Fracking Debate Comes to Montgomery, Bucks Counties

New report from USGS shows basin includes space in local region.

Natural gas drilling has troubled residents and lawmakers in Pennsylvania in recent years as large gas deposits have been discovered in most of the state. But despite a recent find of a new deposit beneath Montgomery and Bucks counties, it’s unlikely the controversial industry will touch the region anytime soon. 

Natural gas drilling -- also called hydraulic fracturing or fracking -- recently became a more immediate concern for Montgomery and Bucks counties after a U.S. Geology Survey published in June revealed a large natural gas reserve lies beneath the densely populated region. The South Newark Basin, which stretches across central New Jersey into eastern Montgomery County, may contain up to 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the report. That’s almost enough gas to power the country for just one month.

Local Legislative Reaction 

The realization that fracking in the county was a possibility led to swift legislative action by the region’s representatives. On the last day of the session, June 30, state legislators slipped a ban on drilling in the South Newark Basin into a tax law, which passed. The ban on granting drilling permits will extend to 2018 to give the state time to evaluate the potential of the reserves and the impact on the environment.

The ban was also an attempt to protect the region from the new natural gas development law, Act 13, which negated municipal zoning regulations and gave state agencies sole authority in determining where drilling for natural gas can occur. 

“This legislation makes good on my promise that Act 13 was not intended to apply to Bucks County,” state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), who introduced the bill, said in a statement on his website. “My colleagues in Harrisburg never intended for [Act 13] to affect our region, and now that a newly discovered formation exists, they agree that a moratorium on drilling is appropriate to give us the same time to study and debate the issue for our local area.”

Many municipalities in southwestern Pennsylvania were frustrated with Act 13, which passed in February, and seven filed suit against the state including Nockamixon Township and Yardley Borough in Bucks County. Sixty-seven other municipalities passed resolutions condemning the act and supporting the lawsuit.

“Zoning is one of the most important principles for land use, and Act 13 took that away,” said Nancy Alessi, town supervisor in Nockamixon. “The state said gas and oil drilling must be permissible in every district, which is just contrary to everything we stood for. We have a duty to protect the health and well-being of our residents, and zoning plays an important factor in that.”

History in Bucks County

Nockamixon is the only municipality in Bucks County that has a history of drilling -- in the 1980s, the town had an active oil drill. After Act 13 passed, the town received an application for drilling from another oil and gas company, Alessi said. The process was haulted when the ban passed in June.

However, proponents of Act 13 are in favor of the law because it provides uniformity in zoning regulations about where they can drill.

“Lack of uniformity has long been an Achilles' heel for Pennsylvania and must be resolved if the commonwealth is to remain a leader in responsible American natural gas development and reap the associated economic, environmental and national security benefits,” Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber said in a prepared statement.

The Commonwealth Court, a state appellate court, reached a decision last week after months of legal battles. In a 4-3 decision, the court overturned key parts of Act 13 that stripped municipalities of zoning rights and would allow the fracking industry to drill where they pleased.  The decision restores the oversight municipalities had in regulating where drilling is allowed.

“This is a great victory for the people of Pennsylvania, for local democracy, for property rights, for our public health, and for the clean water supplies on which we all depend,” Jordan Yeager, attorney for plaintiffs Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Nockamixon Township and Yardley Borough, said in a news release.

The decision was a huge victory for Nockamixon, Alessi said. 

“By taking away zoning, every land owner was potentially negatively affected,” she said. “The court ruled that taking away those rights is unconstitutional. The stakes were tremendously high, and we are gratified that the court ruled in our favor.”

State Plans an Appeal 

The day after the court gave its decision, Gov. Tom Corbett announced the state will appeal the case to the state supreme court.

While the court made a good decision for the region’s residents, state Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) said the battle is not over.

“We still have to legislatively correct other mistakes, such as making buffers between drilling and water sources wider than Act 13 requires, creating a drilling tax to fund environmental oversight, and making sure all pertinent information about the chemicals used is disclosed, among other things,” Santarsiero said. “The issues here are not as immediate because of the ban on drilling in the South Newark Basin. We would hope to fix all the issues with Act 13 before that expires.”

If things go sideways for the municipalities and drilling is once again allowed, the chances drilling will begin in the South Newark Basin are still very slim. With natural gas prices at an all-time low and the deposit holding only enough gas to power the country for just about a month, companies aren’t likely to take the risk of drilling in a new deposit when they are drilling in the western half of the state, which holds nearly 20 times as much natural gas.

Miranda Chistmas August 04, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Author is in error. I quit reading at 'natural gas drilling - also known as hydraulic fracturing '....fracking is a process in which natural gas is released from the marcellus and utica shale formations. Natural gas can be drilled in many ways. Get your facts straight, rewrite the article and perhaps you won't appear so ignorant to those of us who really know what fracking is. Google is a great resource. Research takes five minutes to write a factual article. Also, fracking is safe and Gasland has been proven to be a farce...God, people, use your heads.
Debbie Ziegler Lambert August 04, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Don't be angry at the people of Montgomery and Bucks County. Be real angry at the Senators and Legislators of those counties. They are the ones that stabbed you and the rest of PA in the back! If that sounds harsh, I'm not sorry. You see, I live in extreme western PA and have a well for water. I don't heat or cook with gas. I know I use some products that are made with gas, but until they find a better way to extract it, we need to ban this method and go back to the traditional method of extraction. Your lawmakers, along with their fellow Republicans also gave us the medical gag order, which is now being appealed in court. A couple of reasons why I am so mad. I live next to one of these horrendous rigs. Our roads are being torn up. The live near these is awful. I now have to test my water twice a day for TDS and PH so I have an indication of when (not if) my well water gets poisoned. If the readings are high, then I, not them, have to pay over $1,000 to test and see what is in my water. because I am just outside their area where they have to test. They have only been here for a little over 2 weeks and have already hit an unexpected pocket of gas and scared us all with the flaring of it. Flames over 30 feet high. They have taken my neighbors farm field and not paid them a penny for it. They are bullies! We DO have FORCE POOLING in PA. I want to sell and get away from it, but no one will buy my house now. Who wants to live like this? Who will buy it?
Stop Them August 04, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Dear Debbie, The idiots that dont live there dont care. These rotten people only care about money. The thought of cheap energy and jobs get them drooling. The truth is the Human Race destroys everything in the name of progress (money). The Energy Companies dont care if some people are poisoned. Its pathetic. If anyone's quality of life is hurt because of this fracking then it needs to stop. The shame is we are becoming more like China, because the powers that be just bulldoze over the powerless. I personally would have gone postal if I was in your situation. I wish you the best.
Miranda Chistmas August 04, 2012 at 07:17 PM
This idiot has a well being fracked a mile up the road from my house. I have well water. *Gasp* And guess what? Nothing is wrong with my water. Allow me to pose two questions and see if YOU IDIOTS can answer correctly. How deep is a water drinking well? How deep down is fracking occurring? It takes simple logic to realize your drinking water won't be affected. All you people need to do is fact check as I have instead of relying on hearsay as truth. People like you will be the demise of our country...not only because of this, but because you are gullible and will believe anything you hear. Idiots.
Miranda Chistmas August 04, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I know, I know, I'm a rotten person for being intelligent and paying no attention to propaganda and being intelligent enough to research the topic on my own...God should punish me.
SMYRNA-X August 05, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Unfortunately christmas your voice and experience is being drowned out by enviros that are uninformed but somehow way smarter than anyone else in the room.
Miranda Chistmas August 05, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Amen, Smyrna-x! Spreading untruths and misinformation is causing more harm than fracking ever will. Instead of using Gasland as their Bible, they should step off the high horse and do some real research. It's absolutely shocking that in 2012 people still are so naive as to believe everything they hear, especially with so much information is available to the public about the process. They could simply do as I have and spoken to not only EPA officials but to the rig workers and the higher ups. Everyone was happy to speak with me and share any information that I asked for, such as fracking ingredients. It took me two weeks to investigate and write a published article on the process and it was true and accurate because I did the research...my facts are facts, not untruths and misconceptions.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 03:38 AM
One more point, specifically to 'Stop Them', who can't even use your real name. Driving a vehicle causes pollution which affects everyone's quality of life...shall we ban driving vehicles? McDonald's sells high fat, low quality food also affecting quality of life...perhaps we should ban them as well. Your logic is illogical. I'd bet a month of salary that you drive a car and/or truck and eat at McDonald's periodically. Do you work in a factory? Factories emit pollution affecting my quality of life. Better yet, let's ban all forms of transportation with the exception of walking and bicycles...even a horse defecates on the street, which then washes into the soil on my property, thereby polluting my land. I propose we shoot the horses to eliminate that possibility. Those insecticides which you use in your garden also absorbs into the soil so we should absolutely ban all forms of farming and gardening.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 03:43 AM
The coal plants which produce our electricity pollute our air and affect my quality of life so I also propose banning all use of electricity and resort to building fires to cook and keep warm we other and using candles to light our homes. The batteries which you use to work your cell phones, computers and remote controls pollute our land. We should ban the use of anything battery operated. Don't I sound like a fool? But Hey, I'm only trying to protect everyone's quality of life.
Nick Matregrano August 06, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Where is all this gas going? I understand it is being shipped over seas, because the CEO's can get a better price for it. Also, anyone with drinking water from a well should be worried, there is documented proof that wells have been contaminated by this process. Depth of your well isn't a factor, the odds are the same, and the noise is another story, the cost that will be imposed on volunteer fire companies with the well flare ups is an other story. The negatives go on and on and on. The only thing "One Term Tom" is concerned with is fulfilling his promise to the drilling companies for all the money donated to his election campaign.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Wow...fracking DOES NOT CONTAMINATE DRINKING WATER! Bad casing jobs done by irresponsible casing crews, HOWEVER, it takes not one bad casing job but THREE. That's right, THREE. Three casing jobs of the same well must go bad and then yes, contamination is possible. But I must reiterate: fracking is not the problem, it's is casing jobs. Do you know why it takes THREE? Because the rules and regulations set forth in the last several years are there to ensure this doesn't happen. Casing jobs are tested, and if found to be faulty, it must be redone before production of that well can be done, but AGAIN, contamination happens when THREE casing jobs are done in error. Absolutely, there is always a chance that this could happen but you have better odds at winning the multi-state lottery. There's always a chance anything can happen in any situation. The drilling companies pay a very hefty fee to the county/ township/town in which they drill PRIOR to even beginning to build a well site. This money is there to eliminate the taxpayers from footing the bill of road repairs, fire departments, land restorations, etc. Should any costs go above and beyond the already allotted amount, the drilling companies are required to pay that difference, not you and your neighbors.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Research people, it only takes a little research to find out this information. Would it stop you from buying a home, simply because there's a chance that (God forbid) it could burn down or get torn apart by a tornado? I don't think so. Have you stopped driving your car because of the chance of a fatal car accident? Never! You still fill that car up with gas and continue on your way. I would gladly have an intelligent, non-sarcastic, non-argumentative conversation about fracking if anyone is willing to do the same. The best way to learn the truth is to seek the truth, from trustworthy sources. My knowledge on this subject is vast because of this. I am not afraid to confront an oil company with any concerns I may have had. If I am wrong, I am not afraid to admit that, either. I can be a voice of reason or I can argue. Your reactions to me and my knowledge dictate how I respond to you. I urge you to ask me questions and I will truthfully answer those questions. There are so many untruths and rumors being taken as fact that yes, it is hard to distinguish between a fact and an opinion someone is claiming to be a fact.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 02:08 PM
I once was on the fence about the whole fracking debate but after much research, I now advocate for the drilling companies. I've been contacted by several large news groups to be asked to write on the subject. I have also been asked to head informational meetings for people in my area who have questions and concerns about the process...not because I advocate for drilling, but because I have the knowledge and proof to back up anything I say AND because I am known to be honest on the subject, regardless if the answers I give to these concerned citizens go against the very thing that I advocate for. I will not lie to further my agenda. It goes against my moral values to lie. I cannot argue that there is increased traffic near the well sites. That's a fact. However, I will argue that citizen Joe and Jane are not picking up the increased costs to repair the roads. As I said previously, I have a well being fracked just down the road from where my own house is. The biggest problem I have faced because of the increased traffic? Dusting. Now I must dust my house twice a week instead of once. Please do not misconstrue that as sarcasm. I urge you all to ask me anything about which you have a concern...not argue with me, ask me.
Debbie Ziegler Lambert August 06, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Let me guess who asked you, Energy In Depth? Why would anyone ask you a question? What are your credentials?
Camy Quinn August 06, 2012 at 02:40 PM
@Miranda. You seem to be well educated on this topic. My question is: Why are you so mean? Calling people idiots because they don't know everything about the process certainly isn't going to help educated them. There is a lot of conflicting information about fracking out there from many biased sources. It isn't easy to know the difference between fact and fiction. People want to understand the and they want to feel that they aren't being lied to. You are insulting and condesending. Why? How will that help people see the whole picture? I don't even want to read your posts because you are attacking common people and calling us idiots. However, I have a feeling you probably have good information to share. Try to calm down and educated instead of attack.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 03:32 PM
@Debbie: I am a common citizen and do not need credentials of any kind to do research. The Columbus Dispatch is one news group who contacted me, not Energy anything. By asking me a question, I will answer to the best of my abilities and if I don't know the answer, I will admit that.
Debbie Ziegler Lambert August 06, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I've done the research as well and, no offense, but prefer to get my answers from the experts. New report just today on PR Newswire. Again-done by experts. http://news.yahoo.com/hydraulic-fracturing-poses-substantial-water-pollution-risks-analysts-141700591.html If only 10 percent of the Marcellus Shale region was developed, that could equate to 40,000 wells. Under the best-case median risk calculation that Rozell and Reaven developed, the volume of contaminated wastewater "would equate to several hours flow of the Hudson River or a few thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools." That represents a "potential substantial risk" that suggests additional steps should be taken to lower the potential for contaminated fracking fluid release, the authors say. Specifically, they suggest that "regulators should explore the option of mandating alternative fracturing procedures and methods to reduce the wastewater usage and contamination from shale gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale." These would include various alternatives such as nitrogen-based or liquefied petroleum gas fracturing methods that would substantially reduce the amount of wastewater generated. As far as home values, go. I have well water and drilling by me has decreased my property value. I am an insurance broker and get all the memos. That, too, is a major issue.
Miranda Chistmas August 06, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I also have well water and our property values have skyrocketed. I chalk that up to the region you live in.
Debbie Ziegler Lambert August 06, 2012 at 03:59 PM
No. It's not the region. It's the amount of acreage a person has. Larger properties increase in value, until they find out that the drilling company only put a small portion of their acreage in a production unit, which they are famous for doing. They do it (for lack of a better word), to screw you out of royalties. Just ask the people here and in Bradford County. The smaller parcels, like my lonely acre decrease in value. My neighbor here has 96 acres leased. All looked good until Chesapeake only put one of those acres in a production unit, thus holding the entire parcel. The gas companies are NOT your friend. I sincerely hope people in Bucks and Montgomery find that out and don't lease to them, before it's too late.
Miranda's Mommy August 07, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Dear Miranda, You probably listen to Rush Limbaugh and think nothing can harm the environment and large companies should be free to do whatever they like. I do not trust the large companies, Rush Limbaugh or you!!! I wont let them touch my land! Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. You and your land can go frack yourselves!
Tom Bartman August 07, 2012 at 01:53 AM
If you step away from ABC, CBS, NPR and CNN for just one day, fracking has advantages. Utilities are seeing promise in natural gas and pulling the plug on 'green' energy which does not work in this area. Natural gas could very well replace wind and solar. It is amazing how the greenies don't want nuclear power, fracking (natural gas extraction), coal power, wind power (bird blenders chopping up millions of endangered birds), etc. What IS an acceptable form of energy to greenies? Do you want power to read these posts and have lights on or not?
Debbie Ziegler Lambert August 07, 2012 at 01:57 PM
All I can tell all of you in the East is that almost everyone I know that signed a lease in the West, regrets ever doing it. You are giving up your land and your right to peacefully exist on it. If you still insist on signing a lease, get the best lawyer you can, because they are sliding things into leases here that are unheard of and will eliminate your rights the second you sign your name.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I understand a temporary ban, but for nearly 6 years? I guarantee that in 2018, no studies will have been completed and the can will be kicked down the road again.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:37 PM
'Calvin Tillman: Fox interviews mayor of DISH, Texas; blames natural gas development, transport for toxins in the air, benzene in blood. Tillman in the press: “Six months ago, nobody knew that facilities like this would be spewing benzene. Someone could come in here and look at us and say, ‘You know what? They’ve sacrificed you. You’ve been sacrificed for the good of the shale.’” (Scientific American, 3/30/10) A little more than a month later, Texas Dept. of State Health Services debunks that claim: “Biological test results from a Texas Department of State Health Services investigation in Dish, Texas, indicate that residents’ exposure to certain contaminants was not greater than that of the general U.S. population.” (DSHS report, May 12, 2010) More from the agency: “DSHS paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.”' http://www.energyindepth.org/debunking-gasland/
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:40 PM
This is a good point. All the neo-greens are so heavily against fracking that they forget that natural gas burns much cleaner than anthracite... and I have to tell you, that's the "clean" hard coal PA enjoys, not the bituminous "soft coal" that most of the rest of the USA (especially WV) burns. Of course, to a environmental radical, small steps toward a goal aren't valid, because we have to have radical, fundamental change in our society.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:42 PM
" The live near these is awful. I now have to test my water twice a day for TDS and PH so I have an indication of when (not if) my well water gets poisoned. If the readings are high, then I, not them, have to pay over $1,000 to test and see what is in my water. because I am just outside their area where they have to test." Who told you you have to test, since the drillers aren't? "They have taken my neighbors farm field and not paid them a penny for it. " I can tell you that is illegal and has nothing to do with fracking technology.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Neo-greens use "Gasland" fallacies to back up their arguments like Mayor Bloomberg seems to be using "Super Size Me" to back up his fascist city dietary policies.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Natural gas is a commodity, so having more of it lowers prices everywhere. This is the same argument the left uses against oil drilling in the US, but in reverse! They say that drilling here won't help much, because the supply will be distributed throughout the world.
Stephen Eickhoff August 07, 2012 at 02:55 PM
"Stop Them" is the one who first called natural gas proponents idiots.
Nick August 14, 2012 at 03:10 PM
There really are plenty of advantages. but the disadvantages can easily outweigh it most of the time. Learn all sides at shalestuff.com and decide what you think


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