LAWRENCE, MERCER COUNTIES —
Despite frigid temperatures, about 25 people attended a meeting of the Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties at Westminster College's Field Station.
"We're just really trying to raise awareness," said Carrie Hahn of the self-described fracking watchdog group, which met last Tuesday and formed in November 2011 with a small number of New Wilmington area residents.
They were concerned about gas/oil companies looking to sign lease agreements with their neighbors to drill in the Marcellus Shale, which is abundant here.
The shale lies thousands of feet underground, and contains natural gas that is being tapped for energy through hydraulic fracturing. The drilling occurs vertically, then horizontally, and millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand are injected into the shale to fracture it at high pressures to draw out the gas.
Fracking has spurred a boom in natural gas drilling in 34 states; it's creating jobs, and landowners signing on can receive thousands of dollars per acre. But it's also raising concerns about the toll on the environment and public health. Opponents worry how the process could affect the earth and water, especially with the infusion of the water/chemical/sand mix. Gases raise worries of air pollution.
In 2010, Josh Fox's award-winning documentary "Gasland," was released, and recently aired on HBO. The industry responded with "Truthland," which was followed by "Promised Land," filmed in western Pennsylvania and starring Matt Damon. The pro-industry "Frack Nation" aired on television in January.
Fracking Truth wants to do its part by educating members and offering information, resources and awareness to others, said Hahn, of Volant, who led the meeting.
"We were heavily active last year," she said.
The group opposed New Wilmington school officials' consideration of leasing public property for fracking, which went through in May.
"When we lost that battle, people got depressed," said Hahn, who also passed out an anti-fracking petition from Penn Environment.
Fracking Truth members do not believe that public land should be used for fracking, and Hahn spent a recent Sunday driving to and from Harrisburg to deliver nearly 5,000 petitions to a Pennsylvania State Game Commission hearing. The commission days later decided to allow fracking at the state game lands in Pulaski and at three other sites (see story below).
Lawsuits are being filed in shale regions by residents who claim their properties have been destroyed by fracking. Debbie Lambert, of Darlington Township in Beaver County, spoke Tuesday about how to take legal action, alleging that unethical attorneys have taken advantage of some residents.
Lambert said she and her neighbors sought counsel from an attorney who has won nuisance lawsuits, which are less expensive and easier to prove than scientific lawsuits, she said.
Lambert said that noise, dust, smell and vibrations from a fracking operation in her neighborhood "took away my American dream. Now I want to move. That's a nuisance."
The former insurance broker has done standard tests on her water, which has seen a small increase in contaminants not within the dangerous range for consumption, but she says she still won't drink it.
Hahn noted that gas/oil companies drilling within 1,000 feet of a home are required to test residential wells, but the tests are "very basic."
She handed out information from Appalachia Water of Hallstead, Pa., which offers several tiers of water tests, which range from $545 to $860 plus travel and accommodations. That's $250 less than industry standards, she said after the meeting.
"You have to do it before they frack," Hahn added, so any potential problems down the road can be traced.
Susanne Bobosky of Pulaski Township is the first member to see changes in the color of her drinking water coming from her well, within two weeks of fracking that occurred more than a mile away.
"I'm not saying it is fracking," she said, and baseline tests she's done on her water have turned out fine. She's just worried now, since her water hadn't been discolored in the years she's lived there.
Last year, the Lawrence and Mercer County Alliance for Aquatic Resources Monitoring (ALLARM) of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. worked with Fracking Truth to train people how to monitor water quality in lakes and streams. The group would like to bring ALLARM back this year.
They are baseline tests for contaminants commonly associated with drilling, and if they rise at dangerous levels, the state Department of Environmental Protection would be contacted to do more sophisticated tests to see if an operation is harming water sources.
"We have a lot of springs here we want to protect," Hahn said.
Dr. Helen Boylan, a Westminster College associate chemistry professor, worked with her students Tyler Umstead and Lance Jubic, to put together an ALLARM web site at https://sites.google.com/site/lawrencecountyallarm/ to record water testing done by people who have been trained.
The website also has feature articles and links, including drilling sites in Mercer, Lawrence and Butler counties that can be seen via Google satellite maps.
Hahn, a farmer whose land is surrounded by Amish properties, wants the quiet community to reject fracking; in part to protect her own land, which she discussed in an interview by OnEarth Magazine for a January feature called "Fracking the Amish," which can be found on the ALLARM website. It talks about the ideas and potential impacts of fracking in farmlands around the Amish community - including the new Hurtt well pad that can be seen from Rodgers Road in East Lackawannock Township. The entrance to the rig on Drake Road is restricted.
A number of Amish spoke anonymously Friday to Allied News about living close to the lighted drilling rig, which towers above the trees that surround it.
Many said that the tower - although a bit of an eyesore - does not bother them and a low humming sound could be heard "if the wind blows right."
One Amish man said the one rig wasn't as loud as shallow wells drilled in the area over 20 years ago, and operated by diesel compressors. He cited reading he had done about fracking, believing it to be good for the community "so we don't have to rely on the Arabs."
He said residents didn't complain so much when the smaller wells came in as much as the bigger one now in his neighborhood, noting that the current drillers were "very professional."
A Rodgers Road resident said the site was louder on some days than others, and may make tools jingle a little in his work shed. At night, the light is bright from the operation - which isn't pleasant - but doesn't shine in his bedroom because the shed blocks it. He's not thrilled about having the monstrosity so close, he added, but figures the rig will not be there forever. "It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be."
The man has heard different estimates of how long the well will operate. A number of wells can be put on each well pad.
But as Lambert said at the meeting, "You haven't seen the infrastructure yet," she told the group. "You haven't seen the ignorance of the pipeline people. I have...It's a nightmare. This is just beginning here. It's going to get a whole lot worse."
According to the Associated Press, an ongoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on natural gas drilling and its potential for groundwater contamination won't come out until late 2014. But a 275-page progress report in December shows that the EPA doesn't plan to address one contentious issue - how often drinking water contamination might occur.
The EPA had planned to do both computer simulations of water contamination and actual field tests at drilling sites. But the agency hasn't found a drilling company to partner with to test groundwater around a drilling site, the AP said. The progress report says the EPA is studying the possible impact on drinking water at several stages of the fracking process: when water is drawn from reservoirs or underground sources and used for fracking; when a chemical mix is injected into the ground to break up rock; when wastewater from fracking is disposed of; how the drilling wells and wastewater-storage wells are constructed; and the potential for toxic fluids to migrate from deep underground to near-surface drinking water supplies.
The ALLARM web site: https://sites.google.com/site/lawrencecountyallarm/
Appalachia Water Quality Baseline Testing: 888-240-1984; www.appalachiaconsulting.com
Pa. DEP gas/oil drilling permit update
In 2012 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 11 oil and gas well drilling permits in Mercer County, 102 in Butler County and 35 in Lawrence County, with a total of 2,635 issued across the state, according to reports.
Across Pennsylvania, 226 permits were issued in December, including 23 in Butler County, one in Lawrence County and two in Mercer County.
The DEP awarded permits on Dec. 28 to Hilcorp for two horizontal wells on the James property in Lackawannock Township, along U,S. Route 62 east of Hermitage.
And Halcon Resources was awarded a horizontal permit month to drill a new oil and gas well on the Gallagher property in Greene Township, Mercer County.
Kim Curry, Allied News editor, contributed to this story.
Published Jan. 30, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.