Complaints or Emergencies
To report an incident or emergency use the following contact information:
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: 412-442-4000 or visit DEP's Report an Incident page. You can send written complaints to Alan Eichler, Department of Environmental Protection, 400 Waterfront Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15222. *Ask for your complaint number and record it for easier follow-up.
- Environmental Protection Agency: 877-919-4372 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission: 1-855-FISH-KILL (1-855-347-4545)
- National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802 or www.nrc.uscg.mil. The NRC will contact you within 30 minutes of receiving your online report to provide you with an official NRC report number. If you do not receive this confirmation call them to confirm.
Overview- What is Shale?
Far underground many parts of the United States, the remains of an ancient seabed, buried and turned to bedrock over millions of years, is being fractured using a new twist on an old drilling technology, called 'horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing' or 'fracking' for short. This bedrock, called shale, contains natural gas and other hydrocarbons sought after by domestic and foreign oil and gas companies.
The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation that underlies approximately 2/3 of Pennsylvania and portions of New York, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia. The shale is generally at a depth of 5,000 to 8,000 feet and is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. The Utica Shale is another rock formation below the Marcellus Shale ranging from depths of 6,000 to 10,000 feet. This shale is being explored primarily in eastern Ohio and far western Pennsylvania. The gas has, until now, been considered too expensive to access, but fracking technology has made accessing the formation more feasible.
Visit the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) website for more information on the Utica and Marcellus shale layers.
Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation requires drilling, both vertical and horizontal, along with fracking. After a well is drilled, large amounts of water mixed with sand, chemicals, and other fluids are pumped under high pressure into the well to fracture the shale bedrock around the well. This process allows the natural gas to flow freely toward the well. Estimates for the amount of water used range from 3 to 7 million gallons per well for each time the well is fractured. Each well pad can have over 10 wells, and each well can be fractured up to 10 times.
Below is a map of drilled and permitted wells in Pennsylvania. This map was produced by the FracMapper data platform which is provided by the FracTracker Alliance. Click and drag the map to bring the western portion of the state into view.
Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project
The Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project (MCSP) has been developed to assist citizens in protecting their property, health, and the environment from impacts of Marcellus Shale activities. The MCSP was originally focused on the Youghiogheny River watershed but has since expanded statewide.
There are many issues associated with shale gas extraction. Just a few:
- Unknown composition of fracking fluids
- The drilling industry is protected from disclosing the precise chemical names and concentrations of their fracking fluids by exemptions from and loopholes within some federal and state laws. For example, Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Law, known as Act 13, requires companies to disclose what fracking chemicals they use, but also allows companies to keep this important health and safety information a 'trade secret' if the company decides the information is 'proprietary.' Recently, some companies have voluntarily revealed some of the chemicals used in their fracking mixtures. The industry site Frac Focus provides the most information on chemicals that are in use. Many are known carcinogens.
- Large volumes of water needed for fracturing
- Here in the Youghiogheny River watershed, we have several streams that are potentially suffering from a decline in water quantity. Drillers are asking to withdraw water from our streams and rivers for fracturing, and given the quantity of water in question, this could negatively affect our watersheds. Unlike some other industries, the water used for fracking becomes so polluted it cannot be returned to the water cycle.
- Groundwater contamination
- Wells are supposed to be 'cased,' a process that seals the well bore off from any water bearing aquifers in order to protect the quality of nearby private water supplies such as springs and wells. Improper casing has led to widespread contamination of drinking water in the western, southern, and northeastern United States. Mismanagement of waste water at the surface has also resulted in groundwater contamination.
- Increased erosion and sedimentation
- Each well pad is between 3 and 20 acres, and clearing this much land can introduce invasive species, disrupt wildlife, and lead to increased sedimentation in streams and rivers. It is necessary to construct new roads, impoundments, and pipelines which lead to further land-clearing activities; pipelines are also often maintained through the aerial application of herbicide.
- Lack of land control
- Conservation districts used to have jurisdiction over where natural gas operations such as well sites and some pipelines are constructed. That authority was taken away by the Rendell Administration. Under Governor Tom Corbett's administration, the new oil and gas law, Act 13, implements an Impact Fee on each shale well drilled in Pennsylvania (MWA filed an amicus brief (available for download here) in the ongoing litigation regarding Act 13). However, in order to receive much needed impact fee monies to deal with damages from shale gas industrialization, municipal governments are forced by the new law to give up any rights to zone where these operations take place, nullifying any land use ordinances a municipality may have to balance residential, agricultural, and industrial interests.
- Treatment of fracking water
- Fracking water contains, among other things, large amounts of total dissolved solids (TDS). A variety of salts make up the main components of TDS, and while not necessarily harmful to human health, high TDS creates a host of water quality-related problems. Drillers have disposed of fracking water at municipal sewage treatment plants which are generally not equipped to treat the levels of TDS found in the fracking water; thus, the TDS is discharged untreated. In 2008, the Monongahela River contained such high levels of TDS that PA DEP ordered sewage treatment plants to accept no more than 1% of their daily flow in fracking fluids, but elevated TDS levels are now showing up in waterways across the state. The DEP has issued a new regulation that requires oil and gas wastewater discharges to meet a 500 mg/L limit. Due to these requests from DEP to stop taking waste water to municipal sewage treatment plants, industry has been using several alternatives for water treatment. According to industry and the Commonwealth, most companies are recycling their waste onsite or at treatment facilities. At some point the recycled water needs to be disposed of; the common practice is to use a deep injection well.
Drillers must obtain several permits from PA DEP and other agencies in order to proceed with well drilling. This information was compiled by the Sierra Club.
- Well Drilling Permit – The operator must obtain a drilling permit, pursuant to Pa. Code 78.11-33.
- Earth Disturbance Permit (ESCGP-1) -- The operator must obtain a permit for implementation of erosion and sedimentation controls, including stormwater management, if the site disturbance area is more than 5 acres. A plan and sedimentation control is required if the site is less than 5 acres.
- Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) Plan -- The operator must have an approved spill prevention plan.
- Water Withdrawal Permits – DEP requires water allocation permits for large withdrawals of surface or groundwater.
- Pit Approval for Control, Handling or Storage of Production Fluids – The operator must obtain approval for storage pits under 25 Pa. Code 78.54-58
- Water Treatment, Reuse and Disposal – An operator who discharges to a stream must obtain a permit under the Clean Streams Law.
- Stormwater – An operator is required to meet DEP stormwater requirements, which are part of the Earth Disturbance Permit.
- Encroachment Permit – An operator must obtain a permit from DEP for construction, excavation or operation in a wetland, stream, or body of water.
Your Water: What Can You Do?
We are receiving many phone calls from people who own land adjacent to well sites. Their concerns generally are about protecting the integrity of their private water supplies. Here are a few ideas that can help:
- Periodically test your private water supply for quality and quantity. This is something that all homeowners on a private water supply should do, regardless of the occurrence of drilling.
- Become informed about when and where drilling will occur near you. The following DEP resources will assist you. For help with using any of these resources, please contact us.
- eNotice: Register to receive notice of gas well permits in your area. An instructional video is available to assist you in learning the eNotice system.
- eMap: This service maps proposed well sites.
- eFacts: After drilling starts, monitor inspection reports and violations.
- Just 'Say No' to seismic testing: The process of seismic testing, which determines the extent of natural gas reserves, has no requirement for testing of nearby water supplies despite the fact that this testing, which involves detonating explosives underground, can impact water supplies. If you do decide to allow seismic testing on your property, ask that your water supply conditions be documented first and that all drill holes be immediately filled to prevent groundwater contamination.
- Have your water assessed for quantity and quality both before and after drilling. Use a DEP certified lab, and do not do this testing yourself--- ask that the lab send a technician to perform the testing. For more information, a list of labs, or help understanding your test results, please contact us. At a minimum, testing parameters should include:
- benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX)
- methylene blue active substances (MBAS)
- oil and grease
- total dissolved solids (TDS)
- total suspended solids (TSS)
- Become a Community Leader or volunteer Water Monitor. Please visit our MCSP page for more information.