By JEANNE STARMACK
NEW CASTLE, Pa.
Lawrence County has developed an emergency-management plan to deal with emergencies at shale- drilling sites.
Brian Melcer, county emergency management director, updated Lawrence County commissioners on the plan at their Tuesday meeting.
There are 54 wells on several sites countywide. Their developers are Hilcorp Energy, Shell and Rex Energy.
Hilcorp has two sites in Pulaski Township, one in North Beaver Township and one in Mahoning Township, according to information provided by the county and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Shell has one site in Slippery Rock Township, one in North Beaver, two sites in Little Beaver Township, one site in Perry Township and one site in Scott Township.
Rex Energy has one site in Perry Township.
The gas companies are using a controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation several thousand feet underground.
The drillers dig vertically, then horizontally out for up to a mile. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid, a mixture of water, sand, salt and chemicals, are injected into the shale at a high pressure to crack it apart so the gas is released.
The method is controversial because the companies have a history of using toxic chemicals in their fracking fluid, opponents say.
Some of that fluid returns to the surface of the well, and some of it remains underground.
Environmentalists believe the fluid poses a threat to groundwater because it will be able to migrate into the water table through improperly cased wells or wells with shrunken or damaged casing.
The potential for accidents has also been realized at well sites in other counties.
Accidents have included leaking pipes that polluted waterways, methane gas migration into drinking water wells and a blowout at a Chesapeake Energy well site in Bradford County, Pa., in April 2011 that spewed fracking fluid throughout pastures and into a creek.
Well developers are required to have an emergency-response plan for accidents at their sites.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency developed a template plan the county followed, Melcer told the commissioners.
The plan includes a map showing all sites.
“We have to have a GPS coordinate to actual [well] pads and access roads,” he said. “Most of our wells are relatively accessible.
“We do have some work to do establishing [emergency] contacts” at the well sites, he added.