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DEP Orders EOG Resources to Halt All Natural Gas Drilling Activities in PA

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

06/7/2010
 

HARRISBURG -- The Department of Environmental Protection today ordered EOG Resources Inc. to suspend its natural gas well drilling activities in Pennsylvania after a June 3 blowout at one of the company’s Clearfield County wells sent natural gas and at least 35,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into the sky and over the ground for 16 hours.

DEP Secretary John Hanger said that while the order bans all drilling and hydrofracturing, or fracking, operations for specified periods of time, the suspension will remain in effect until DEP has completed a comprehensive investigation into the leak and the company has implemented any needed changes.

“DEP staff, along with an independent expert, will conduct a detailed investigation of not just the incident that occurred last week in Clearfield County, but of EOG Resources’ drilling operations, as a whole, here in Pennsylvania,” said Hanger. “The Clearfield County incident presented a serious threat to life and property. We are working with the company to review its Pennsylvania drilling operations fully from beginning to end to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again.”

The order prohibits EOG Resources from drilling activities up to seven days; from engaging in fracking operations up to 14 days; and from completing or initiating post-fracking operations for 30 days in any wells throughout the state. These actions and operations cannot resume until the department agrees that the investigation has been fully completed.

The results of the investigation will also help determine whether DEP should take additional enforcement action against the company, such as fines or penalties.

Hanger added that EOG Resources has been fully cooperative and in agreement with the department’s ongoing investigation and order.

The leak began at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, when the well’s operators lost control of it while preparing to extract gas after fracking the shale. As a result, natural gas and flowback frack fluid was released uncontrollably onto the ground and 75 feet into the air. The well was capped at around noon on June 4.
The EOG well pad is located in a rural area near the Penfield/Route 153 exit of Interstate 80 in northwestern Clearfield County, near Moshannon State Forest.

The department’s Emergency Response and Oil and Gas programs responded to the incident, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and local fire and police departments.

PEMA elevated its activation level to coordinate resources among multiple state agencies and worked with PennDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration to institute a temporary airspace restriction above the well. The restriction was lifted at approximately 1:45 p.m. on June 4.

“Fortunately, the well did not ignite and explode, and there were no injuries to the well crew or emergency responders,” said Hanger. “Our preliminary assessment is that the environmental damage was modest as the frack fluid was contained and did not appear to reach any streams, but DEP is continuing its monitoring efforts because sometimes the impacts of a spill like this are delayed. We have noted that a spring in the area has shown a spike in conductivity and that discharge is being collected by EOG for proper disposal.”

The secretary noted that the company expects to have a more accurate estimate of the amount of fracking water that was leaked after it finishes draining the pits and waterboxes it deployed to collect the fluids. As of June 7, initial estimates totaled 35,000 gallons, although more was certainly released and the company believes this accounts for a majority of the leaked water.

DEP’s preliminary investigation has determined that a blowout preventer on the well failed, but the agency does not yet know if that failure was the main cause of the incident. The blowout preventer has been secured and will be one piece of the investigation.

EOG Resources, formerly known as Enron Oil & Gas Co., operates approximately 265 active wells in Pennsylvania, 117 of which are in the Marcellus Shale formation.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us.

A Nuclear Gamble on the Not-So-Distant Horizon

Form Common Dreams:

Much like Captain Renault in Casablanca, the White House is suddenly shocked, shocked to find that oil rigs can explode, destroying ecosystems and livelihoods. The Obama administration has backed away from its offshore oil expansion policy in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe as the long-term environmental and economical consequences unfold in the Gulf States. Headlines are clamoring for the criminal investigations of BP, TransOcean, Halliburton and ultimately, the federal regulator, Mineral Management Services (MMS). Rather paradoxically, President Obama is using the oil spill to call for more nuclear power.

Yet, with the exception of a handful of insightful political cartoonists, the obvious parallel between the regulatory delinquency of MMS and that of its nuclear equivalent - the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - and the potential for an equally catastrophic accident in the nuclear sector, has not been drawn. As with the MMS debacle, the NRC is gambling with inevitable disaster with the same spin of the wheel of misfortune and with potentially even higher stakes.

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Boycotting Anti-Nuclear Activist Companies & Celebrities

From the energy collective:

You don’t have to look very hard to find celebrities or companies who are actively working against the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  There was a time in my life that going to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop was a ritual.  The company opened one of their first retail stores in a renovated gas station about a block from my apartment in Saratoga Springs, NY where I lived when I worked at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.   As the company grew and the profits rolled in their founders began to become politically active in Vermont.  Unfortunately they jumped on the anti-nuclear bandwagon and began to support groups like Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility who advocate shutting down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.  I made the decision not to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because every scoop I ate was helping to fund activist efforts to shut down Vermont’s only nuclear plant.  It’s too bad Ben & Jerry’s fails to understand that without Vermont Yankee the electricity used to manufacture their ice cream would necessarily come from fossil fuels, and would contribute to air pollution and climate change.  They are probably unaware that Vermont is one of the only states to continue burning oil to generate electricity.  Their anti-nuclear campaign is in effect supporting the continued use of oil and other fossil fuels.  Fortunately for me there are plenty of ice cream alternatives!

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In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was in Charge of Oil Rig

From the New York Times:

Over six days in May, far from the familiar choreography of Washington hearings, federal investigators grilled workers involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in a chilly, sterile conference room at a hotel near the airport here.

The six-member panel of Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials pressed for answers about what occurred on the rig on April 20 before it exploded. They wanted to know who was in charge, and heard conflicting answers.

They pushed for more insight into an argument on the rig that day between a manager for BP, the well’s owner, and one for Transocean, the rig’s owner, and asked Curt R. Kuchta, the rig’s captain, how the crew knew who was in charge.

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The Next Drilling Disaster?

From The Nation:

A tour of Dimock, Pennsylvania, with Victoria Switzer is a bumpy ride over torn-up roads, around parking lots filled with heavy machinery and storage tanks, and past well pads that not long ago were forests. The winter here was quiet, but with the thawing ground came the return of the rigs, the trucks, the constant noise and lights of a twenty-four-hour-a-day gas drilling operation. "It's a modern-day Deadwood out here," Switzer says, likening the activity to the gold rush. "No rules, no regs, just rigs."

The "occupation," as she calls it, hasn't just transformed Dimock into an industrial hub; it has also damaged the local water supply and put residents' health at risk. After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008, Switzer says, weird things started happening to people's water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks. The contamination and related health problems have prompted fifteen families to file suit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the primary leaseholder in the area, alleging fraud and contract violation and seeking to stop the damage from spreading.

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Davis-Besse ready to go

From the Sandusky Register:

FirstEnergy officials said Thursday that nozzle cracks discovered months ago in the reactor at Davis-Besse nuclear power plant were caused primarily by hot temperatures and weaknesses in manufactured material.

Officials from the energy giant said they've fixed the problem -- discovered during a routine shutdown this past spring -- and are ready to start producing power again.

The company's leaders met Thursday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public meeting.

NRC officials said they'll make an independent decision about whether the 1970s-era nuclear plant is ready to power up.

During the hour-long presentation, which drew 100 area residents, First Energy officials said they determined "primary water stress corrosion cracking" was the likely cause of cracking in nozzle welds in the reactor.

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DEP Plans Thorough Investigation in to Marcellus Shale Well Blowout in Clearfield County

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

06/4/2010
 
EOG Resources Well Released Fracking Fluid, Natural Gas for 16 Hours

HARRISBURG -- Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said today that his agency intends to investigate aggressively the circumstances surrounding a blowout at a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Lawrence Township, Clearfield County, and take the appropriate enforcement action.

At approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, the operators of the well, which is owned by EOG Resources, Inc., lost control of it while preparing to extract gas after hydrofracturing the shale. As a result, the well released natural gas and flowback frack fluid onto the ground and 75 feet into the air. The well was eventually capped around noon on June 4.

“The event at the well site could have been a catastrophic incident that endangered life and property,” said Hanger. “This was not a minor accident, but a serious incident that will be fully investigated by this agency with the appropriate and necessary actions taken quickly.

“When we arrived on scene, natural gas and frack fluid was flowing off the well pad and heading toward tributaries to Little Laurel Run and gas was shooting into the sky, creating a significant fire hazard. That’s why emergency responders acted quickly to cut off electric service to the area.

“Right now, we’re focused on limiting any further environmental damage, but once that work is complete, we plan to aggressively look at this situation and see where things went wrong and what enforcement action is necessary. If mistakes were made, we will be certain to take steps to prevent similar errors from happening again.”

DEP learned of the leak at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Friday after it was informed by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. DEP immediately dispatched its Emergency Response and Oil and Gas program staff to the site.

PEMA, which elevated its activation level to coordinate resources among multiple state agencies, also worked with PennDOT to initiate an airspace restriction above the well, which the Federal Aviation Administration authorized on a temporary basis earlier today. The restriction prohibits flights at and below 1,000 feet of ground level within a three nautical mile radius of the well site. The restriction is in effect until further notice.

The EOG well pad is located in a rural area near the Penfield/Route 153 exit of Interstate 80 in northwestern Clearfield County. Three other wells on the same pad that have been drilled and fractured remain plugged and are not in danger.

EOG Resources, formerly known as Enron Oil & Gas Co., operates approximately 265 active wells in Pennsylvania, 117 of which are in the Marcellus Shale formation.

Sustainable Energy Fund Recommends Commission Cap PPL Revenues

Sustainable Energy Fund

For Immediate Release

(Allentown, PA) – In testimony filed today with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Sustainable Energy Fund (“SEF”) opposed PPL’s proposed rate increase in that it continues to align utility profits with increases in energy use, negatively impacts economic growth and is in part based on decreased revenues that have not yet and may never occur.

SEF’s Director of Technical Services, John Costlow stated that “under PPL’s proposal the distribution portion of the average residential bill will increase 27%.” Costlow continued that “those that use the least will see the greatest increases.”

Mr. Costlow points out that PPL proposes to increase the residential customer charge, a portion of the distribution charge, 82% and institute a demand charge on all commercial customers. Consequently, a residential customer who only uses 350 kWh per month will see their distribution charges increase 36.5% and a customer who uses 1500 kWh per month will see their distribution charges increase 17.9%. This move is part of a progression on PPL’s behalf to charge a flat rate for distribution regardless of how much electricity you use.

Over the next several years Pennsylvania and utility customers will spend more than a billion dollars to reduce their energy use and associated costs. One of the goals of the investments is to reduce utility bills leaving families with more disposable income. Utility bill savings are a significant driver of economic growth and jobs. A recent study by Oppenheim & MacGregor shows that nationally for each one million dollars invested in energy efficiency utility bill savings drive more than five million dollars in economic activity and associated jobs.

When speaking about customers who save energy Mr. Krall, PPL’s Manager of Regulatory Strategy, testified that “they are harming utility investors because the utility’s rate of return will be reduced until rates can be reset in a future proceeding.”

Mr. Costlow stated, “PPL’s proposal essentially takes back hard earned savings from customers who have reduced their usage” he continued “this is a drag on the local economy and a threat to jobs, the very two things we do not need right now with more than 590,000 Pennsylvanian’s out of work.”

As one of its recommendations to the Public Utility Commission, SEF proposed a cap to limit PPL’s revenues and better align PPL’s profit motive with its customers desire to reduce usage and cost.

About SEF- Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) is a private non-profit organization that promotes energy efficiency, renewable energy and education initiatives in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. SEF seeks out, focuses on, and invests in economically viable, energy related businesses, projects, and educational initiatives that create innovative, market-based technologies and solutions to enable environmentally sound and sustainable energy use. Headquartered in Allentown, SEF finances certain projects in the eastern PJM grid, which includes New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. By offering financial incentives that promote sound energy strategies, SEF can help municipalities, school districts, non-profits, farmers, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, transportation companies and other businesses save energy and reduce costs. SEF also provides educational services which include the Sustainable Scholars, Solar Scholars®, Wind Scholars, and the Sustainable Energy Conference being held in Easton this year.

Intervenors Submit New Challenge to Calvert Cliffs-3 in NRC Licensing Hearing

Groups participating in the federal licensing process of the proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 nuclear reactor on the Chesapeake Bay filed a new contention late Friday, June 25, 2010.

The contention charges that the NRC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) undercuts assertions filed in the license application by the proposed reactor’s owner, UniStar Nuclear, that electricity from Calvert Cliffs-3 would be produced for 3.1 to 4.6 cents per kilowatt/hour. According to UniStar’s license application, that cost number was derived from a 2004 study that put the construction cost of a reactor at $1200-1800 per kilowatt.

But the DEIS—using more recent estimates supplied by UniStar—put the estimated construction cost 300-500% higher, at $7200-9600 per kilowatt.

“UniStar has attempted to mislead the NRC—and the public—about the costs of Calvert Cliffs-3 both in absolute terms and in comparison to other possible sources of electricity,” charged Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, one of four organizations participating in the NRC licensing hearings.

“UniStar uses these grossly underestimated cost projections eight separate times in its application when comparing projected costs of electricity from Calvert Cliffs-3 to alternatives like wind and solar power,” explained Mariotte. “Even if it thought those numbers were correct when they first submitted their application in 2007, they are now on their sixth revision of the application and they’ve never updated those numbers. That’s probably because they know no one in Maryland would support the reactor if they were aware how much electricity from it would cost.”

The groups also pointed out that the DEIS—as well as UniStar’s license application—completely ignores the potential contribution of offshore wind power to the region’s electrical system, even though a company called Bluewater Wind has proposed building a 600 Megawatt wind farm off the Maryland coast, as well as large wind farms off the New Jersey and Delaware coasts.

The groups further charged that the DEIS failed to even attempt to quantify the possible contribution of solar photovoltaic power in the region, and that the DEIS failed to account for the decline in electrical demand in the region over the past three years and the impact of energy efficiency programs—thus overstating future need for electricity.

The DEIS and the license application are required by law to show a need for the project and to examine alternatives to the proposed project as well as provide a cost-benefit analysis.

“It’s easy to show a benefit if you understate your costs by 300-500%, disregard the generation potential of your competitors and overstate the need for your project,” said Mariotte. “But Marylanders—and U.S.taxpayers, who will be called on to loan the money to build this reactor—deserve better. An honest, defensible examination of the costs of this reactor, the actual need for its electricity, and potential alternative sources of electricity will show that Calvert Cliffs-3 is unnecessary, too expensive, and plenty of clean sources of electricity exist to meet whatever need for power does exist,” said Mariotte. “That’s why we submitted this contention—in the hope that the NRC will heed the warning signs and hold that honest hearing.”

The groups involved in the licensing proceeding are NIRS, Public Citizen, Beyond Nuclear and Southern Maryland CARES.

The full text of the contention is available at: http://www.nirs.org/nukerelapse/calvert/contention1062510.pdf

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