PGC says no game lands gas windfall

Harrisburg – At a time when the natural gas industry,
landowners, local governments and other state agencies are bracing
for an economic boom from an unprecedented wave of natural-gas
drilling, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials recently took
great pains to contend the phenomena wouldn’t solve the agency’s
financial problems.

In a presentation at the commission’s headquarters Aug. 8 –
which seemed to be in direct response to claims made by lawmakers
and sportsmen that natural-gas revenues should rescue the of
Agricultural Sciences.

“Decades ago, we weren’t careful with coal mining. As a result,
we are still paying huge sums to clean up acid-mine drainage from
that period, and we will be for a long time,” said Bryan Swistock,
water resources specialist with Penn State Cooperative Extension.
“We need to be careful and vigilant, or we could see lasting damage
to our water resources from so many deep gas wells being drilled
across Pennsylvania.”

This latest wave of gas-well drilling is unlike other previous
exploration because the wells are so deep, tapping the Marcellus
shale formation, which is a mile or more below the surface of much
of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York.

Scientists have known for years the gas was there, but it wasn’t
until new drilling technology was developed that it could be
extracted. This method uses hydraulic pressure to fracture the
shale layer so trapped gas can escape.

“Fracking, as they call it, can require several million gallons
of water for each gas well, and some wells may be fracked more than
once during their active life, which might span more than a
decade,” Swistock explained.

“Where that water comes from, and what the drillers do with it
when it is recovered, is a big issue for our state. The fracking
water can have various chemical additives along with natural
contaminants from deep underground when it comes back to the
surface, so it needs to be collected and treated or recycled
properly.”

In other states, fracking water has been found to contain
numerous hazardous and toxic substances, including formaldehyde,
benzene and chromates. Most municipal sewage-treatment plants can’t
or won’t accept gas-well waste fluids. Another potential hazard
from gas-well wastewater is the release of radon and other
naturally occurring radioactive materials, noted Swistock.

”Radioactive substances are not uncommon in Pennsylvania
groundwater to begin with,” he said, adding that the waste fluids
that come with gas production also may contain high levels of salt,
various metals such as iron and manganese, and traces of barium,
lead and arsenic.

“Although highly diluted with water, the proper treatment of all
gas-well waste fluids is a big issue that needs to be
addressed.”

People who live close to gas-drilling operations should have
their water tested by a third-party, DEP-approved lab, said
Swistock.

While contamination from waste fluids is one concern, another is
where the companies will get all of the fresh water they need for
drilling and fracking. Swistock warns that taking too much water
from headwater streams may disrupt sensitive aquatic
ecosystems.

“Our mountain streams, many of which harbor wild trout, are
precious resources and we cannot allow them to be dewatered to
dangerously low levels,” he said. “Two drilling operations in
Lycoming County recently were shut down by the state Department of
Environmental Protection because they were drawing huge volumes of
water from small streams in violation of the Clean Streams
Law.”

Complicating the water-usage issue is differing oversight across
the state. Both the Delaware River and Susquehanna River Basin
commissions require permits from well drillers who plan to withdraw
large amounts of water. The Ohio River basin currently has less
oversight.

Growing up in Indiana County, Swistock saw both the benefits and
negative effects of gas-well drilling. “The economic impact can be
tremendous, and the environmental effects can be minimized if we
are careful,” he said. “The newer, deeper drilling in the Marcellus
shale is different than the gas-well drilling we are accustomed to,
and it’s happening very quickly.

“We need to adapt our regulations and strengthen our regulatory
agencies to make sure we are prepared to protect our water
resources.”

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