Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Democratic Policy Committee Hearing August 2011 Testimony by Brian Oram geologist and citizen of Pennsylvania

My name is Brian Oram and I wanted to thank you for this opportunity. I am a licensed professional geologist, owner of B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc. and a lifelong resident of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I am here today as a citizen of Pennsylvania.

I would like to start of with two statements.

1. Methane Gas Migration- The recent updates to Chapter 78- Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Law will go a long way to aid in preventing future cases of methane gas migration and the well reporting requirements includes language that requires listing of the quantity and type of chemicals used as part of the Well Reporting Process. This requirement appears to meet the informational goal of the proposed legislation HR 1084. In addition, the industry has responded to the need to disclose this information through the creation of “FracFocus”- http://fracfocus.org/.  FracFocus, the hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website. This website is a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission- I have attached a copy of a report that was available for a well in Bradford County PA..
Changes - Well Control, Well Construction (casing and cementing operations), Mechanical Integrity of Existing Wells, Gas Migration Response, and Well Reporting

2. Hydrofracturing is regulated by the EPA via the Underground Injection Control Program when diesel fluids are used as part of the frac mixture or in Alabama when coal-bed methane is being developed.

Talking Points and Points of Concern

1. I do not believe that the hydrofracturing process as being employed by the natural gas companies that have released information on the chemicals used for unconventional natural gas development needs to be regulated under the UIC program, but there should be a Memorandum of Understanding between PADEP and EPA. The EPA needs to be notified and informed of natural gas drilling permits to ensure that these permits will not conflict with EPA mandates and existing programs. In addition, it would be advisable that the unconventional natural gas wells be constructed to meet the requirements of Class II injection wells, since we may need to utilizes these secure boreholes in the future.

I do believe that hydrofracturing of formations for gas development above the Marcellus Shale and hydrofracturing for coal-bed methane development should be regulated and permitted by the UIC program in PA.

2. The current PADEP regulations, i.e., Chapter 78, may not be consistent with the requirements to protect Drinking Water as provided by the Safe Drinking Water Act and UIC Program. Pennsylvania protects freshwater < 3000 mg/L, but EPA protects freshwater and “useable Quality Water” or potential freshwater, i.e., water with a TDS of 3,000 to 10,000 mg/L ( water that is 99 % pure). The current PADEP regulations may not adequately protect this potentially usable water, but more importantly, the formations that contain this water may be the pathways that helps facilitate methane gas migration, the PADEP standards need to be updated to be consistent with the EPA Program.

3. The regulations, i.e., Chapter 78, need to be more proactive and not only require baseline testing, but real-time monitoring of “freshwater wells”, natural saline seeps, and other features during the drilling and development process. This monitoring would likely include general water quality, water level, radon flux, and methane flux. This would provide an early warning system before a major release occurs and/or confirmation that the process is safe.

4. Since private well owners do not have the ability to develop sourcewater or wellhead protection plans, the permitting process should put in place contingency plans to properly and quickly respond to incidents of methane gas migration or other releases. When contamination or releases do occur, the site, groundwater, and/or soils need to be evaluated, clean-up, and monitored.

For community water supplies – these systems should develop sourcewater protection plans and wellhead protection plans that apply to all industries and not just natural gas development. In general, the local sourcewater protection plans for the reservoirs that service major cities in Northeastern Pennsylvania are inadequate and out-of-date.

5. Citizens need to be informed of this process and this process should be relatively easy to follow. Since citizens are not accustom to requesting file reviews or travelling to a regional PADEP office to review permit applications, a copy the PADEP permits for natural gas wells should be maintained at a local office, such as the local municipality or county office.

6. No waiver should be granted if the natural gas well is within 100 feet of a stream, wetland, or body of water. There should be no waiver for drilling a natural gas well within 200 feet of a private well. The private well may be owned by a citizen, but the well is connected to the Waters of the Commonwealth.

7. It is sad to say, but 30 to 50 % of private wells currently do not meet drinking water standards, we should take advantage of this opportunity to fix private wells using funding from consumptive water permits, permit fees, and fines. Fixing private wells is a benefit to the wellowner, the residents of PA, and the Natural Gas Industry. Poorly sited and poorly constructed private wells may act as a conduit to facilitate the migration of gas and other fluids. We have to remember – we all live downstream.

8.Regarding well cutting disposal, if encapsulation or on-site disposal is proposed, this activity and other natural gas activity should be outlined in the deed for the property along with the coordinates of the buried infrastructure.

9. Regulations are only as good as the enforcement. To encourage companies to adhere to regulations, the fines should be significant. We need to start adding zeros. Please remember – one well can generate over 30,000 per day in profit to the company. They can afford to do this work the right way.

10. Since the mission of PADEP is not to compile and interpret water quality data and information, it is critical that some organization or network of organizations work together to compile the environmental monitoring data that is generated by this activity. This information needs to be compiled and presented in a manner that is readily available to the public and in a language that will educate and inform.
With this goal in mind, I have been working with Wilkes University/ Dr. Brian Redmond/ Dr. Sid Halsor to compile the Citizen Groundwater and Surfacewater Database and we have utilized this database to conduct an initial groundwater vulnerability analysis for a portion of Luzerne County. With additional work, this type of analysis may help to identify regions or zones more susceptible to contamination from any surface, near surface, or subsurface activity.

Outside of the Marcellus Shale Issues -
We need to make sure that Pennsylvania develops a set of private well construction standards and encourages municipalities to develop land-use and zoning ordinances.
Again thank you for this opportunity and I will do my best to answer any questions.

Prepared by:
Mr. Brian Oram, PG
B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc.
15 Hillcrest Drive
Dallas, PA 18612

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