Thursday, August 15, 2019

FracTracker Alliance Report Catalogs Land Impacts Of Unconventional Gas Drilling In Pine Creek Watershed, Northcentral PA

On May 9, 2019, nearly two dozen people descended on the Pine Creek Watershed in parts of Clinton, Lycoming, Potter and Tioga counties for the purpose of cataloging the impacts of the unconventional oil and gas industry and related infrastructure on the landscape.  
The result was a digital atlas showing the information they collected in the field and other research.
Pine Creek Watershed is known as a nature-based tourism destination and part of the national and state Wild and Scenic River systems.  It includes the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968.
The watershed is also part of the 12-county Pennsylvania Wilds recreation and tourism region.
The 979-acre watershed was broken up into 10 impact zones, which were mostly determined by concentrations of known sites such as well pads, compressor stations, retention ponds, and pipeline corridors.
Some people brought cameras and specialized equipment to Pine Ceek, such methane sensors and global positioning system devices. 
Participants were encouraged to try out the FracTracker Mobile App, which was designed to allow users to communicate and share the location of oil and gas concerns. 
Earthworks brought a FLIR infrared camera, which can capture volatile organic compounds and other pollutants that are typically invisible to the human eye.
Among the information assembled in the report is--
-- Number Of Natural Gas Wells: There are currently 554 active wells-- 529 unconventional and 25 conventional, although a total of 1,374 permits have been issued to drill wells.
-- Land Cleared For Pipelines: A minimum of 515 acres cleared for the known gas pipeline routes in the region
-- Compressor Stations: There are 26 compressor stations in the watershed.
-- Drilling Operator Violations: Between October 22, 2007, and April 24, 2019, the Pennsylvania DEP issued 949 violations to unconventional oil and gas operations within the Pine Creek Watershed. Altogether, 816 out of the 949 violations (86 percent) issued in the Pine Creek Watershed were likely to have an impact on either surface or groundwater in the region. 
Two sites have more than 50 violations each, including the Phoenix Well Pad, with 116 violations in Duncan Township, Tioga County, and the Bonnell Run Hunting & Fishing Corp Well Pad in Pine Township, Lycoming County, with 94 violations.
-- Water Use/Facilities: 850,648,219 gallons of water used to frack wells in the watershed between 2013-2017.  There are 60 water-related facilities for oil and gas operations active within the watershed in 2019, including two ground water withdrawal locations, 20 surface water withdrawal locations, and 38 interconnections, mostly retention ponds. 
This dataset does not include limits on the 22 withdrawal locations, however, one of the surface withdrawal sites was observed with signage permitting the removal of 936,000 gallons per day.
 If this amount is typical, then the combined facilities in the watershed would have a daily capacity of about 20.6 million gallons, which is about 27 times the daily residential consumption within the watershed.
-- Drilling Waste: There were 37 sites in the Pine Creek Watershed that accepted liquid waste between 2011 and 2018. Of these sites, 30 (81 percent) were well pads, where flowback from drilling may be partially reused.
One single site-- the Hydro Recovery LP Antrim Facility in Pine Township, Lycoming County-- accounted for the majority of liquid waste disposed in the watershed, with 6,622,255 barrels (278,134,704 gallons.)   This amounts to 98.8 percent of all liquid waste that was not reused at other well pads.
Wastewater is also spread on roads in some communities, as a way to suppress dust on dirt roads.  3,001 barrels (126,050 gallons) of liquid waste have been used for road spreading efforts in regions intersecting the watershed in Ulysses Township, Potter County, and across private lots and roads throughout Potter and Tioga counties. 
Note that these figures include waste generated from conventional wells, which have different legal requirements for disposal than waste from unconventional wells, despite a similar chemical profile.
There are three facilities that have accepted solid oil and gas waste in the watershed, including a small one operated by Environmental Products and Services of Vermont (55 tons), Hydro Recovery LP Antrim Facility (10,415 tons), and Phoenix Resources Landfill (900,094 tons). This includes 200,808 tons in 2018, which is close to the previous peak value of 216,873 tons accepted in 2012.
Dick Martin, Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition and a board member of the PA Environmental Defense Foundation said in the report, “Over a century ago, pollution was seen as the price to be paid for a job in timbering or mining.  Some politicians seem to want a return to those bad old days by gutting some of our reasonable regulations that protect our air and water. Here, as in the rest of the Marcellus gas play, our politicians are not protecting our air and water as mandated in Article 1, Section 27 of our State Constitution.”
Melissa Troutman, Research & Policy Analyst, Earthworks and Director of “Triple Divide.” Journalist, Public Herald, commented, "In the last ice age, glaciers came from the finger lakes area into Pine Creek. This made the soil there very deep and rich– in fact, people come from all over to study that soil. The Pine Creek area could be a mecca for sustainable agriculture. There is great soil, excellent water, and plenty of space for wind and solar. Under the right leadership, this region of Pennsylvania could feed people in a time when climate resilience is so urgently needed.”
Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance, said, "The Pine Creek region retains a primeval grandeur – an alluring wild spirit of great pride and significance to our state. Natural gas development has – and will further – compromise the natural and experiential qualities of this special place. For the benefit of Pennsylvanians today and tomorrow, extraction must be replaced by cleaner forms of energy and conservation values made preeminent."
(Photo: A 2016 Google Earth Map showing gas well drilling sites near Little Pine State Park in Lycoming County.)

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