The Susquehanna Economic Development Association Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) Joint Rail Authority retained Barry Isett & Associates to prepare NEPA-compliance documentation for multiple rail improvement projects in north-central Pennsylvania. The rail improvement projects, necessitated by the increasing demands for regional rail service associated with the Marcellus Shale formation and the natural gas exploration industry, spread across Lycoming, Centre, Blair, Union, and Northumberland counties. NEPA compliance was required because substantial funding for these projects comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER II Discretionary Grant, administered through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
BIA’s Environmental professionals conducted field views and photo-documentation of all of the project areas, assessed wetland areas potentially impacted by project actions, assisted SEDA-COG’s railroad engineer with preparation of a General Permit (GP-11) for restoration of a railroad bridge, completed appropriate consultations with Federal and State resource agencies, and coordinated the performance of Phase 1 Archaeological Surveys at several of the project sites.
The information acquired by BIA through these studies was incorporated into FRA Categorical Exclusion Worksheets and submitted to the FRA for review and approval. In April, BIA obtained approval of the Categorical Exclusions for 11 SEDA-COG rail improvement projects, allowing 6.7 million dollars in Federal funding to be committed to these projects.
The Marcellus industry drilling operations use a process called "hydrofracking" or just "fracking" for short. Large quantities of water are pumped into the Marcellus formation at very high pressure to fracture the shale to release the maximum amount of natural gas. The fracking process, though, needs more than just water. It needs additives, primarily special spherical sand, known as "frac sand”, which is generally sourced from the Midwestern states. Other materials that railroads haul for the Marcellus industry are pipes (both down-hole and distribution piping), acids and other chemicals.