Marcellus Shale Resource Page

Central to WSKG's mission is engaging citizens in thoughtful consideration of news and issues of importance to our communities. Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is just such an issue. This webpage seeks to highlight reporting done both locally and nationally, from the public broadcasting community and other trusted sources.

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    From the Marcellus Shale Coalition, via

    As you may know, the Duke study released this week is a follow-up to a paper issued by the same researchers in May 2011. In sum, that paper claimed that the closer a private water well is in proximity to a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in northeast Pennsylvania, the more likely it is that methane is present in said wells. That study sampled 60 private water wells (NOTE: Their sampling was not conducted at random, rather a “sample” water well universe was generated through word of mouth and other non-random means.) and was widely reported by local and national media, spurring more conversation about water well quality in Pennsylvania.

    Again, and not to overstate the fact, Duke researchers did not perform pre- and post-drilling/fracturing analysis, thus they cannot – and have not – proved causality between levels of methane present in private water wells and natural gas production activities.

    The study led by Robert Jackson of Duke University also found increased methane levels that were likely from natural sources. But the highest levels were near drilling sites.

    From NBC News:

    In the case of methane, concentrations were six times higher in some drinking water found within one kilometer of drilling operations.

    "The bottom line is strong evidence for gas leaking into drinking water in some cases," Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told NBC News. “We think the likeliest explanation is leaky wells,” he added.

    And methane wasn’t the only contaminant detected:

    In addition to the higher methane concentrations, the new study documented higher ethane and propane concentrations. Ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well. Propane was detected in 10 samples, all from wells within one kilometer of drilling.

    All the gases appear to be fossil in origin. “That is the point of the ethane and propane analyses in the paper,” Jackson said. “Those are gases that are not generated by microbes” that can live in the ground and affect well water.

    The researchers also conducted chemical analyses of hydrocarbon and helium that suggest the gas found in some instances comes not just from the ground, but from leaky steel pipes used in the extraction system, Jackson added. 

    "If you have a casing leak (in the tubing), you might expect to see other things through time," he noted, "not just the gases, but whatever is coming up out of the well."

    The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a link between drinking water contamination and hydraulic fracturing for the first time in a 2011 report. That report said the chemicals used in the fracturing process may have migrated through rock and into the drinking water wells of homeowners nearby.

    Two years later, after intense criticism of their findings, the EPA is handing the study over to Wyoming officials.

    From Bloomberg:

    State officials will now investigate the integrity of gas wells owned by Encana Corp. (ECA) near 14 domestic water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming, while the Environmental Protection Agency stops further work on its draft report from 2011, which linked groundwater woes to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas. While EPA said it stands by its data, that preliminary finding is now effectively abandoned.

    “EPA’s decision to not rely on premature conclusions in its 2011 draft report is a positive and wise step,” Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso said in a statement. “I am confident that our state agencies will work hard to get the people of Pavillion the answers they deserve.”

    Complaints from ranchers and homeowners in the rural Wyoming town have taken on national significance as the EPA findings were seized on by critics of fracking to illustrate the risks of the drilling technique. EPA tests found evidence of methane, ethane, diesel-range organic compounds and phenol in test wells it drilled, results that were criticized both by Encana and state regulators.

    Now those state officials will be replacing the EPA, and Encana will be providing $1.5 million in funding for the state’s work and for a public-education effort.

    To get an idea of the problems that have swirled around this study and the EPA’s concern that their original findings were misrepresented from the beginning, this frequently updated post from the pro-fracking site Energy in Depth is a good place to start.

    Pennsylvania environmental groups pressure Gov. Corbett on disclosure

    From the Scranton Times-Tribune:

    The Times-Tribune reported May 19 that DEP determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012. This article was based on examination of a cache of nearly 1,000 letters and enforcement orders written by DEP officials and obtained by the newspaper through a Right-to-Know request.

    The determination letters are sent by DEP to water supply owners who ask state inspectors to investigate whether oil and gas drilling activities have polluted or diminished the flow of water to their wells.

    Inspectors declared the vast majority of complaints - 77 percent of 969 records - unfounded, lacking evidence to tie them definitively to drilling or caused by a different source than oil and gas exploration, like legacy pollution, natural conditions or mining, the article reported.

    One in six investigations across the roughly five-year period - 17 percent of the records - found that oil and gas activity disrupted water supplies either temporarily or seriously enough to require companies to replace the spoiled source.

    In response to the newspaper’s findings, state environmental groups are asking Gov. Tom Corbett to name a new secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, the position has been vacant for two months, and to clarify how many confirmed cases of water contamination there are in Pennsylvania.

    According to the Times-Tribune, former DEP secretary, Michael Krancer, said in April that there were only 25 cases of water contamination from drilling.

    The study began in 2010 at the request of Congress, and a progress report was released at the end of 2012. But no conclusions were drawn about how much of a threat fracking poses to drinking water.

    During a conference on shale gas in Cleveland this week, the EPA’s coordinator of hydrofracking research, Jeanne Briskin, said a preliminary report will be released at the end of 2014.

    From the Akron Beacon Journal:

    Briskin outlined what her agency has done so far and the work that still must be completed. It is sampling water in two drilling counties in Pennsylvania plus in Colorado, North Dakota and Texas.

    Nine energy companies and nine drilling-supply companies have cooperated with the EPA research, and 1,000 chemicals have been identified as being used in the fracking process, Briskin said.

    The EPA’s work is among the three ongoing studies that New York’s Department of Health is looking at as it considers whether to allow fracking in New York. Officials have said that the state will not need to wait for this and other large-scale studies to be completed before making a decision.

    According to a report in the Press-Sun Bulletin, Binghamton University’s endowment fund is contesting the validity of its five-year-old lease with Oklahoma-based driller Chesapeake Energy.

    In a May 10 letter to Chesapeake, the BU Foundation demanded to be released from the lease based on the grounds that it had expired, according to records in the county clerk’s office.

    Chesapeake’s regional land manager, Bree Nelson, on May 20 responded by filing an affidavit in the county clerk’s office contending “the lease remains in full force and effect.” The company did not respond to questions for this report.

    The dispute is centered on claims the “force majeure” clause in the lease was triggered because high-volume hydrofracking has been on hold in New York since 2008, allowing the company to extend the lease due to unforeseen circumstances.

    In two cases decided in 2012, Chesapeake and another driller were defeated in court cases challenging the same argument, known as force majeure, that New York’s hold on fracking justifies an automatic renewal of mineral leases.

    Chesapeake is also the target of lawsuits brought by landowners who accuse the company of unjustified reductions in royalty payments.

    New questions raised about industry - environmental collaboration in Pennsylvania

    According to a report by the Public Accountability Initiative, officials at the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CCSD) in Pittsburgh have more ties to industry than initially reported. The center was founded to establish guidelines and certify fracking companies as ‘safe and environmentally responsible.’

    The PAI report calls into question whether their findings will be independent:

    The major philanthropic force behind CSSD, The Heinz Endowments, has significant, undisclosed ties to the natural gas industry. The foundation has contributed more than $250,000 to CSSD, providing funding to every environmental group involved as well as to CSSD itself. Heinz Endowments president Robert F. Vagt is currently a director at Kinder Morgan, a natural gas pipeline company, and owns more than $1.2 million in company stock. This is not disclosed on the Heinz Endowments website or the website of CSSD, where Vagt serves as a director.


    Environmental sponsors with CSSD board seats are closely linked to the natural gas industry. Although five environmental groups were involved in the discussions leading to CSSD’s creation, only three have seats on the Center’s board of directors. One of the groups on the CSSD board, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, is controlled by fracking interests: half of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s board comes from Marcellus Shale Coalition member companies and all but two directors come from companies with a stake in the natural gas industry. Another group on CSSD’s board, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has significant board and funder ties to the natural gas industry and has lent its name to studies proclaiming fracking to be environmentally safe that were later discredited. The third, the Clean Air Task Force, has ties to the industry through several board members.

    According to the Western Pa.-based news website, the Times Online, one official at the center has acknowledged that his ties to the industry make him less-than-ideal for the position he holds:

    In May, The Times reported that CSSD’s interim director, Andrew Place, was also the corporate director of energy and environmental policy at EQT Corp., a company that had nearly 80 billion cubic feet of natural gas production in the Marcellus shale in the first quarter of this year. This connection was also included in the PAI report.

    Place also openly shared his EQT ties with The Times and said that ultimately his position as interim director of CSSD “should not be held by someone whose paycheck is written by a gas company.”

    From the Pittsburgh Business Times:

    A policy paper from the right-leaning Allegheny Institute for Public Policy estimates that royalty income paid to land and mineral rights owners in Marcellus Shale play have skyrocketed in recent years as activity has ramped up to an estimated $731 million last year.That’s up from an estimated $10.9 million in 2008.

    Or for a different perspective, in 2008 royalty payments, when Marcellus exploration was still new, accounted for about 0.002 percent of the state’s personal income, which totaled at the time $513 billion, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis. Last year, these royalty payments accounted for 0.13 percent of estimated personal income, which was about $556.7 billion.

    Gathering pipelines, like the one pictured above, are often not registered with Pennsylvania’s call-before-you-dig agency. As drilling continues to expand in the Marcellus Shale, and more and more pipelines collecting gas from each well are buried, just below the surface in Pennsylvania is beginning to look like a “bowl of spaghetti,” as one drilling executive put it.

    According to the Valley News Dispatch:

    Todd Kunselman, a geologist with Snyder Brothers, told the South Buffalo Township Planning Commission in March that the company did not intend to register the line with PA One Call because the law doesn’t require it.

    He said it would be too costly to register the 1,000 feet of gathering lines that run between each of the company’s 3,500 wells.

    “The amount of One Calls we’d have to do (because of inquiries), we’d have to hire 10 guys just to handle that,” Kunselman said.

    Drillers in Pennsylvania slow to report chemicals used in fracking

    According to Energy Wire:

    Colorado and Pennsylvania are two of about a dozen states that require or allow disclosure through the privately run FracFocus website, and they were chosen by EnergyWire as representative. FracFocus has come under increased scrutiny after a study by Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law and Policy Program said it “fails as a regulatory compliance tool” and said states shouldn’t use it (EnergyWire, April 23).


    The well-by-well records made available to the public on the FracFocus website do not include the date they were filed. So it can’t be determined from the FracFocus site itself whether a report was filed on time.

    But the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC), which runs the site, regularly sends Excel spreadsheets of the data to state oil and gas agencies with filing dates and other data.

    EnergyWire obtained the spreadsheets for 2012 through open records requests to the state agencies in Colorado and Pennsylvania.

    Disclosure became mandatory April 1, 2012, in Colorado and April 16, 2012, in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, there were 684 reports filed between May 1 and Dec. 31 for wells fracked after May 1. Of those, 165 were late, or 24 percent. In Colorado, there were 1,440 filings between April 1 and the end of 2012, and 305 were late, or 21 percent.

    The attorneys for Norse Energy and for a landowner in Middlefield have filed a request with the Court of Appeals to hear their case against local drilling bans.

    The judges can reject the case because the lower court ruled unanimously against the plaintiffs.

    And according to Gannett’s Jon Campbell, if last year is any indication, the case will probably not make it to the seven-judge panel:

    Statistically, the chances of the Court of Appeals accepting the appeals is small. Of the 999 requests for permission to appeal to the court in 2012, just 64 were granted, according to the Court of Appeals’ annual report.

    A study released this month by the sustainable business advocacy group Ceres found that 47% of the 25,000+ wells analyzed were drilled in areas with high or extremely high water stress. Meaning that nearly half of the wells were fracked in areas where at least 40% and sometimes more than 80% of the available water was already being used by the public, farms or industry.

    The study looked at wells drilled between January, 2011 and September, 2012, with Texas and Colorado seeing the most fracking in areas with high water stress.

    Cuomo expects fracking decision before 2014 election

    In a meeting with the Syracuse Post-Standard’s editorial board, Gov. Cuomo said he thought the Department of Health would have made a recommendation by now:

    Cuomo, a Democrat in his third year, says he’s waiting for the results of a review by his state health commissioner, Dr. Nivah Shah. Those results should be ready within several weeks, Cuomo said Wednesday during an editorial meeting with The Post-Standard and Syracuse Media Group.

    "I expected it to be concluded already," Cuomo said, adding that Shah has said the review of potential health effects from the deep drilling method should be done in the next several weeks. "It’s not in the distant future. But it’s not done yet."

    From The Hill:

    It’s not clear whether any officials on the panel read this study from Duke University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and, according to the school, the subject of 1,700 media stories worldwide.

    The NY State Assembly passed a two-year moratorium on fracking in March. The bill is now sitting in the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

    According to the Times-Union, it’s not clear whether the moratorium will ever come up for a full vote:

    Its prospects are unclear due to the unprecedented power-sharing arrangement in which Republicans wield power in the chamber with the four-member Independent Democratic Conference. Their compact gives both Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, respectively the leaders of the GOP and IDC conferences, a veto over what legislation makes it to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

    With a few exceptions, Senate Republicans are eager to see fracking, which involves the use of a large amount of water and a small brew of chemicals to break up gas-bearing rock, move ahead in the massive Marcellus Shale region along the state’s Southern Tier. Environmentalists and industrial groups have spent years arguing about the technique’s potential economic and natural impacts.

    The IDC has introduced its own moratorium bill, but their version would leave the decision in the hands of the Cuomo administration:

    The IDC’s David Carlucci has introduced a bill that would block the technique for two years, or until the state Health Commissioner has determined that sufficient research on its potential health impacts existed to make a recommendation to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is finalizing its regulatory blueprint on hydrofracking.

    Carlucci’s bill has yet to make it to the floor.

    "All four members of the IDC stand behind Sen. Carlucci’s bill," said IDC spokesman Eric Soufer. “In the meantime, we have not received any indication that the governor has imminent plans to move ahead with hydrofracking.”

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