Monday, September 28, 2009

Pennsylvania orders shutdown of natural-gas 'fracking' projects after three spills

Three spills of gel-like lubricant in a week have led the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to suspend Cabot Oil & Gas Co.'s natural-gas drilling projects in Susquehanna County. The spills at the Heitsman well site in Dimock Township polluted a wetland and caused a fish kill in Stevens Creek, George Basler of The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin in New York reports. Cabot uses chemicals under pressure to fracture deep, tight shale beds to produce gas, a process called "fracking."

"We don't think the action is necessary because we felt we were responding appropriately," Cabot spokesman Ken Komoroski told Basler. Cabot shut down the Heitsman operation voluntarily after the third spill. The DEP order required Cabot to develop an updated and accurate pollution prevention and contingency plan in 14 days and conduct and engineering work study of all their operations in 21 days. (Read more) For background on fracking, click here.

The Press & Sun-Bulletin has been reporting on the fracking controversy in the region along the states' border for a while now. In a Sept. 19 story about the disparities between Pennsylvania and New York in development of the Marcellus Shale gas play, Tom Wilbur wrote of Dimock: "Royalties tend to be uneven and inconsistent, depending on which wells happen to be producing at a given time and the price of natural gas." Water contamination problems have also become commonplace in Dimock, Wilbur reports, adding the DEP has installed purification systems in some homes affected by the drilling, but Cabot has denied responsibility in others.

Residents of Sanford, N.Y, have had a different experience with Marcellus drilling. They formed a landowner coalition that negotiated a $2,400 an acre and 15 percent royalties price for drilling rights, Wilbur reports. In Dimock many residents sold their rights for $25 an acre or less and state-minimum 12.5 percent royalties. New York has suspended permitting for Marcellus wells while its Department of Environmental Conservation reviews the environmental impact of fracking. Meanwhile, many Sanford residents say bring on the drilling. Local D'Layne Chamberlin, owner of a thriving farm helped largely by gas money, told Wilbur: "I'll help them drill the first six feet." (Read more)

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