Appalachian Basin

*UPDATE* After the Flood, Site Unseen

Most folks who post on this site are from northeastern Pennsylvania or southern New York like I am, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one among this group refreshing local news sites every 15 seconds last week to see the latest tally on how high the Susquehanna had risen.

I’m from the Back Mountain area of Luzerne Co., far enough beyond the swollen river’s reach. But my wife’s from West Pittston, and many of her friends and family – especially those within a block or two of Susquehanna Ave. — found themselves directly in the water’s path on Thursday and Friday. Further down the river, people in Wilkes-Barre were wondering whether their levee was going to hold — and with a crest above 42 feet, whether the river might actually overtop the structure entirely.

Needless to say, these were very difficult hours for hundreds of thousands of residents in our area. And for the thousands of folks who returned on Sunday to find their homes damaged or destroyed by the flood, the really difficult times had just begun. But at least for a few anti-Marcellus activists in our area, the flood of 2011 represented a unique opportunity. On the morning of September 9, only hours after President Obama had declared a state of emergency in Pennsylvania, the following email was sent out to an activist listserv by Dick Martin, coordinator for a group that calls itself the PA Forest Coalition (after the jump).

—– Forwarded Message —–

Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 10:27 AM
Subject: Effect of flooding on Marcellus operations

I just received a note from our former Secretary of DCNR, John Quigley.

We are looking for evidence of any frackwater ponds breached or overflowing . . . or other enviro damage from the flooding.

I read the comments on the gas forum, but we need exact locations and details. Photos also, if possible.

Could you alert the folks to do some weekend driving, with cameras and notebooks?

Dick R. Martin

Set aside the fact that operators in northeast PA deploy closed-loop water management systems on site, and thus don’t have any need or use for what Mr. Martin terms “frackwater ponds.” And let’s also set aside that this reconnaissance mission was apparently ordered by John Quigley, the former DCNR chief whose actual portfolio on Marcellus issues when he was in office was incredibly limited, but who today is often quoted by reporters on the matter simply because he very often has very little nice to say about it.

Set aside all that. The truly remarkable thing here is that Mr. Martin would ask “the folks” to go out in the middle of dangerous flood conditions, all for the purpose of manufacturing a talking point – nothing more — against the responsible development of natural gas in our state.

But wouldn’t you know it? Despite braving hell and high water, “the folks” apparently didn’t come home with a whole lot about which to get excited. But that didn’t stop them from sending around pictures to reporters trumpeting the demise of a rig that had been besieged by the flood. It took about a day to figure out the picture was taken in Pakistan. The revelation had to be a disappointment to the folks over at the Sierra Club and the Delaware River Network, which issued their own joint statement — also on September 9 — using the flood as a pretext to demand that Pennsylvania “shut down all drilling now” and “immediately revise its regulations to prohibit any gas well development within the floodplains.”

Of course, a little nugget of info these anti-shale folks could have used ahead of time is that special precautions are taken to protect and safeguard wellsites residing in or anywhere near a floodplain. Those efforts start with the actual permitting of the well: Any construction in a floodplain requires a Chapter 105 permit from the state, and formal approval of that application from the Army Corps of Engineers. To those who say that no wellsites should be permitted under any circumstance within a floodplain, it’s worth asking: Do you feel the same way about setting up cities and towns in them?

It’s all pretty amazing, really. We’re talking about the largest, most devastating flood that’s hit our area since Agnes – and by some measures, it may have even been worse than that. Talking about a flood here that occurred at a time of significant natural gas exploration in our area, with a couple thousand wells in place already and more than new 500 wells developed along the northern tier in 2011 so far. And guess what? All the worst things that the anti-Marcellus crowd had hoped for, wished for and actively sought to document – unfortunately for them, none of it happened.

But of course, as we know, these folks aren’t about to let a lack of credible information get in the way of the narrative they’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Earlier today, we got word that anti-shale folks were directing reporters to a photo online showing a derailed train car in Wyalusing. Never mind that these train cars are almost certainly carrying sand. Spilled “sand” isn’t quite as sexy or compelling a news hook as spilled “frack fluids.” We’ll let you guess how the picture was pitched to the press.

The most maddening thing, of course, is that all this happening while real (and real serious) environmental threats as a result of the flood are staring us right in the face – threats that have nothing to do with drilling a damn gas well. You see the story out of Binghamton last week? Turns out the flood up there had a “fairly catastrophic” impact on the local sewage treatment facility, according to the plant’s superintendant. The upshot, as reported by the Press & Sun-Bulletin and basically no one else? “Raw wastewater is being discharged into the [Susquehanna] river until the plant can be brought back on line.”

Of course, the PA Forest Coalition’s citizen photographers were nowhere to be found up there. Guess they thought it would have made for a crappy picture.

UPDATE: Great piece in the Harrisburg Patriot News this week should; if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and take a look. Here’s the lede:

The flooding from Tropical Storm Lee isn’t the fracking mess some activists thought.

The anti-drilling environmentalist group Penn Environment posted a photo of a submerged drilling rig to its Facebook page and Tweeted it saying, “Here’s more evidence Marcellus Shale drilling pads should NOT be allowed in floodplains.”

Except the rig wasn’t in the Marcellus Shale.

It wasn’t even in the United States.

“Apologies folks,” Penn Environment later admitted: the photo was of a flooded rig in Pakistan.


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