News at RKR Hess

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Publishes Final Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Click here to download a PDF version of this document. 

In December 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the final version of the “Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States” (the “Study”).  This Study is the result of work that began with a scoping document drafted in 2010 and included peer reviews, technical roundtables, and public comments that involved more than 100,000 people. The EPA maintains a repository of information regarding the Study online at www.epa.gov/hfstudy. This repository includes the Final Report from the Study, which can be downloaded by clicking here and then selecting the gray “Downloads” tab and choosing from the following documents:

RKR Hess has been following the progress of the report (here and here) and is pleased to provide a high-level review of the findings, highlights of data and conclusions specifically relevant to Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, and links to additional information. We have maintained figure and text box references to the images pulled from the above reports so that they can be easily found in the context of the original report.

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PA Senators Seek to Lift DRBC Moratorium on Drilling in the Delaware River Basin

A group of Pennsylvania senators is joining in an ongoing lawsuit that questions the authority of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the river basin.

Senators Lisa Baker, Joseph Scarnati and Gene Yaw have filed to join a lawsuit brought by a landowners’ group called the Wayne Land and Mineral Group, LLC (WLMG), according to The River Reporter. The original lawsuit by the landowners sought to reverse a decision by the DRBC not to issue a permit for an exploratory well.

The senators’ motion to intervene questions whether the DRBC has the authority to prevent hydraulic fracturing in the basin. In a motion to join the suit, the senators claim the DRBC has worked around existing Pennsylvania state laws (specifically Act 13), according to the Pocono Record.

The DRBC is a regional body with the goal to oversee management of the Delaware River system across state boundaries. It was created in 1961 as an interstate compact in response to a 1954 Supreme Court decision to settle water use disputes among Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey. The DRBC consists of the governors from the four states and the Division Engineer of the North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The DRBC employs a staff of engineers, biologists, geologists, and other specialists.

In 2010, the DRBC voted to postpone well drilling in the basin until the commission could adopt further regulations.  Proposed regulations were released in 2010, and revisions were published in 2011; however, the DRBC has not voted on final regulations and has not set a timeline for doing so. Until the DRBC approves the regulations, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) will not issue permits for drilling.  Earlier this year, the commission announced that it would hold public hearings in response to public safety concerns surrounding construction of a pipeline that would potentially carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation to interconnects near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Mercer County, New Jersey.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) also filed to join the landowners’ lawsuit, citing a need to ensure that health and safety issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing would be addressed. The DRN is a nonprofit organization created to protect rights to “pure water, clean air and a healthy environment,” according to its website.

The suit is entering the discovery stage, according to the Pocono Record, but a timeline for the process has not been published.

FERC Releases PennEast Pipeline Draft Impact Statement

Public comments are now open on the PennEast Pipeline Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), released in July and prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in cooperation with several other agencies.

The over 1,000-page DEIS examines the possible effects of the 119-mile pipeline, proposed to carry one billion cubic feet per day of natural gas between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Approval of this project would result in some adverse environmental impacts; however, most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of PennEast’s proposed mitigation and additional recommendations in the draft EIS,” the draft states.

The DEIS indicates that the environmental and visual impact of the pipeline would be “effectively minimized or mitigated” based on the project’s current plans. These impacts include disruption to five threatened or endangered animal and plant species located along the 119-mile stretch.

The DEIS concluded that the PennEast Pipeline would “contribute to a cumulative improvement in regional air quality if a portion of the natural gas associated with the project displaces the use of other more polluting fossil fuels.”

Opponents of the pipeline argue that mitigation throughout the project will not be enough to limit the pipeline’s potential damage to the environment.

In a news release addressing the DEIS, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “For those who think that the issuance of this document and the FERC finding that mitigation is enough to address the immense and irreparable harms the PennEast Pipeline would inflict means the project is a done deal, that’s just not the case.”

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have yet to issue Clean Water Act certifications, and the project has not yet been approved by the Delaware River Basin Commission. However, the DEIS cited a November 2017 projected start date for the project, pending all necessary state and agency approvals.

Released on July 22, the draft’s public comments phase will close 45 days later on Sept. 5. That period includes six public comment meetings throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Comments about the DEIS are due to the FERC by September 5, 2016.  There are four ways to submit comments:

  1. For brief, text-only comments, use the eComment feature under the Documents and Filings link at the FERC website.
  2. For longer comments or comments that are in an electronic file, use the eFiling feature under the Documents and Filings link at the FERC website. (You must create an account to use the eFiling system.)
  3. Paper comments should be mailed to:Nathaniel J. Davis, Sr., Deputy Secretary
    Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
    888 First Street NE, Room 1A
    Washington, DC 20426
  4. Public comment meetings will be held to record oral comments. The meetings are scheduled as follows:
  • Monday, August 15, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel & Conference Center
    300 Gateway Drive
    Bethlehem, PA 18017
  • Monday, August 15, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Penn’s Peak
    325 Maury Road
    Jim Thorpe, PA 18229
  • Tuesday, August 16, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Grand Colonial
    86 Route 173 West
    Hampton, NJ 08827
  • Tuesday, August 16, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Peddler’s Village
    (Lahaska and Neshaminy Rooms)
    Routes 202 & 263
    Lahaska, PA 19831
  • Wednesday, August 17, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Best Western Genetti Hotel & Conference Center
    77 E. Market Street
    Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701
  • Wednesday, August 17, 2016
    6-10 p.m.
    Clifford B. Memorial Hall
    1666 Pennington Road
    Ewing, NJ 08618

The Rewards and Risks of Natural Gas Pipelines

A possible 4,800 feet of natural gas pipeline from Delmont, Pa., to Lambertville, N.J., could be completed as early as 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration. The new pipeline would add to the area’s existing 6,800 feet of pipeline completed prior to 2014.  But the benefits and risks of natural gas pipelines are still being weighed against each other as advocates and opponents of the project battle it out in courts of law and the court of public opinion.

In 2005, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods made it possible to capture natural gas from shale. Less than a decade later, in 2014 Pennsylvania became the second-largest natural gas supplier in the country according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

An analysis by Argonne National Laboratory in 2010 indicated that natural gas is the “cleanest burning commercially available alternative fuel,” and the potential impact of a natural gas market is fueled by regional large companies with reliable energy needs. Today, the rate of drilling has surpassed the infrastructure in place to transport natural gas to the market. The DEP estimates that approximately 30 percent of the wells drilled for natural gas have no means for the gas to reach consumers.

In Pennsylvania, the proposed 118-mile PennEast Pipeline would transport that natural gas and serve two states. A study released by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce noted that increased demand in the Philadelphia region, combined with an excess natural gas supply, presents the opportunity for Pennsylvania to become an important East Coast energy hub. The study cited the potential impact the Marcellus Shale industry could have on economic revitalization in the region.

Currently, no single federal or state agency has oversight of pipeline infrastructure.  In 2011, the Public Utility Commission was given the legal authority to conduct safety inspections, but only for pipelines in populated areas (i.e., Class 2, 3, and 4 pipelines).  In 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf created a Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force that held several public meetings. Recommendations from the task force included creating long-term operations and maintenance plans, reducing environmental impact in construction phases, and creating an atmosphere that maximizes the efficiency of permits and reviews. A final report, filed in February by the Pipeline Infrastructure Taskforce, recommended that the next steps include assessing which regulations recommended in the report fall under the state’s jurisdiction.

Safety concerns have become a reality. In May 2016, a natural gas explosion severely burned one person in Salem Township, Pa., and blew a hole 1,500-square-feet in diameter 12 feet deep into the ground. The resulting fire burned approximately 40 acres, according to NPR’s State Impact. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Association issued a corrective order following the incident, citing possible corrosion on the pipeline, which “indicates a possible flaw in the coating material.” Spectra Energy, the company that owns the pipeline, stated that a 2012 inspection revealed no such flaws.

In response to growing safety and land-use concerns, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is conducting multiple public hearings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during its technical review of the PennEast plan. The DRBC is a regional body with the goal to oversee management of the Delaware River system across state boundaries. No meetings are scheduled during 2016, but future meeting schedules will be available on the DRBC website.

New regulations and long-term plans are still under review with both regulatory bodies and legislators. In June, the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved an amendment to exclude conventional drilling companies from proposed regulations for the Marcellus Shale industry, citing differences between how the two methods of extraction operate.  A spokesman for Governor Wolf declined to indicate whether or not the Governor approved of the amendment, and instead expressed the intention to continue working with the legislature on regulations for the oil and gas industry.

RKR Hess Honored With ASCE Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award

ASCE AwardThe Lehigh Valley section of the American Society of Civil Engineering honored the civil engineering team at RKR Hess, a division of UTRS, Inc., for its work on the Aquatopia indoor waterpark at Camelback Resort in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.

The Aquatopia feature of the resort is the largest ever built in a single phase and the largest ski-in/ski-out waterpark hotel in the country, according to Lehigh Valley Business.

Nate Oiler, Engineer and Land Development Section Manager, accepted the Oustanding Civil Engineering Achievement award on behalf of RKR Hess, which shared the award with Geo-Technology Associates, Inc., and G.m.a Structural, LLC.

The construction of Aquatopia included large infrastructure improvements, such as a new pump station to address new sanitation needs with the expanded water systems. Despite the size and scope of the project, several aspects were completed ahead of schedule, and the resort remained open at full capacity thanks to collaboration between all involved.

RKR Hess, the civil and environmental engineering division of Universal Technical Resource Services, Inc. (UTRS), is located in East Stroudsburg, Pa. RKR Hess has an 80-year history of providing the highest quality engineering consulting services to both public and private sectors, maintaining a tradition of excellence and integrity. Our cadre of professionals, which includes Professional Engineers, surveyors, land planners and environmental scientists, provides a broad range of engineering and planning services to meet all our clients’ needs.

EPA Looks to Public for Input on the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public teleconference, run by the Science Advisory Board’s Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, to discuss the first draft of the peer review report of the Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.

The “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources” investigates the potential impacts on human health and the environment hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality of drinking water at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. The draft estimates 25,000-30,000 new wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014. Most of these wells were drilled in Texas; Pennsylvania ranked third in number of wells drilled during the period covered.

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the report estimated 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well. In addition, approximately 6,800 drinking water sources for public water systems were within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

Find out more in about the assessment in a previous RKR Hess blog post.

The EPA will take into account the comments from the advisory board in conjunction with comments from the public in its evaluation of the peer review report.

The public teleconference will take place on Monday, Feb. 1 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. To participate, visit the Science Advisory Board website.

 

Application Submitted for PennEast Pipeline to Proceed With Construction

An application to construct a 118-mile pipeline that will carry natural gas between Pennsylvania and New Jersey was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in September by PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC (FERC Docket #CP15-558) The proposed pipeline would transport gas from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to other pipelines near Trenton, New Jersey.

An interactive map of the proposed route is available online from PennEast Pipeline. Because the pipeline, which will transport Marcellus Shale gas, will serve two states, the federal government maintains regulatory authority over its construction. The pipeline will be 36 inches in diameter and run underground. According to a PennEast Pipeline Company news release, the pipeline is expected to deliver approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. If approved, construction could begin in 2017.

The PennEast Pipeline Company, headquartered in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, is comprised of several pipeline and energy companies, including PSEG Power LLC, SJI Midstream, Spectra Energy Partners, AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Company, and UGI Energy Services. UGI serves as the project manager for the effort and would be the operator of the pipeline once it is completed. The project is publicly supported by organizations such as the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.

A study by Econsult Solutions and Drexel University concluded that construction of the pipeline would result in approximately $890 million in direct expenditures and approximately $730 million in indirect and induced economic impacts (a total of approximately $1.62 billion in overall economic impact). According to that study, construction of the pipeline is expected to support more than 12,000 jobs. The same study projected annual recurring economic impacts of approximately $23 million, including support for approximately 98 jobs.

Another study, by Concentric Energy Advisors, examined the theoretical effect of the proposed pipeline if it had been in service during the winter of 2013/2014. This period was selected because the cost of natural gas reached record pricing and was extremely volatile. The study concluded that if an additional 1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas had been available at the time, ratepayers in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey could have saved $893 million.

Opposition to the pipeline alleges that its construction will not reduce the cost of energy because it is believed the natural gas will be exported instead of used domestically and the plan to cut through 4,000 acres of preserved open space and farmland is being questioned. According to NPR’s StateImpact, in some cases local landowners may be asked to lease their property to house the pipeline underground. In many cases, these landowners have not yet granted access to surveyors. According to the New Jersey Sierra Club, the project crosses 88 waterways, 44 wetlands, 33 farms, and the Delaware River. The Concerned Citizens Against the Pipeline documents more than 25 municipalities, townships, or counties where resolutions in opposition to the pipeline have been introduced.

Approximately 1,440 people or organizations have registered as interveners with the FERC. Registration provides the opportunity to present evidence for or against the pipeline and provides standing to appeal the FERC’s decision in federal court. Public comments to date about the PennEast pipeline are made available online by the FERC. An additional opportunity for public comment will occur once a draft Environmental Impact Statement is completed.

EPA Asks Public to Comment on “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for public comment and peer review on the recently released Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (Executive Summary, Full Report, Appendices). As a part of the peer review process, the draft report must be presented to and reviewed by a Research Advisory Panel.

Public meetings and teleconferences will be held by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) with the intention of informing the panel and the public about the EPA findings, reviewing compliance with the SAB’s charge for this research, and collecting questions through a panel discussion. A public review of the agency draft report will be conducted at a face-to-face meeting in October.

The “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resource” investigates the potential impacts on human health and the environment hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality of drinking water at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. The draft estimates 25,000-30,000 new wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014. Most of these wells were drilled in Texas; Pennsylvania ranked third in number of wells drilled during the period covered.

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the report estimated 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well. In addition, approximately 6,800 drinking water sources for public water systems were within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The report evaluated both above-ground and below-ground mechanisms whereby hydraulic fracturing activities could potentially impact drinking water resources. No evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources was identified in the assessment, although several specific instances where one or more of these mechanisms led to drinking water resource impacts were identified. The relatively small number of cases of identified impacts, when compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells, could reflect the rarity of effects on drinking water. However, the study found that there is frequently insufficient data on the quality of drinking water resources both pre- and post-hydraulic fracturing to accurately determine the true frequency of impacts.

The public teleconferences will be held from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the following dates:

The public face-to-face meeting will be at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. on:

A teleconference line will be made available for those who cannot attend the advisory panel in person.

Comments on the draft advisory assessment are due Aug. 28, 2015 using the e-Government Regulations website. More information, including relevant contacts, can be found by visiting the Federal Register.

 

Pennsylvania’s Treated Mine Water Act and its Potential Impact

A new Pennsylvania Senate bill introduced in June would allow Marcellus Shale developers to use treated coal mine water in oil and gas development.

The Treated Mine Water Act, approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, looks to create more opportunities for the oil and gas industry to find reliable sources of water to drill, complete, and hydraulically fracture conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells while conserving freshwater supplies. To do this, the bill seeks to limit liabilities for both the coal mine operator and the drilling operator in oil and gas development.

Rainwater and groundwater can collect in the underground voids created by coal mines. While there, the water can pick up minerals from the surrounding rocks. In Pennsylvania, these minerals frequently make the water acidic. In active mining operations, this water is pumped to the surface, treated, and discharged in accordance with permit standards established by state and federal governments.

However, when the coal mine is abandoned, the water continues to collect but is no longer pumped or treated. The water can fill the mine and overflow into streams, carrying the minerals picked up while underground. If untreated, this water can kill invertebrates and fish in the streams and reduce the pH of the stream.

Some environmental groups have begun setting up treatment systems to address acid mine drainage from abandoned mines. Building and maintaining a treatment system can cost between $100,000 and $10 million, depending on the volume of water to be treated and the complexity of the system. Based on data from Datashed.org, approximately 350 treatment systems have been set up in Pennsylvania.

As defined in the new bill, treated mine water is water from an active or closed coal mine that is treated by a mine operator under a permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The water must meet federal standards for discharge to the surface waters of the United States. A prior bill would have limited the liability for drilling operators who used untreated mine water.

Oil and gas industry lawyers were concerned that the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law would make companies liable for cleaning the mine water in perpetuity even though the drilling operator was not the one who originally operated the mine, according to NPR’s State Impact.

Also according to NPR’s State Impact, an average natural gas well uses 4.4 million gallons of water. Supporters of the bill argue that using treated mine water for oil and gas development would aid in the cleanup of polluted mine water by providing funding for treatment systems. Opponents argue that removing the water could damage the natural flow of streams by reducing the volume of water available and cause damage to the environment through spills during transportation or discharge into clean drinking water aquifers from leaks in the well casings.

The proposed Treated Mine Water Act would not necessarily override regulations created in the Clean Streams Law, and oil and gas developers would still be liable in the event of a spill or leak. The Pennsylvania DEP published a white paper outlining options for the use of mine-influenced water in fracking.

Historically, anthracite coal was mined in an area of about 485 square miles, spanning nine counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to the Mining History Association. Based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there are approximately 45 abandoned anthracite mines in this region. In total, there are approximately 145 abandoned coal mines statewide.

Currently, unconventional drilling is not authorized in the Delaware River Basin. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has yet to vote on natural gas drilling and fracking regulations originally proposed in 2010 and revised in 2011. So, any mine water from these mines to be used in fracking would need to be transported outside of the Basin. That transfer would also require DRBC approval.

 

 

 

 

Public Comment on Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Rulemaking Ends May 19

The public comment period in the final rulemaking of the “Environmental Protection Performance Standards of Oil and Gas Well Sites” ends on May 19, after four years of revisions to and multiple rounds of comment on the regulations proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The revisions to Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code, governing the protection of natural resources, include public resource protection, revisions to information collected in the permit application process and revisions to waste storage/management regulations. In addition, the revisions split Chapter 78 into two sections, one for conventional oil and gas development and one for unconventional development (i.e., fracking).

The DEP said it is specifically looking for comments regarding noise mitigation, centralized tank storage, and “other critical communities,” which are defined as animal and plant species not currently on the endangered list.

Permits 

Impacts to public resources will be considered in the application process. These resources include, but are not limited to, publicly owned parks and game lands, public drinking water wellhead protection areas, and playgrounds and schools, among other areas.

Additional review of the application may come from the Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. These agencies will have 30 days (instead of 15 days) to review permits.

Abandoned and orphaned wells in the vicinity of the proposed development must be reported in the permit application process, with a monitoring plan in place for drilling operations.

The permit renewal term will be extended from one year to two years. Drilling must be completed within 16 months of permit issue.

Proposed regulations require operators to restore drinking water impacted by drilling to either the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act or pre-drill conditions, whichever is of a higher quality. In addition, all remediation must be conducted in accordance with the Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act.

Resource Protection

Requires operators of unconventional well sites to report to the DEP the amount and type of waste produced, and the method of disposal or reuse on a monthly basis.

Some additional permits may be required, including for operators using centralized wastewater storage impoundments.

The proposed regulations prohibit the use of pits for temporary storage of production fluids or wastes on unconventional well sites.

Storage and Disposal

In the event of a spill or release, the regulations require notification to owners and sampling of water supplies with the potential to be impacted.

Additionally, health standards for noise control from unconventional operations will be put into place.

A previously proposed requirement to remove older underground tanks was removed from the draft final rulemaking.

The draft makes a centralized tank storage site an option for natural gas drilling, with the proper permit approval and with geographical restrictions.

The proposed regulations require DEP approval of the disposal of waste and cuttings from below the casing seat at unconventional well sites.

For more details about the proposed regulations, visit Title 25 at pabulletin.com.

Written or electronic comments must be received by May 19, with a subject heading Oil and Gas Rulemaking and a return name and address. Faxes and voicemail will not be accepted.

Electronic comments can be submitted through the DEP online comment system at http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments or by email to RegComments@pa.gov.

Written comments can be sent to the Department of Environmental Protection Policy Office, 400 Market Street, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105.