days of Constantine. According to EPA: “The use of injection wells was documented as early as A.D. 300. However, large-scale commercial use of injection wells in the U.S. began in the 1930s.” (EPA, History of the UIC Program, accessed Sept. 2011)
- The use of injection wells is strictly regulated by EPA, with authority granted to the agency under the Underground Injection Control program of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state of Ohio issues permits associated with underground injection, but the standards in place for construction, maintenance, and continuous monitoring of those wells are enforced by the federal EPA.
- More information on the stringent regulations governing Class II underground injection wells, starting on page 76 of this document from EPA.
- ODNR: “We have not had any subsurface contamination of groundwater since we took over the program in 1983.” (ODNR’s Tom Tomastik, as quoted by the Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 25)
Dispatch: “Critics of shale-gas influence point to a paragraph lawmakers inserted into the 551-page Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempts hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking,’ from the Safe Drinking Water Act.” (“Critics: Ohio, industry too cozy,” Sept. 27)
- The process of hydraulic fracturing has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included language that simply reaffirmed this history, while also acknowledging the important role that states play in the direct regulation and oversight of the fracturing process.
- As cited above, a number of aspects of the oil and natural gas production and wastewater disposition process are, in fact, regulated by the federal government. For more information on the specific statutes that apply to oil and gas development, see this fact sheet.
- The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was the model of a bi-partisan energy bill, passing Congress with nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate in support (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and President Obama, then a senator from Illinois. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
Dispatch: “A month later, a Cornell University study used the GAO data to question industry statements that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal in terms of its contribution to climate change.” (“Critics: Ohio, industry too cozy,” Sept. 27)
- The Cornell report has been debunked by several prominent government, academic and credible third-party sources since its release in April.
- Carnegie Mellon University: “We don’t think [Cornell] is using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased. And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.” (CMU researcher Paula Jaramillo, as quoted by POLITICO, Aug. 24, 2011)
- U.S. Department of Energy: “[Cornell researchers] found a large fraction of produced gas from unconventional wells never made it to end users, assumed that all of that gas was vented as methane, and thus concluded that the global warming impacts were huge. As the [Dept. of Energy] work explains, though, 62% of that gas isn’t lost at all – it’s ‘used to power equipment.’” (CFR blog, May 20, 2011)
- Even other Cornell professors take issue with Cornell GHG report: “Their analysis is seriously flawed in that they significantly overestimate the fugitive emissions associated with unconventional gas extraction … [T]he assumptions used by Howarth et al. are inappropriate and…their data, which the authors themselves characterize as ‘limited’, do not support their conclusions.” (Cornell professor Lawrence M. Cathles, in paper submitted to Journal of Climate Change, June 2011)
- Some environmental groups also take issue with Cornell report: “This paper is selective in its use of some very questionable data and too readily ignores or dismisses available data that would change its conclusions.” (Dave McCabe, Clean Air Task Force, April 2011)