Forced Pooling vs. Organic Farming

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); and Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) Student, GSPH

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Shale gas drilling involves injecting large amounts of high-pressured water and various chemicals into the shale layer to release the natural gas trapped there.

Although there are some obvious economic benefits to producing energy in our own country, how will shale gas drilling and forced pooling affect farmers who are applying for or trying to keep their organic farm certifications? Do the communities burdened with gas drilling truly ‘reap’ the rewards?

Organic Certification for Farms

Organic farming means that farmers must avoid using most synthetic chemicals when producing their crops, such as synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, sewage, organisms that have been genetically modified, or exposing food to high doses of radiation. No synthetic chemicals could have been used on the farmland for a few years. Organic farmers are subject to periodic inspections, as well. (For more information about the benefits and costs associated with eating organic food, check out this website.)

Forced Pooling

Currently, PA is one of the only remaining states in the U.S. where active natural gas drilling is occurring that has not enacted any kind of severance tax on the industry. Keep in mind, however, that while a severance tax is being considered in Harrisburg, the natural gas industry is lobbying to have forced pooling tied to any severance tax legislation. (The likelihood of either proposal being passed before a new term begins is highly unlikely at this point, however.)

Forced pooling would require people to enter into lease agreements in an area where the majority of other lease-owners have leased to a natural gas drilling company. This would be advantageous to the industry because it makes leasing more orderly and allows them to more easily access areas where the mineral rights have been fragmented. While this could reduce the environmental footprint of drilling in some ways, it could be incredibly problematic for organic farmers whether they own their mineral rights or not. At least without forced pooling, organic farmers have more of a choice about whether they will lease their mineral rights.

The Predicament

The problem, therein, is that any violation on the part of industry that pollutes the land, air, or soil on or near a farm – especially an organic farm – could have serious repercussions for the farmer and the farm’s economic viability.

PA Wastewater spills by county
Frac pond and lining

And when you add in the forced pooling concept, the problem becomes more complex.

Does a spill or blowout on the farm destroy the organic certification, and if so for how long? Who is responsible for the economic hardships of such an incident? What are the public health implications of consuming food that has been contaminated either with the chemicals used to fracture the shale or the constituents of the wastewater that returns to the surface and is held in large ponds? (Wastewater can contain heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, total dissolved solids, and is high in salinity.) For example, the Department of Agriculture quarantined several PA cattle in July that came into contact with one of the holding ponds in order to reduce the risk of those chemicals being passed along through the food chain.

I acknowledge that there can be benefits to drilling for farmers in this blog post. However, from our experience, many farmers are only being educated by the industry about the benefits to leasing. E.g. “You can have your cake and eat it, too.” But as our one friend put it, “What are the odds that the cake cannot be eaten?”

To find an organic farm near you, visit this site. If you have geo-located data showing where organic farms are located, add it to the DataTool or contact us at malone@fractracker.org so that we can load the dataset for you.

From Spectra Energy Watch: Gas Exec ‘Willing to Engage in the Debate’

Reposted with permission from Mike Benard, Spectra Energy Watch

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Spectra Energy Watch recently conducted an email interview / conversation with Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of PENNECO, an oil and gas exploration company headquartered in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

PENNECO owns interests in more than 1,200 wells in 5 states, according to its website, and most of its wells are hydraulically fractured.

‘A Belief That Industry Will Not Answer Direct Questions’

In an exchange of three e-mails with Spectra Energy Watch’s blog, Wallace noted: “… I sense that one of your great frustrations is a lack of access to industry – or a belief that the industry will not answer direct questions…”

Yes – industry will not answer direct questions. It prefers platitudes like this one from Spectra Energy: Safety is our franchise. It’s what we ‘do.’

The gas industry wants it both ways. For example, on one hand it says hydraulic fracturing has been in use for 60 years with no adverse effects.

This is a half truth at best. Hydraulic fracturing has evolved as a technique over several decades. Slickwater, high-volume hydraulic fracturing began in the mid-to-late ’90s in Texas; and there is ample evidence that it has adverse effects on water and air.

Despite the gas industry’s claim of 60 years of hydraulic fracturing, it then claims to be a “nascent industry” that needs time to grow in states like Pennsylvania and New York (without a severance tax).

What is so hard about telling the truth about hydraulic fracturing?

PENNECO COO Ben Wallace was sincere in answering questions directly, but many of his responses illustrate how wide the gulf (no pun intended) is between the gas industry and those who experience the adverse effects of high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing from shale gas wells.

For example, here are excerpts from Wallace’s comments:

  • “I personally have no objections to injecting frac fluid into oil and gas bearing reservoirs and I, as a private citizen, am quite comfortable with the regulations in force by the individual states regarding this activity. Hydraulic fracturing presents no threat to clean safe drinking water.”
  • “It does not bother me that a Marcellus fracture treatment uses 20 tons of chemicals diluted in 1,000,000 gallons of water and that the slurry is injected into a natural gas bearing formation multiple thousands of feet below any fresh water aquifers isolated by steel casing and cement.”
  • “I would not support requiring closed loop systems to eliminate plastic lined ponds nor would I support installing vapor recovery units on tanks. Again, the relative risk is minimal and it only serves to increase the cost of energy to the consumer.”
  • “In general, I do not support restrictions on drilling beyond those that currently exist. Sufficient zoning regulations are already in place within individual communities to govern this activity.”

Ben Wallace, like many of his industry colleagues, speaks in absolutes with complete confidence that only the ‘perfect world’ model exists in gas industry operations.

Then he offers comments like this:

I suggest that all those who are opposed to drilling and to the extractive process cease using energy. Turn of [sic] the cell phones. Turn of [sic] the lights. Power down the laptops. Park the cars. Turn of [sic] the air conditioner. Eat raw food. Stop using refrigeration. Until the critics are willing to do that, they are hypocritically pointing the finger of blame. The energy industry simply provides the product to which our society is complicity addicted.

The defect of that kind of emotional venting is that it can fly back in your face – tit for tat. Gas execs argue that the hydraulic fracturing fluid – chemo frack fluid, laced with toxic chemicals – is benign. Great. Drink it yourself.

In fact, PENNECO COO Ben Wallace is on the record in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggesting (carefully) that, “hydraulic fracturing chemicals in dilute solution” is comparable to Coca-Cola.

He agrees, of course, “it would be foolish to drink frac fluid.”

Okay, we got carried away. Don’t drink the frac fluid. But what about leadership by example from the gas industry? If “Study after study has found hydraulic fracturing to be safe,” as Wallace says in his letter to the EPA, why is this blog still unable to identify executives (senior managers) who have such operations on their property, near their home?

Ultra NIMBYs of the Gas Industry

As Wallace acknowledges: “I do not have a shale gas drilling rig on my property.” Nor is there a frac pond on his property.

Imagine gas industry execs with hydraulic fracturing operations near their homes who step up and acknowledge that they believe so strongly in the inherent safety of shale gas extraction that they “live” the principle, so to speak.

The great shame of the gas industry is that its execs want these wells on YOUR property, but not THEIR property. Gas industry senior managers are the new ultra NIMBYs.

Public Opinion Turning Against Gas Industry

No wonder Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, while declaring himself a “protector” and a “good spokesman” for the gas industry, worries that “public opinion is starting to turn [against the gas industry] because I don’t think the industry’s done a great job of public relations.”

While the industry and Penneco’s Ben Wallace declare hydraulic fracturing to be safe, the “protector” and “good spokesman” for the gas industry admits there are “five challenges” – all of them environmental.

The five “challenges” of shale gas extraction, in Rendell’s own words:

  1. How to divert the millions of gallons of water that are necessary to operate the drilling?
  2. How to prevent gas migration?
  3. What do we do with the frac water – how do we dispose of it or beneficially reuse the frac water?
  4. What about the infrastructure? What about the roads with the heavy truck traffic that’s coming in and out of shale drilling areas – mostly in our northern tier itself which is a fairly undeveloped part of Pennsylvania? And
  5. How do we protect the natural beauty of the state? Pennsylvania was given by the Lord an incredible bounty of natural and wild lands. There are more natural and wild acres in Pennsylvania than the entire states of Connecticut and Rhode Island put together. And Pennsylvanians feel very strongly about that. We’re a great sportsmen’s state – fishing and hunting; and our wild and natural areas are very treasured.

Rendell made his remarks in a roundtable discussion with gas and oil execs in Dallas on March 25. If the “protector” of the gas industry in Pennsylvania acknowledges multiple risks to the environment, why can’t the gas industry?

Links and Resources

Do you want to be trained to use FracTracker?

If you would like to know how to navigate the FracTracker system, upload and download data, and visualize that data into snapshots and charts, please contact us: malone@fractracker.org. There is no charge to attend or request our training sessions. They typically last 2 hours and can be conducted for groups of 10 to 50 people. Venues must have internet access so that participants can access the blog and DataTool online, of course.

You can request a training in your area by contacting me: malone@fractracker.org (Email requests preferred.)

Want to know more about FracTracker?  Read | Demo and Tutorials

Earthworks says, Gas leasing: if you’re going to do it, do it right

Reposted with permission from Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks, OGAP

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When the landman comes knocking, it’s tempting to open the door wide. The promises made can be beguiling: fast cash, payments for years to come, and hardly any change on your property. Just sign up now…

But harsh reality can set in fast. Maybe it’s a road built right behind the house or through a crop field. Or barrels of toxic chemicals stored next to a drinking well. Perhaps the wastewater pond wasn’t fenced, so thirsty livestock got sick. And when the royalty check arrives, it’s far smaller than expected.

Across the Marcellus Shale region and beyond, there’s abundant evidence that a rush to drill without strong regulations causes environmental and health problems. Less well-known is how the rush to lease in the absence of information, legal advice, and safeguards is harming many landowners, as well as their neighbors and communities.

For more than a decade, OGAP has worked to inform property owners about their rights and what to consider before signing a lease — most recently at landowner workshops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Citizens turned out to hear how leases can contain legally binding guidelines for precisely how and where gas development occurs. They learned from OGAP staff about what’s happening across the Marcellus region and nationwide. Attorney and leasing expert Bob Miller detailed what protective leases can look like, and why we all benefit when they exist. Petroleum accountant Mary Ellen Denomy explained the “fine print” of gas payments and how to make sure that companies pay landowners what they deserve. These presentations provide key information for anyone considering leasing or interested in leasing practices.

OGAP is all too aware of the many problems wrought by oil and gas development—and works much too hard to prevent and solve them—to be in the business of encouraging leasing. But we also know that because many people make the choice to lease, it’s far preferable to have it done in a way that protects land, water and air quality, and health, and which doesn’t leave impacted landowners financially high and dry.

Let’s face it—gas companies rarely do the right thing voluntarily on their own. They usually have to be pushed (and pushed) by policymakers, landowners, and the public to drill responsibly. This is the only way to keep citizens in the driver’s seat, ready to put on the brakes, as the gas development train rushes down the tracks.


If you would like to contribute a blog post like this to FracTracker, please contact us at malone@fractracker.org, 412-624-9379.

 

Featured Upcoming Event – A Community and University Symposium

 

Marcellus Shale and a Sustainable Future: Balancing Energy, the Economy, and the Environment

November 2-5, 2010

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Locations: Indiana University of PA Student Union (the HUB); Eberly Auditorium; and the Indiana Theater – Downtown Indiana, PA
CHEC Speaker: Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH – “Marcellus Shale Extraction, the Fracking Process, and Potential Well Water Contamination” and “Using the FracTracker Website”

The gains from natural gas from Marcellus Shale are well known — jobs, energy, and economic gains for secondary business and industry. A four-day symposium, “Marcellus Shale and a Sustainable Future: Balancing Energy, the Economy, and the Environment,” explores the lesser-known aspects, such as the historical, social-environmental, legal, political, and health issues related to gas extraction. The conference includes a balanced series of topics, with speakers and panelists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Duquesne University, and SUNY–Oneonta, plus University of Pittsburgh faculty, other regional scholars, state-elected and agency officials, corporate executives, and representatives from statewide environmental groups, as well as community members and students.

Free admission to all events. One of the speakers will be Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. Learn more [link removed]

New Violation Datasets at our DataTool

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Three new datasets have been added to our DataTool: Utah Oil and Gas Violations, West Virgina Spills, County by Year, and West Virginia Spills Data.

The Utah dataset contains information including violation type, and oil and gas related injury and fatality records.  The West Virgina Spills, County by Year dataset is a set up to be easy to visualize, however, those interested in analyzing the West Virginia data itself will want to look at the West Virginia Spills Data dataset.

Earlier, we posted a separate WV Marcellus and O&G Violation by County dataset. I suspect that the West Virginia data is incomplete, due to the relatively small number of records.  There are 463 records of spills and 259 other violations since January 1, 2000, for a total of 722 offenses.  Compare that to the dataset from Pennsylvania, where there are over 9,300 violations recorded, and those are all since January 1, 2007.

Prezi Presentation – Origins and Purpose of FracTracker

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Are you interested in knowing why we at CHEC started this hairbrained project with the Foundation for PA Watersheds and Rhiza Labs to develop FracTracker? Check out the presentation below to learn more:

If you’re having trouble viewing the presentation, click play at the bottom of the screen twice. Prezi will move you from one “slide” to the next. And if you’re still having trouble, visit Prezi to learn more.

Come visit the FracTracker Forum

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We have posted a new FracTracker Forum to help encourage participation from the community of our readers here at fractracker.org. While it is possible to leave comments on this site and at the DataTool, we haven’t been getting very many. We want to hear your feedback, but more than that, we want to hear your stories, questions, and concerns related to the natural gas industry. The FracTracker Forum is an informal setting where you can tell us what is on your mind.

You can answer polls, make one of your own, or post links to websites that you want to share. There are other features, too, so go check it out and let us know what you think.

Upcoming WV FracTracker Training!

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On behalf of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, you are invited to participate in a FracTracker training on Monday, October 25, 2010 in Morgantown, WV.

During this training, CHEC will introduce participants to FracTracker, a combination of an interactive blog (https://www.fractracker.org) and the DataTool [link removed] , that is serving as a vital data-sharing tool in the Marcellus Shale play and beyond. Click here to learn more about CHEC and this project.

Meeting Details:

  • October 25, 2010 – 1pm – 4pm
  • Morgantown, WV
  • Free to attend. Parking is free. Permits will be provided upon arrival.
  • The agenda and additional meeting specifics will be sent to registered attendees prior to the training.

Important — In order to fully interact with FracTracker’s DataTool during the training, you must be registered with the DataTool. It is free to register, but please do this online as soon as possible. If you run into problems registering for the tool please contact: malone@fractracker.org.

In addition to registering for the DataTool online, please also register to attend the training by emailing me at malone@fractracker.org as soon as possible. We have limited space in the present venue, so don’t delay! In that email, please let me know whether CHEC can distribute your contact information to all attendees of the training for networking purposes. Once we receive your RSVP we will send you a confirmation email with more details about the training.


Previous Trainings

To give you some background on our previous trainings and the use of FracTracker, to-date we have held four trainings across PA and NY:

  1. Bedford Springs (20 attended)
  2. Pittsburgh, PA (20 attended)
  3. Danville, PA (30 attended)
  4. Ithaca, NY (36 attended)

The previous meetings we held were all-day affairs with two purposes. The first was to get groups together so that we could talk and network. Because drilling is occurring across a large geographic area, it is important to bring together stakeholders to improve communication and decision-making. The second purpose was to introduce the availability of FracTracker and provide a training on it. For the WV meeting, we decided that three hours is plenty of time in order to train attendees to load datasets, visualize geo-located data, and share snapshots. If a significant number of people (e.g. more than 50 people) express an interest in participating in this training, we will likely host another training in WV some time down the road.

Interesting User Statistics

FracTracker was launched on June 29, 2010. In less than 3 months, we have had almost 33,638 visits to the DataTool from 69 countries (even though we’ve only had trainings in 2 states so far.) Most of those users come from the U.S. (32,418), but there have been visitors from other countries including (in decreasing order): Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. Of the visitors from the U.S., most come from PA (20,064) where the most training has occurred, but we have had significant interest from people in NY, and somewhat less from (in decreasing order) Texas, California, Ohio, New Jersey, DC, and Louisiana.

As of today, we have 919 registered user on the DataTool. FracTracker just eclipsed the 100 mark for the number of datasets available for download!

Organizations that have participated in a FracTracker training

Academic and Research Institutions

  • Bucknell University
    • Geology department
  • California State University
    • Northern Appalachian Network
  • Community Science Institute (CSI)
  • Cornell University
    • CaRDI
    • Marcellus Shale Team
    • Natural Resources
    • Department of City and Regional Planning
    • Economics
  • Dickenson University
    • ALLARM
  • Duquesne University
    • Environmental Research and Education
  • Geisinger Center for Health Research
    • Environmental Health
  • Ithaca College
    • School of Journalism & Communications
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
    • Environmental Health
  • Kings College
    • Environmental Program
  • Lycoming College
  • Pal. Research Institute
  • Penn State University
    • Agricultural Studies
  • State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry
  • University of Pittsburgh
    • Environmental Health
    • Learning Research and Development
    • Public Health Dynamics Laboratory

Industry

  • EKT Interactive
  • Yes, we’re lacking in participation here. The invitation is open to anyone who would like trained to use FracTracker! Just contact us if you are interested: chec@pitt.edu

Environmental Organizations

  • Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition and Coalition to Protect New York
  • Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
  • CCE Yates
  • Center for Coalfield Justice
  • Chenago-Delaware-Otsego Gas Drilling Opposition (CDOG)
  • Citizens Coal Council
  • Clean Water Action
  • The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes
  • Community Environmental Defense Council
  • Cortland gas drilling group
  • Croton Watershed Clean Watershed Coalition
  • Delaware County Neighbors
  • Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
  • Eagles Mere Lake Assoc.
  • Earthjustice
  • Earthworks
  • Environmental Management Council
  • Finger Lakes Land Trust
  • Food and Water Watch
  • Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition
  • Group Against Smog and Pollution (G.A.S.P.)
  • Mountain Watershed Association
  • North Central PA Conservancy
  • NY Residents Against Drilling
  • PA Trout Unlimited
  • PennEnvironment
  • People for a Healthy Environment
  • ROUSE & Marcellus Accountability Project for Tompkins County
  • Schulyer Watershed Protection Agency & Planning
  • Scott Conservancy
  • Shaleshock
  • Sierra Club
  • Steuben County Environmental Management Council
  • Sustainable Tompkins
  • Three Rivers Water Keeper
  • TING
  • Tioga Peace and Justice
  • Water Resources Institute
  • Youghiogheny River Keeper
Foundations
  • Bucknell Corporate and Foundation Relations
  • Colcom Foundation
  • Foundation for PA Watersheds
  • Geisinger Foundation
  • Park Foundation
Policy
  • PA Fish and Boat Commission – Policy, Planning and Communication
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission
  • Institute of Public Policy & Economic Development
  • CCE-Tompkins & Statewide Energy & Climate Change Team
  • Cornell Energy Think Tank

Private Citizens 

 

Public Health
  • University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
  • Tompkins County Department of Health

Public Safety

  • Cornell Environmental Health and Safety
  • Emergency Management Agency, City of Pittsburgh
  • Geisinger EMS
  • PA State Police
  • Tioga County EMS

Regulatory

  • PA Department of Environmental Protection – Southwest Region
  • PA Department of Transportation
  • PA Fish and Boat Commission – Bureau of Policy, Planning and Communication

Local Government

  • City of Cortland Environmental Advisory Committee
  • Community & Economic Vitality, Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Conservation Districts: Fayette County, Somerset County, Washington County
  • Penn State Cooperative Extension of McKean
  • SEDA – Council of Governments
  • Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG)
  • Tompkins County Legislature

Media & Media Relations

  • Blogging: marcelluseffect.blogspot.com
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh Schools of Pubic Health Sciences
  • We’re planning a FracTracker training designed specifically for journalists and media relations personnel soon. Email us to request the details: malone@fractracker.org

Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd Testimony from League of Women Voters Meeting

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Yesterday, October 11th, Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd gave his testimony about some public health concerns associated with Marcellus Shale drilling to an audience of engaged community members.  Click here to read his testimony (PDF).