New Factsheet on Marcellus Shale Drilling for PA Citizens (and others!)

Posted on December 2, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

We’ve been following the Marcellus Shale drilling debate as its unfolded in Pennsyvlania. Despite the election of a Republican Governor who has promised no new taxes, its important to continue pushing for stronger regulations on drilling (specifically, fracking) for gas in this region. Fracking certainly has implications beyond Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale reaches into the Chespeake Bay watershed.  Below is factsheet for citizens written by Elaine Lapp Esch, a concerned Pennsylvania Citizen. 

**UPDATE 2/2/2011: Check out Elaine’s Op Ed in the Lancaster Times.

Download the factsheet here: PA Marcellus Shale Fact Sheet December 2010 or read below.

A Pennsylvanian’s Fact Sheet: Marcellus Shale Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas

Marcellus Shale gas production is a big deal.  Pennsylvania is sitting on the largest onshore reserve of natural gas in the world.  It is estimated to contain 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, located over a mile underground and trapped within porous shale.  Gas wells have existed in PA for many years but were drilled into much more shallow deposits of gas that didn’t need refinement and could be used onsite.  Many landowners signed mineral rights leases with the old method in mind.  However, the technique used to obtain shale gas is vastly different and has a much greater environmental impact. 

 A well is bored 5,000-8,000 feet down (5,280=one mile) then turned horizontally into the shale and bored up to two miles more.  Holes are blasted in the horizontal pipes and water, sand and chemicals forced through at high pressure to fracture the shale and allow the gas to escape.  This is called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.  Each well can be fracked around 10 times.  Productivity is huge at first (average of 4,300 million cubic feet per day) but drops off about 75% after the first year.  The lifespan of a well is about 8 years.  Wells sit on 5-acre excavated well-pads, and each well-pad can support up to 8 wells. 

Each well requires approximately 1,000 truck trips to complete.  Telescoping well casings must be surrounded by concrete to prevent leakage into ground water and aquifers.  Each frack requires 4-8 million gallons of water, with about 40% of that coming back up as “flowback” – heavily contaminated hazardous waste.  This is stored onsite or piped to “evaporation pits” until moved to an underground injection well, treated and re-used or (vast majority) treated and discharged to surface water.     

The first Marcellus Shale gas well was drilled in 2004.  In 2005, the industry successfully lobbied Congress to have fracking exempted from regulation by the EPA’s Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.  This made it more lucrative.  In 2007, 99 permits were issued in PA, 519 in 2008, 2985 in 2009, and 2108 up to 9/1 in 2010.  Penn State University estimates that 30,000 wells will be drilled within 10 years.  (The map shows wells up to 9/1/10 – about 4736 wells.)



  • WATER CONSUMPTION:  The Susquehanna River Basin Commission currently has issued approvals for drillers to withdraw 91 million gallons of water per day (MGD) from streams, rivers and lakes – arguably PA’s purest mountain water.  Requests will likely increase as permits increase.  The Ohio River Basin has approved over 48 MGD.  This is considered CONSUMPTIVE use (leaving the water cycle) with about 4 million gallons per frack (10 fracks per well, 30,000 wells) staying underground. 
  • WASTEWATER:  The approximately 2 million gallons of flowback per frack (10 fracks per well, 30,000 wells) cause most of the environmental disasters.  In PA there are 841 documented cases of ground water contamination – mostly flowback and sometimes gas.  Most are caused by leaking evaporation pits, which don’t even work in PA because of our high humidity and rainfall.
  •  MISLEADING INFO:  The Bureau of Gas and Oil Management issued a statement in their 2010 report that they are not aware of fracking impacting freshwater sources.  This is only true in that the shale fracturing itself has not been attributed to any freshwater contamination.  The truth is that in 841 documented cases, some aspect of the shale gas removal process has contaminated ground water.
  • AIR POLLUTION:  Gas is known to be a clean-burning fuel.  This does not take into account the 1,000 truck trips per well, the vapor rising off evaporation pits (which has been documented to contain benzene which is immediately carcinogenic) or the leaks in both wells and pipelines.  In the Texas region of Barnett Shale, emissions from the process were significantly more than the region’s airports and slightly more than on-road mobile emissions. 
  • WASTEWATER TREATMENT:  The flowback that has been treated and discharged to surface water has been found to have high levels of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) – mostly salts from ancient underground sources.  This is not monitored closely and caused the destruction of 26 miles of Dunkard Creek as well as elevated levels in the Monongahela River – showing up in drinking water.  Dilution is the only “treatment”, but if more water is withdrawn from our rivers to dilute what is put into our rivers, it doesn’t make any sense (or work) in the long run. 
  • DESTRUCTION OF LAND:  The excavation and disturbance of ecology required to create well-sites is changing the landscape of our wild lands and farmland.  Projections in Bradford County conclude that there will be one 5-acre well-pad for every square mile of land.  Over 700,000 acres of state land has been leased with projections of 6,500 gas wells on that land, as well as pipelines.
  • POLITICAL PROTECTION OF THE GAS INDUSTRY:  PA does not tax the gas extracted.  We are the only gas-producing state without a tax at a loss of over $500 million for 2011 alone.  Instead, PA taxpayers have and will continue to shoulder the costs of infrastructure and environmental clean-up (such as $12 million for public water in Dimock, PA where well water was contaminated by drillers.) 


Hydraulic fracturing has been an economic windfall for some residents and areas of PA.  Because of this, a moratorium on drilling is highly unlikely (although it’s been done in NY) but proceeding with caution is necessary.  PA needs to pace itself so that it is not overwhelmed and so that drilling and water use can be monitored thoroughly.  We need to get our act together and plan for the future so that we’re not left with a boom-and-bust ghost town in the long run.  Here are a few reasonable steps:

  • Impose a gas tax of at least 5%.  
  • Uphold the current moratorium on leasing additional state land, and limit the number of wells drilled on state land so that it is not ruined.
  • Restrict water withdrawals from our rivers, lakes and streams – and charge reasonable fees. 
  • Require 100% re-use of flowback water. 
  • Ban evaporation pits and wastewater pipelines. 
  • Enact air quality controls. 
  • Mandate full chemical disclosure and ban the use of benzene and diesel fuel.    

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[…] become so abundant is that a new extraction technique has opened up once unaccessible reserves. Fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into a well to force […]

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