DEP’s Perry Lays Down the Facts at Sullivan Co. Energy Task Force Meeting
I had the opportunity Friday to attend my first Sullivan County Energy Task Force Committee. This group of volunteers does amazing things to educate their fellow citizens, having invited speakers to come to their meetings to talk on everything from solar development and wind power, to biofuels and shale exploration. They send members to meet with lawmakers, most recently meeting with the lieutenant governor — who is the head of Gov. Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission. Plus, they work with Mark Madden of Penn State Cooperative Extension to make sure they’re constantly plugged-in on new technologies and recent developments in the energy space.
Friday’s guest speaker was Scott Perry, Director of PA DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas. His presentation lasted about 2 hours and was incredibly informative. If you can get out to see him speak, I strongly encourage you to do so — you will learn a lot about how our regulatory system works, Pennsylvania’s history with the oil and natural gas industry, the processes involved in developing shale, and what’s being done to ensure everything is being done in a safe manner. If I were to tell you about everything he discussed, I could easily make this post 10 pages long, so I am just going to touch upon some of the key points he spoke of and encourage you to get out and listen to his full presentation. He will be speaking at the forum Penn State Cooperative Extension is hosting on June 7 at Tunkhannock High School. In case you can’t make that one, here’s a video of Mr. Perry giving a presentation in Luzerne Co., Pa. last year — on the campus of Misericordia University.
Perry cleared up a lot of misconceptions during his presentation, as can be seen in the following video where he discusses some of Pennsylvania’s history with the natural gas and oil industries, hydraulic fracturing, and horizontal drilling. Another inaccuracy in public perception he discussed involved his own department.
Some people believe that DEP is just not up for the task of monitoring the well sites because they are under-staffed, which is not the case. “While other states were laying off, we were hiring,” said Perry. “We get out to every well–multiple times.” DEP currently has 84 inspectors and 202 employees working in the Bureau of Oil and Gas. While some may not view this as a large number, if you look to Oklahoma where there are thousands more wells than Pennsylvania, they only employ 90 total people. Our regulatory authority is well above the curve in terms of staffing.
Perry also discussed wastewater facilities. He said historically with other industries, whether it be bakers, sewage plants, etc., wastewater was diluted to bring down the total dissolved solids levels before being released. Other methods of disposal involve taking the waste to injection sites in Ohio and Virginia, because in Pennsylvania there are only seven injections sites with only one being operational. But the vast majority of producers in PA are recycling their water, and as Perry suggested, that’s the best option for all parties involved.
Perry said that for DEP, water quality and quantity go hand in hand when authorizing permits. “In order to frac a well, you can only use water from an approved source,” is a condition written right into the permit. A company cannot just go to the local stream and execute a withdrawal. Water withdrawals are granted based on water levels of the river or stream.
Perry said the amount of water used by natural gas companies use is actually very small when compared with everything else, and is actually less that of recreational uses, like filling swimming pools and watering golf courses. He said that the coal industry sites use 5 million gallons a day, nuclear facilities use 40 million gallons a day, and the Marcellus sites only use 5 to 9 million gallons total.
The amount of water other industries use on a daily basis is staggering when compared with that being used by the Marcellus Shale sites, yet as soon as “natural gas” is mentioned people go up in arms over withdrawals, as is the case with the June 1 DRBC hearing on XTO’s application to withdraw water (see our call to action). I don’t know about you, but it looks to me like people are wasting a lot of time protesting the wrong uses!
Another sore subject with anti-gas special interests seems to be compressor stations and their “horrible emission levels.” Well, folks, how many of you get your electricity from a coal plant? Are you outside picketing there, because according to Perry, “You can triple the amount of compressor stations that you think you will need (for the natural gas industry) and you still won’t touch the emissions coming from a coal plant!”
And to all of you out there who want to know what’s in hydraulic fracturing fluid used near you … every operator identifies the fracturing material they use in their completion reports to DEP. The information is out there. But Perry said that what they use is not a concern because, “It’s hard to beat zero. We allow zero contamination and zero is happening…Never in the millions of wells I have seen, has there ever been an instance where frac water went up and contaminated ground water.” Perry also said, “I am not here to advocate, but the facts support this position: Fracing is not contaminating groundwater. If I thought for a second, fracing was contaminating ground water, I’d say absolutely you can’t frac.”
All this from a guy who’s been doing this work for an awful long time.