New Castle News

February 17, 2012

Residents urged to use care when signing shale lease

Debbie Wachter Morris
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A Lawrence County landowner offered advice to people considering signing Marcellus shale leases.

“Get multiple sources, read science journals and industry journals and try to find out the real truth,” Jim Litwinowitz urged a crowd of about 200.

He was among five speakers Wednesday at a meeting called “Fracking In Our Community.” The program in New Wilmington was hosted by the Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, a citizens group.

Litwinowitz, a Hickory Township resident who had been approached early about a lease, organized neighbors who have met monthly for two years to learn all they could about signing drilling leases.

“I’ve signed a lease and I will get money,” he said, but urged people to educate themselves before signing.

“Most problems can be avoided by the leasing activities,” Litwinowitz said, urging landowners to be careful about what they allow in leases and what rights they give up.

“There are all sorts of things you can put in your lease to protect you.”

The Marcellus shale has been forming for 390 million years. It covers 95,000 square miles — 5,000 to 6,000 feet underground, according to figures provided by John Stoltz, a Pitt biology professor and director of its Center for Environmental Research and Education.

He, too, encouraged landowners to “make a sound decision” when signing leases.

People need to consider the size of the Marcellus shale resources, Stoltz said. After researching it for more than two years, “the thing that still surprises me is that people don’t realize how big this industry is.”

A typical well pad covers more than six acres, he said, and there will be a major well pad every 40 acres.

“This is not a small strip mine.”

Stoltz said a typical water impoundment is 10 acres and holds about 10 million gallons of fresh water.

On a particular drilling site there are dozens of subcontractors working, he noted, and if something goes wrong, “who do you talk to? It’s very important to know who the point person is.”

Shale drilling “is not just somebody drilling a well and recovering gas.”

While the industry can bring big money into an area, the area also can be impacted negatively, Stoltz noted.

“In order to get the gas you have to frack and drill and put a pipe down there.”

The fracking process involves pumping millions of gallons of water to break up the rock to release the gas, he said, and chemicals contained in the flowback are different than those going in.

He discussed how those liquids are treated and how they mix with other water treatment chemicals to re-enter public water supplies.

Also speaking were:

•Jill Kriesky of Pitt’s graduate school of public health. She said regulations for Marcellus shale are skimpy when it comes to protecting public health and most health issues addressed are for emergency services after a disaster.

•Douglas Shields, former Pittsburgh councilman, who urged landowners signing leases: “Don’t do it blind.” He also addressed the “weak regulatory climate” of the shale industry.

•Dave Kern, area manager of Kroff Well Services that treats flowback water. He explained the chemical components of the gas and the drilling and fracking processes and how well casings are constructed.

(Email: dmorris@ncnewsonline.com)