LOCK HAVEN - A lethal combination of faulty equipment, fog and confused direction led to the recent death of a truck driver hauling water for a local natural gas drilling operation, Trooper Kevin Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police told the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force Tuesday.
Discussions about the fatal accident dominated the meeting of the task force, as local representatives outlined the need for additional safeguards to insure the integrity of the Noyes Township area watershed and reservoir, and talked about other safety concerns.
On May 16, the driver of a 2005 International truck carrying a tank full of fresh water was killed after he apparently missed a sharp turn in the roadway, sending the truck rolling down the wooded mountainside.
George Garlick, 50, of Lock Haven, was pronounced dead at the scene by Clinton County Coroner Donald G. Walker.
The accident occurred sometime before 6 a.m. on Halls Run Road Route 144, about six miles south of South Renovo in Noyes Township according to state police at Lamar.
Trooper Miller said he conducted a vehicle and equipment inspection soon after he received word that a fatal accident occurred involving a commercial carrier .
He also said he filed two citations against QC Logistics late last week, both of which focused on the brake systems.
The company provides water and sand transportation to drilling rigs, impoundments, and frac tanks on a year-around basis, and is a subcontractor of Anadarko Petroleum.
Anadarko spokesperson Mary Wolf told the gathering that Anadarko has suspended operations with the company and ordered a stand-down until inspections are conducted to each unit in the fleet of trucks being used locally.
Trooper Miller said the section of Route 144 was bonded against damage, and Garbrick was legal to drive on the highway, but Anadarko had a posted policy of prohibiting its contracted trucks from traveling beyond a point on that road.
"It was foggy that night," Tpr. Miller said. "We believed he missed his road and continued until he hit the steep grade ... After that, the brakes heated up, and he could have slipped or missed a gear ... It was the brakes, the terrain and the fog."
Miller said it wasn't uncommon for local drivers who know the road to take the "short cut" to avoid a lengthy driver, but couldn't say for sure if the deceased had ever done that.
He also said the investigation hasn't been completed.
Miller said state police, with Anadarko's cooperation, have racheted-up patrols for truck violations in some areas, specifically for regions where a great deal of gas-related truck activity can be expected.
Clinton County Maintenance Manager Damon Wagner noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is also continuing its monitoring of the situation and he said just last Friday, a severely overweight truck was found on top of Route 144. The unidentified company faces a $17,000 fine for that violation, he said.
Gerald Lacy, task force environmental committee spokesman who is also involved with the Renovo area water reservoir, said the accident was indeed tragic, but could have been even worse, had the truck been hauling dangerous chemicals or contaminated water.
As it was, he said, one of the truck's fuel tanks broke, sending motor fuel into the ground. As a more troubling issue, he said that it was many hours before the accident was actually discovered, a fact that delayed emergency response time, although he had nothing but praise for the local firefighters.
"We've dodged a bullet - twice," he said, pointing to another, similar accident that occurred last year.
"Unfortunately, the truck went off radar," he said. "We need to work on our response time and develop a list of procedures and people to contact if and when this happens again ... Three people have been killed on that curve in my lifetime."
Sproul District Forester Doug D'Amore said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources experts concluded, given the small size of the contamination, that removal of the soil was not needed.
Instead, Anadarko officials said, the Department of Environmental Protection encouraged on-site microbial treatment to allow petroleum eating microbes to be applied on the area, and will take a secondary sampling in the future to see if they've done their job.
Lacy noted that it just isn't western Clinton County's water reservoirs which are open and vulnerable and he encouraged a wider discussion to occur within the task force to encourage solutions to that problem.
A lot of issues surrounding Marcellus shale natural gas development are swirling about these days, according to reports provided to the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force Tuesday.
After years of deliberation on the issue, Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill overhauling the state's natural gas drilling laws on Feb. 8.
The new law places an impact fee on every well drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. The levy will change from year to year based on natural gas prices and the Consumer Price Index, but in 2012, drillers will pay $50,000 per-well.
The bill's authors estimate the fee will generate around $180 million, when payments are turned in on Sept. 1. About 60 percent of the revenue will stay at the local level, going to counties and municipalities hosting wells. The rest will go to various state agencies.
Since the legislation has passed, several efforts have been made to amend the law with additional provisions. House Democrats have introduced six separate bills, framing the legislation as their "Marcellus Compact." The bills would eliminate Act 13's local zoning restrictions, impose a broader tax on gas extraction, and create broader environmental protections.
In other matters:
Frac water treatment
- Hawbaker Engineering, representing some drilling interests, is asking the county to change the official map and/or ordinance to allow a "temporary portable frac water treatment facility" along Route 664 in Gallagher Township.
Clinton County Commissioner Jeff Snyder said he and the other commissioners are examining that situation, but have some concerns about the potential environmental impact. Snyder said a trip to the site with the Gallagher Township Supervisors is in the offing, and further discussions will occur as the county's planning commission moves forward with its own assessment.
The newly adopted state law, Act 13, Chapter 33, doesn't directly address water withdrawal sites while restricting local governments from establishing zoning regulations over the drilling industry.
Presently, in townships governed by the county's zoning ordinance, only two small sections of land are zoned "industrial," and most of the region is state forest land.
Clinton County CareerLink Director Bruce Jones said natural gas hires appear to have leveled off in February and March, although there are suggestions that related goods and services positions remain strong. He noted that in April and May, of the 133 new hires in Clinton County, 15 new positions were verified to be related to the natural gas industry.
- Mary Wolf talked about several public relations efforts, including an educational opportunity and tree-planting given to local students and a talk provided to a nearby boy's camp.
- Emergency Services Director Kevin Fanning said he's working with Sproul District Forester Doug D'Amore and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to expand the number of emergency addresses at drill-related sites. D'Amore said camp addresses are the bigger problem, because they often are on some unnamed paths well distant from the established roads.
- D'Amore also mentioned much of the activity in the forest district is focusing on building "gathering lines" to the transmission lines rather than drill pads, and the companies appear to be making more efficient use of drilling rigs this year.
- Commissioner Pete Smeltz, County Planner Tim Holladay and others held a brief discussion on how to document the transmission lines and map them appropriately and accurately.
- Public Education Committee member Mitzi Gallagher said plans are continuing to develop a series of mini-presentations focusing on the drilling related businesses like Trican and H.P. Reynolds.
- Education committee spokesman Scott Owen talked about several programs that have been held, and several to be scheduled, all focusing on soon-to-be graduating teens and their prospects for employment in the natural gas drilling industry or related subsidiaries.