EPA report links groundwater contamination to natural gas drilling

January 2012

The EPA has issued a draft report confirming what many environmental groups have long suspected: Natural gas drilling is causing groundwater contamination.

The agency conducted its water testing in Pavilion, WY – a town that is replete with gas wells, and where residents have long complained of sickness after drinking their water. The agency’s samples, collected between March of 2009 and April of 2011, found high concentrations of diesel fuel, methane, benzene and chloride. Those chemicals are found in the fluids used in hydrofracking, the process that natural gas  companies use to extract gas from shale formations deep underground.

The findings don’t mean that the EPA will find the same problems in the Marcellus Shale region, which stretches across New York and Pennsylvania and includes slivers of Maryland and Virginia. Wyoming sits  above a different shale formation. But the study’s findings do give scientific credibility to what a lot of residents across rural Pennsylvania have endured since drilling began about four years ago. Many who live near drilling sites report finding dead fish in their streams after drilling fluid spilled, or dead or sick farm animals after drilling fluids contaminated their ponds. Individual companies across Pennsylvania have been fined, cited and sued for causing contamination.

Several environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have filed a petition under the National Environmental Policy Act for a federal analysis on the effects of fracking in the Bay watershed.

The EPA emphasized the findings were only a draft, and the study still needs to undergo a public comment period and a peer review. But immediately, politicians on both sides of the aisle began using the preliminary findings to bolster their case.

Many Republicans, who would like drilling to be controlled on a state-by-state basis, excoriated the EPA for releasing incomplete data and demanded a more rigorous peer-review process. They said the EPA did not sample enough wells and worried the conclusions would harm Wyoming’s economy, which relies heavily on natural gas drilling.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, said the finding bolstered their efforts to restrict natural gas drilling in some states, and better regulate it nationwide. Democrats in New York are pushing for the passage of an act that would require drilling companies to not only disclose which chemicals are in the fracking fluids used to extract the gas from the rock, but their amounts.

Discussions continue in New York on whether to allow fracking to resume. The state put in a moratorium on drilling in 2008, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo would like to see it lifted, primarily because upstate New York could use the economic boost. The Delaware River Basin Commission has not yet voted on whether to allow fracking in its watershed.

Environmental groups are also stepping up their own investigations of fracking. CBF hired a videographer to document air emissions at several fracking sites, then sent a letter with their findings to the EPA. The Environmental Working Group, meanwhile, just released “Drilling Doublespeak,” a report on how landowners have been deceived into leasing their property for drilling. Josh Fox, director of the film “Gasland,” said he is working on a follow-up, “Gasland II.” The first film, which showed faucets on fire because of methane in the water, was nominated for an Oscar in 2011.

Pa. DEP head lobbies for gas drilling


By Christina Tatu
Pocono Record Writer
November 23, 2011

Natural gas drilling would provide jobs, money and, contrary to naysayers, does not harm the environment, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer said at East Stroudsburg University Tuesday.

Krancer’s visit was just days after the Delaware River Basin Commission postponed a vote to allowing drilling in the Delaware River watershed.

Krancer had few comments on the delayed vote, but said it was “politically motivated” and that opponents are basing their opinions on misguided ideology, instead of facts.

The commission, which has board members representing the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the White House, abruptly postponed the vote last week after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he would vote against the rules, making the outcome uncertain.

Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett is a supporter of natural gas drilling and was expected to vote in favor of the regulations.

Krancer, who was at ESU for a forum on sustainability, said Pennsylvanians are sitting on a huge natural resource, one so abundant, it would give the state a powerful edge in the energy market. Pennsylvania could sell energy to its large urban neighbors, like Boston and New York City, he said.

“If we are able to gather this resource and use it, we’ll clean the air, we’ll be more healthy and economically healthy,” he said.

Opponents say the method of extracting the gas, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, endangers drinking water. The method involves pumping large amounts of water and chemicals thousands of feet underground to break up the Marcellus shale and release the natural gas.

Krancer dismissed those concerns Tuesday.

“The chemicals make up half a percent of what’s in fracking material, and many of those chemicals found in the water are food grade,” he said.

He also said it’s untrue the chemicals from fracking could end up in drinking water since they are pumped so far underground.

In Monroe County, there aren’t any private properties within the Delaware River basin that are large enough to allow for fracking, said DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly. However, property owners could band together if they were interested in permitting drilling on their land. There are properties in Pike County that are large enough to allow drilling, she said.

Key Delaware River gas drilling vote postponed


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — With two of five members opposed, a multistate agency that has spent years developing regulations for natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed has delayed a key vote scheduled for Monday.

The Delaware River Basin Commission announced Friday it was postponing a vote on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to give the agency’s five commissioners more time to review the draft regulations. No new meeting date has been set.

The rules need three votes to pass, though the commission had been hoping for unanimous support.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told the commission Thursday that he would not support the regulations because of concerns over drinking water protections. Earlier, New York had announced it would vote no. New Jersey and Pennsylvania had not announced how they would vote, but it was believed both would vote yes. It’s not known how the fifth member, the federal Army Corps of Engineers, was planning to vote.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to break up shale and rock, releasing natural gas.

The commission manages water use for the Delaware River Basin, and environmentalists say the drilling would threaten drinking water for 15 million people.

The proposed rules would allow 300 natural gas wells in the Delaware River Basin, followed by a commission review before more are phased in. The eventual total could reach many thousands of wells.

Pennsylvania already allows drilling outside the watershed area. New Jersey has no Marcellus shale, so its interest in the issue revolves around water quality.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is studying the effects of fracking, with a draft report due next year.

Environmental groups have gathered more than 73,000 signatures on a petition opposing drilling in the watershed.

Two Big Decisions Loom for 15 Million People Living Near the Marcellus Shale

November 1, 2011

Two Big Decisions Loom on the Fate of Drinking Water for 15 Million People Living Near the Marcellus Shale

Decisions about whether to allow fracking in NY, PA, NJ and DE may be decided in just a few weeks.

The fate of fracking in the Northeast may be determined soon.

On Nov. 21, the Delaware River Basin Commission, comprising representatives from four states (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) and the federal government, will vote on whether to allow the intensive method of natural-gas drilling in the river’s watershed. The watershed, which supplies drinking water for more than 15 million people, overlaps the eastern end of the Marcellus Shale, an underground geological formation touted as the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

The commission’s rules, which will apply in the Delaware watershed, will overlap with state regulations. Pennsylvania already allows fracking. New York is in the process of developing regulations about where it might be allowed and under what conditions. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will hold public hearings in November, and says it will decide sometime next year. Many environmental activists believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fast-tracking the issue.

The Background
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Delaware River basin gas drilling meeting delayed

By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Sat, Oct. 8, 2011

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Friday postponed until Nov. 21 a meeting to consider regulations that would allow natural gas drilling in the basin. The new date is a month later than planned.
The commission, a federal and interstate agency, oversees the basin, which provides drinking water for 15 million people, including Philadelphia and some suburbs. It has put a moratorium on drilling until rules can be adopted.

The commission said it needed more time to prepare for the meeting, expected to be the site of a major protest.

Regulations were proposed in December, and by the time a public-comment period ended in April, the commission had received 69,000 submissions.

Some commission members had pushed for swift action. The New Jersey representative threatened to withhold state funding of the agency if it did not act at its September meeting.

But shortly before the September meeting, the commission announced it could not finish the job in time. A special meeting was announced for Oct. 21.

The commission says it’s still not ready. “Additional time is necessary to complete the ongoing process,” a release issued Friday said.

Other members of the commission are Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and the federal government, represented by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation underlies the upper portion of the river basin. But the river and many tributaries there are under special protection because of their high water quality.

Critics have been angered by the possibility the commission would present revised regulations and vote on them at the same meeting.

The commission says the postponement will allow it to publish the modified regulations on its website on Nov. 7, two weeks before the expected vote.

No public comment will be taken at the meeting, the release said.

In August, environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit contending that the commission should not adopt any regulations until a broad cumulative-impact study is completed. New York, which will not allow drilling until state regulations are adopted, filed a similar action in June.

New Jersey State Police confirmed that a permit had been issued for protesters to demonstrate outside the meeting. The permit application estimated 500 people would participate.

Within the last few days, Facebook and Twitter accounts for “OccupyDRBC” – an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests – have been formed.

The Nov. 21 meeting will run from 10 a.m. to noon at the War Memorial in Trenton

Environmentalists file to block N.E. Pa. drilling

By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Fri, Aug. 5, 2011

In another potential roadblock to natural-gas drilling in the upper Delaware River basin, a consortium of environmental groups filed suit in federal court Thursday seeking to delay the adoption of regulations until environmental impacts are studied.
The groups contend that the Delaware River Basin Commission, which governs water quality and withdrawals, is subject to federal rules requiring environmental reviews of major projects.

The commission “has acknowledged the value of it, and they have simply chosen not to do it,” said Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of the groups that filed the suit.

The industry called the suit frivolous and obstructive.

Ultimately, the issue centers on whether the commission is a federal agency and therefore covered by the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the examination of the environmental impacts of major projects before undertaking them, said Kenneth Kristl, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Widener University.

The commission was formed by a 1961 compact signed by the federal government and the four states with land in the basin – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Members include the states and a federal representative, the Army Corps of Engineers, which was also named in the lawsuit.

Kristl’s clinic, which has represented drilling opponents, contends that the commission is subject to the act. Because the compact was ratified by Congress, he said, “technically, it is a creature of federal law.”

“The flip side of the argument is that it is not a typical federal agency in the sense that it is not controlled by the federal government,” he said.

“That is going to be the interesting legal issue. . . . If they are subject to it, they have not done anything to comply with it.”

The Delaware is a high-stakes area. Most of the upper basin is underlain by the rich Marcellus Shale formation, a potential source of cheap natural gas as well as income for people who own land where drilling is targeted.

But the upper river and many of its tributaries are under special protections because of their high water quality. And the Delaware provides drinking water for 15 million people, including those in Philadelphia and some suburbs.

The commission has put a halt to drilling until regulations are in place. So while more than 3,500 Marcellus wells have been drilled in the rest of Pennsylvania, state records show, none are active in the northeastern area within the basin.

Regulations were proposed in December, and a public comment period ended April 15.Ever since, the battle has become one of timing.

Commission staff had estimated that the soonest the 58,000 submissions received during the comment period could be analyzed and responded to would be by the commission’s September meeting.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey want to proceed.

New Jersey’s representative on the commission, John Plonski, a water resources manager in the Department of Environmental Protection, has threatened to withhold payments to the financially strapped commission if it does not vote on the regulations in September.

But the state attorney general in New York, which is doing its own environmental-impact study, filed a federal lawsuit May 31 that is similar to the one filed Thursday by the environmental groups. New York’s suit named the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies, not the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC).

On Monday, an assistant U.S. attorney wrote to U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the case was filed, saying she planned to ask that the suit be dismissed because it was the DRBC that proposed the regulations.

The attorney, Sandra L. Levy, who is representing the federal government, contended that New York’s suit was “an effort to make an end run around” the matter.

Thursday’s suit by the environmental groups, also filed in Brooklyn, names both the Army Corps and the DRBC.

As such, it is “better positioned than the first suit,” said Ross H. Pifer, a Pennsylvania State University law professor. “But the plaintiffs here still must clear the critical hurdle of establishing that DRBC is a federal agency.”

Spokesmen for both the commission and the Army Corps said they had not yet reviewed the complaint and could not comment.

Travis Windle, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said “frivolous lawsuits like this . . . fundamentally disregard legal precedent and do nothing to help create jobs, protect the environment, or make America more energy secure.”

He said they obstructed “the responsible development of clean-burning American natural gas.”

The commission itself once sought an environmental review, but it had no money to do one. U.S. Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D., N.Y.) and others tried to get a $1 million appropriation in the 2001 federal budget, but they failed.

Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147, sbauers@phillynews.com, or @sbauers on Twitter. Visit her blog at philly.com/greenspace.

Natural gas drilling moving closer to Delaware River basin

Posted on Tue, May. 17, 2011
By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer

Although the Delaware River has a moratorium on natural gas drilling until rules are in place, companies are already lining up.

The commission overseeing the river has granted one request for withdrawal of water for natural gas activities, and two more are being evaluated. Yet a fourth was up for a vote last week before it was tabled because of the large flurry of public comments.

Even though the approvals aren’t sufficient to allow companies to start drilling now, critics say that any consideration by the Delaware River Basin Commission is premature.

The commissioners say that they anticipate so much work, they simply need to start.

Either way, it signals that natural gas exploration – a common sight in central and Western Pennsylvania – is moving ever closer to the Delaware basin and its river, which provides drinking water for 15 million people, including Philadelphia and many of its suburbs.

“It looks more and more inevitable that there is going to be drilling in the basin,” said John Quigley, former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, now an environmental consultant. “The question is under what rules?”
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Delaware River basin residents see chance to profit, but those downstream fear pollution

Gas drilling pits North vs. South

PHILADELPHIA — Debate over setting conditions to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin is pitting landowners in Northeastern Pennsylvania who want to profit from the commonwealth’s drilling boom against people downstream who are concerned about the possible environmental impact

The Delaware River Basin Commission, a New Jersey-Pennsylvania agency that oversees withdrawals and water quality in the watershed drained by the 330-mile-long river, proposed regulations in December that would open wide-scale drilling for the first time but with generally stricter rules than in the rest of Pennsylvania. The agency is taking public comments until the middle of the month.

The issue has divided landowners seeking to take advantage of the boom and those concerned about the environment.

Louis Matoushek, for one, is upset that the panel halted production on his land in Wayne County three years ago after a company had already drilled a well.

“They changed the rules in the middle of the game,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

But in Philadelphia about 150 miles downstream, Christopher Crockett, who is in charge of planning for the city’s water department, fears the effect on the drinking water for millions of people in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

“We want to make sure we have the science before the policy,” he said.

Before the commission acted, thousands of acres were leased and seven wells drilled in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but none were fracked — a process of injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to free the gas.

Environmental advocates had urged the commission to wait for a study to assess the impacts, as New York is doing. The industry, however, urged action, citing the region’s need for an economic boost and the national market for clean-burning, domestic energy.

The commission says the shale areas of the basin, which includes portions of New York, could have 15,000 to 18,000 wells at some point, built on about 2,000 well pads encompassing up to 12,000 acres, plus more land for pipelines and infrastructure.

But 15 million people from Philadelphia to New York use the water, and some pristine areas of the river north of Trenton have been federally designated for extra oversight.

Pennsylvania, which has seen landowners enriched and businesses profit from the portion of the massive Marcellus Shale underneath the commonwealth, is pressing ahead. But Delaware and New Jersey, with no shale and therefore less to gain, have been cautious.

“These are decisions that are going to affect multiple generations,” said Delaware’s Collin O’Mara, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “It’s better to get it right than to do it fast.”

John Plonski, assistant New Jersey commissioner for water resources and the state’s commissioner on the interstate panel, said New Jersey “has always taken the position that our primary responsibility is to protect the integrity of the Delaware River.”

April 4, 2011

N.J. proposal would outlaw ‘fracking’ process for natural gas drilling near Delaware River

As the Delaware River Basin Commission works to establish a set of rules governing the natural gas drilling that is expected to boom in northeast Pennsylvania in the coming years, environmentalists are concerned that mining companies may find reason to cross the river and set up shop in New Jersey as well.

Critics say wastewater produced by these gas wells contains harmful substances and poses a threat to towns up and down the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the state and federal levels have started to react by sponsoring legislation that would close regulatory loopholes that would allow the drilling. One bill proposed in New Jersey would outlaw the process known as hydraulic fracturing entirely.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a drilling technique in which a mix of water, sand, and chemicals is injected into the well bore at high pressure to crack the rock, allowing natural gas to flow more freely.

The process has been used extensively in western Pennsylvania in a previously inaccessible underground rock formation called the Marcellus Shale.

Advances in technology, including fracking, have allowed drilling companies to access the gas-rich formation in ways previously impossible.

Critics, however, say the wastewater generated from fracking poses a serious public health risk. Some of the water has been allowed to be treated at municipal sewage treatment plants that some experts say are not capable of remediating the chemicals found in the fluid.

So far, in the Delaware River Basin, wastewater from only one municipal sewage treatment facility, 30 miles west of Trenton in Hatfield, Pa., has found its way into the Delaware. The treated wastewater was released over a one year period into the Neshaminy Creek, which drains into the Delaware south of Trenton.

When combined with chlorine, a chemical typically used to treat drinking water, some of the compounds found in the waste can form potentially cancerous agents. Recent studies have also found unhealthy levels of radium and uranium.

The radioactive elements, which can be found deep underground, have in some cases been brought to the surface after fracking.

While drilling companies have primarily focused on extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, some environmentalists warn that a second, potentially gas-rich shale formation lies deep beneath a section of northwest New Jersey as well.

Known at the Utica or Martinsburg shale, authorities said it was simply a matter of time before gas companies begin pointing their drill bits at areas around the Kittatinny Mountains, north of the Delaware Water Gap.

According to Terry Engelder, a geosciences professor with Penn State University’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, the Utica formation is close to the surface in Ohio and New Jersey but dips much deeper underground in Pennsylvania. A section of the formation is exposed above ground around Port Jervis, N.Y., he added.

“The Utica formation hits the Kittatinnies up by High Point and comes into Bucks County, so fracking could come a lot closer to home than people realize,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

While drilling into the Utica Shale, which sits between 7,000 and 3,000 feet below the Marcellus, may prove more costly and challenging to access, experts like Conrad Volz, director of the Center for Health, Environments, and Community at the University of Pittsburgh, said it was inevitable that energy companies would set their sights on northern New Jersey.

“‘Might’ is not the question. The question is ‘when,” Volz said. “It’s all a matter of economics. It’s also a matter of capital and operational ability.”

Meanwhile, officials with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said the state currently has no regulations on natural gas exploration.

“There is no natural gas drilling that’s going on, so it’s really not been an issue,” DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said.

While Volz and Tittel are concerned drilling may come to New Jersey, Engelder said the potential to find natural gas here is low.

“There are indications that the Utica shale is going to be productive west of the Marcellus, so that’s the bombshell,” he said, “but I believe it’s very unlikely that anyplace in New Jersey the Utica will have a potential for being a gas shale.”

He said the rock in this area has been exposed to too much heat underground.

“The rock has been subjected to too high a temperature and the gas shale becomes burned toast,” he said. “I’m very confident of that.”

Still, Volz said that without concrete knowledge as to whether gas is present in the formation, companies could still attempt to drill exploratory wells in the region.

State and federal lawmakers have been raising the alarm about the potential for gas drilling in the region.

Bills recently introduced in the U.S. House and Senate by New Jersey lawmakers aim to close loopholes for natural gas drillers that have been written into federal environmental regulations.

The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act’s definition of “underground injection” to include fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, which would force gas drilling operations to meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards. It would also require public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process.

“There have been too many reports of contamination by fracking operations to let the practice continue without better oversight,” Lautenberg said in a statement earlier this month. “When it comes to our drinking water, safety must be the top priority.”

“People have a right to know if chemicals are being injected into the ground near their homes and potentially ending up in the water supply. This bill will ensure that the (EPA) has the tools to assess the risks of fracking and require appropriate protections so that drinking water in New Jersey and other states is safe,” he said.

In the House, Rep. Rush Holt, D-12th District, was among three congressmen who introduced the Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act this month.

Holt’s office said the legislation aims to close a loophole in the Clean Air Act that exempts oil and gas rigs from certain air quality standards. It also adds hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, to the act’s list of hazardous pollutants.

“Extracting natural gas should not threaten public health or pollute our water,” Holt said in a statement. “As the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resource Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, I strongly support legislation to close loopholes that shield fracking from basin environmental protection regulations.”

“Our loyalties shouldn’t be with oil and gas companies — our loyalties should be with families affected by fracking,” he said.

On the state level, Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Plainsboro, was among three legislators to sponsor a bill last year outlawing hydraulic fracturing completely in New Jersey.

Published: March 28, 2011
By Matt Fair/The Times
Contact Matt Fair at mfair@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5707


Scientists: Delaware River faces threats

PHILADELPHIA — Threats ranging from global warming to natural gas drilling could threaten the water quality in the Delaware River, scientists and environmental advocates said Thursday.

The state of the river got in-depth attention Thursday at a forum held by the federal Environmental Protection Agency with meetings at six locations in all four states along the river.
Many of the presentations focused on the dangers of climate change, which could cause the salt line to shift upriver and threaten drinking water supplies in Philadelphia or bring additional water-borne diseases to the region.

Delaware River Basin Commission executive director Carol Collier called drilling for natural gas “the huge gorilla” among things that could harm the river. The concern is that chemicals used to extract gas from deep underground in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could contaminate the drinking water supply.

A massive underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from Tennessee to New York and contains natural gas, is under about one-third of the land in the Delaware basin. It’s also under all the headwaters of the most pristine parts of the river. There, the commission, which monitors water quality in area around the river, is trying to maintain current water quality.

Collier’s agency is considering rules on how to regulate drilling in areas near the Delaware. Collier said Thursday that September is the earliest commissioners would vote on proposed regulations.

Drilling companies say their process is safe. They and many northeast Pennsylvania landowners also say the proposed regulations would be stifling for business in an area that could use a boost.

Environmental groups worry the regulations would be too permissive.

The public can comment on the proposed regulations until April 15.

Environmentalists have been pushing the DRBC to wait until there’s a full EPA study on the impacts of fracking in the region before issuing rules.

Collier said that decision will be made by her commission, which includes the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative. But, she said, the final EPA report isn’t expected to be released for another three years.

MARCH 10, 2011