Bay Journal

December 2009 - Volume 19 - Number 9

Marcellus Shale: Pipe dreams in Pennsylvania?

When the natural gas companies descended on Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale two years ago, it felt like a Gold Rush. And everyone seemed to be hitting pay dirt.


Landowners, many in long-depressed regions, rushed to lease their property, betting the promised royalties would better their lot. Mayors rejoiced that restaurants and hotels were full after decades of barely hanging on. Legislators talked of thousands of new jobs.


Even some environmentalists were pleased-natural gas burns clean, it's plentiful and it's local. Finally, it seemed, an energy source had come along that would wean Americans off their foreign oil addiction, fight climate change and boost the economy. ...


Richmond community mobilizes to reduce stormwater

Change appears to be in the air these days, especially when one considers current efforts to address stormwater runoff from urban and suburban areas.

Virginia is completing its new stormwater management regulation process. The EPA recently requested public comments on a proposed national stakeholder survey designed to provide information that will be used to strengthen national stormwater regulations.

Many nonprofits and local governments have been working to address stormwater pollution issues in their communities. Several creative urban conservation programs have been developed and are being implemented throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. ...

It’s getting harder to see PA’s once vast forests through their fragments

When an early Pennsylvania settler clawed his way through the woods to the top of a hill, he found disappointment. The view, he said, "is nothing but an undulating surface of impenetrable forest."

Penn's Woods was aptly named. When colonists arrived in the 1600s, it was 98 percent forest, causing another settler to declare that it "was not a land of prospects. There is too much wood."

Few complained over the next 200 years as the state's trees "came down like tall grass before a giant scythe," as a contemporary observer put it. By the time botanist Joseph Rothrock traveled through the northern tier in the late 1800s, he called it the "Pennsylvania desert." ...

Pennsylvania towns often find themselves powerless against gas company practices

There's a reason they call these the Endless Mountains.

Undulating hills of yellow and crimson rise gracefully before disappearing into a blanket of gauze-like fog. For miles, no other cars share the two-lane roads that snake through this tranquil pocket of northeast Pennsylvania.

People visit here for the hiking and the bicycling and the skiing and the leaf peeping; they stay for the quiet.

But natural gas drilling is quickly transforming these rural hamlets into industrial zones. Towns and counties that are sitting atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale know that the gas companies are coming, and they are trying to prepare. But because of industry practices and current regulations, they may be powerless to control their destinies. ...

Bay-related initiatives receive record amount of funding for 2010

Congress opened the federal wallet wider for many Bay-related initiatives in 2010, sending record amounts of funding to help farmers in the watershed control nutrient runoff, and to states to support water infrastructure improvements.

In addition. Congress appropriated a record $50 million for the EPAÕs Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates federal and state cleanup efforts. That was a huge increase over the $31 million the program got in 2009, and $15 million more than the $35 million originally requested in President Barack ObamaÕs budgetÑwhich itself would have been a record amount. ...

Smart buoy coming to Severn

The remnants of Hurricane Ida blew plans off course for placing NOAA's latest "smart buoy" in the mouth of the Severn River near Annapolis on Veterans Day.

Re-scheduled to deploy in late November, the high-tech buoy will become the seventh in the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System.

Mariners, tourists and teachers are fans of the bright yellow buoys, which collect and transmit information wirelessly about weather and water quality, and share stories about the Bay's cultural heritage. ...

Panel told Bay cleanup needs more accountability

A U.S. Senate panel heard testimony in November that a strong law is needed to ensure that Bay cleanup efforts move forward, but critics say proposed legislation goes too far and would give states and the federal EPA "unprecedented" regulatory authority.

At issue is a bill introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, which would require that all actions needed to control the nutrient and sediment pollution that foul the Bay's water be implemented by 2025, and would give states and the EPA more authority to ensure the goal is met. ...

Striped bass survey catch numbers for 2009 slightly below average

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources in October announced that its 2009 Young-of-the-Year Striped Bass Survey averaged 7.9 fish per haul this year, slightly below the long term average of 11.7.

The DNR has used the same techniques for the survey for the last 50 years to show the yearly spawning success for rockfish.

"These numbers may be slightly below the average, but it's well within the normal range of expectations," said DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O'Connell. "The 2001 super year class, followed by a robust year class in 2003, should project for a healthy, sustainable population." ...

Menhaden harvest cap extended through 2013

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has approved a three-year extension to its menhaden harvest cap in the Chesapeake Bay, extending the limit enacted in 2006 through 2013.

The original commercial harvest cap of 109,020 metric tons was set by the ASMFC's Menhaden Management Board as a "precautionary" action while studies were undertaken to determine wether the small, oily fish was suffering "localized depletion" in the Chesapeake.

Although the commission's stock assessments have consistently shown the menhaden stock is not overfished along the coast, many anglers and some scientists have contended that there are too few fish in the Bay to provide food for predators such as striped bass, or to provide other ecosystem services, such as filtering algae from the water. ...

Half of U.S. reservoirs, lakes contain fish with high mercury levels

Nearly half of U.S. lakes and reservoirs contain fish with potentially harmful levels of the toxic metal mercury, according to a federal study released in November.

The EPA found mercury-a pollutant primarily released from coal-fired power plants-and polychlorinated biphenyls in all fish samples it collected from 500 lakes and reservoirs from 2000-2003. At 49 percent of those lakes and reservoirs, mercury concentrations exceeded levels that the EPA says are safe for people eating average amounts of fish. Mercury consumed by eating fish can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children. ...

Fish passage work to resume at Holtwood Dam

A new shad-friendly expansion at Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River, which had been placed on hold, is back on track thanks to the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress earlier this year.

The $230 million expansion would more than double the generating capacity of the hydroelectric dam while also modifying its fish passage, which has been significantly less effective than what was hoped.

The dam's owner, PPL, had withdrawn an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December 2008, citing the poor economy and inability to secure loans. ...

Federal leadership new strategy for Bay cleanup

Troubled about the Bay's dirty water? The federal government has a fix for that which includes getting tougher with states and implementing new regulations.

Worried that waterbirds, oysters and even trout are running out of habitat? Federal agencies have a plan to target large-scale restoration efforts on species that reflect the health of important habitats.

Concerned that the region's landscape is changing so fast it will lose its historic sense of character? The feds say they can fix that, too, by leading a coordinated effort to permanently preserve areas that make the region unique. ...

Drilling for Resources

For decades, geologists have known that the Marcellus Shale was rich with gas. And oil and gas companies have long extracted resources from Pennsylvania. A combination of technological, regulatory, economic and political factors have brought the industry to where it is today. Here are some milestones. (Note: Time line is not to scale.)

1859: Edwin Drake's crew drills the nation's first oil well in Titusville, PA.

1940s: Halliburton pioneers hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." Workers pump millions of gallons of water and other chemicals under very high pressure into shale, creating cracks where the natural gas can come out. ...

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