Spill in state forest moves gas drilling moratorium debate

Date: April 6, 2010
Published: March 30, 2010

HARRISBURG – A mud spill at a Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling site on state forest land has been contained without contaminating nearby water resources, Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday.

The accident Friday at Sproul State Forest in northcentral Pennsylvania came as a group of House Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a five-year moratorium on additional leasing of state forest land for natural gas drilling while environmental impact studies are done.

An estimated 8,000 gallons to 12,000 gallons of mud used by Anadarko E&P Co. Inc. for drilling operations overflowed at the well site due to human error, said Daniel Spandoni, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Resources at Williamsport.

The state leased drilling rights to Anadarko for the 2,724-acre Tract 737 in Sproul forest in Clinton County in January. Anadarko submitted an $11 million high bid to obtain that lease. It is part of 32,000 acres of state forest land leased to five firms interested in exploring the deep gas pockets of the Marcellus Shale formation.

While about half of the mud spilled over the boundary of the well pad, it didn’t spread far enough to contaminate any surface waters, ground water or wetlands in the area, said Mr. Spandoni. A contractor began cleanup work Friday night. DEP officials have taken mud samples to determine a proper disposal method.

The mud is used as a cooling agent in drilling operations. Since the mud that spilled is synthetic-based, it doesn’t contain any diesel fluids as some other agents do, said Mr. Spandoni.

Mr. Rendell personally announced news of the spill at a press conference dealing with several issues. The governor’s budget proposal for fiscal 2010-11 calls for using $180 million in oil and gas fund revenues to balance the budget.

Some $68 million of that amount is coming from the January leases. The remaining revenue is assumed to come from expanded leasing of state forest land which has drawn oppostion from the coalition of House Democrats known informally as “green dogs.”

However, Mr. Rendell expressed optimism Monday the state can meet next year’s revenue target without leasing additional acreage of state forest land. He said more details will be forthcoming. Mr. Rendell also said for the first time he supports a moratorium bill.

The governor met recently with coalition members and said he supports a moratorium in concept, said Rep. Greg Vitali, R-166, Havertown, the moratorium bill sponsor.

“We hope he is going to help up negotiate legislation,” said Mr. Vitali.

contact the writer: rswift@timesshamrock.com

Copyright: The Times Tribune

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.