Axiall Plant needs Brine from Salt Wells

‘Near-catastrophic’ blowout leaves chem firm wary

From an Article by Ken Ward, Charleston Gazette, October 22, 2014

As the Tomblin administration considers a plan to allow natural gas drilling under the Ohio River, a major chemical maker in Marshall County has been fighting a proposal for hydraulic fracturing near its plant, citing a “near-catastrophic” gas-well incident last year that might be linked to geologic conditions beneath the river.

Atlanta-based Axiall Corp. has been waging a legal battle to stop Gastar Exploration from fracking natural gas wells that Gastar had drilled on Axiall property under leases Gastar obtained from PPG Industries, the former owner of Axiall’s chlorine and caustic soda plant at Natrium, located along the Ohio near the Marshall-Wetzel county line.

Axiall says it is concerned about a repeat of an August-September 2013 incident it blames on high-pressure fracking fluids being used by another company, Triad Hunter, to release natural gas from the Marcellus Shale at a well site on the other side of the river.

In court documents, Axiall lawyers say increased underground pressure from the fracking at Triad Hunter traveled under the river and somehow made contact with brine wells Axiall uses to obtain saltwater, one of the key materials used in its manufacturing process. Axiall says those pressures led to a blowout in which one of its brine wells at its plant “began spewing flammable natural gas.”

No injuries were reported, but parts of Axiall’s brine production were closed for more than six months for repairs and the company had to set up several large flares to burn off excess natural gas. Axiall was “fortunate to have been able to limit the environmental impact of the Triad Hunter incident and avoid bodily injury or loss of life due to a natural gas explosion or other disaster,” the company says in court records.

In a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania, Axiall lawyers asked that Gastar be forced to conduct far more extensive underground investigations to determine if its gas operations pose a threat of a similar incident, and that it be required to submit more detailed plans for avoiding any damage to the Axiall facility.

“Gastar’s plan to blindly stimulate these wells by injecting fluid at extremely high pressure in order to ‘rubble-ize’ the Marcellus Shale is careless, dangerous, shortsighted and in breach of the lease agreement that permits Gastar to explore for and extract oil and gas in that area,” lawyers for Axiall subsidiary Eagle Natrium LLC argued in court filings.

Axiall lawyers said the company “supports the responsible development of natural gas” but that “extra care must be taken” when operating in the vicinity of its saltwater wells, which “are essential to the continued operation of a billion-dollar chemical plant that employs 500 people.”

Lawyers for Gastar responded that the company had “carefully studied and planned its drilling and fracturing operations in the Marcellus Shale” and that “potential” or “possible” risks were not enough to warrant the “sweeping, mandatory injunction” that Axiall sought.

On Tuesday, Allegheny County Judge Christine Ward issued a two-page order that denied Axiall’s motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Houston-based Gastar from fracking wells at the Natrium site. The order said a more detailed court opinion would be filed later.

Mike McCown, chief operating officer for Gastar, said his company is pleased with the decision “as we have continually believed the allegations were without merit.” Axiall officials would not comment on the decision or on whether the company plans to appeal.

The legal battle between Axiall and Gastar comes amid continued citizen concerns about the effects on the environment and on small, rural communities of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and production boom in Northern West Virginia.

In recent weeks, critics of the boom have focused their attention on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal to lease rights for private companies to drill and produce natural gas from state-owned reserves under portions of the Ohio River.

One of three areas targeted by the administration for potential lease runs along Marshall County, about two miles upriver from the Axiall facility. A second of the areas targeted for potential leasing is just south of the plant and includes about a half-mile of area that Axiall has identified as being within its “area of concern” about drilling, said Deputy Commerce Secretary Joshua Jarrell. Jarrell said another area of the river, located just alongside the plant, was initially being considered for lease but was withdrawn from consideration — at least for now — until the issues being raised by Axiall are resolved.

Jarrell said officials from his agency met with the state Department of Environmental Protection and with Axiall to discuss the company’s concerns.

“We certainly took them seriously, and under advisement,” Jarrell said Wednesday. “We certainly want to see anything with regards to development done safely and reasonably.”

Jarrell said any agreements the state makes for leasing under the river would require drilling companies to obtain permits from the DEP, and that the state would consider additional language that specifically requires the issues raised by Axiall to be resolved to the DEP’s satisfaction.

“[The] DEP is the agency that is going to evaluate the safety of the process, and we would certainly defer any of those questions to them,” Jarrell said.

James Martin, chief of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas, said Wednesday that Gastar had obtained three permits in the area of the Natrium plant before the blowout incident. Gastar also has other permit applications pending at the facility and was identified by the state as the high bidder on the river section Axiall is most concerned about, state officials said.

Martin said his agency is looking at its options for adding some conditions to the three existing permits to require additional safety precautions by Gastar.

“We’re looking at that, and we’re considering whether or not some measures need to be taken to minimize the likelihood of something like that happening,” he said. “At this point, our expectation is that there would be no operations take place until we get done what we need to do with the conditions or an order.”

The Axiall plant’s operations date back to the 1940s, when the facility was opened to tap into a huge salt deposit located far beneath the surface. The plant uses salt mined from these subsurface deposits to produce chlorine, caustic soda and hydrogen, as well as hydrochloric acid and calcium hyperchloride.

In February 2011, then-plant owner PPG issued a news release announcing that it had reached agreement with Gastar on a lease that would eventually involve more than 30 natural gas wells on the Natrium property. Gastar would hire additional employees for the work, and PPG estimated the deal would generate for it about $50 million over 30 years, including an initial payment of $10 million.

“When developed responsibly, Marcellus Shale resources represent a fantastic opportunity in our region to promote jobs and secure an abundant source of U.S.-based energy for our homes and our businesses,” Michael McGarry, PPG’s senior vice president, said in the release. “We are pleased to be working with Gastar Exploration on this exciting project and believe that this development continues to demonstrate PPG’s commitment to the long-term sustainability of our Natrium plant.”

Axiall purchased the Natrium facility from PPG in January 2013, and plans for the natural gas drilling continued — until the blowout incident.


HELP! — Our Biosphere is being replaced by an Econosphere

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

When I was about 16 and began to drive, I noticed the yellow spots on the map, and how much space they occupied. These were cities, of course, too densely developed to draw in the streets at the scale of whole-state road maps.

The world I grew up in consisted of the farm where Dad made our living and which provided most of our diet, thanks to Mom’s hard work with help from the three children. It was a great green continuum in all directions broken by houses and by the 30′s and some paved roads. By the 40′s strip mining was in progress, but it was understood the strip jobs would return to trees and grass in a decade or so. Cities were something else, large areas covered with concrete, roofs of metal and shingles, and a lot of bare spots. Later I learned about pollution from garages, chrome plating shops, and the huge amount of sewage towns produce.

This growth process in time lead to understanding what is called “environmental services.” We are essentially part of an ancient system, the organic world. Every atom of our bodies comes from the natural organic world through the food we ingest. When we die, we return to it, in spite of the effort we civilized folk make to delay the return. As a famous book says, we “come from the dust and we return to the dust,” this is through the ancient cycle of life.

Think of how it works: the atoms needed for our bodies are widely dispersed in the surface of the earth. Plants are able to gather them for their own use, and we eat the plants, or eat animals which have eaten plants. The part of the food we do not need is returned to the earth in our waste (when we live in a state of nature). When we die, the atoms of our bodies are also returned to the earth (again if we live in a state of nature). This system has served millions of species for a very long time. More microorganisms than you can imagine mediate it. We simply cannot exist without supplies from these natural processes for our food, and largely for our clothing and our shelter.

Our civilization separates us from the natural world. Stone age people continued to live in it, and many in the civilized world lived very close to it until recently, but much of today’s world has lost track of the organic necessity. One of the stories told here on Jesse Run is about a young couple that moved here from town. The husband told his wife he wanted to get a cow, so they could have milk. She replied, “I don’t want no milk that comes from a cow.”

Our offal is carefully carried to a sewage treatment plant where it is decomposed to the mineral state, with only a little fertility left in the sludge. Our artifacts go into a landfill. Our bodies are preserved in such a way it is difficult to return to the organic world. We extract what we need by organic means and then discard it in a way that it is not returned to the organic world. Mining and dumping. Our use of energy produced hundreds of millions of years ago by organisms using energy from the sun is prodigious.

Worse, our mining methods infringe on the organic world, green space, whatever you want to call it. This organic world is responsible for clean water, timber, food, oxygen in the atmosphere, and disposal of organic waste. What would the world be like if the dead dinosaurs and other species hadn’t decomposed and returned to be reused time and again?

We humans have been tremendously successful. The total weight of the seven billion of us is greater than most species. Some 350 million tons, as of 2012. The only species to exceed us in weight are bacteria, ants, marine fish (total), domestic cattle and termites. All whales (ten species) come in with only 40 million tons.

Another statement seen in the press lately is that the human race has doubled in the last 40 years and the total number of animals has dropped by half in the same time!  Shocking?

How long can this go on? Population rise is inexorable. Famines and plagues and wars are only a temporary setback. Look for a graph of population rise over the centuries. For several hundred years people have been talking about the “carrying capacity” of the earth, the maximum number of people can live here, followed by the same number of people generation after generation. Malthus in 1798 is given credit for the first written account of the idea. When the limit has been approached for one technology, another has been found. Potatoes and corn from the New World have supplemented cabbage and wheat, which poor North Europeans lived on.

There was a graph of the population of China vs. Time over many centuries published several years ago in Science. There was a series of stair steps of increasing population. Each was labeled with the introduction of a new foodstuff. Far back in time was millet, then dry land rice, then wetland rice. More recently, maize (which we call corn) and potatoes.

Also, fertilizer is making a difference, but we cannot count technology to go on forever. And, the population curve is rising.

I’d like to see a map with the yellow extended to houses, industrial areas and their pollution, buildings and roads of all kinds and all development. I’d like to know just how much land has been removed from production by civilization. I’d like to know how much each industry is killing the natural world, and how our “environmental services” are being reduced by them. We need to know. This kind of “return on investment” is both unknown and uncounted.

In the absence of such a map, the best we can do is get on Google Earth and “fly” over the earth at a low level. Stay a couple of thousand feet above the surface and move around. If you do this and learn to identify the “development,” you’ll be amazed at how much of the earth’s habitable surface is already preempted by what I call the “econosphere”, and lost to the biosphere.


WV Eastern Panhandle Officials Move to Block Marcellus Wastes

October 22, 2014

WV Senate Rules Committee Moves to Ban Marcellus Waste from Eastern Panhandle From an  Article by the Editor,, October 21, 2014 The West Virginia Legislative Rule Making Committee yesterday moved to close a loophole in state law that would have allowed radioactive Marcellus shale waste into the LCS Services Landfill in Hedgesville, West Virginia. [...]

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Court Records Show PA-DEP Uses Incomplete Air Pollution Data

October 21, 2014

Pennsylvania studies on shale-site air emissions incomplete, according to court documents From an Article by Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, October 20, 2014 Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus Shale gas development sites in Pennsylvania omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more [...]

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The Coal and Gas Industries Continue to Damage our Land and the Public Health

October 20, 2014

Wake Up West Virginia Before It ‘s Too Late! Commentary by Maria Gunnoe, Regional Coordinator with OVEC, October 18, 2014 It seems to me that someone somewhere would see the errors in the ways of the gas and coal industries in the Appalachian region.  Surely the people that live with these nightmares aren’t the only [...]

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Gas Industry Truck Issues Surface on Roads and Bridges in PA and WV

October 19, 2014

Marcellus Shale truck safety summit proposed in Pennsylvania From an Article by Emily Petsko, Washington PA Observer-Reporter, October 14, 2014 Photo: Pieces of a damaged section of Pollocks Mill Bridge in Jefferson Township (PA) fall away as an overweight tanker truck is extracted from it recently. Photo by Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter.  Order a Print Two [...]

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Sunday School 108 — Human Activities are Destroying the Earth’s Diverse Life-Support Systems

October 18, 2014

World Wildlife Fund’s state of the planet report reveals alarming and avoidable biodiversity loss From an Article by Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams, September 30, 2014 Human activity has brought the planet’s life-supporting systems to the brink of tipping points, causing an “alarming” loss in biodiversity and critical threats to the services nature has [...]

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Major Study of the Environmental Costs of Fracking

October 17, 2014

The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking This  new study has been published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 39, pages 327 to 362, 2014. Authors — Robert B. Jackson (Stanford), Avner Vengosh (Duke),  J. William Carey (Los Alamos),  Richard J. Davies (Newcastle UK),  Thomas H. Darrah (Ohio State),  Francis O’Sullivan (MIT), [...]

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Marcellus Gas Well Pad Fire in Tyler County During Flowback Operations

October 16, 2014

Ten Local Fire Departments Extinguish Fire on Noble Energy’s Shirley 1 Pad From an Article by Fred Connors, Wheeling Intelligencer, October 16, 2014 Alma, WV – Fire departments from four counties responded to a gas well pad fire Wednesday on WV Route 18 near Centerville. Tyler County EMA Director Tom Cooper said today, Tyler County [...]

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Small Study May Have Big Answers on Health Risks of Fracking’s Open Waste Ponds

October 15, 2014

A first of a kind study from West Virginia will help Americans inside the fracking boom understand the dangers of exposure to VOCs Article by Zahra Hirji, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News, October 10, 2014 When Mary Rahall discovered that oil and gas waste was being stored in open-air ponds less than [...]

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