A three group panel discussed environmental and operational safety of drilling for Marcellus shale natural gas Wednesday at SRU.
The panelists were health and safety manager at Advanced Waste Services Sean Decristoforo, vice president for safety and environment of Range Resources Ralph Tijerina, and James Daley, director of natural gas and energy programs of Greenhouse and Omara Inc. The mediator was Anthony Cialella, vice president for energy services for Advanced Waste Services.
Fracking is a process to obtain natural gas from deep rock deposits underground. The process includes large amounts of water and sand that are pressurized down a well to fracture rock thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.
Recently, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published a concept paper that proposes over 100 new regulations to drilling for Marcellus shale that are supposed to protect Pennsylvania’s surface and groundwater supplies.
According to Tijerina, 95 percent of water that Range Resources uses for fracking is recycled. He also stated that due to evaporation and loss of water during the fracking process, there is theoretically no need for waste water disposal. Recycling frack water has taken the place of disposing the water in old wells or certified disposal sites.
Approximately 40 people attended the panel discussion. There were also question and answer portions of the discussion. One question was posed by Kurt Schimmel, dean of SRU’s College of Business, Information and Social Sciences, about whether fracking can cause earthquakes or contaminated water tables.
Daley explained to the group that seismic activity can occur from lubricating fault lines and has been done to the San Andreas Fault line for years.
“The water table is not going to be affected,” Daley said in response to Schimmel’s second question.
Daley also stated any contamination will likely come from gas migration or already exist in the water. He said about 45 percent of well water is undrinkable. Companies now do pre-drilling samples of water to test for contaminants.
“You cannot define dirty until you define clean,” Patrick Burkhart, SRU professor and hydro-geologist said. “There’s a need to sample waters in unadulterated states to see what the water is like natural.
More than 2,700 actively producing Marcellus shale gas wells exist in Pennsylvania, according to the state’s DEP.
“It demonstrates that these environmental issues are demand-driven,” Burkhart said. “There is a need for us to look into the mirror and see the person there and recognize that person is demanding the oil and gas.”
There were 238,400 jobs in Marcellus related industry jobs in 2011, a 6 percent increase from 2008 data reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Industry and Labor. All job totals in Pa. declined by 69,000 in the same time frame.
“Marcellus shale is a huge field in terms of safety and its expanding throughout Western Pennsylvania,” Meagan Huff, a senior SRU safety student said. “The safety factors and environmental factors that come from it are endless right now and they’re creating new educational opportunities every day.
Tuesday’s panel discussion was the third installment of the SRU’s Marcellus shale informational which is part of the “Success Starts Here” speaking series. There will be a fourth installment about Marcellus shale on Nov. 13 that will be about the supply chain and the ripple effect side of the industry.
“Any time you extract anything there is risk, there is always risk,” Jack Livingston, Chair of SRU’s Geography, Geology and the Environment department. “Of course there’s a problem. But that problem is no different than logging, coal extraction or iron extraction. Everything producing waste produces an impact. We have to decide as a society what we are willing to accept and not accept or we can live without energy.”