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Permit given for fracking near nuclear plant

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Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 2:00 am

Chesapeake Energy has a permit to frack just one mile from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport. Whether that is cause for alarm, experts can’t say.

But one thing is for sure — in the midst of the Marcellus boom, drilling companies are going to keep fracking, pockmarking the earth with their mile-deep wells, blasting away at the subterranean feature that is the Marcellus shale.

As the fracking continues, does anyone, driller or geologist, know what really lies beneath the surface? Does the improbability of seismic activity as a result of fracking become more likely as more wells are drilled?

The new permit granted to Chesapeake is located 1.06 miles from FirstEnergy Corp. nuclear facility in Shippingport. According to DEP records, the permit for an unconventional well was issued to Chesapeake on Oct. 3. Drilling has not yet started.

DEP spokesperson John Poister said there are no required setbacks specifically relating to a required distance between unconventional wells and nuclear facilities, just a blanket regulation requiring a 500-foot setback from any building to an unconventional well.

With more than a mile setback distance, the newly permitted well would be well within the state’s regulations. But Poister did say he is not aware of any other nuclear power station located in an area where shale drilling is occurring.

According to Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the NRC issued a Regulatory Guide in 1979 to help the industry review potential nuclear sites. But this code didn’t allow for changes in sites that might occur over time — such as the Marcellus shale and resulting fracking boom in Pennsylvania.

“The caveat is that such factors are reviewed and evaluated when initially licensing a nuclear power plant,” Lochbaum said. “The NRC’s regulations are silent about subsequent changes that might reduce or eliminate safety margins that existed when the plants were licensed. In other words, there’s no formal requirement for Beaver Valley to consider the potential impact from activities outside the plant’s fences. There’s no ban against such consideration, but NRC can’t cite the plant for a violation if no evaluations are performed.”

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson Neil Sheehan said agency regulations focus only on operations within the nuclear site.

“Our regulations do not speak to off-site wells,” he said. “Our focus is on on-site activities.”

In the past, seismic issues have been linked to injection wells, the accepted disposal system for wastewater generated from fracking. In 2011, a 4.0-magnitude earthquake was linked to activity at a Class II injection well in Youngstown, Ohio, operated by D&L Energy.

There is currently little correlation or reported incidents related to fracking and seismic activity. But because fracking is a relatively new technique, there may be aftereffects or dangers that have not yet surfaced.

And seismic activity has been a growing concern for nuclear facilities following the earthquake damage last year to the Fukushima reactor complex in Japan. A 2010 NRC report found that Unit 1 at the Beaver Valley Power Station was ranked the fifth-most vulnerable nuclear reactor in the nation to earthquake damage. FirstEnergy officials said in a past interview that the plant is built to withstand 5.8-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The strongest earthquake registered in Pennsylvania was 5.2 on the Richter scale.

Sheehan pointed out that there is seismic analysis before any nuclear power plant in the United States is designed and built.

In the past, seismic issues have been linked to injection wells, the accepted disposal system for wastewater generated from fracking. In 2011, a 4.0-magnitude earthquake was linked to activity at a Class II injection well in Youngstown, Ohio, operated by D&L Energy.

“The review looks at the most significant historical earthquake in the area, with the plant then constructed to withstand that, with additional margin on top of that,” he said. “I can also tell you that we are now — as part of our post-Fukushima reviews — requiring all plants to perform fresh seismic evaluations. These new assessments will take advantage of advanced modeling and improved data available since the time the plants were built.”

Most seismic issues are linked to injection wells rather than fracking, said Richard Hammack, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

“Hydraulic fracturing near a nuclear plant is probably not a concern under normal circumstances,” he said. “If there is a pre-stress fault that you happen to lubricate there (with fracking solution), that is the only thing that might result in something that is (seismically) measurable.”

Hammack said that in geology, faults are commonly referred to as cracks. Pre-stress faults are “where there are forces pushing, on that fault and the only thing that keeps it from moving is the friction. The stress would have to overcome friction for movement to occur,” he said. “If you inject water into that fault, it reduces that friction. If you inject water with enough pressure, it will expand the fault and reduce the friction.”

However, he said that injection during fracking is very different than that into injection wells. Fracking is a short-term operation, while injection wells are continuously taking in large amounts of water, he said.

Poister said he doesn’t believe there are geological concerns regarding fracking near the nuclear site.

“There would not be concern for a surface facility located near a Marcellus well that is being drilled and fracked a mile or more below the surface,” he said.

Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • BAS posted at 8:20 pm on Sun, Oct 21, 2012.

    BAS Posts: 1

    Even if it was perfectly safe (which there has been enough recent proof that it is not) is it a responsible risk to even consider FRACTURING THE SHALE near the oldest nebular plant in the US? This industry and the PA administration is getting completely out of control with permitting this type of industrial activity near this power plant. Any kind of accident could put the entire Eastern part of the US in danger. Irresponsible and greedy.......that is what I think of fracking near Shippingport.

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Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale Formation

The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation thatunderlies much of Pennsylvania and portionsof New York, Ohio and West Virginia at a depth of 5,000 to 8,000 feet. It is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. This formation has long been considered prohibitively expensive to access but recent advances in drilling technology and rising natural gas prices have attracted new interest in this previously untapped formation.

The Center for Workforce Information & Analysis (CWIA) used the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to define the Marcellus Shale industry sector. Much of the information included in this document reflects data on a group of six industries identified as “core,” and a group of 30 identified as “ancillary” to the processes involved in accessing the resources in the Marcellus Shale formation. The six Workforce Investment Areas (WIAs) most closely involved in Marcellus Shale activities are Central, North Central, Northern Tier, Southwest Corner, Tri-County, West Central, and Westmoreland-Fayette.

Population Demographics

The Westmoreland and Fayette WIA encompasses Westmoreland and Fayette Counties. The unemployment rate was 8.0% in September, which was three-tenths of a percentage point below the state unemployment rate. There was a 1.5 percentage point difference between the two counties’ rates. While 89% of the population has a high school degree or above, only 20.5% has achieved a four-year degree or higher. The state has a similar percentage of those with a high school degree and higher - 87.1% - but a larger percentage of people who have achieved a more advanced degree.

The region had a 2010 population of 501,775, which was almost 14,000 fewer residents than in 1990. The region had slight growth in the 1990s, and negative growth in the 2000s, whereas the state and nation saw growth over both time frames. In 2010, the region was 93.9% white, non-Hispanic, and 48.8% male.

Industry Demographics

Across the state, the industries making up the Marcellus Shale sector had a predominantly male workforce. Across the state, most industries had a higher percentage of employment in the 45 to 54 year old age range than any other age group. The industry groups in the tables below encompass, but are not limited to, all of the industries defined by the CWIA as core and ancillary to the Marcellus Shale industry sector.

Building Permits

Both the state and the region have seen a decline in building permits since 2006, with the region having an uptick in 2008. While the state saw a 10% increase between 2009 and 2010, the Westmoreland and Fayette region had a slightly larger increase of 16%.


Marcellus Shale industries added over 650 jobs to the regional economy between first quarter 2008 and first quarter 2011. The core industries have more than doubled in three years.


In 2010, the core industries had an average annual wage of $75,176 in the Westmoreland and Fayette region, which was well above the state average for all industries of $45,747 and over twice the regional average of $36,192. The ancillary industries also had a higher average wage of $59,321. The state’s average wage for core industries was $73,150 and for ancillary was $61,871.

New Hires

Core industries have had growing numbers of new hires through the most recent quarter, with the largest number in the second quarter of 2010. Ancillary industries have added increasing numbers to their payrolls as well, with 682 new hires in the second quarter of 2011.

Workforce Compatibility

These data provide an understanding of how well the skills of a region’s labor force meet the workforce needs of an industry. The first number is the proportion of industry jobs that require higher levels of experience, training, and education. The second number is the proportion of the region’s workforce that has the higher skills the industry seeks. For example, in water supply and irrigation systems (NAICS 221310) over 58% of the occupations within the industry require significant levels of on-the-job training and/or post-secondary education, indicating that the industry is very skilled. Furthermore, over 23%-- almost 1 in 4—of the region’s workers has the skill sets required to meet the occupational needs of the industry sector. Given this information, an analyst can conceivably conclude that the industry is a good fit for the capabilities of the regional workforce. In the Westmoreland-Fayette region, most industries are reasonably compatible with the local workforce. However, potential workforce skill gaps can be found in fossil fuel electric power generation; engineering services; geophysical surveying and mapping services; testing laboratories; and pipeline transportation of natural gas.

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