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Marcellus Legislation

by John Randolph   |  August 16th, 2012 2

The West Branch of the Lackawaxen River in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is one of many quality trout streams threatened by water withdrawal, and by returning wastewater, due to natural gas exploration. Photo: Erik Swartz

In June the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved regulations requiring that Marcellus wastewater be treated to drinking-water standards before it can be put into the state’s rivers and streams. Sounds good, but an expert on the treatment process noted that the ruling could result in 400 tons of salt per day being produced from the treatment process, which would be buried in landfills. The daily tonnage could jump dramatically as an estimated 38,000 to 73,000 wells are drilled in Pennsylvania to harvest Marcellus natural gas. Currently 3,800 wells have been permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

No treatment plants exist to treat the Marcellus wastewater and bring it to drinking-water standards, but DEP Secretary John Hanger says they will be built by the gas industry now that the regulations have passed. Hanger insists that a tough, voluntary, responsible partnership between DEP and the industry can lead to safe drilling and harvesting of Marcellus natural gas that will not threaten the drinking water of Pennsylvania.

But according to Bobby Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and a professor of law at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic, the industry/state regulatory voluntary relationship as described by Hanger looks eerily similar to the federal/industry one that led to the recent BP Gulf oil debacle. Such relationships seldom result in strict best practices, although the practices are well known and supported (at least verbally) by the industry, Mr. Kennedy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June. He said that Pennsylvania needs tough love from both the industry and state regulators to protect the public, and the industry supports it. But he warned that the gas industry’s mistakes are contributing to a growing public backlash against gas extraction in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. His remarks followed a gas well blow-out in Clearfield County in early June that for 16 hours spewed gas and brine into nearby woods and a wetland.

As this was written, the Pennsylvania legislature, in an election year, tabled a proposed 5 percent severance tax on the gas. If passed, a share of such tax revenues should contribute to paying the estimated $1 million needed annually by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission to meet added (unfunded) regulatory burdens posed by Marcellus development. The tax revenues should also be shared up to 1.5 percent of the total with other environmental agencies that are also burdened with Marcellus shale development problems, but have received no funding to address them.

Some PATU officials also wonder if Pennsylvania shallow (and deep) aquifers could be similarly polluted by migrating drill chemicals. According to the drilling industry, no operating gas well has ever poisoned a drinking-water source. What they don’t admit is that faulty drilling operations (bad well casings) have caused many documented cases of poisoned drinking-water wells throughout the U.S. (including at Dimock, Pennsylvania).

The Pennsylvania legislature cannot simply put the Marcellus genie back in the bottle by passing a New York-style total moratorium on Marcellus drilling, pending an environmental impact review. But it should pass three laws now proposed in the legislature. One calls for a one-year moratorium on drilling permits while the PADEP and the legislature get their acts together (in an election year).

A proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act would require oil and gas industries to disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals (many are highly toxic to humans and animals), but the industry says the chemicals are proprietary information.

[In July, Range Resources became the first company to divulge its drilling chemicals. Hanger says all companies must now follow suit. The Editor.]

A third measure would amend current law to prohibit companies from drilling wells within 2,500 feet of a primary drinking-water supply source. The bills’ sponsor, state Rep. Phyllis Munday (D-Kingston), is also asking the U.S. Congress to repeal the “Halliburton Loophole,” a Bush administration provision in the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts oil and gas drilling industries from restrictions on hydraulic fracturing operations near drinking-water sources.

Casting With Rajeff
When Steve Rajeff was 15 years old, he won his first American All-Around fly-casting championship and then proceeded to win it 36 times of the 40 he attended. At age 16, he won his first International All-Around, in which he won 14 of 17 competitions.
I watched him cast for the first time in 1980 during a visit to the Golden Gate Casting Club in San Francisco. The club has produced more great fly casters than any in the world, but Steve Rajeff is its Babe Ruth, the world all-time competition casting winner.
Over the years I asked him to write about his formidable casting skills, and he was always willing to discuss them, but he was busy designing rods for G.Loomis, competing around the globe, and, of course, fishing.

I watched Steve as a young guide in Alaska pick off one trout after another using those skills and, later, I was there when he made a superb 90-foot cast to a 22-pound permit in the Bahamas. The fly landed just upcurrent and to the right of a group of four fish tailing along a white sand shoal. The permit charged the fly, inhaled it, and the fight was on.

Rajeff was the mentor who taught the Exuma Peace and Plenty flats guides saltwater distance casting, and some of them are now among the best casters in the Bahamas.

Efficient distance casting is an essential element of saltwater fly fishing. It requires tight loops, fast rod loading, and pinpoint accuracy. And it requires nerves of steel to perform under extreme pressure.

“Well, I only fish for trout at from 30 to 40 feet. I don’t need to learn how to cast long and with more accuracy,” is the semi-reasonable response to this observation by many trout anglers. But trout fishers can also learn things from Steve Rajeff that can improve their fishing success. [See “Going for Distance” on page 46 for six helpful pointers that can improve anyone’s game. The Editor.]

Here are some more things I have learned from Steve over the past three decades that have made me a much improved fly fisher.
Line-hand line control is fundamental. If your line hand does not keep the line relatively tight during your stroke, the cast will lose energy. Line speed is another essential casting fundamental. Rajeff gains the ultimate high line speeds using one technique (in addition to his perfect stroke timing): He stops the rod swiftly in the rear and forward casting strokes. The result of this sharp rod stop is to speed up the rod tip recovery, providing more energy—and thus more speed—to the line.

Done properly, the sharp rod stops create the tight loops that are the hallmark of distance casting, and a casting fundamental. Tight loops are important for accuracy when you are tip-casting small dry flies short, or when you are casting larger, air-resistant saltwater flies and loading the rod deeply into the butt section.

When fishing nymph/indicator rigs or large bass flies, you’ll need to open your loops, but in the process of learning to throw tight loops you will master loop control and be able to throw loops of any size.

Using Rajeff’s distance techniques is especially important to steelhead and Atlantic salmon anglers who want to cover more water on big rivers, but efficient casting is also poetry that can be enjoyed as an end in itself.

John Randolph is publisher emeritus of Fly Fisherman.

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  2. Marcellus Permit Changed By PADEP For Streams
  3. Wells Cause Pollution, Not Fracking
  4. Marcellus Science Studies Cut 70% By PADCNR
  5. Fracking Study By EPA
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