MARCELLUS SHALE HISTORY: Tale of Two Townships and a Decade of Fracking Issues in America 2011-2022

Southwestern Pennsylvania
In the Spring of 2011, Chesapeake Appalachia LLC was the first oil and gas producer to drill an unconventional Marcellus Shale well in Union Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. Yet, while large drilling sites are multiplying in Union Township, there are still no unconventional gas wells in neighboring Peters Township.
While it’s nearly impossible to cover all the fracking issues and events, even in just these two townships, let’s take a look back at some of the major events over the past thirteen years.

In 2010, Chesapeake flew a team in from the corporate office in Oklahoma, to help their local landmen push leasing negotiations along in Peters Township. They were applying a ‘full court press’ to get Peters Township council members to sign a gas lease. They wanted to lease all of the township’s public acreage, which originally amounted to 722 acres (the final lease document indicated 624.66 acres).

Proposed Dale Property Services Penn, LP lease with Peters Township:

Their lease proposal clumped township and school properties together, even though the school board would have had to vote separately on whether to lease their parcels. While there were many comments opposing that lease at Peters Township council meetings, as well as any sort of future drilling in Peters Township, the citizen groundswell never came anywhere close to the overflowing meeting rooms opposing a proposed crematorium in the township, several years later.

Chesapeake Energy, through their local leasing arm Dale Property Services Penn LP, wanted the rights to drill to the ‘center of the Earth.’ For at least one veteran council member, that particular clause was a deal breaker, since he would only consider leasing the gas rights to the Marcellus shale layer.

An upfront bonus payment of $1,873,980 was sitting on the table with a promise of 18% royalties, on all “oil, gas and other hydrocarbons” produced. In the end, Peters Township council voted down the lease offer, and Chesapeake’s corporate team flew back to Oklahoma.

The following year a hale and hearty band of citizens, under the banner of “Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness” (PTMSA) succeeded in getting a proposed Community Rights amendment to the Peters Township Home Rule Charter up for a vote on the November 2011 ballot.

Proposed Amendment to the Peters Township Charter:
Written comment I delivered to Peters Township council:
Peters Township Council’s bulk mailing opposing the Charter Amendment:
PTMSA Charter Amendment Q&A:
November 8, 2011 – The ‘ban drilling drama’ in Peters Township ended its run with the close of Polls at 8:00 P.M. Unofficial results on the PETERS TOWNSHIP CHARTER AMENDMENT:
  • NO 82.6% 5,337 Votes
  • YES 17.4% 1,127 Votes
Peters Township joined other municipalities in fighting Pennsylvania’s onerous Act 13:
Impact Fee Disbursements:

“Act 13/Impact Fee provides for the imposition of an unconventional gas well fee (also called an impact fee), and the distribution of those funds to local and state governments.  Act 13/Impact Fee also contains provisions regarding how the impact fee may be spent.  A significant portion of the funds collected will be distributed directly to local governments to cover the local impacts of drilling.”

Interactive Impact Fee Website –The interactive website allows users to better examine information related to the collection and distribution of the state’s unconventional gas well Impact Fee. The website includes graphical data analysis including the top paying producers, well count breakdowns and top collecting counties and local governments. A user’s guide also is available.” More

Impact? Peters Township (no gas wells) got 2-1/2 times more money than Union Township (with gas wells).
BLOG: Pennsylvania’s impact fee is ‘chump change’ compared to Texas

December 2016 – PERFORMANCE AUDIT: Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Act 13/Impact Fees

  • FINDNG 1: Act 13’s lack of clarity regarding proper use, reporting, and monitoring of Impact Fee funds leads to questionable spending and inaccurate reporting.
  • FINDING 2: PUC’s lack of verification of budget amounts caused inaccurate distributions of Impact Fee funds to certain municipalities.
  • We found 3 counties and 3 municipalities reported spending in categories that exceeded actual expenditures, totaling $15.2 million. These counties and municipalities reported commitments or planning estimates on the usage reports which exceeded actual expenditures. (Washington County and Chartiers Township, Washington County were two of them).
  • We also found 7 counties and 14 municipalities had more actual expenditures than reported in the Act 13 System, totaling $35.3 million. (Beaver County, Greene County, and Washington City were three of them).
  • December 6, 2016 story by Laura Legere in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Audit: Vague guidelines led to improper spending of Pa.’s impact fees” – Weak oversight and unclear limits in Pennsylvania’s impact fee law have allowed some local governments to spend the money in ways that have little to do with addressing the natural gas drilling-related pressures the funds were meant to offset. The audit — covering four years of payments between 2012 and 2016 — found that a quarter of the impact fee funds in the 30 counties and municipalities the audit sampled were spent on “questionable costs” that appeared to be outside the scope of the law, like balancing budget deficits, paying salaries at county jails, building community swimming pools or buying fireworks for a holiday celebration. The 10 counties reviewed in the audit spent $19 million, or nearly 29 percent of their impact fee spending, on items the auditor general’s office defined as questionable. The audit also found the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission accurately calculated each local government’s share of the impact fees based on the information the commission received.

Hundreds of landowners in Peters Township signed gas leases between 2008 and 2016. In addition to the original leases signed with Chesapeake (mostly in 2010) there was a huge wave of new leases signed with EQT in 2015 and 2016, primarily in the southeastern corner of the township, abutting Nottingham Township. Those Peters Township properties would likely be reached from the Lutes Well Pad in Nottingham Township.

Meantime, Peters Township was looking at a new Oil & Gas Ordinance:
Peters Township’s PowerPoint for 9-16-16 Public Hearing on Unconventional Gas Drilling:

As oil and gas fortunes began to decline for Chesapeake Energy in subsequent years, most of the gas leases they had signed with Peters Township landowners were ‘flipped’ to EQT, which is currently the largest gas producer in the United States, and based in Pittsburgh, Pa. In years that followed, EQT began drilling additional wells on each of two former Chesapeake well pads in Nottingham and Union Townships (Harbison and Trax) which border Peters Township on the south and east, respectively.

Range Resources Appalachia LLC has done most of the drilling to the south and west of Peters Township, with ongoing drilling by Range Resources Appalachia LLC in North Strabane Township (to the southwest) and Cecil Township (to the west).

Peters Township council signed two non-surface leases (EQT in 2017 / Range Resources in 2018) that allow well laterals to be drilled horizontally beneath the township.

Shortly before signing those leases, Peters Township changed from using a Mineral Extraction Overlay District, to zoning that restricts surface drilling to only parcels that are zoned “Industrial.” Those are primarily in the northwest corner of Peters Township at the present time.

Peters Township lease with EQT Production Company:
Signing bonus of $4,750.00 per acre, 18% Royalties

Range Resources – Appalachia LLC building in the Southpointe Business Park near Canonsburg, PA

Peters Township lease with Range Resources – Appalachia, LLC:
Signing bonus of $4,750.00 per acre, 18% Royalties

VIDEO: Peters Township Council Meeting 6-25-18 Discussion and Vote on Range Resources Lease
“5.G. Authorize appropriate officials to negotiate an agreement with Range Resources for the
lease of Township property for the purpose of extracting natural gas”

(Discussion begins at the 1:10:11 mark of the video) Approved by a 6-1 vote.
Two well laterals are proposed to run close to the earthen dam and troublesome causeway in Peters Lake Park.

What are the risks of hydraulically fracturing gas wells near dams?

Buffer zones debated for drilling near state’s dams
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / March 2, 2019
Hundreds of shale gas wells are crowding close to and sometimes snaking under Pennsylvania’s many dams. That’s because there’s no risk-based setback requirements for shale gas development around dams in Pennsylvania, now the nation’s second biggest natural gas producing state, with more than 11,500 Marcellus and Utica shale gas wells drilled and fracked, another 10,000 permitted, and the potential for tens of thousands more in the future. That’s in contrast to buffer zones of 3,000 to 4,000 feet around scores of dams in other shale gas drilling states.
MAP: Unconventional Drilling Near Dams in PA || Gas Wells in Pennsylvania

Dam Safety and Waterway Management:

BACK TO 2013
The Union Township drilling by Chesapeake in 2011 was followed by the Bunola 3D seismic survey of multiple southwestern Pennsylvania townships and counties. “Thumper trucks” and explosive charges were used to survey a large area charted for future shale gas production, using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking.’

Seismic testing trucks working in unison along a frigid road near the Peters Township – Union Township border on January 27, 2014. Trucks move forward short distances, lower their plates onto the road surface, and create a ‘wind-up’ whirring sound, then release vibrations into the ground that are monitored by multiple devices placed along the road. Blasting is often used in conjunction with the “thumper trucks” as outlined in the PA DEP permit below.

PA DEP Bureau of Mining and Reclamation:
What is seismic testing? Read more here.

Photos above: Seismic testing activities on December 5, 2011 in Hopewell Township, Washington County, PA

“Thumper Trucks” working along Bebout Road on June 10, 2014 in Peters Township, Pennsylvania.
EQT’s informational pages on Seismic Testing:

During 2022, EQT excavated the SARAH well pad along El Rama Road, between Finleyville and El Rama. It’s just one of several existing or future well pads in an area straddling the Monongahela River, about 13 miles SSE of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Following public meetings held by township residents, concerned about development of the Sarah Well Pad, at least one family decided to move, regretfully putting their recently purchased ‘Shangri-La’ up for sale, fearful of living close to drilling and fracking.

Flyer promoting a March 9, 2022 meeting:

Sarah 9H Well Permitting
Neighboring townships were notified with Act 14 Notices, and well permitting proceeded through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Initial plans have called for a total of 44 wells to be developed on the Sarah Well Pad in stages.

Project Information for the Sarah Well Site:
Sarah 9H Well Location Plat:

Plotting the northwest path of the Sarah 9H horizontal well bore
Like most Marcellus Shale unconventional gas wells, the horizontal (lateral) leg extends in a NW/SE direction. Unlike early Marcellus Shale well laterals that often extended less than 1-mile, the Sarah 9H lateral is projected to extend 3.79 miles (20,000 feet / 6,096 meters) at a depth of 1.43 miles (7,545 feet / 2,300 meters) with a Total Mineral Tract of 1,365.09 acres. The well site’s project area covers 26.03 acres.

MARCELLUS AIR photos of the SARAH WELL PAD on November 23, 2022:

Moving this shale gas to market
Approximately three-quarters of a mile from the Sarah well pad is the McIntosh Compressor Station. Ever since the McIntosh was built and began operations next to the old, existing Hartson Compressor Station, neighbors have been complaining about various issues.

A smaller EQT well pad in neighboring Nottingham Township:
A new EQT well pad in Union Township ready for future drilling:
Act 14 Notice sent to neighboring Peters Township on Caton 7H well:
Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC drilled Trax Farms 3H, the first unconventional well in Union Township. The gas lease was later ‘flipped’ to EQT, who drilled additional wells:
While the FracFocus website was created to share the makeup of frac fluids, unfortunately, a large percentage of the ingredients can still be hidden under a “Proprietary” classification.
Chesapeake fracking at Trax Farms:

With somewhere around one-third of those millions of gallons of frac fluids coming back up from the deep, black, salty, radioactive shale, where does it all go? Some gets trucked all the way to injection wells in Ohio. Some gets spread on gravel roads and around well sites in Pennsylvania. Some is held in massive, earthen impoundment dams and gets used to frac more wells.

John Day impoundment and well pad in Amwell Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania

Believe it or not
Thirteen years ago, this toxic wastewater was actually going into the source of our drinking water, the Monongahela River, with minimal treatment. Keep in mind that Radium 226, often present in this flowback, is water soluble and has a half-life of 1600 years. Radioactive drilling waste is still going into local garbage landfills, and just like those sewage plants, these landfills were never designed to handle this industrial grade, radioactive waste. Read more in Justin Nobel’s Rolling Stone story “America’s Radioactive Secret” and update “The Oil and Gas Industry Produces Radioactive Waste. Lots of It.

The “earthy, musty odor and taste” in Peters Twp tapwater in 2010:

Due to chlorination of the Monongahela River water creating high levels of trihalomethanes (chloroform is one of them) our public water provider had to switch disinfection processes from chlorine to chloramine, which creates its own set of issues. Chloramination of our public water system requires an annual “chlorine burn” in order to eliminate any lingering pathogens, since chloramine doesn’t disinfect as well as chlorine. During that annual process, tap water smells like a swimming pool.

‘Our Chunky Fracking Water’ Bob’s Blogs 2008-2016:
Back to Union Township
EQT Well Location Plat indicates 12 wells:

EQT drilling more wells in 2014

Coal notice sent to EQT by Consol Energy regarding the Montour No. 10 Mine:
Oil and Gas Lease – CNX and EQT in April 2014:
16% Royalties with NO DEDUCTIONS
EQT fracking Trax Farms wells in 2014:
Neighbors living nearby on Cardox Road, were offered a total of $50,000 to sign these agreements:
THE LATEST CHAPTER: Shale Gas Ethane cracked into Plastic
October 21, 2022 look at Shell’s “Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex” (aka ‘Cracker Plant’) north of Pittsburgh in Monaca, PA:
Video and photos: Shell ‘cracker plant’ along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania on October 21, 2022
Will a second cracker plant be built further down the Ohio River in Belmont County, Ohio?

BLOG: Second Cracker Plant in Ohio River Valley?


UPDATE: FracTracker’s Comprehensive New Pennsylvania Map of Drilling Locations
FracTracker Alliance has developed a new comprehensive map for Pennsylvania that includes 208,778 oil and gas wells along with 57,132 violations assessed to both conventional and unconventional well sites since 2008. Conventional and unconventional wells are shown on the same map, with plugged wells also included. The foundation for this map is a data layer called “Oil and Gas Locations – Conventional Unconventional,” which is published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and made available on the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access, also known as PASDA. PASDA has another dataset of wells that has even more locations, 220,015 in total as of January 11, 2022.

NEWS: Investigation reveals oil and gas drilling waste dumped at local magistrate, Dairy Queen
March 29, 2017 – An investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General revealed oil and gas industry waste was illegally dumped at multiple Fayette County locations, including Dairy Queen property in Uniontown and a magistrate’s office. The illegal dumping allegedly occurred at five locations, including an area behind Dairy Queen at 575 West Main St. in Uniontown and Magisterial District Judge Richard Kasunic II’s office at 3177 Pittsburgh St. in Star Junction. The waste originated at Trans Energy sites in West Virginia. Test results completed at each location detected diesel fuel and compounds including barium, sulfate and strontium, indicative of shale formation cuttings, investigators said. Employees allegedly began the illegal dumping at Joseph’s property, called the “Perry Pit” off of Zias Road on Joseph’s direction. He allegedly admitted that he began directing drivers to dump 1,000 tri-axle truckloads of waste, or about 22,000 tons, beginning in mid-2013.

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