Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fracking: Taking Pennsylvania by Storm

I’m relatively new to the world of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s more commonly understood. While I’ve, for some time now, been aware of the mining procedure that uses highly pressurized and chemically laden water for extracting underground pockets of oil and gas, my recent summer trip to Pennsylvania’s Lycoming and Clinton counties came with a first-hand encounter with what were soon-to-be fracking sites. Born and raised in PA, I’ve long since found another place to call home. Yet, there is never a day that fails to find my heart yearning my body back to my friends and family still living there today. So, for me, the damage caused by fracking is personal.

Whether you're an environmentalist, hunter, animal rights activist, or just plain tired of industry interests driving politics, the damage done by fracking SHOULD be an issue that unites us all. Fracking’s human and environmental casualties include toxic and highly flammable drinking water, bubbling rivers best reserved for science fiction stories, and massive water consumption tabs. Even at an untrained glance, these casualties seem as the obvious consequences of a process that injects into the earth millions of gallons of water, mixed with diesel fuel, benzene, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol and many more nefarious substances, with enough pressure to fracturing shale formations, only to releases natural gas in underground regions close to water our tables. Much of the damage is also caused by poor regulation. For example, while subject to negotiation, PA oil and gas mines can be drilled as close as 100 feet from a stream or wetland and 200 feet from a house. PA state law requires operators to “restore” land within nine months of drilling completion. However, little is actually known about the total costs incurred by the environment due to fracking and most of the known damage cannot possibly be restored in this period.

Aside from the executive order recently signed by Governor Ed Rendell that prevents further leasing of state forests for Marcellus drilling, fracking is still scheduled to take PA by storm, along with its wealth of wilderness. According to the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), some 195 Marcellus shale wells were drilled in 2008 and another 768 in 2009. So far, in 2010, 1099 wells have been drilled. As depicted in the bar chart below, in 2008 there were approximately 20 non-Marcellus wells drilled for every Marcellus well. In 2010, that ratio is close to 1 Marcellus well drilled for every non-Marcellus well. In 2009 alone, some 1,984 Marcellus drilling permits were issued. In 2010, that number rose to 2,350, with a staggering 27% of those located solely in Bradford County. In total, there are currently 74 Marcellus well operators in the state, sitting on whopping 5,591 drilling permits.

Now, keep these numbers, along with this map, in mind as you browse through the following relatively innocuous-looking pics. These pictures were taken courtesy of my awesome parents during their more recent trip to Lycoming and Clinton counties. While these pictures depict the scale of a few isolated fracking sites, multiply this by the state-wide drilling trends or in context of this drilling site map. The captions in italics were written in an email from my Mom.

This (the next two pictures) is a site they were clearing back in August. They now have pipes laid and are getting ready to drill. The rig is not set up but they have the water and whatever else they are using stored on the site pad. These containers as well as other 18 wheeled tankers and stone trucks are hauled up the mountain by the hundreds every week. It is very hard to get people to believe how much traffic is on the roads is to see this for yourself.

Most of these containers weigh more than the roads are rated for. The companies just pay the fine and continue on. Some of the drilling rigs have been weighed at 170,000 lbs. None of these roads are rated for more than 70,000. Most are less than 20,000 rated. This is the kind of money and power these gas companies have.

The other sad part is the laws that allow the fines to be paid and they can continue on 100,000lbs over weight. This is common practice in the state of PA when big companies need to move big stuff. Just pay the fine and move on.

This is what the site pads look like. They usually cover several acres, looks like a Walmart parking lot!

These (next two) are pics of the gravel road, showing how much has been cleared for pipes. The second pic is what this road looked like before the gas drilling. I don't know if they will continue with clearing and drilling along this road or not. This road leads to another vista. We are not sure if the third vista is gone or not. Everything is so messed up we couldn't figure out where the other vistas are or were.

Another pic of land clearing and pipelines.

These next two were taken back in August on Queens Run Rd. Remember when we drove back toward (sorry, no personal names given here) camp last July and we saw the roadway being paved?

They were drilling a month later. In most of these places they reconstructed roadways or made new roads, so you can't get your bearings of where you are. For 25+ years we knew the area so well we knew every turn, now we just wonder where we are. This was such a beautiful gravel road.

The next picture is about a 7 mile part of Queens Run road that so far has not been touched by gas drillers. I really hope they do leave this alone. I would be so sad if they destroyed this beautiful piece of nature. This road follows Queens Run and any alteration to this road would be the end of this pristine stream and the wild life that surrounds it. This road has steep hills on both sides, one side straight up and one side is straight down. Sometimes you have to move downed branches or trees to pass through the road.

Next we have the drilling sites in Tiadaghton State Forest. One is currently being drilled and a lot of land cleared for pipelines. Site storage and drilling pads and future sites being cleared.

The two below are more of the same Rig. I also have one with the sign Bull Run Vista. We used to go to this vista. This site is accessed through what locals call Springer Farms. There is, was, a total of 3 vistas. I am assuming the access to the vista is destroyed and is gone forever. This was very remote and so quiet and peaceful. Now, not so much.