Nearly 200 people listened Monday night to remarks from a principal of Rice Energy LP, a company that plans to drill for natural gas beneath Farragut in the Marcellus Shale layer, and most of the queries were about how waste water from drilling is managed.
Toby Rice, managing member of Rice Energy, had his hands full answering questions about whether the drilling would leave Loyalsock Creek and its watershed as pristine as it was before the energy-seeking company arrived.
"We're not the coal companies, not the timber guys," Rice said, making assurances and promises about environmental compliance and public safety to those gathered at the Community Baptist Church along Route 87.
Carol Kafer, president of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, reminded the audience the association isn't against prosperity.
She reminded, however, acid mine drainage left by coal mining left a legacy that continues today.
"What happens to waste water when it ends up in the ground water, springs, wells, Loyalsock Creek, Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay?" Kafer asked.
Toby Rice, managing member of Rice Energy, speaks to a crowd at Community Baptist Church in Farragut Monday night about plans the company has to dig for natural gas in the
Marcellus Shale deposits in Lycoming County. State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, looks on as a member of the panel.
MARK MARONEY/ Sun-Gazette
Kafer said the state is spending millions to reduce nitrogen and phosphate levels in sewer water treated at industrial and municipal wastewater plants, and wondered if the gas drilling was opening another can of worms.
Rice bounced back to what he said were legitimate concerns by assuring the audience that his company follows a strict sets of regulations.
"My name is on this company," Rice said.
"We have 15,000 acres under lease," he said, pointing out that 6,000 acres are in Lycoming County.
"We plan on drilling a well along Route 864, a vertical well, and it is important for you to see the Marcellus Shale well first hand," Rice said.
According to state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, the company has obtained a permit to begin drilling.
The underlying fear from people wasn't that well drillers technology and equipment isn't up to snuff. It is that Marcellus Shale well drilling water contains dozens of chemicals added to reduce friction when pumped underground under pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas.
How the disposal of that wastewater is handled appeared to be the most pressing question.
Rice said the company plans to put frac water tanks on the location in steel containers. He said there may be up to 30 such tanks, with each one containing hundreds of gallons that would be transported by trucks to a disposable facility.
Should any of the well drilling water get into residential wells, the company is responsible for cleanup and resolution with property owners, Rice said. "It's built into the permit," he said.
Everett, himself a member of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, was on the panel along with state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, and Jennifer Means, oil and gas program manager for the Department of Environmental Protection, North Central Region.
Everett essentially said all efforts are done to help and protect the environment. He said he didn't want a county that wasn't the same for generations of children and grandchildren.
Tom Murphy, an educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension and a member of the Marcellus Education Team, said the growth of the industry, in terms of it as a resource and the technology to extract the gas, is in its early stages.
"It can be measured in decades," he said.
"We've spent $5 billion to $6 billion in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and estimate it will take $55 billion to develop the resource," Murphy said. "We're not deep into it yet."
There may be ways of using high pressure propane to break up the shale rather than water, Murphy said.