Wayne County and Lackawaxen Consider Gas Drill Boom Issues Intro
By Ken Baumel
Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (www.nwpoa.info), a major Wayne County property owner consortium negotiated with gas companies on lease contracts that would allow gas companies to drill on private property, but the group is carefully researching the issues and moving cautiously.
There are positives and negatives to this issue. A contract with a gas driller for long-term natural gas drilling rights can be very profitable for a property owner, who could make up to $20,000 an acre. Lackawaxen Township Solicitor Tony Waldron reported recently that NWPOA is already negotiating with gas companies and getting significantly better offers from gas companies than those going solo.
The downside, according to citizen advocacy groups is that there may be potential health hazards from chemicals getting into groundwater source of drinking water), reduction in long-term property values, major construction and traffic for years, and the impacts to the natural environment.
In October 2008, Lackawaxen Resident Pat Carullo presented at a regular Shohola Township meeting the position of Damascus Citizens, the advocacy group he helped form in early 2008 to inform citizens and local government the potential devastating impacts from fracking in the part of the Marcellus Shale that includes all or Pike and Wayne County and most of Sullivan County. He reported that he is gathering petitions from those concerned about drilling impacts.
Carullo warned, “It (fracking) is coming here (to Pike County) soon. You are fighting for your life. The ultimate battle is your water. Highland Township (Sullivan County, NY) became the first municipality in New York State to pass a moratorium. They did it in September. Tusten Township (in Sullivan) is pursuing a drilling moratorium.”
Carullo said, “Municipal opposition may not be easy because the gas companies are aggressively suing communities all over the country that are attempting to control local drilling activities. They sued Nockimixon Township in Bucks County.” A Nockimixon spokesperson said that a gas company sued the township earlier this year regarding the township ordinance passed late last year that restricts drilling to industrial zones and does not allow drilling in residential areas.
If gas drilling is so good, Carullo asked, “Why is the New York City Council demanding a ban on drilling in the New York City water basins?” A New York Times editorial reported on the New York Council member opposition to gas drilling because of potentially negative impacts on New York City water supplies.
The New York City opposition gave Carullo further incentive that his advocacy has strong merit. Carullo gathered over 4,000 signatures of Upper Delaware basin property owners opposed to fracking. This issue is becoming high profile. He reports that the www.DamascusCitizens.org site started slowly, but soon by fall 2008 got 9,000 to 10,000 hits a day.
Although advocacy groups oppose the drilling, many NWPOA property owners are finding that long-term leases with the gas companies could be very profitable. Wayne County Property Owner Ron Stamets of NWPOA has mixed feelings. He said that the owners represent an estimated 100,000 acres of land. As of late 2008, they hadn't closed lease deals with any gas company because of concerns by property owners about protecting groundwater and the environment. “We (NWPOA) are pro drilling, but not at the expense of allowing the environment to suffer,” declared Stamets.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the most active drilling boom in the nation is the Barnett Shale, a massive natural‑gas reserve around Fort Worth. Experts believe that the Marcellus Shale is the next big gas drilling boom area. Www.geology.com, earlier this year, reported that two geology experts, one a Penn State professor, estimated that the Marcellus Shale could contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough gas to supply the entire United States for two years and have a wellhead value of about one trillion dollars.
Marcellus Shale is the primary geological formation containing gas in all of Pike and Wayne, most of Sullivan County, a large part of Pennsylvania, and extending as far south as the North Carolina, according to Upper Delaware Council Senior Resource Specialist Dave Soete. He is monitoring media coverage and web coverage on the gas drilling initiatives that may affect our area and doing research.
And, Stamets said that the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a regulatory body authorized by Congress to monitor water quality in the Delaware River might be concerned about potential environmental impacts. DRBC in the latter half of 2008 had not had one gas drilling filing proposal, but the Susquehanna River Basin Commission had 80 permits pending in the same period, according to Stamets. A DRBC spokesperson said that gas companies were possibly holding off until the economy and other national issues got clarified before moving ahead.
Stamets said that one concern he and some other NWPOA members have is the federal non-disclosure policy regarding what contaminants gas driller use in fracking. He has found that gas companies used hydrochloric acid and diesel fuel used in fracking by gas companies in other parts of the country, though these areas have not been areas with a lot of ground water and natural streams and rivers.
Under federal current ground rules, gas companies do not have to disclose the exact formulation of chemicals used, according to Stamets. He said, “Let’s have records so we can deal effectively with emergencies and not let people get sick because accidents will probably happen somewhere.”
Carullo said that gas drillers now have a green light to drill anywhere because of federal deregulation. Aubrey K. McClendon, chairman of American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF) Chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, said, “New technologies have allowed the rapid emergence of gas shales as a major energy source, representing a truly transformative event for U.S. energy supplies.
“American producers can clearly supply enough natural gas to meet today’s uses and become an economical source of transportation fuel … and supplies of electricity for plug‑in hybrids (autos) for generations to come.” The current drilling boom could allow gas companies to build a two-year stock pile.
Meanwhile, before drilling begins, gas and electric companies the past two years are proposing to significantly expand gas and power line facilities in Pike County, Sullivan County in New York State and Northwestern New Jersey. Lackawaxen and Shohola Township supervisors and residents recently expressed concerns about the impacts of the proposed utility infrastructure expansion through their community. Carullo and Soete the considers that the utility facilities' expansion are likely needed to service the gas drillers. Carullo warned that gas drilling could affect all residents and communities in the Upper Delaware River Basin.
The process of extracting gas is a major undertaking that will likely bring hundred of construction trucks, require major construction roads to be built, strip a lot of land of trees and vegetation, and require forcing millions gallons of water and chemicals into holes drilled into the earth’s shale both vertically and horizontally in a process called hydraulic fracture (fracking), according to Carullo and industry experts. Drillers need to drill holes up to miles deep and inject millions of gallons of water filled with chemicals.
Soete said that the drilling when done on a major regional scale, could foul groundwater, create enormous noise near the drilling, and lead to tress removed to make way for access roads and new pipelines. Those pipelines ferry gas to existing gas lines, such as the Millennial Gas pipeline in lower New York State and Tennessee Gas pipelines in Pike County.
Soete said that his research showed that access roads often ferry as many as 500 trucks per site in a short period. The construction at the drill site, roads, and pipes, also allegedly changes the landscape. Carullo said, “Once an aquifer (groundwater source for drinking water) is damage, it is damaged for a long time. And, fracking could lead to catastrophes. Soete said that in a Susquehanna, Pennsylvania community, a major trucking accident cause several thousands of gallons of diesel fuel to contaminate local waters in the past year.
Soete said that all the drilling just to get two years of gas is not worth permanently damaging the water and environment in this region. He said, “There is no guarantee the gas will be used here.”
But, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has a different take. He sees the drilling as a way to offset a pending state budget deficit, according to Soete, who found a recent article by Scranton Times Shamrock Harrisburg Bureau Chief covering a recently Rendell proposal to transfer $174 million of a projected $190 million in expected state revenues, from the sale of oil and gas drilling rights on state forest land, into the state’s General Fund, where it can be used to help offset a $1.6 billion budget gap in the state fiscal year of 2009 and 2010.
Soete tracks not only news articles, but also gas industry blogs and emails from gas industry sources. He allegedly that monitoring of this electronic traffic showed drillers are willing to send offshore gas extracted from Pike, Wayne, and Sullivan. Gas drillers are allegedly discussing their willingness to sell gas to offshore sources as China, which apparently is willing to pay double what gas companies can get in the U.S.A. “It will probably go to whoever pays the highest price,” said Soete. That gas would therefore not likely meet domestic gas needs or serve as an alternative to fuel oil. Carullo also said that he disagrees that drilling reduces dependence on foreign oil.
Even if drillers manage to extracted gas cleanly, Soete said, the environmental impact on communities could be far reaching. Carullo’s this year tracked the impacts on communities where drilling and fracking is ongoing. For example, the Fort Worth and its previously pristine rural areas turned into an ugly industrial zone after gas drilling started. The quality life in that area dramatically lowered because of massive gas drilling efforts by the same companies that are driving the drilling in the Upper Delaware. He said that http://www.DamascusCitizens.com posts links about Fort Worth impacts.
Stamets website, http://www.pagaslease.com, gives a more positive spin on the subject. He site is the major resource website on gas leasing in Pennsylvania and possibly nationally. He said his site got 747,923 hits between Sept. 19 and Oct. 19, 2008. Approximately 37,500 or 5 percent of the hits came from Sullivan, Wayne, and Pike, including 25 from Milford. But, most hits come from Texas and Oklahoma, and other states within the Barnett Shale. Experts consider the Marcellus Shale reserve, another massive one.
Marcellus includes Sullivan County, Wayne County, Pike County, and extends through the Allegheny Mountain range area from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Experts believe this might be the next boom area. Hits in our area on Stamets’ site are starting to grow. Those living in the Marcellus Shale area are growing curious.
Carullo said that people need to be more than curious. They need to understand the impact of major drilling or it may become too late to mitigate the changes that may come to the area. Since summer, Carullo’s advocacy group sent video crews to interview Hickory, Pennsylvania residents located in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In telephone follow‑up interviews this month, some Hickory residents allegedly reported that they could no longer drink water because of a gas‑like smell. Damascus Citizens posts video interviews with Hickory residents on http://www.youtube.com/gasdrillingtruth .
That web page also has a video titled, “Before and After” that shows an aerial photo of the Upper Delaware River communities with an aerial photo from another area of the country shown after drilling took place. Carullo said that such potential drilling intensity in Pike and Wayne could dramatically change the environment, render Pike’s landscape into an industrial zone, remove significant ground water supplies, leave a large volume of toxins in the groundwater, other water supplies, and in the ground.
Carullo warned that fracking allegedly involves water injected with up to 275 chemicals to facilitate natural gas flow. EPA lists some of the chemicals as highly toxic. The drilling also splits the shale. Not all the injected water is recoverable, noted Soete. With each drill site using one to five million gallons of water, the area could stand to lose a lot of groundwater. Drillers typically tap groundwater for the injection process. Approximately 30 percent is unrecoverable. Some stays in the ground, some goes into the groundwater, and some gets into the air and soil. Typically, when gas if found, some of it is burned off on site, emitting some of the chemicals and toxins into the air and onto the ground. These are some of the risks.
For Stamets, besides potential environmental risks, property owners who want to sign leases with gas drillers need to be cautious when approached by gas company representatives, termed landmen in the industry. He said that comments on his blog, his own experiences, and testimonies of NWPOA members prior to their joining NWPOA indicate that landmen rarely if ever disclose the full information needed by property owners to get good contract terms.
And, Stamets said that the typical settlement offer per acre by landmen tends to be low. He has found that landmen routinely pressure property owners to sign a boiler-plate lease immediately in order to avoid potential downward changes in the market due to the national economy. Said Stamets, “There’s no rush. Gas will be in the ground for a long time. It’s not going anywhere.”
Despite some concerns, Stamets said that he remains pro drilling. Stamets hosts a blog on his website that daily attract a range of views from landmen, leaseholders, and other stakeholders. Another resource, www.marcellustoday.blogspot.com, provides resources for property owners interested in following developments just in the Marcellus Shale.
Shohola Fire Dept. Chief Don Wall is taking a practical tack on the issue. He said that gas drilling could lead to emergencies and catastrophes. His fire company therefore started preparing for a higher level of hazardous materials emergencies and gas fires by taking additional hazardous materials courses that should be helpful in dealing with natural gas drill-site disasters should the drillers become active in this area.
Subsequent to this article, mostly written in 2008, gas drilling projects have started in parts of Wayne County. For additional information, go to the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation site by clicking the following link: GAS DRILLING.