Unconventional Gas Wells’ Impacts are Increasing
From the Article by Eric Poole, Ellwood City PA Ledger, December 27, 2013
Note: This is the second in a series focusing on the top stories of 2013.
The fracking revolution was late arriving in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. But it’s here now.
Hydraulic fracturing — the practice of extracting natural gas from shale rock by pounding the underground shale with specially treated water — isn’t a new process. For several years, drilling companies have been fracturing along the Marcellus Shale layer, which runs from upstate New York through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania into Kentucky.
Production from fracturing is regarded as a central cause of a glut of natural gas and a decline in utility costs.
In Lawrence County — the state’s seventh-smallest in total area and smallest in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale play — didn’t get its first operating well until 2011. But it’s been growing quickly ever since. Well companies added 18 more wells last year in Lawrence County and 12 this year, according to records provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The wells are becoming more ubiquitous, particularly in the county’s rural regions. And the industry’s presence is being felt in other ways, for good as well as bad. In 2012, Ellwood City leased borough-owned property for drilling. This year, borough officials decided to use most of the initial lease payment to pay off a decade-old bond issue for repairs to Veterans’ Memorial Swimming Pool.
Supervisors in North Beaver Township approved plans to build a gas-powered electric plant, which is expected to go on line in 2016.
But not everyone in the area is pleased by the arrival of fracking in Lawrence County. Maggie Henry, a North Beaver Township farmer, has participated in several protests against hydraulic fracturing facilities, including a well less than a mile from her house.
Henry said fracturing — particularly the chemically treated water used to break underground shale deposits — pose a pollution and safety threat to residents near the natural gas wells.
One of Henry’s nightmare scenarios took place Aug. 1 along Pleasant Valley Road in Perry Township. A combination of early-morning light rain and exposed road tar conspired to force a truck carrying fracturing water off a road into a meadow, where it dumped much of its load. The water compound had a similar makeup to antifreeze, according to Wurtemburg-Perry Township fire personnel. The spill required removal of contaminated soil at the site, although no one was injured.
Drilling companies are in the process of building an infrastructure to deal with the natural gas being extracted in Lawrence and surrounding counties. There are more than 200 wells in neighboring Butler County. Plans are under way to build not only the electric plant, but also a pipeline network to carry natural gas.
This week, the owners of property earmarked for a natural gas refinery in Beaver County said Shell’s oil and gas department has extended its option to purchase the site.
And, as 2014 looms, the impact of drilling is expected to continue growing. Under current state law, the state’s Public Utilities Commission receives fees from drilling companies. Those funds are disbursed to counties and municipalities based on the location of individual wells.
The 12 wells initiated this year will be reflected in payments to the county next year. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Marcellus play that uses a fee system. All other states use a severance tax. And, if Ellwood City officials get their way, this state will soon change.
In December, Ellwood City Council adopted a resolution recommending the state change to a severance tax. However, Gov. Tom Corbett campaigned for office in 2010 on a platform that included opposition to a severance tax. Corbett is running for re-election this year, so repealing the fee in favor of a tax won’t happen until 2015 at the earliest.