Fracking Alliance seeks to educate the public

By jeanne starmack

new wilmington, pa.

Marcellus Shale gas-well development has begun in Lawrence County, with two wells drilled in 2011 and permits issued for six more.

In Mercer County, development has not yet begun. But a flurry of leasing has, according to county recorder Dee Dee Zickar, as gas companies sign up property owners to get enough land for development for their wells.

In Lawrence, there were 3,677 leases, with 400 to 600 more expected the beginning of this month, the recorder’s office said.

Property owners who stand to make money from sign-up bonuses for leases, as well as royalties when gas wells are producing, are excited about the coming development.

But not everyone is happy to see it get here. The Fracking Truth Alliance, a group of about 60 Lawrence County landowners in the New Wilmington area, has organized to educate people about potential risks.

“We’re trying to get to the truth,” said Steve Beck, who owns 30 acres near New Bedford, Pa. “We hear positive and negative.”

He characterized the group, though, as largely anti-fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a way to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, which extends underground from New York through much of Pennsylvania and into West Virginia. It also stretches under northeastern Ohio and part of Maryland. The shale is more than 9,000 feet deep in parts of western Pennsylvania. To extract gas from it, gas companies drill vertically then horizontally, forcing fluid into the rock to crack it so the gas flows out.

Millions of gallons of fluid made up of water, sand, salt and chemicals are used to frack at a well.

Group members are concerned, they say, because those chemicals pose a danger to groundwater.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says state law requires drillers to case and grout wells through all fresh-water aquifers before drilling through deeper zones known to contain oil or gas. This casing protects groundwater from pollutants inside the well, and keeps water from the surface from mixing with and contaminating groundwater.

But in parts of Pennsylvania where fracking already is widespread, there are complaints of contaminated well water. From Dimock, Pa., in the northeast to Lawrence’s eastern neighbor Butler County, there have been reports of water that is unfit to drink or bathe in since wells were drilled. The federal Environmental Protection Agency said in January it will retest 61 wells in Dimock, three years after residents there said their water was ruined. The agency also is delivering water to four Dimock homes where water is definitely unsafe, according to national news reports.

FTA members say they also are concerned about air pollution, destruction of farmland and agriculture and declining property values because well development takes up more land.

In Lawrence, horizontal wells have been drilled on Wampum-Mt. Air Road in Little Beaver Township and off Twentier Lane near McConnell’s Mill State Park on the Lawrence-Butler line. State DEP data indicates six more permits have been issued since those wells were drilled last year. There are two permits for Little Beaver, one for North Beaver, one for Perry, one for Scott and one for Slippery Rock townships.

FTA is asking people who would like to learn more about fracking to come to a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at New Wilmington High School, 350 Wood St., New Wilmington. A panel of experts will talk about “the promises and the problems, the rewards and the risks,” of fracking, the group says. The audience will have a chance to ask questions. Appearing on the panel to speak for and against fracking will be: Dave Kern, area manager for Kroff Well Services and a member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition; Jill Kriesky, program coordinator for the Environmental and Occupational Health Department, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; Jim Litwinowicz, a New Castle area landowner and lease holder; Doug Shields, a former Pittsburgh councilman; and John Stolz, director for the Center for Environmental Research and Education, Duquesne University. FTA is also trying to schedule a representative from a gas company.

Doors open for the meeting at 6:30 p.m.

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