Marcellus Advisory Commission Daytrips Through Gasland

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley, Chairman of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, took members on a tour of Lycoming County recently. They visited several Anadarko drilling sites, spoke with residents who have gas wells on their properties, and met a plastic liners manufacturer who, like so many business owners is seeing his gas-drilling related sales and services explode. The Commission is comprised of “key stakeholders” including experts from the environmental community, natural gas industry, local government representatives and state government officials. The trip was arranged by the Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce.
“I want commission members to see for themselves how the growing natural gas industry is affecting Pennsylvania and its communities,” Lt. Gov. Cawley said. “This experience will be helpful as we begin work to finalize our recommendations to the governor.” SOURCE: PAEnvironmentDigest

NOT Featured on the Tour: Site of XTO’s Toxic November Spill

Not included on the Lt. Gov’s agenda was the XTO Energy well pad in Penn Township, Lycoming County where a massive spill occured in November 2010. As many as 13,000 thousands of gallons of hydrofracturing fluid may may have leaked from tank valve which had been left open for an indeterminate period of time. The spill was discovered by an alert DEP Field Inspector. No one was else present at the well site at the time.

Initial field meter readings showed elevated levels of conductivity and salinity in the spring and unnamed tributary. Conductivity measures water’s ability to carry an electric current, while salinity measures the dissolved salt content in water. Elevated levels of both are indications that spilled fracking fluid is present.  SOURCE: Pike County Courier

XTO Energy hired cleanup contractor Minuteman Response, who spent several days on-site vacuuming spilled fluids and excavating soil. A fence was installed to prevent a neighbor’s cattle from grazing in the pasture area. DEP inspectors collected soil and water samples, and tested a tributary to Sugar Run as well as 2 private drinking wells for possible contamination. XTO has not yet provided an explanation for the open valve, however, they later asserted that it was not frack fluid but produced water which was released, and that it was closer to 4,200 gallons.

The Commonwealth takes seriously its responsibility to ensure the development of natural gas in a manner that protects the environment and safeguards the health and welfare of its citizens.  SOURCE: Governor Tom Corbett, Executive Order to Form the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission
Cawley’s Lycoming Tour wasn’t intended to be an environmental impacts tour, however, if the Commission is truly taking its charge in earnest, then shouldn’t there be one? The executive order also states in its purpose:
…the responsible development of natural gas resources will position the Commonwealth in the global marketplace as a world leader in energy supply and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

A pretty ambitious agenda for a single gas-producing state! It remains to be seen whether its implementation will bring flourishing communities together in fruition, or fracture them, along with the land, irreparably. The 30 member commission has formed several smaller workgroups who are making individual, concurrent recommendations. The next meeting of the work groups, many of which have already submitted their reports, is on June 6, 2011. The Commission must complete its recommendations by July 22.

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