Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Doh! When "Neutral" Ain't: The Columbia County Landowner's Coalition Meeting, 6.2.14, Benton, Pennsylvania

TRANSCO pipeline cut through farmland, Hughesville, PA. Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Bruce Anderson goes to great lengths to reassure his audience that he's an "environmentalist," and that he's not employed by the gas companies. He is keen to establish his credibility as a " federally licensed nuclear reactor control room operator" presumably to reassure us that he's got his own income and that he's a smart guy.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

But that's just the set up for a meeting of the Columbia County Landowners Coalition (Columbia County Landowners Coalition) designed to reassure the audience that what they'll be hearing is neutral, objective information. 

And that's true--as far as it goes. But clues that this isn't really an informational meeting--but a promotional for Williams Partner's (WPZ)"Atlantic Sunrise" (ASP) expansion of the TRANSCO begin to pile up the minute Anderson transits from "you can trust me" reassurance to what amounts to lease coordinator for WPZ.  

Clue One: Consider Anderson's first content slide. This claim is true--but it assumes that all that is needed to make the region's shale plays productive are the pipelines to move the gas to market--leaving his audience with the impression that if they had leased land to drilling they might still make out on future royalties. 

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

But while that is possible, it's unlikely. Here's the Martin Well Pad (DEP permit #037-20001) as of 9.29.11:

Not much has changed. There was a truck rig on site last week. Williams is still prodding the well. Workers were pumping out frack fluid and attempting an operation to try to bring the well to life. The well has no pressure. When the workers opened the well cap there was a huge 'whooshing sucking sound' I was told.  The sound was the frack fluid in the well bore dropping. Think of how you put a straw in a glass of water, place your thumb over the top of the straw and remove the straw from the glass..then remove your thumb from the straw. The water quickly drops through the straw. I'm told what the workers are attempting is a long shot. Evidently the Marcellus has dead zones where the shale is so compacted that the gas can't escape after the initial fracking operation. The pressure in the well went from 2200 psi the day the fracking was completed to about 5 psi five days later. (Forum 656148: Martin Well Status)
And as of the last status report for Williams' drilling interests in Columbia County, 11.17.11:

All drilling activity by Williams is on hold in Columbia county pending the status of the Martin well. The well next to Bear fuel on #118 is also on hold indefinitely. That site had a test well drilled earlier this year. The major operator is EXCO with Williams being a joint venture partner with a 10% interest. Williams was informed several weeks ago that EXCO has abondoned any further operations at that site due to lack of positive data from the test well and the failure of the Martin well to produce any meaningful gas volume. (Forum 656148: Don't Get Too Excited).
To imply that "lack of pipeline" is responsible for lack of frack gas production is a bit disingenuous--there's no pressure down the hole, and there isn't likely to be in these "dead zones." 

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Moreover,  the claim that "the economics were not here," while also true isn't the whole story. As I've shown, the economics aren't here, or even "here" in the United States. The economics are in LNG export to global markets, and while Williams claims that "there are no LNG [Liquified Natural Gas] terminal facilities related to or proposed as part of the Project," the relationship between Williams and Dominion--who wants to convert an LNG import to export at Cove Point, MD--is cozy if not incestuous. Dominion purchased the Cove Point facility from Williams in 2002 for $217 million, and the reference to Fairfax County, Virginia in the WPZ FERC Pre-Filing Documents is at least indirectly connected to Dominion's plan at Cove Point. 

Dominion's project slogan is "Support Maryland Sending Clean Energy to the World," and Williams certainly comprehends the opportunity to export to Chinese and Indian buyers, for example, the Gulf Trace Project (THE WRENCH: When Sunrise for the Global Gas Markets is Sunset for Pennsylvania: Williams Partner's "Atlantic Sunrise" Expansion of the TRANSCO). At the CCLC WPZ Promotional, Anderson bristled audibly when I pointed out that ASP was on its way to LNG export--but the maps he himself presented make this clear.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
UPSHOT: (1) whatever money lease-holders might stand to make off the ASP, it isn't going to be because any drill sites in Columbia County are going to miraculously re-pressurize. So it just isn't lack of pipeline--at least not here--that's going to make folks rich. (2) Any notion you might have that you're doing your patriotic duty or contributing to national security is unvarnished Bull-Pucky. As I have said a gazillion times, the gas industry waves the flag for one reason, and one reason only, to sucker you into leasing your land so they can make piles of profits all the while externalizing the long-term costs to your property value loss, your polluted water, your fractured community, your ill-health, and your screwed over kids.  

Clue Two: Anderson resorts to fear-mongering and an "us against them" strategy to get his audience to circle the wagons--and lease their land.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

One of the public meetings Anderson attended was a meeting of Columbia County Pipeline Awareness (CCPA)--a newly formed group aimed primarily at encouraging folks along the ASP right-of-way to engage the FERC comment process. Despite his claim that "all the guest speakers were from outside Columbia County" all of the speakers at the CCPA meeting --guest or otherwise--were either local or regional--and several had farms directly on the ASP right-of-way. To claim otherwise is not only false, it's an attempt to create distrust--fear--among landowners on the ASP right-of-way by implying that these "outsiders" have some agenda other than, say, telling the truth. 

It's also notable that when Anderson and his wife were cordially asked to identify themselves and provide a reason for coming to the meeting, they did not reveal that they headed the Columbia County Landowner's Coalition, and that CCLC's stated objective is "to help land owners in their respective communities to obtain the best value and lease options for a comprehensive gas lease on their property in the Marcellus Shale and other formations," AKA: make the most money leasing their land (Columbia County Landowners Coalition). The Anderson's came to the CCPA meeting to do reconnaissance for CCLC in the interest of insuring that resistance doesn't reach the landowners.

Why else have Benton Police at the CCLC Shin-dig?

TRANSCO, Hughesville, PA. Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

What Anderson means by "fear," of course, is that these out-sider meetings include factual information that CCLC doesn't want its members to think about too much--like WPZ' record of accident and explosion. But if this was my land, I'd surely want to know stuff like this--wouldn't you?

1. 2008 – Natural gas explosion in Virginia [Transco] the blast ripped a 32-foot section of pipe from the ground and caused a 1,100 feet burn zone. Property damage reported to exceed $3 million. 2. 2010 – Transco Pipeline leak in Texas. Leak was not reported for 4 days. The 1/4 inch diameter leak caused a reported $57,000 in property damage. Aerial patrol did not see the leak. Found by an operator who saw some bubbles.
 3. 2010 / 2011– FINED $275 Thousand over failing to implement and/or maintain storm water measures to prevent potential pollutants during planned construction in Parachute, Colorado. State inspectors notified Williams (Bargath) in Nov. 2010 of violations and told them to take immediate action. According to report, Williams did not fix violation for 7 months. 4. 2013 (Jan) – Williams discovers leak of NGLs in Parachute plant while working on construction to expand the plant. Reports say the leak was found by ACCIDENT. Leak stopped, but Benzene, a cancer causing agent, has contaminated soil. Williams says leak not affecting creek. (March 15) – Groundwater in Parachute is contaminated with Benzene from NGL leak. Spill finally announced to public. Benzene is cancer-causing agent that breaks down bone marrow. 5. 2012 – Gas leak caused explosion at Natural Gas Compressor Station inPennsylvania. Williams restarts the station within 24 hours and started pumping fracked gas despite request from PA Dept. of Environmental Protection not to do so. DEP states they make it very clear on the above matter but because it was not an official order no fines were issued. 1 ton of Methane released.
Pipeline Rupture, Rt. 220
Sonestown, PA
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
 6. 2013 (April) – Williams say faulty pressure gauge cause of leak in Parachute. Diesel found at gates of Parachute water supply. Benzene detected in creek. State Health Dept takes over oversight of leak. (8) (9) (May) – Benzene levels rise in Parachute, CO creek. State agency tells Williams violated it the law. (8). Williams announces it will not expand the Parachute, Co plant expansion NOT because of the NGL leak but due to low gas prices. 7. 2013 (June 13) – Williams’ Natural Gas Liquid (NGL) cracker plant that process NGLs in Louisiana. Explodes and Burns. That chemical plant was in middle of $350 million expansion. 700 contract workers were present; 2 people killed (ages 29 & 47); 70 injuries; 62,000 pounds of toxic chemical released.
 8. 2014 (May 14)A probe into safety practices at pipeline operator Williams Cos. (WMB) is being expanded after a natural gas plant fire led to the evacuation of a town in Wyoming last month, the company’s third accident in a year… In December, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Williams for six safety violations at the Geismar plant and proposed a $99,000 fine.

Does that information potentially create fear? You bet. At least if you've got any sense. But that's not rightly called "fear mongering." In Williams' case, it's called truth telling.

Upshot: just because you may not want to know the ecological and health hazards of Williams expansion of the TRANSCO doesn't mean they don't exist. Any informational meeting that does not include this is far more than remiss--it is grotesquely liable for omission.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Clue Three: Anderson tells the audience that the letters they've received from Williams "contain a permission form which grants permission for survey work only." While that may be true--it is a serious misrepresentation of Williams' intentions. Once you grant them access to your land, they are going to exert all the pressure of an invading army to get you to sign a lease.

If you still refuse to do so, they're coming back as a "public utility" granted to them through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take your land as eminent domain. If you experience any confusion about what this means--especially in light of legitimate worries borne of the nasty accident record profiled above, please go here, and scroll down to the property owner's guide to eminent domain: 

Atlantic Sunrise Project: Williams Companies, Inc. | Shale Justice

Anderson acknowledges the possibility that Williams can take your land without your permission--but hedges it. He then answers a question about whether land can be taken via forced pooling by claiming that it can't because ACT 13 was overturned!

It's hard to know where to begin to dispel this level of ignorance. But suffice this much for now:

1. ACT 13 was a state law overturned in part--not in whole, and the part that was overturned did effectively gut municipalities from being able to control drilling operations within their borders. This was patently unconstitutional, reflected the corruption of the Corbett administration, and was rightly shot down.

2. Act 13 never addressed forced pooling. Period. End of story.

3. The ACT 13 decision  is irrelevant at least to the extent that ASP crosses not only municipality boundaries--but state boundaries--and hence state law would have had virtually no say about ASP in any case. This will be reinforced if FERC grants Williams the status of a public utility. All the Act 13s in the world weren't going to keep Williams from appealing to eminent domain to get right-of-way on your land.

4. By allowing Universal Field Services to survey, you're helping Williams plan and execute a 42 inch natural gas pipeline--including its compressors, dehydrators, and LNG export to the highest bidder. 

Upshot: don't waste your time thinking that a little bitty survey isn't an agreement with Williams. It is. Once that flagging is up, once Williams is settled on their route, they are going to build that pipeline, and if they have to use eminent domain to do it, be prepared.

The moral of my story  is simple: there are lots of "Andersons," and whether they're on the payroll of the gas companies or not, their aim is to deliver you to the landman. Meetings that advertise themselves as informational--but omit critical data about property rights, potential for accident, the refusal of insurance companies to insure you if you have a gas lease (See Erie's above) do you a serious disservice.

Could be your land. Picture Rocks, PA. Photo Wendy Lynne lee

Starting with the survey "request," tell the landman no. Tell him to leave. Then make a copy of this, and go talk to your neighbor. FERC is entirely useless, but when enough folks on the right-of-way say no, stick to their guns, and act like a community, Williams just might get the message.

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