Officials, experts discuss Marcellus Shale issues at public forum

| Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010

Research, environmental and legal issues surrounding Marcellus shale gas exploration were discussed during a presentation Wednesday at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus in North Union.

Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink, who serves as chairwoman of the Marcellus Shale Task Force, announced a partnership with Penn State Cooperative Extension in bring the event to the Fayette campus.

Jon B. Laughner, director of Penn State Cooperative Extension Beaver County, spoke about ongoing research and study projects on the Marcellus shale by numerous schools and organizations.

Attorney Kris A. Vanderman addressed legal issues regarding lease agreements.

Alan Eichler, environmental program manager with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, discussed water quality, testing, disposal and DEP regulations.

Eichler said DEP issues permits to gas companies for drilling as well as overseeing, inspecting and enforcing if violations occur.

In 2005, he said, the department issued its first permit for five Marcellus shale projects in Washington County; now those numbers for 2010 are approximately 2,000.

"Almost more than half of our permits are for Marcellus," Eichler said.

For landowners, he recommends getting a pre-drill water sample — a service paid for by the gas company to determine if any water is contaminated.

If gas companies' drilling is affecting water flow to a residence, which is hard to determine unless the homeowner has a pre-drill flow measurement conducted, it could cost the homeowner hundreds of dollars, Eichler continued.

He noted that gas companies are required to fill out applications and follow requirements for the size of their acreage as well as the amount, flow and rate of water they plan to use for a project.

Eichler dispelled myths that the DEP does not know what additives a company uses in the hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" process. The companies must submit a list of chemicals and their effects to the DEP, he said, adding that a list can be found on the department's website,; click on "Oil and Gas," then click on "Marcellus Shale" for that and other information.

Another myth was the 1,400 citations filed against the companies mean there were 1,400 spills. Eichler said one single incident can be a violation of several sections of law. He added that DEP has been citing the companies when violations have occurred and have tripled the size of their field employees as well as extended hours in evenings and weekends.

The most common citations filed against gas companies exploring the Marcellus shale are for erosion and sedimentation issues. If a homeowner near a drilling site has mud or water on their road or property, they should contact the DEP at 412-442-4000, he said.

Zimmerlink said yesterday's presentation was the first of a series of public presentations. Plans are under way for an expert panel discussion on fracking and wastewater discharge.

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