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Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling near Hickory, Pa

April 2009 - My first Donnan ancestor emigrated from Scotland via Ireland to Hickory nearly 200 years ago, back in 1817.  In my lifetime, Hickory has always been a pastoral rural town, surrounded by farm fields growing corn, soybeans and hay, with livestock grazing.
Washington County was once the biggest wool producer in the nation, but the livestock is now more likely to be Holsteins or Herefords. The back roads out in the country around Hickory are nice for Sunday car cruises or motorcycle rides, with winding and rolling asphalt roads, usually just wide enough for two cars to pass.

Hickory Pennsylvania
Hickory, Pennsylvania

The biggest annual event in Hickory, Pa used to be the annual fall Apple Festival. That is, until the Marcellus Shale gas boom came to town a few years ago. My first heads-up came from a landscaping client who works in the legal end of mineral and gas rights. While discussing the vast reserves of gas in Marcellus Shale underlying Washington County, Pennsylvania she said "Hickory is the epicenter" of the Marcellus Shale gas reserves. I became personally interested in this rapidly unfolding gas drilling story when our drinking water turned putrid last fall. (See Bob's Blog: Our Chunky Fracking Water)


A business trip took me into the Hickory area last week, my first visit in 6 months. When someone coined the expression "changing landscape" they must have been thinking of Hickory Pennsylvania in the early stages of this Marcellus gas drilling boom!
The first thing that caught our attention as we headed out Route 519 from Houston, Pa wasn't your typical road sign warning of workers ahead. Instead of saying Road Work Ahead, it said Seismic Crew Ahead. What the heck does that mean?? As we drove further, on down back country roads, there were orange extension cords crossing the roads every half-mile or so.

Seismic Crew Ahead
Seismic Crew Ahead

We noticed many more gravel roads cut into farm fields than we had seen when we were out there last fall. Some of the areas that didn't show much development last year now looked like excavations for a new shopping mall or grouping of Big Box stores. Changing landscape indeed! 
Driving through that area starts to give you an uneasy feeling, not just the feeling you get when you see pristine fields turned into housing developments. This is more the feeling you get when reading about Love Canal or seeing film footage of Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam. The more you learn about hydraulic fracturing in the states ahead of us in these fast moving gas ventures, the more concern you have for our local environment.

Marcellus Brine Pit


It's taken thousands of years for things to happen deep down underground, with the soil, geology and those precious water tables. How do we know that this deep fracturing of shale is really safe, especially when many of these procedures are newly developed, and involve a cocktail of very questionable chemicals going into the ground? And the fact they are EXEMPT from the Clean Drinking Water Act. What lobbyist and politician pushed that one through while we weren't looking? What about the millions of gallons of brine that come back out of the ground with those secret (read: "Proprietary") fracking chemicals to get stored in huge frac pits? They usually have one of several fates from there:

  1. Get pumped deep into the Earth to stay for eternity
  2. Get partially processed and dumped into our waterways
  3. Get misted into the air to evaporate
  4. Get left in holding tanks or lagoons

Neighbors said this pit near their house altered between smelling like kerosene to raw sewage
Black lined pit

Do spills occur? Of course. And there are cases of "seeps" of methane and benzene to the Earth's surface through newly fractured passageways in geological formations. You really have to wonder if these operations are safe to begin with, as well as if they are being properly regulated and monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Frac tanks lined up near Houston, Pennsylvania
Frac tanks lined up on a farm along Route 519

Our tri-state area is no stranger to environmental disasters, mostly from the extraction and burning of coal. Mine subsidence from long wall mining that destroys people's water wells. "No problem," the companies just provide them with a water buffalo of potable water, forever. Some solution! Mountain top mining just to our south in West Virginia ...yeah, just fill in those valleys and streams with the rubble, no problemo. Or the old favorite, strip mining. Acid mine drainage adds real color to several local streams. Acid rain from coal fired emissions. And our greenhouse gas problem makes us burn that special gasoline every summer.

Drilling before hydraulic fracturing
Gas drilling rig on Marcellus Shale near Buffalo, Pennsylvania

My point here?... people in this area have firsthand experience with the risks and environmental costs of developing and using energy resources. Bottom line: We now realize those who own mineral and gas rights have rights that trump everyone else's.

While natural gas may burn clean, it certainly isn't clean to extract. It's even been said that gas in shale requires more energy to extract than the gas will eventually produce. It takes hundreds of tanker loads to haul the one or two million gallons of water required for a single fracking. Then a large percentage of it has to be trucked back to a treatment plant. Fuel for trucks, generators, drill rigs and every other piece of equipment you can imagine. "Clean" energy??? 


Reading the blogs of concerned people like Lisa Bracken of Colorado won't give you any peace on this gas drilling business, and you don't have to be "an environmentalist" for that uneasy feeling to set in. Her part of Colorado is about six years ahead of us on this style of gas drilling. She has experienced the downsides to having big reserves of natural gas deep underground, and fortunately, written about them in her blog, Journey of the Forsaken. I compare Lisa to the canary in the coal mine, and she has sounded many early warnings for us Pennsylvanians.

Spewing rock dust everywhere!

They say "fools rush in." Are the good folks of Pennsylvania being caught unawares by all this? Will the citizens of New York State be the next to jeopardize their precious water resources? Whatever those answers are, they probably won't be very long in coming. It's a rapidly changing landscape out there around Hickory, as well as other small communities sitting atop these Marcellus Shale gas reserves.
This web page was created to share photos of what gas development looks like around Hickory Pennsylvania. I suggest you follow some of the links below, do some reading, and take a look at this issue for yourself. I can only share what I have personally experienced and seen in these early stages of drilling. Time will tell where this natural gas boom will lead us. As with the huge National debt, our ultimate hope is that we don't leave our children, and their children's children another nightmare to deal with sometime down the road.

Flared gas well near Hickory


Photos of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling near Hickory PA

Drill rig in a county park over Marcellus Shale
All photos on this website are copyrighted -

Coming soon to a farm near you, with some toxic volatile compounds like toluene, benzene, ethylbenzene, and xylene!

Citizen's Resource Guide to Gas Development

Even though this guide was written for Colorado residents several years ago, it is still well worth the read for anyone affected by gas development.

Halliburton tanker
'Tricky Dicky' the 2nd?
tractor trailer parked along a country road near Buffalo, Pa.  Frac fluids were exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005 while former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was Vice President of the US

Pennsylvania DEP Summary of Hydraulic Fracture Solutions
Marcellus Shale - May 2009 (PDF 411KB)



Secret Sauce
Frac fluids are considered "proprietary" formulas and therefore NOT subject to full disclosure of their chemical makeup, even to emergency personnel. Things will improve in this area if The FRAC Act is passed by Congress.

Nurse sickened from aiding gas worker
Driller refuses to disclose chemicals that would have helped treatment
July 17, 2008 Durango Herald newspaper story
by Joe Hamel, Herald Denver Bureau

"An informed citizen is the only true repository of the American will"
Thomas Jefferson

Rock dust spews out of this drill rig
Drilling begins on this farm near Hickory.
Rock dust everywhere!

Did the drilling company happen to mention to you that you might need to dust .... hourly?

The gas drilling industry is heavily diesel engine based, while Washington, Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties were listed among 37 counties in the United States that fail all three air pollution measures used by the American Lung Association in their 2009 State of the Air report. Washington County got an "F"

Seismic Testing

Video of Seismic Testing in progress in Washington County

Texas Thumper Truck
2-D, 3-D and multi-component land seismic data produce images of the earth's subsurface
(Click thumbnail images to enlarge)
Three seismic testing trucks parked south of Hickory Pennsylvania   Mertz universal vibrators on Thumper Trucks checking Marcellus Shale for gas reserves
Thump This
Three 'Thumper Trucks' used for Seismic Testing
  That's a Vibrator!
Seismic trucks with Mertz Universal Vibrators
  Pink marker line the back roads to assist with seismic testing activities  
Pink surveyor markers used in conjunction with seismic testing
Orange power cords used to detonate charges 20 feet below ground for further seismic testing   Seismic testing gear and hydroseeded road banks
X marks the spots
Orange fiber optic cords criss-crossing the back roads are part of exploding charges 20 feet underground for seismic testing
  Orange spaghetti
Seismic equipment wrapped around a tree along a back road south of Hickory, Pennsylvania
  The number of parked vehicles on some of the Marcellus Gas sites lets you know the scale of gas drilling activities near Hickory Pa  
  Drilling Convention
Activity south of Westland, Pennsylvania along Route 519 between Hickory and Houston.


Excerpts from testimony by
Mark W. Smith, Bradford County Commissioner,
to the State Senate April 9, 2009 regarding the impact of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Exploration

“One of the more significant problems local governments face is the stress the industry has on our roads and bridges. The majority of roads in our townships were never built to withstand the heavy and constant truck traffic that horizontal well drilling and injection requires. One well drilling operation may involve over 1,000 truck loads.”

“As the industry increases their operations we can only expect a negative impact on our bridges.”

“There are areas in terms of regulation that local governments are struggling with. In some cases Pennsylvania regulations and regulatory agencies are in transition. It is unclear if the challenges of balancing industry and public safety are being met. There is great local concern that D.E.P., even with their proposed increased staffing has no chance of keeping up with the pace of the drilling activity, let alone the increased responsibilities D.E.P. is taking away from conservation districts.”

“There are concerns about the regulation of “drilling pits” or ponds, disposal of what is known as “drilling mud,” which in some cases is being encapsulated in the pond’s liner and buried on the land owner’s property after drilling ceases. Water quality and possible contamination is also of concern.”

“I would urge the D.E.P. to reconsider its fast track approach to permitting and reinstate local responsibilities to county conservation districts and to take into consideration looking at other aspects of the industry that may require D.E.P. attention to ensure public safety and environmental protection.”


Hauling Residual Waste and Condensate

What a Waste
Tractor trailer hauling Residual Waste.... to and from where??
  Squeezing past
Second tractor trailer tanker hauling Residual Waste on a narrow country road.
Heavy Load on Red Fox Road

From a YouTube guestbook with drill workers commenting:

"They send radioactive isotopes downhole while
we are pumping from pad stage through flush."

"Yes protechnics send radiation down to follow the sand."


Bringing In a Gas Well

Flaring a gas well
  Out of sight, out of mind
Marking their Spot
H.W.D. = Horizontal Well Drilling on Ullom Road
  Out of sight, out of mind
Most of the fracking action is just barely out of sight along Ullom Road
  The changing landscape south of Hickory  
  I bring you FIRE!
Flaring a new well. What was that Arthur Brown song from the 60's?
A gas well blew up in Texas and wiped-out an entire square mile.
Tank farm and truck trailers related to Marcellus Shale gas   Holding tanks related to gas drilling near Houston Pennsylvania
Three's a Crowd
Separation tanks and gas well along Route 519 south of Hickory
  It's Twins
Separation tanks near Hickory Pennsylvania
Gas well flare at night


The dirty truth behind "clean" natural gas


Moving Millions of Gallons of Water for Fracking a single Marcellus Gas Well

Pipe Dream
These temporary water pipes must run for miles
Don't Pull Over
Pipes are run along the berm of the road, still in the road's right-of-way
  Making a Connection
Pipe road crossing through a muddy mess
  Gas pipe for road crossings  
  Pipe Dream
Water piping 'gate' designed for road crossings. What stream will get pumped dry next?
Getting it there
Just get it there baby!
  Pumping Water
Water is gathered from almost any source in just about any quantity
  Pipe It, Frac It Up!
Temporary water lines run from a farmer's field to a drilling pad

Pollution from Hydro-Fracturing
Leaks, Seeps, Spills & Runoff

Painted Black
Sure looks like black oily runoff just downstream from
this horizontal well pad on Ullom Road south of Hickory

Cows pastured next to a
natural gas drilling site die

Update April 30, 2009
It was over 30 cows, all carrying calves...

Eyewitness account from Caddo Parish


From the news story:
Cattle Drop Dead Near Mysterious Fluid at Gas Drilling Site


Scorched Earth
This foliage kill would even make the Ranch Hand crews who sprayed Agent Orange jealous!
This area is clearly visible from Ullom Road near the old car tire facility. Many of these sorts
of runoff areas aren't visible to the general public.

The Ole Fishin Hole
Check that Mr. Yuk water color
  Springtime near Westland
You can hear the frogs croaking!
  One picture is worth....
   1,000 letters to your state and federal representatives!
Orange pipe running into a small stream near Westland, Pennsylvania
Worthy of Investigation by the Pennsylvania DEP
Orange pipe in a cloudy stream just south of Westland PA on Rte. 519
Is that pipe drawing water out of the stream or dumping something into it?

"On April 1, 2009 Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, (D.E.P.), eliminated local conservation districts from the permit process of Erosion and Sedimentation and Stream and Wetlands in relation to the natural gas industry."

April 7, 2009 - Some specific concerns we have in regards to your decision are as follows:

  • The lack of input D.E.P. has sought in regards to this decision, both from the public and from conservation districts.

  • The lack of staff, training and local contacts for D.E.P. to adequately manage and issue these permits.

  • The fact that this change will eliminate municipal notice of drilling activity.

  • D.E.P. is telling local conservation districts to turn over all gas industry related records, which represent decisions made at the local level.

Catchment Basin 1
Runoff area below a gas drilling pad
  Catchment Basin 2
A second runoff area below a drilling pad
Catchment Basin 3
Looks like old dishwater. What is making those suds?
This is right above where the dead coon was drinking.
This farmer would give his gas royalty money back and never drill after all that he has seen and gone through: They ruined his farm and 3-acre pond with gas drilling activities... all the cattails in his pond died and he had a fish kill (except the catfish) after fracking one well.
YouTube video
Farm & Pond Ruined
Pond/Farm Ruined
9:31 minutes
   Don't Drink the Water
This raccoon didn't get far after taking a sip of runoff water from another drill pad

Gas Wells & Drilling for Gas

On the edge of town
Gas well in the no-traffic-light village of Buffalo, Pa
Gas well generators   Solar powered communications at a gas well
Big Blue
Burning diesel to produce "natural" gas. Huge blue generators behind pallets of bagged drilling and fracking supplies.
  Phone home
Solar-powered communication link to HQ in Canonsburg
  Drilling Pad
Several more gas wells will be drilled on this same drilling pad. Some horizontal (directional) wells are fractured a dozen times.
Since more environmental restrictions apply to drilling pads over 5 acres in size, pads are usually limited to 3 to 5 acres in size.
Condensate tanks  
Danger Danger
Condensate tanks with solar powered communications
  Yellow Commodes?
Access points for pumping out separation tank contents
Christmas Tree
Installed after the drill rig is gone and the fracking is complete.
Some gas wells are fracked over and over again, requiring
millions of gallons of water each time.
Hey mister, can you spare a couple million gallons?
White 60-gallon tank holding methanol (wood alcohol). The solar panels help monitor air temperature and when it gets near freezing the tank releases methanol into the gas as it comes from the ground to prevent the water that is still in the gas from freezing and causing broken pipes and fittings. Sometimes these tanks contain 20% ethylene glycol.

Passing Gas

Gas Distribution Plant
This newly developed area along Rt 519 must be a couple miles long
Gas valves and pipelines for moving Marcellus Shale gas  
Pennsylvania Pipeline
Gas pipes and valves for moving Marcellus Shale gas out of Hickory
  Gas Pipeline Marker
  Shipping Gas to America
Energy independence subsidized by your tax dollars
  Tank farm for Marcellus gas
Airborne... All the way!
Glycol dehydrators burn off noxious gases, such as toluene, benzene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX)
  Tank Farm
Gas drilling activities behind the Vo-Tech school in Houston, Pennsylvania
  Marcellus Shale gas drilling activity between Hickory and Houston PA along Route 519  
  The Changing Landscape
Massive earth moving like you would see around a new shopping mall or big box development. Tanks, pumps and frac fluid trailers like you've never seen before.
Liquified Petroleum Gas
Large tanker truck passing through Hickory.
Gas well leaseholders only receive royalties from the natural gas, not the liquids.


Déjà Vu?
"Among its legacies Love Canal will likely long endure
as a national symbol of a failure to exercise a
sense of concern for future generations."


Frac Fluid & Brine Pits

Gas well brine pit
Coming to a river near you!
Plastic-lined reserve pit on a drilling pad holding contents that will be trucked
to a treatment plant near Pittsburgh, then dumped in a waterway that is
probably a source for someone's drinking water. Each time a well is
fracked this backflow solution contains more salt.
Rainbow haze on gas well brine
Seeing colors?
Rainbow haze across the top of the brine in the same reserve pit.
Frac fluids often contain diesel fuel
Frac tanks
A Fracking Convention
Frac tanks lined-up like soldiers between Westland and Houston.
These green tanks hold water for hydro fracturing, and later hold the
fluids that return to the surface, after shale fracturing.
Brine truck
Brine Tanker
Another load for the treatment plant before it gets dumped in the river?
Heavy water and brine tanker trucks greatly increase road wear and tear.

Key paragraphs from the

Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h(d)) is amended to read as follows:
‘‘(1) UNDERGROUND INJECTION.—The term ‘underground injection’—
‘‘(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection; and
‘‘(B) excludes—
‘‘(i) the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and
‘‘(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.’’.

Section 502 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1362) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘(24) OIL AND GAS EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION.—The term ‘oil and gas exploration, production, processing, or treatment operations or transmission facilities’ means all field activities or operations associated with exploration, production, processing, or treatment operations, or transmission facilities, including activities necessary to prepare a site for drilling and for the movement and placement of drilling equipment, whether or not such field activities or operations may be considered to be construction activities.’’.


Brine pit plastic lining  
No Swimming!
This pit is surrounded by the bare minimum in fencing. Better fencing would include netting.
Fences need to be 10 feet tall to actually keep whitetail deer out.
  Pit near Avella, Pa
Reports indicate there are holes in this plastic liner
YouTube video
No Permits At All
No Permits at all
Mt Pleasant Twp
6:18 minutes

Frac pit being excavated to hold fracking fluids
This is the Pits
Central evaporation pit being excavated to hold millions of gallons of fracing fluids.
Upon closure, every Pit like this has the potential to become a Superfund site.

To a large extent, the environmental laws and regulations affecting gas operations relate to the release of hazardous substances or solid wastes into soils, groundwater, and surface water, and include measures to control environmental pollution of the environment. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, as amended, or CERCLA, also known as the "Superfund" law, and comparable state laws, impose liability without regard to fault or the legality of the original conduct, on certain classes of persons that contributed to a release of a "hazardous substance" into the environment. These persons include current and prior owners or operators of a site where a release occurred and companies that transported or disposed or arranged for the transportation or disposal of the hazardous substances found at the site. Under CERCLA, these persons may be subject to strict and, under certain circumstances, joint and several liability for the costs of removing or remediating hazardous substances that have been released into the environment, for restoration and damages to natural resources, and for the costs of certain health studies. Also, it is not uncommon for neighboring landowners and other third parties to file claims for personal injury and property damage allegedly caused by hazardous substances or other pollutants released into the environment. Liability may also occur under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as amended, or RCRA, and comparable state statutes, which impose requirements relating to the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes and nonhazardous solid wastes.

Open Letter to the Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
in Pittsburgh, PA

April 28, 2009
The Marcellus Shale natural gas boom in western Pennsylvania is the biggest news since Pennsylvania’s discovery of oil. Gas drilling companies would have you believe these new gas wells pose little environmental risk. But a quick study of Colorado, Texas and Wyoming gas drilling reveals the ugly truths. Chemicals used in this deep geological fracturing process are called “frac fluids” and brief exposure put a Colorado emergency room nurse into organ shutdown in 2008. Her hospital couldn’t even get a complete listing of the chemicals that sickened her since they were secret (proprietary) mixes. Drilling companies would have you believe they don’t use very much frac fluid, but it averages 1,500 gallons per well. They also downplay their unbridled water use, saying 3 to 5 million gallons of water needed to fracture one well isn’t really that much. But the thought that will make you hesitate to drink Pittsburgh tap water is that a big percentage of this water/frac fluid mix is processed and dumped back into our waterways. The gas industry is exempt from too many critical regulations like the Clean Drinking Water Act, and their only watchdog is our overburdened state DEP. Whether you are county legislators or individuals, BEFORE signing a gas lease do some thorough research to separate smooth promises from harsh facts. Do research on methane seeps and water well contamination in Dimock, PA. Write Congress supporting the current clean water legislation under consideration that would further protect our water resources from pillaging and pollution.


Down the Road

One of the new back roads near Hickory  
Yellow Brick Road, not
Where will this gas drilling road leave us??
  Erosion Control?
Regulations and environmental monitoring seem weak to this 'scarred' land owner

Open Letter to the Editor of the Observer-Reporter
in Washington, PA

April 7, 2009
On the surface, our Marcellus gas drilling boom has the appeal of energy independence and fast money for many, even though it’s a fossil fuel with a 100-year lifespan, max.  A study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Colorado, 6-years ahead of us in this gas boom, reveals something as appealing as acid mine drainage or dry water wells from long wall mining. Our Mon River drinking water quality has already been affected, but we are told “don’t worry, be happy” your water is OK. It takes 1 million gallons of water to fracture one well. Secret (proprietary) chemical cocktails, often containing diesel fuel, are added to this fracking fluid. Due to a fast track 2004 EPA study and approval, these formulas are exempt from the Clean Drinking Water Act in the 2005 Energy Bill. These frac fluids come back out of the ground with high brine content and are stored in huge surface pits. Getting rid of all this frac calls for partial waste treatment prior to being dumped in our waterways, evaporated into the air or getting pumped deep into the Earth. Deep fracturing of geological formations leads to unpredictable methane (and benzene) migration upward, adversely affecting plants, animals, aquatic life and human beings, with subsequent seeps. This development is moving at light speed, partly by design. Drive out Rt. 519 to Hickory, read about the track record of this drilling industry in other states, and decide if you should write your legislators about stricter monitoring and regulations to help salvage Washington County for us and future generations.


Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Water Hits Pa. Rivers

DEP gas drilling violations database

Buried Secrets - Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

"Clean burning" natural gas has a dirty secret -- YouTube video

Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering U.S. Water Supplies?

Our chunky fracking water Bob's first blog on this topic

Hydraulic Fracturing 101



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