Toxics Targeting reports:
So, why is US Energy still allowed to do business in New York State?
And DEC thinks it can handle
Guest post by Candace Mingins
In 1971, when my husband’s family bought its farm in Van Etten, there was an abandoned Oriskany formation well on the property. There were, indeed, abandoned wells all over the neighboring hills — some of which were providing neighbors with free gas. A small pipe and tank seemed innocuous enough. So when a neighbor came by in 1999 with his friend, an oil and gasman who owned a small company in Pennsylvania, we signed a ten-year lease. It was a community-held belief in Van Etten, based on past experience, that gas wells were “no big deal.” Nearly all our neighbors signed.
There were no informational forums back then, nor attorneys who knew what was coming. Five years later, after the lower rights to our lease were assigned to a multinational corporation, we realized something bigger was happening and finally sought an attorney’s help. The first attorney we saw was knowledgeable but was interested in helping us only if we exercised a sale clause we had put in the lease, and sell our land to a friend of his who invested in oil and gas. His fee would be 33% of the additional royalties gained from the transaction. We were not comfortable with this.
The second attorney willingly assisted us with the high-pressure, eleventh-hour negotiations with the gas company, which now wanted to drill a well on our farm. But it soon became clear he knew nothing about the industrial gas drilling coming.
Finding a reliable attorney was nearly an impossible task. We didn’t even know what questions to ask. We scrambled to come up with last-minute protections, mostly from bits and pieces of information we were now learning from neighbors. The gas company was willing to negotiate, as they had not yet gotten us to sign an amending agreement they needed. We forged an agreement to make sure our beautiful, gravelly loam field would be restored.
The well was drilled in the Trenton/Black River formation. It was a conventional well that went nearly two miles down and one mile horizontally under the village. It was a huge industrial operation — a far cry from the old Oriskany wells on our hill. From day one, the gas company began to cut corners. What was to be “just a couple of acres” was actually seven acres (we measured it.) We asked that the access road run along the edge of the field, and they cut it diagonally through the field. The landman who had been negotiating with us had actually helped us flag where the road was to be, and he argued for us to get them to re-do the road. It just went on and on. The holding ponds were supposed to have two layers of plastic. They had only one. The brine was supposed to be hauled out more often than it was. We felt we had to constantly be checking, taking pictures, and calling the gas company.
Of course, the operation was an industrial site we never could have imagined: 24-hour-a-day drilling, ramming noise, lit up all night. It went longer than they said it would, taking three months to prepare the site and drill. When the well was flared (for three days and nights) and the whole valley was lit up like a stadium, it began to feel like something terrible had been unleashed.
When it was time to restore the larger/outer area of the well site, the gas company cut corners once again, even though the procedure was spelled out clearly in the written agreement. They used a bulldozer to remove the plastic and large rocks, hauling much of our precious topsoil with it. My husband furiously tried to get them to stop, and subsequently to bring us more topsoil to fill in the depressions. Rude employees argued with him. They also never loosened the subsoil before filling in.
We had a retired Ag & Markets consultant come in and shoot some grades and write a recommendation. This appeared to really annoy the gas company. They sent us a “without prejudice” letter stating they had done all they had to do until final restoration (10 years or so hence). The “friendly” landman who had worked on our behalf was told to stop talking to us. We then knew that if we ever wanted to have that field restored as per the signed agreement, we would have to get an attorney. Attorneys tell us now that only rarely can you get industry to pay for your legal fees.
Having a multinational corporation in your life is extremely stressful. It’s a “contractual relationship,” but it is vastly unequal. Corporations are protected under the law, and are ultimately not liable, responsible or responsive. Their sole job is to make money for their shareholders, and they will do what they want. Oil and gas companies are essentially in the game of “gotcha!” Once you sign, it’s up to you to watch them, call them, sue them. It’s your problem now.
They are obliging only until they get what they want from you. Phone calls, e-mails, letters, lawyers all become routine. Signing a lease with a multinational corporation is like inviting a very rude, unscrupulous, uncaring (dare I say criminal?) person to live in your home. It is extremely stressful.
However, this well, we were assured, would have a lifetime of only about 10 years, and then they would be “out of there—all cleaned up, like [we] didn’t know [they] had been there.” We thought we could live with that. (Of course, at this point we had no choice.) At this time our daughter and her husband decided to go ahead and make plans to move their farm/ winery business to the family farm.
And we were “lucky” ones. The well was successful. In fact, it was the most prolific well in New York, and in 2006 produced 4 billion cubic feet of gas — enough to heat 57,000 homes for a year. Organizations and 133 families receive royalties from this well, including the town, school and church. Who couldn’t use more money? Folks could finally repaint their houses and replace roofs. They could start retirement savings and donate to charities. We were able to finish our house and install solar panels, buy a tractor and pay off some college loans. There is no denying that the people could use the money. But the question began to emerge: at what cost?
In the spring of 2008, we began hearing talk of the next big gas “play” — the Marcellus shale — and, at first, thought nothing of it. But the more we learned, the more alarmed we became, and then it hit us: we were “held by production” with a producing well, and that meant that lease expiration was irrelevant. And while we are held by production, more wells may be drilled on our property in different formations, which in turn could hold us by production longer.
In essence, we had “sold” our land forever. The night I realized this, I had a dream that our house had been robbed, and it was from the inside.
Now, our daughter seriously doubted they could move to the farm. How could they move here when there could be a lifetime of drilling, drastic change in our rural landscape, and potential contamination and pollution? We had “sold” the land out from under our children and their children. No amount of money is worth that.
Unconventional shale gas drilling is a nasty business. And I venture to guess there are hundreds, maybe thousands of leased-landowners out there who, as they learn what this new gas drilling really entails, wish they had never signed a lease.
A contract between an individual and a multinational corporation is never on an even playing field. The power imbalance is staggering. Attorney Jane Welsh, of Hamilton, believes gas leases should actually be commercial lease transactions, which include the legal concepts and protections found in any commercial lease, and “the only reason they are not is that the parties to a gas lease are woefully mismatched in terms of negotiating power, experience, sophistication and financial clout.” New York, she concludes, is sorely remiss in not regulating these leases.
But this is not merely a leasing issue (though the Attorney General’s Office, Cooperative Extension and many landowner coalitions seem to believe it is). For one, it’s a community issue. As Herb Engman, Ithaca town supervisor, said recently (and I’m paraphrasing): Towns go through all the time, trouble and expense to generate comprehensive plans and protect community resources, and then gas companies can destroy all planning.
The scale of proposed shale gas drilling in the area will affect our entire landscape and rural way of life. Leases cannot protect us from plummeting real estate values or the inability to obtain mortgages or sell our property; leases cannot protect us from a decline in tourism or other negative economic effects; leases cannot protect us from the increased difficulty in obtaining insurance or the increased cost of doing so. And unless gas companies are willing to post billions of dollars in bonds, leases cannot ultimately protect us from personal liability.
But above all, this is a public health issue. Emerging studies on air pollution and reports of water contamination make it very clear that the negative affects of unconventional gas drilling cannot be contained by property boundaries.
Whether you are leased, leased in a coalition or compulsorily integrated; whether you are un-leased living down the road, downwind or downstream of gas wells or deep injection disposal wells; or whether you simply use roads traveled by frack-water trucks — we are all at increased risk. Our communities need full disclosure of the risks we will be exposed to before we can decide if we, as a community, want to take those risks. We do not want to be unwilling participants in a grand experiment, because that’s what this is.
And the truth is, no one even knows what all the risks are. There have been no comprehensive, long-term, systematic studies of hydrofracking. Nor have there been comprehensive, long-term, systematic studies on deep injection disposal of toxic wastewater. But the high-pressure injection of contaminants into the ground appears to be linked to unpredictable migration of fluids, aquifer contamination and possibly earthquakes.
Have we mapped our entire area for natural faults? How do we know that the fracking fluid left behind won’t eventually migrate upward and contaminate our water? Maybe not this year, but what about in five years or 50 years? While the gas companies and the DEC assure us that these activities are perfectly safe, they will not guarantee it, because there is no science backing those claims. And in fact, more and more evidence is mounting to the contrary —at the expense of people’s health and safety.
I am haunted by the specter of some day turning on my tap for a glass of our clear, cold, sweet water and wondering if chemicals left underneath us have migrated into it.
Do I test my drinking water once a year? Once a month? Every week?
How can I live (how can we live) with the unending uncertainty that this glassful might be poisoned?
Do I drink it?
Do I offer it to my granddaughter?
The Shreveport Times reports:
Recent incidents raise issues on drilling, environment
By Alisa Stingley
Blanche Jefferson lives in Shreveport, but her worries are all south of here.
Her granddaughter and five great-grandchildren live south of Spring Ridge and close to where 17 cows died after ingesting liquid that spilled from a nearby natural gas drilling rig site into a pasture.
“I’m mostly concerned … stuff might get in the water,” said Jefferson, 79, adding that the family depends on well water.
The environmental impact of drilling has her so concerned that she’s rethinking whether she wants to lease mineral rights from property she owns in that area to an energy company in the future.
“Money is nothing if something happened to them,” she says of the children.
. . . . . Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing several area incidents:
April: Seventeen cows died in a south Caddo Parish pasture after ingesting a liquid found pooled in the pasture, a spill from a nearby Chesapeake Energy drilling site. No reports on what killed the cows have been made public.
May: Fifteen Naborton families evacuated when a Chesapeake well east of Mansfield began blowing natural gas into the air. The air quality was monitored, and a Chesapeake spokesman said there was no threat to public safety or the environment. According to DEQ files on the case, 50 million standard cubic feet of methane gas — the main component of natural gas — was discharged after a casing valve failed.
DEQ doesn’t require notification of the release of 1 million standard cubic feet but does require notification of more than 2.5 million in a planned release. The Naborton release, however, was unplanned. Otis Randle, manager of the DEQ regional office here, said 50 million is “a lot of gas.” But he said people would not suffer health problems unless they breathed in a concentrated amount.
The main risk to nearby residents is the potential for explosion, and methane causes an adverse impact on the planet’s ozone layer, since methane is a greenhouse gas. The DEQ report on the Naborton well said the release did not have an off-site environmental impact. (un-naturalgas.org note: guess the atmosphere doesn’t count)
July: A natural gas well blowout occurred in north Sabine Parish, about six miles east of Converse. No residents were evacuated. The well was owned by Chesapeake, whose spokesman said there was no threat to the public or environment, and air quality was being monitored as a precaution. DEQ’s regional office in Shreveport investigated the blowout, finding it “pretty routine,” said Randle. No details on the amount released were available.
There are environmental concerns beyond reported incidents too:
Ground and surface water issues have arisen, particularly in south Caddo and DeSoto parishes, which heavily depend on the fragile Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. On the last day of June, about 1,000 customers of South DeSoto Water System had no water while workers replaced a pump. Officials wondered publicly if a natural gas drilling operation just 500 feet from their water well was making their equipment work harder to pump.
. . . . .
Many of the Web sites of the major competitors in the Haynesville Shale tout their dedication to preserving the environment.
Chesapeake’s page notes that it is a key contributor to The Nature Conservancy, and “our objective is to leave each site in as good, if not better, condition than when we started drilling.”
The U.S. Department of Interior recognized Devon Energy with a national award for its outstanding environmental and safety performance in the Gulf of Mexico.
And EnCana’s page notes: “We are looking at opportunities to recycle water and this option will become more viable as the play is further developed.”
While the proliferation of drilling in the Haynesville Shale is making environmental issues more visible and prominent, such concerns didn’t just arrive with the shale. Two cases from DEQ files:
In June, a Carthage, Texas, man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of illegally discharging a pollutant into Louisiana waters after ordering a truck driver to discharge well treatment fluid into a Natchitoches Parish creek in April 2006. The man was sentenced to 24 months probation and agreed to pay a $5,000 criminal fine.
“Unfortunately, economic incentives drive environmental crime,” said Jeffrey T. Nolan, DEQ’s criminal investigations division manager.
In August 2006, DEQ responded to a landowner’s complaint that a well site where Winchester Energy was operating near Frierson had released at least four barrels of saltwater from a fracturing tank. According to DEQ files, the company had not contacted DEQ about the spill, which violates regulations. Also, the landowner said he asked Winchester to clean up the site but it refused. A few days later, DEQ noticed a cleanup in progress at the site, where vegetation had been killed in an area about 20 feet by 100 feet. DEQ in April this year deemed the site OK and did not take any action against Winchester.
For complete article, visit:
MB’s TOP TEN REASONS WHY STONE GAS DRILLING ROCKS
10. Creates jobs for road repair crews, EMTs, lawyers, nurses, physicians, marriage counselors, firefighters, law enforcement officers, & meth dealers & has added bonus of providing extra income for corrupt politicians
9. Drilling noise easily drowns out next-door neighbor’s kid’s garage band
8. Devastated landscape, loss of green space, & clouds of killer smog mean less hiking & biking & LOTS more time for TV
7. Eliminates hours of tedious trout fishing by “pre-killing” your catch
6. Flammable tap water livens up any party
5. Putting off the inevitable switch to renewable energy sources is the American way
4. Fulfills your California-dreamin’ fantasies by bringing earthquakes to YOUR home town
3. Makes slow & boring process of disintegration of the American community a lot more exciting by actively setting neighbor against neighbor
2. Provides important object lesson on why you should read a gas lease BEFORE you sign it
1. Helps the kids learn that money is more important than anything else
BAINBRIDGE, Ohio -
More than 100 people crammed into an overflowing meeting room at the Federated Church Tuesday to hear what the state was going to do about problems created by oil and gas well drillers.
Sean Logan, the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s director, had few answers to calm fears. He failed to satisfy the concerns of more than 40 residents whose water wells were damaged by an English Drive gas well drilled in December 2007 that blew one house off of its foundation.
It was for these residents that he called the meeting.
In addition to Bainbridge residents, fire chiefs, public officials and residents came from neighboring communities and as far away as Highland Heights, Broadview Heights and Twin Lakes.
They wanted to see how the state responds to gas well accidents because they face new wells in their own communities.
Logan had no answer for Niki Kakoleck of Scotland Drive.
“What is the state going to do for me and my family?” she asked point-blank.
“I tried to refinance my house today and the bank told me my house has no value,” she continued. “My husband and I paid $180,000 for it before the gas well blew up. Now it has no value. I have to pay an attorney now on top of it.
“We’re on the verge of bankruptcy. I hired a sitter to watch my nine-year-old and 11-year-old so I could come here and hear what you are going to do.”
When Logan repeated that he was ordering a new municipal water line, she cut him off.
“This sucks,” she said. “You guys dropped the ball for me and my family.
Life in a hotel
“You don’t understand what we’ve been through. I had to live in a hotel for a week before Christmas with my kids and two dogs when the gas well blew up. My electric fence I paid a couple thousand dollars for was ruined by your temporary water line.
“The water delivery trucks have ruined my driveway — it’s all cracked now. I have to leave my garage door open two days a week and let strangers come and go in my house to fill the temporary water tank. I worry about the safety of my kids.
“The temporary water line freezes in the winter right in the middle of giving my kids a shower — it stopped. I had to wash soap from them with freezing cold water. I didn’t sign up for the gas well. I’m not getting any royalties from it. What are you going to do for me?”
Lou Wagner of Scotland Drive said he is more concerned about safety than the water line, which Logan said last week that the ODNR would install because drilling has fouled water wells.
“What’s going on with the trapped gas underground?” he asked. “Is it going to seep into my basement and blow up my house? We’re living on a minefield. Even if we had good water you can’t drink it if you’re dead.”
Logan replied that the gas is venting underground.
“Yes, it is — it’s venting into the aquifer,” a woman said as the crowd roared in laughter.
Logan said he does not have evidence that the gas is continuing to flow into the aquifer.
“But, you don’t have evidence that it’s not,” said another resident.
Although Logan said, “The buck stops here with me,” he placed most of the blame on the driller, Ohio Valley Energy for not moving fast enough to install a municipal water line.
He called OVE’s actions “egregious” and repeated his pledge of last week to order OVE to install the water line to the homes considered to be affected by the faulty gas well.
Several residents asked how they could find out if their home was among those deemed affected and entitled to the proposed water line. They did not receive a clear answer.
When asked when the water line would be installed, Logan said he would give OVE 15 days to submit a plan.
Last week Jerry Morgan of Geauga County Water Resources Department told Sun News he has seen plans for the waterline from OVE’s engineering firm, but it could take months to get it approved through the county and the Ohio EPA before digging could begin.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Logan told residents the delay was with OVE.
Who’s to blame?
An insider told Sun News that state and county officials — not OVE –may be to blame for holding up progress on the waterline.
Last week OVE’s president Charlie Masters told Sun News that his company has been trying to bring in the water line since February 2008, but has met with resistance.
Tuesday night, Logan said his technical staff would examine independent laboratory reports on the “black goo” that is showing up in well water where gas wells have been drilled and fracted [sic].
This is a change from his stance April 7 when he said, “It seems to be naturally occurring in Geauga County water.”
At that time, he further stated “It’s well documented that there are problems with well water in Geauga County.”
County officials refuted that statement.
Logan pledged that he would push the envelope of the law to make OVE pay for monthly water bills homeowners would face with a municipal water line.
He was booed when he said although his department issues permits, it has no authority to slow down the drilling by slowing down the number of permits it issues.
He admitted that his department is understaffed and does not have enough inspectors to inspect new wells as they are being drilled, although current rules call for the inspections.
He further said his department does not have the authority to refuse a permit to OVE or any other driller that is caught using faulty practices.
“But you’re the only one who does have control over drillers,” a woman said. “We’re the people, and it’s time you stood up for we the people and stopped standing up for the gas industry.”
“You should just step up,” a man shouted.
Logan said he is working on legislation to change current laws.
State Sen. Tim Grendell and Rep. Matt Dolan attended the meeting.
Grendell told the crowd that he is working on legislation to bring back local control of gas well drilling, while Logan is working with the oil and gas well industry on his proposed legislation.
Attorney Dale Markowitz thanked Logan for meeting with residents. Markowitz also told Logan, “You’re on your last leg.”
Markowitz is representing the 40 residents and Bainbridge Township in their lawsuit against the driller and ODNR.
Dolan declined a resident’s request to speak at the meeting.
Last night, the noise was way over the top from the well that was due for fracking this week. From about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., the noise level was unbelievable. We were inside our house, which has fairly good windows, and we literally had to shout to hear each other inside. The booming and crashing, what sounded like alarms going off, and loud honking were incredible. I don’t know if they had another equipment malfunction, but we couldn’t sleep. I let my kids sleep in and drove them to school (the bus comes at 6:45) and the other moms bringing kids in at 8:00 or so were all complaining about the noise.
I finally heard from the DEP about the results of testing they did of my water and well. I do have methane, but lower in level than some of my neighbors whose wells have exploded, etc. He said he will stop by to check for free methane in the head space of my water well again, now that we have it capped loosely enough to remove. I asked him if the level of methane could increase now that they are fracking the well on the other side of my house, and he said it is possible, with all of the activity going on. He is finding some methane in almost all the wells around here. This seems consistent with the idea that it can migrate for miles through an aquifer. The contaminated wells that I know of in Dimock are in clumps, with apparently ok houses with wells between them. I definitely need to test for bacteria. Today I accidentally drank some water and got violently sick. That’s how it was for the months of December and November last year, for our whole family, which was when they were drilling and fracking the gas well 500 feet from our water well. We stopped drinking the water after our next door neighbor noticed her water smelled strongly of solvents or formaldehyde, and the lady about 5 houses away had her water well explode.