Submitted by Alexander Lotorto
Organizer, Communities United for Rights and Environment (CURE)
To: Gov. Tom Corbett, et. al.
RE: Lobby Day, June 7, 2011
Emergency Management During Marcellus and Utica Shale
Natural Gas Development
The rapid development of the Marcellus Shale formation, and soon, the Utica Shale formation, using high-volume, slick-water, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a combination of drilling methods newly developed in only the last decade, presents innumerable emergency response challenges and presents a massive risk of disaster over time given the externalities and infrastructure requirements to extract and move Marcellus gas to market.
In May 2011, Senator Lisa Baker’s (R-Luzerne) bill to increase emergency preparedness and transparency passed the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee with a unanimous vote. The bill, expected to clear the Senate in June, would require natural gas drilling companies to provide emergency response information to local authorities. These are important steps towards a reasonable emergency management program in regards to Marcellus and Utica shale development. The key requirements of drilling companies that are being proposed are:
However, this never-before-seen industrial expansion throughout Pennsylvania should be treated by emergency response officials with the same thoroughness as nuclear reactors and waste. It will be critical that PEMA and all Marcellus-region emergency responders plan regionally and locally for massive response to not only accidents that can occur while drilling and hydraulic fracturing is in progress, but during the entirety of the industry’s processes including:
- Hazardous chemical manufacturing, transportation, and storage,
- Pipeline explosions and leaks,
- Legal drilling waste disposal and storage,
- Illegal dumping of hazardous waste by the industry,
- Other foreseeable disaster situations.
For the duration of Marcellus drilling, regional and local emergency management plans should include:
- Mass casualty response procedures,
- Expansion of training programs for all emergency response teams--fire, police, medical, and spill hazards and provision of equipment.
- Provision plans for potable water to adversely affected communities in case of widespread contamination of drinking water supplies, up to and including urban centres.
- Evacuation routes and procedures within one mile of any hazardous chemical manufacturing, Marcellus and Utica natural gas well, or natural gas processing facility,
- Identifying the location and informing relevant urgent care center and hospitalization service providers, including instructing providers on how to treat hazardous materials exposure related to natural gas production and processing.
- Quarantine procedures for contaminated agricultural products and livestock,
- Hazardous materials cleanup protocols for all chemicals used in drilling and underground wastes that flow back following “fracking.” This includes radioactive materials such as uranium,
- Prompt notification of residents in case of emergency,
- Actionable steps residents and businesses can take to protect themselves in various accident and exposure scenarios,
- Prompt notification of hunters, anglers, and trappers who have obtained licenses within a hazardous spill affected region,
- Prompt notification of service sector businesses and institutions including tourism, restaurants, and hotels, in order for them to inform their patrons. This can be accomplished by compiling updated lists of countywide chamber of commerce members.
- State-certification and placement of well control specialists in the vicinity of all drilling operations in case of blow out, alarm, or fire,
- An online public database for the approved routes of “fracking” chemical, equipment, and waste transportation, and relevant emergency information. School bus routes should be negotiated as a priority for road usage.
- The formation and training of civilian monitoring groups in every affected region that can report unusual or suspicious activity related to natural gas production.
- Notification in local media, public hearings, and comment periods where and when drilling will occur, and what pipelines, and compressor stations will be needed where and by when, not just for public officials.
The production of these comprehensive emergency management plans should be performed independently of the natural gas industry and any institution that receives financial support from the natural gas industry, including Penn State University. Ideally, the supporting scientific studies will be peer-reviewed.
Funding for the production and delivery of these comprehensive emergency management plans can be garnered via an impact fee, extraction tax, or graduated income tax on top wage earners in Pennsylvania, which would include natural gas industry executives and barons.
Well Site Emergency Management
The most probable location for major emergencies will be at the well sites themselves. Generally, the industry prefers 40 acre spacings between well pads with six to ten wells per pad. Each well pad requires construction using heavy logging and construction equipment that is usually rented from local machine dealerships. A drill rig is brought in to drill the well. Following the removal or repositioning of the drill rig, equipment for hydraulic fracturing is moved in, including hazardous chemicals by train and truck. The standard well requires an average of five to nine million gallons of water per stage of hydraulic fracturing and as many as 28 stages, as performed by Equitable Gas (EQT) on a 2.5 mile long horizontal well in 2010. Most Marcellus wells average around 10 “fracking” stages.
Much attention has been given to the issues and dangers that can arise on well sites and drillers have willingly coordinated local responders’ training programs with PEMA. Most of the local responders in rural areas will be volunteers without proper equipment to handle major emergencies including blowouts, chemical infernos, and spills. As the industry scales up operations, there is no evidence to show that they will also increase well control capacity, leaving no guarantee that in case of simultaneous accidents or well blowouts there will be expert responders on the scene.
“Sixty thousand wells could be drilled on between 6,000 and 15,000 new well pads (there are currently about 1,000) , depending on how many wells are placed on each pad. Gas development will occur in at least half of the state’s counties, with the densest development likely in 15 counties in southwest, north central, and northeast Pennsylvania,” according to an informed scenario analysis entitled “Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment,” performed in November 2010 by the Audubon Society, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy – PA Natural Heritage Program, and Nature Conservancy - Pennsylvania Chapter. Report: www.nature.org/media/pa/tnc_energy_analysis.pdf
Provided with the report is an interactive map that shows existing Marcellus wells, and projected wells for low, medium, and high levels of development. Below are examples of the imagery. Interactive Map: maps.tnc.org/paenergy
High development scenario
Close-up of Bradford and Tioga counties at high levels of development. Each pixel is a well pad that consists of an average of six to ten Marcellus wells per pad.
The shear quantity of drilling operations that is about to occur, multiplied by the immense opportunity for human error using sensitive equipment, the chance of mechanical failure, the high pressure used to fracture the shale layer, the toxicity of chemicals used on-site, chance of wildfires, lightning strikes, flooding, and tornadoes, and the flammability of materials on-site make the total magnitude of possible disaster not only enormous, but extraordinarily likely over the brief, yet active, lifespan of Marcellus development.
June 7, 2010, Atlas Energy Marcellus well blowout, Moundsville, WV
The New York Times reported that an industry-funded study of blowout preventer tests found that equipment failed 62 times out of every 90,000 tests. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE2D91730F932A15755C0A9669D8B63&pagewanted=all
If this is true, as a conservative estimate, and the number of wells predicted in Pennsylvania will be 60,000 wells, hydraulically fractured an average of 10 stages each, that would be 600,000 instances of high pressure stress that could cause a blowout from the well head and require the use of a blowout preventer. Using the 62/90,000 ratio, there is a significant chance that dozens more blowouts will occur, endangering the lives of workers, surrounding residents, and habitat.
Flames continued to light the sky late Monday at a natural gas drilling site on Beam's Lane, about 3.5 miles east of Moundsville off U.S. 250 where seven workers were injured Monday. A section of U.S. 250 had to be shut down after the explosion sent fire about 75 feet into the air.
The gas will continue to burn off for two to three days, Kristi Gittins, spokeswoman for Dallas, Texas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, told the Associated Press.
As it does, a team from Texas-based Wild Well Control, a company that specializes in rig fires, is moving out damaged equipment. Once those workers can safely reach the well, they will cap it, Gittins said.
The explosion occurred at 1:15 a.m. Monday. Marshall County 911 dispatchers received a call from a resident who said they had heard an explosion. A few minutes later another call was received from a worker at the drilling site confirming the explosion and large fire.
Moundsville Volunteer Fire Chief Danny Holmes said his crew arrived at the scene within minutes, but discovered no drilling company employees. Holmes said before emergency responders arrived, the injured men had gotten into private vehicles and were taken by co-workers to local hospitals. Four of the men drove to Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale for treatment, while three others drove to Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling.
All of the workers were later transferred by ambulance to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh. By Monday afternoon, two of the workers had been released. The five others remained hospitalized in fair condition.
One of the injured, who was questioned by sheriff's deputies while receiving treatment at Reynolds, was able to give some information about the events leading up to the blast, said Marshall County Chief Deputy Kevin Cecil.
"There were seven workers on the drill, changing a drill bit, when they started to hear what they described as a loud rumbling," Cecil said.
Before the crew could evacuate the drilling pad, the explosion occurred, Cecil said.
Twenty fire department crews and two emergency management teams from Marshall and Belmont counties were called to the scene to battle the fire. Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said firefighters could only get within about 1,000 feet of the flames. Officials from the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection, OSHA and Consol Energy also were at the site, Hart said.
The fire presents no danger to any structures or people, said Bill Hendershot, an inspector with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas.
Gittins said the drilling crew works for Union Drilling Inc. of Buckhannon, W.Va. The company was contracted by Chief Oil & Gas to drill for natural gas through an abandoned coal mine owned by Consol Energy, Gittins said.
Marshall County Commissioner Jake Padlow said the land is the site of the former Alexander Coal Mine.
Gittins said workers had been drilling in the area for several days before the explosion. She said the workers had drilled to a little deeper than 1,000 feet when they hit a "shallow pocket" of methane gas in the mine. Gittins said something ignited the gas, resulting in a large explosion.
On Monday evening, Gittins commended local emergency responders.
"They did a great job securing the area," Gittins said.
She said the company has brought in "well control personnel" from Houston-based Wild Well Control to continue efforts to extinguish the fire and determine the cause.
"Our well control specialists have deemed the site secure," Gittins said. "The pad site is contained and the rig is disabled. The well is still flaring, which is actually what you want to see happening.
"The well control personnel are currently clearing equipment from the site to better assess the fire. The plan is to extinguish the fire but it could take two to three days."
Chief Oil & Gas currently has 15 gas wells in West Virginia and has been drilling in the Marcellus Shale for a decade without any major incidents, Gittins said.
U.S. 250 was reopened at about 2:30 p.m. Monday, but officials are asking county residents to stay away from the area as much as possible while crews are still working.
The operation was less than a week old when the blast occurred: DEP records show a permit was issued June 2 to AB Resources PA LLC of Brecksville, Ohio.
Gittins said AB Resources is the operator of the well, while Chief has a "participation interest." It is Chief's responsibility to drill and complete the well, she said.
Methane is a known risk when working near old mines, and the company typically takes a variety of precautions, including venting systems. Gittins could not immediately say what precautions were in place at this site.
Prentice Cline, OSHA's assistant area director in Charleston, said blowout preventers are typically required on gas rigs.
But DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the Union rig didn't have one because it hadn't yet reached a depth where a blowout preventer is required. When the accident occurred, it was still drilling a hole through rock, not pumping gas.
OSHA cited Union Drilling in 2009 for alleged workplace safety and health violations found at a New Salem, Pa., worksite. Penalties totaled $54,600.
Monday's explosion is the latest in a string of accidents related to the rapidly growing pursuit of Marcellus gas.
In Pennsylvania, environmental regulators are investigating what caused another well to spew explosive gas and polluted water for about 16 hours last week until it was brought under control. That company, EOG Resources Inc., has been barred from drilling until an investigation is complete and necessary changes made.
To further an analysis of worst case scenarios on well pads, it is helpful to understand what risks the drillers themselves report to their shareholders in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings to avoid lawsuits. Here is an excerpt from Chesapeake Energy’s 2010 10-K filing.
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORPORATION AND SUBSIDIARIES
2010 ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10-K
Section 1A. Risk Factors
Natural gas and oil drilling and producing operations can be hazardous and may expose us to liabilities, including environmental liabilities.
Natural gas and oil operations are subject to many risks, including well blowouts, cratering and explosions, pipe failures, fires, formations with abnormal pressures, uncontrollable flows of natural gas, oil, brine or well fluids and other environmental hazards and risks. Our drilling operations involve risks from high pressures and from mechanical difficulties such as stuck pipes, collapsed casings and separated cables. Some of these risks or hazards could materially and adversely affect our revenues and expenses by reducing or shutting in production from wells or otherwise negatively impacting the projected economic performance of our prospects. If any of these risks occurs, we could sustain substantial losses as a result of:
• injury or loss of life;
• severe damage to or destruction of property, natural resources or equipment;
• pollution or other environmental damage;
• clean-up responsibilities;
• regulatory investigations and administrative, civil and criminal penalties; and
• injunctions resulting in limitation or suspension of operations.
There is inherent risk of incurring significant environmental costs and liabilities in our operations due to our generation, handling and disposal of materials, including wastes and petroleum hydrocarbons. We may incur joint and several, strict liability under applicable U.S. federal and state environmental laws in connection with releases of petroleum hydrocarbons and other hazardous substances at, on, under or from our leased or owned properties, some of which have been used for natural gas and oil exploration and production activities for a number of years, often by third parties not under our control. For our non-operated properties, we are dependent on the operator for operational and regulatory compliance. While we may maintain insurance against some, but not all, of the risks described above, our insurance may not be adequate to cover casualty losses or liabilities, and our insurance does not cover penalties or fines that may be assessed by a governmental authority. Also, in the future we may not be able to obtain insurance at premium levels that justify its purchase.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association released a report the PA DEP recorded 1,614 violations of state Oil and Gas Laws due to gas drilling or other earth disturbance activities related to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale in the 2.5-year period from 1/1/2008 to 8/20/2010. The Association identified 1056 violations as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. http://conserveland.org/violationsrpt
In conclusion, the following pages include a dossier of articles regarding a myriad of accidents and tragedies that have occurred related to Marcellus development for your reference. If you would to have an incident further analyzed or need more information, feel free to inquire.
DISCLOSURE: It is the position of the author that Marcellus Shale development in its current form should be immediately ceased under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution which states, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
In addition, the author believes that drillers should be ordered to pay for responsible remediation of all drilling and related industrial sites, the compensation of property owners who have lost the value of their homes and land due to drilling and natural gas infrastructure, the permanent provision of potable water to all adversely affected communities, and the health care costs incurred following exposure to drilling chemicals and waste present in the air and water.
Instead of spending an estimated trillion dollars on a temporary, destructive, risky industry, Pennsylvanians ought to be compelled by past experience with environmental destruction and the loss of manufacturing to develop long-term sustainable, renewable energy solutions and industry.
The recommendations presented heretofore are to mitigate the insolvable problem of risk to public health, industry workers, and the environment related to hydraulic fracturing for as long as it persists. This precludes additional economic and ideological concerns that are not presented here.