A New Frack Attack?

When Governor Cuomo banned high volume hydraulic fracturing—i.e. fracking—it seemed that NY State would be protected from the toxic gas extraction practice that has poisoned air, water, and communities worldwide. But that’s not how it’s playing out: a gas company is now trying to get around our ban by proposing to frack using liquid propane gas (LPG) as a fracking agent, instead of water. 

The gas industry argues that because this extraction technique uses LPG rather than water, it is not high volume hydraulic fracking and therefore does not fall under NY State’sfracking ban.

Catskill Mountainkeeper is fighting back against this attempt to circumvent our ban, and to keep us safe from all forms of fracking. I hope you’ll think about a donation to support this critical work.

Fracking for gas is the last thing we need. According to the world’s leading scientists, we have twelve years or less to stave off the worst of climate change’s impacts. We must quit fossil fuels now to avoid desertification, mega storms, and massive floods that threaten our health, safety, and natural environment.

And that’s exactly what a groundbreaking new NY State law will help us do. Governor Cuomo just signed the most ambitious climate law in the country—the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Mountainkeeper’s team worked hard for four years to build support for the CLCPA, which calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050. New York can’t meet those goals while opening its doors to propane fracking.

Please read on for more information about propane fracking and what New York is considering permitting. Mountainkeeper is working with our partner organizations to fight this proposal tooth and nail, but we can’t do it without you. I hope you’ll consider a donation, no matter how big or small. Our team is determined to win, but we’re going to need all the help we can get as we to take on the gas industry once again.

With thanks and best wishes,

Wes Gillingham

About Propane Fracking

Propane fracking is a process in which liquified propane gas (LPG) is injected under very high pressure deep into rock formations to crack the rocks and release methane gas stored within. It uses LPG as a fracking agent to replace the need for the several million gallons of water normally used each time a well is fracked. A gas company seeking a permit to frack using LPG in Tioga County, NY is claiming that propane injection is not covered by the New York fracking moratorium on gas drilling.

This process, which is not well understood and has not been the subject of empirical analysis or scientific study, does not appear to be any less threatening to the environment or to human people’s health than traditional fracking using water. In the small number of instances to date where LPG has been used for fracking, there have been a number of major explosions that seriously injured multiple workers. 

There are many dangers posed by propane fracking:

    • Liquid propane is highly combustible and presents dangers to workers as well as nearby communities.  In 2011 the use of LPG for fracking resulted in two explosions/fires: the first left 3 workers hospitalized and one worker with second degree burns, and the second—a flash fire—injured about a dozen workers, two of whom had to be evacuated to the hospital by helicopter. In a third incident, GasFrac Energy Services had to shut down the company for 2 weeks in January 2012 while they investigated a fire at a well site.
    • Liquid propane fracking still requires large quantities of additional but different chemicals, which at the moment are unknown, but very likely hazardous.
    • The process requires many truckloads of liquid propane and chemicals for each frack, which have to be hauled to and from the well sites using trucks on local roads, risking accidents and surface spills.
    • It does not address the problems associated with the migration of methane and other chemicals into the groundwater due to casing failure, leaks, natural faults and old unsealed wells.
    • There is an added danger of large amounts of propane, a heavier-than-air gas, leaking and pooling in low spots near the well pad and causing an explosion hazard.
    • Big compressors would be needed on each site to recondense returned propane for reuse requiring a heavy industrial hazardous operation, which would add to air pollution.

Background on the current threat

In 2015, a company called Tioga Energy Partners (TEP) filed an application for a well drilling permit with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to use gelled LPG to frack a test well in the Town of Barton, in Tioga County, NY. Understanding that allowing this to take place would create a precedent for circumventing NY’s current ban and open the door to others seeking to frack here using LPG, Mountainkeeper and our allies sent NYSDEC a letter of opposition to this proposal.

Earlier this spring, the NYSDEC determined that fracking using LPG would have a significant adverse environmental impact and required TEP to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) for this proposal. TEP recently submitted a draft scoping document (the first step in the EIS process), and Mountainkeeper and our allies are continuing to fight back by submitting comments, writing letters of opposition, and raising awareness about this blatant attempt to do an end run around NY State’s ban.

Given the breadth of harms associated with LPG fracking, and the terrible precedent that would be set by allowing any such project to proceed, it is our position that the NYSDEC should deny TEP’s application on the basis of the potential impacts from fracking and because it runs contrary to the mandates of the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA is an enforceable and legally binding climate mandate to transition NY off of fossil fuels in the next 30 years, and it is difficult to envision NYSDEC spending any resources to advance the extraction of the very hydrocarbons we are seeking to eliminate, especially as it would violate the core intent of the law. Mountainkeeper and our partners are rallying public opposition to propane fracking in NY State and urging the NYSDEC to deny this permit.

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