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This is in response to your (Honorable John Hanger, Secretary of Environmental Protection) recently published "open letter to the citizens of Susquehanna County."
Contrary to the numerous misstatements contained in your letter, to our knowledge Cabot has publicly identified a permanent solution to the alleged methane migration problem for the affected Dimock residents. Indeed, Cabot offered to drill a new water well for all affected residents and install state-of-the-art water filtration and venting systems for all of those families. The one resident that permitted implementation of this permanent solution now has what may be the best water in the area. We understand that Cabot is also prepared to offer other solutions should any particular property or properties warrant.
Unfortunately, several of the remaining residents have refused to permit Cabot to remedy their problems. Is it a coincidence that those residents also happen to be plaintiffs in a class action filed against Cabot? We think not. That class action is not our concern. The imposition of an arbitrary public works project contrary to fundamental planning processes including the absence of any meaningful public participation or consideration of alternatives is our concern as is ethical, competent, nonpartisan execution of duties by our State officials.
Your open letter also made several commitments with respect to the outcome of an as-yet-to-be-filed, taxpayer-funded lawsuit against gas developers in the region. Predicting the results of non-existent litigation is not exactly something the taxpayers of Pennsylvania can take to the proverbial bank. Alert Pennsylvania taxpayers should have fears that they will both initially and very possibly permanently be forced to foot the bill for a $12 million waterline that would serve only a handful of residents and appears to be totally unnecessary. That is $12 million of PENNVEST assets that will indefinitely not be available for seriously needed projects. Are you representing the best interests of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in this matter or has your apparent close cooperation with the class action plaintiffs blinded you to the public's compelling interest in transparent well thought out decision making? At a public meeting last evening one of those plaintiffs noted that you promised them Cabot would pay for the pipe line and you convinced them it was the only way to go.
Regardless of the audience, Mr. Secretary, while you have the ability to threaten litigation against Cabot, you have no ability to deliver a desired outcome, particularly because the scientific case you made has been contradicted by experts at Penn State as well as within your own Department. Isn't it time to put politics aside, stop staging offensive media events and instead seek to serve a constructive role as a facilitator of installation of reasonable permanent and appropriate water quality treatment solutions offered by gas developers at their own cost? Finally, if you believe you have serious scientific evidence to support assertions that such solutions are inadequate, your Department ought to be prepared to present such evidence in the course of public processes evaluating options before committing to a no-bid, secretly conceived pipeline project. There is no predicate for PENNVEST to act on November 9, 2010 on the "emergency" application you have caused to be filed. It represents an outrageous compromise of the processes established to ensure the integrity of funding public projects. Please have the application withdrawn.
William A. Aileo
Thanks, Cabot Oil And Gas
I am writing to inform you of the recent completion of my new well on my property in the PADEP defined “affected area” of Dimock, PA. After my old well tested high with methane and barium, Cabot began delivering water to my home. Little did I know that Cabot’s geologists were hard at work to find a suitable water source on my property. Cabot drilled a new well approximately 200 feet from the old well location, and 200 feet deep. Cabot found water with minimal barium and methane. This well proves that there are other viable, cost effective solutions to high methane levels than a multi-million dollar pipeline. I would like to thank Cabot Oil and Gas for solving my water problems, including those that were present long before drilling in Dimock.
A Tragic Rift
We've already been living through some of the negative effects of drilling for natural gas. Now, to make things worse, a tragic rift in our community is opening. The "Enough is Enough" group repeats the gas company statement that methane has occurred in wells in our area for generations - with the implication that the local families whose water has been ruined are lying. Yes, we have natural methane seeps here and there, but plenty of wells never had problems, and it’s well-established that the process of drilling opens new paths for migration of gas and other elements. The average water well depth in Susquehanna County is under 250 feet, while DEP has identified the "fingerprint" of the Carter Road contamination originating much deeper. And there is video of gas bubbling up faulty casings in the gas wells. It's hard to imagine Cabot winning a lawsuit, given the evidence.
Why doubt the honesty of your neighbors? What possible motive could they have had to want water from a plastic tank for 2 years - during which Cabot's record of spills made even pro-drilling people cringe? How can it be "greedy" just to want safe water - when it’s those accusing others of "greed" who candidly admit they profit directly from the drilling boom?
Not to worry about water contamination say the gas drillers. We are assured that it is impossible for fracturing fluids to migrate up through thousands of feet of solid rock to contaminate underground water.
Au pardon, sirs. Rather, it is impossible for fracking fluids not to pollute aquifers.
The technology behind fracturing rock horizontally with a thick, gooey slurry of liquid was established some thirty years ago. Prior to the '80s gas companies would sink a vertical shaft into a coal seam, pump in fracking fluid under high pressure to pry open cracks and fissures in the coal bed. This would release the methane or natural gas.
But the amount of methane released in a vertical wellbore would barely cover the cost of the drilling. Then it was discovered that if the wellbore was directed to turn horizontally into the coal layer and run for several thousand feet, the amount of freed methane would increase by several orders of magnitude.
Yet the largest natural gas deposit in the lower 48 underlying New York and Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale, remained untapped. Why?
The gas is trapped in a hard, dense layer of shale, very difficult to fracture. Until recently the gas companies were unaware that the Marcellus was already fractured. In fact, it had the ideal type of fractures, vertical ones, perfect for releasing and capturing huge quantities of methane.
With little or no environmental regulations, no state taxes, lax supervision, and gas-friendly politicos, the drillers had all their ducks lined up. The Marcellus is cocked to become the 21st century's counterpart of the l848 California gold rush. Not with trains of Conestoga wagons, but with convoys of drilling rigs hauled by heavily capitalized gas companies all the way down to mom-and-pop miners, the bottom feeders.
The miners have only to blast open existing cracks to release the gas. But the fracking fluid must be forced into these fissures under immense pressure because of the extreme depth of the Marcellus.
In northern PA, the Marcellus is 3,000 feet deep on the west. Hopscotching over to the east, it increases to 9,000 feet. The pressure needed to break apart the shale bed corresponds directly to the depth. At 3,000 feet, a psi of at least 4,000 and up is needed to overcome the external pressure of the overlying rock and break apart the dense shale.
At the upper end of 9,000 feet, pressures as high as 15,000 psi are smashed into the shale. That's equivalent to slamming the shale with the force of a bomb.
A well can be fracked as many as a dozen times. Each time fracking fluid is forced into the splits under tons of pressure extending the cracks for thousands of feet in all directions. (Where angels fear to tread, miners rush in; they don't live here.)
The drillers cite the fact that Marcellus shale is impermeable to liquids and does not threaten the aquifers thousands of feet above it. That's a yes and a no.
A block of Marcellus shale is indeed impermeable, but the Marcellus Shale layer is not monolithic; it has cracks and fissures. Given the titanic pressure propelling the fracking liquid, this toxic slush will be forced into every crack, especially the vertical ones where the pressure decreases with height.
There's another critical unknown about the Marcellus: earthquake faults. This charted and uncharted web of vertical faults riddle New York and PA. These, as well as the naturally occurring and frack-amphified vertical cracks in the Marcellus, provide ideal channels for the fracking fluid to migrate up.
Following the route of least resistance to pressure it will seek out pathways that will eventually drive it to destinations unknown: springs, wells, lakes, rivers, fresh water aquifers - almost anywhere.
Will that happen? Can it not happen? Forewarned is forearmed.
If drilling starts within a half a mile from your home, have your well water tested by a certified lab. Have the most complete test you can afford, one that will stand up in court. Pocono Labs is one.
Consider purchasing a gravity-fed, counter-top, ceramic water filter, one with a carbon filter. Big Berkey is one of the best. It will remove just about everything including volatile organic chemicals.
Some say we can have both, gas drilling and clean water. Maybe they're right. But pumping 15 million gallons of poisoned water into the ground every day causes one to wonder: What if they're wrong?
New Milford, PA
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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