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The D.O.E. comes to Little Washington

The Department of Energy came to little Washington to hear about Marcellus Shale, and did they ever!

June 18, 2011 - Last Monday night, the Department of Energy (DOE) came to "little" Washington, Pa to hear from Marcellus Shale stakeholders. Their meeting was announced on very short notice, less than one week ahead of time. This public hearing was part of fulfilling their "charge" from President Obama and DOE Secretary Chu:

There have been considerable questions about the make-up of the DOE panel, with 6 of the 7 members having ties to the oil and gas industry. One group put it this way:

Administration Stacks Panel
With Big Oil and Gas

"The Obama administration panel named May 5 to study hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas drilling technique that injects thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water into the ground, is dominated by oil and gas industry professionals.

Notably, the panel does not include citizens from communities concerned about the damage to health, water and private property posed by the surge in natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“An industry insider like John Deutch is completely unacceptable to lead this panel,” Environmental Working Group Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt said. “It looks as if the Obama Administration has already reached the conclusion that fracking is safe.”

A study by Duke University researchers, made public yesterday, found high concentrations of methane in 68 wells near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York, confirming property owners' suspicions that gas extraction was leaking methane into their drinking water.

The new administration panel appears to be an effort to undercut the EPA’s study by assigning an elitist group of industry insiders to take a cursory look at fracking,” Horwitt said. “The EPA is trying to conduct a comprehensive study and to listen to the people directly affected by drilling. It’s hard to see how the Energy department-driven panel can have any credibility."

Excerpts from an EWG Press Release May 10, 2011

The day of the meeting also got off to a rocky start. The formally announced sign-up time was 6:30pm, but word soon circulated that early arrivals, including passengers on a pro-gas organization's luxury bus from across the state, were allowed to sign-in as early as 4:00pm. Photos of both are included below:

Bus funded by a pro-drilling organization
(see email below)

Excerpts from an email sent out by the pro-drilling organization:

"Given the short notice and the distance, we are prepared to help make this happen. We can offer the following incentives to attend:

1. Bus transportation (we'll try to set something up with pickups in maybe Binghamton, Scranton and the Williamsport area and provide the details when you let us know of your interest).
2. A hotel room for the night of June 13th.

3. Your meals.

4. Tickets for the Pittsburgh Pirates game (they’re playing the Mets that night)
5. Airfare (for older folks, especially..and for heads of landowner groups)
If you can do this, please let me know by return e-mail ASAP and we'll get back to you with the details once we know how many are willing to go."
Clock on the Wall shows sign-ups
were allowed well before 6:30pm
(with bused-in members in line)

Sign: "GAS GOT ME HERE"... indeed!
With over 80% of the first 50 speakers presenting pro-drilling viewpoints, the logical suspicion was that industry was tipped-off about the early sign-up time.

One eyewitness reports:
When I went in and signed up, it was 4:20pm. I was the 24th person to sign up. Only 3 others before me were anti-drilling. I asked the sign-up girl, "is this right? The advertised time was 6:30pm. People getting here later won't have a chance to speak." She said, "that's what the panel told us to do."

A local newspaper editorial reported later:
A"A DOE spokesman said the doors were opened then to accommodate those who arrived early. Among them were 11 passengers in a bus sponsored by the pro-gas organization, Energy in Depth, traveling from New York and northeast Pennsylvania. Their website noted that all of them had signed in to speak by 5:48 p.m."

Mind you, this is Washington County. In American history, it is well known for the Whiskey Rebellion, when revenuers dispatched from Washington DC were tarred and feathered prior to their indignant return to the Nation's Capital. In modern day, this is the Heart of Steelers Country, a group accustomed to fighting for every bloody yard gained. In either case, it is not a group to deceive or try to mess with.

"Late" sign-ups (..those who actually arrived ahead of the announced sign-up time) were restricted access to the building.  I arrived around 5:30pm and was given a place toward the front of the line by a friend who sacrificed his spot for me. Security guards were allowing five people at a time to enter the building for sign-up. I ended up being speaker number 80. With an announced meeting cut-off of 9:00pm sharp, and a 2-minute time limit, only 50 speakers would get a chance to speak. Therefore, the make-up of the first 50 speakers became especially critical.

It had the looks of a potential riot at several points in the evening. The crowd was angry, and rightfully so. After 6:15pm, the entire crowd was finally granted access to the building lobby and the auditorium, for the 7:00pm start. Once inside, the crowd was raucous, to say the least (YouTube video).

Fortunately, members of the DOE committee had the wisdom to extend the meeting long enough that everyone had a chance to speak, which extended the meeting past 100 speakers and 11:00pm.

Below is the testimony I presented to the DOE committee. 

Bob's written testimony submitted to the committee:

Welcome to Washington County and thank you for providing this hearing.

My concerns about Marcellus Shale drilling are reflected in a 2˝-year timeline of events here in Washington County.

Adding up only the major, reported events, we have had 3 flowback fires, 2 wastewater pipeline spills and fish kills, and 1 frac pit overflow.

As serious as these have been, my major concern is our residential tapwater drawn from the Monongahela River. Trihalomethanes have gone over-limit multiple times since late-2008 due to problems with the chlorination of high-TDS water.

My recommendations include:

1. That chemical markers be required in all frac fluids, allowing water contamination from drilling to be easily identified.

2. Better regulation and tracking of drilling wastewater from cradle to grave.

3. Strict regulations for temporary pipelines carrying drilling wastewater.

4. Better markings on wastewater tankers, to include Hazmat fire diamonds.

5. Better regulations for wastewater pits and impoundments.

6. Better regulation of water withdrawals, especially during dry weather.

7. The total prohibition of wastewater dumping into rivers and streams.

8. Regulations prohibiting the burial of production pits, and their plastic liners, at drill sites.

9. Better regulations covering aggregate emissions from multiple gas operations.

10. End the subsidies to Big oil and gas!


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