The state released new environmental regulations last week for natural gas drilling, clearing the way for well permits in the Finger Lakes region. The largely untapped gas reserve, sweeping much of the state, has put many people on alert. Questions and concerns about what the drilling will mean for the environment and economy here have prompted a number of groups to join forces.
|If you go
WHAT Forum: “Natural Gas Production — At What Cost to NYS?”
WHEN 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19
WHERE Brighton Town Hall, downstairs, 2300 Elmwood Ave., Brighton
DETAILS Public forum. Experts inform and answer questions. Pre-register: [email protected], (www.fmce.org), or call (585) 392-4918. On hand will be Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountain Keeper (catskillmountainkeeper.org); Diane Hope, a professor of communications at Rochester Institute of Technology, who owns property in the area; Ashur Terwilliger, president of Chemung County Farm Bureau; and Ron Bishop, lecturer in chemistry and biochemistry, SUNY-Oneonta.
CO-SPONSORS Federation of Monroe County Environmentalists; League of Women Voters; Rochester Regional Group-Sierra Club; Genesee Valley Audubon Society; Genesee Valley Chapter-Adirondack Mountain Club; Center for Sustainable Living
PUBLIC COMMENT period on the state’s new regulations for natural gas drilling go until Nov. 30. Comments may be made in writing, by e-mail, or at public meetings to be announced soon. Regulations on the DEC Web site: www.dec.ny.gov/energy/47554.html
A forum on Oct. 19 in Brighton will bring together experts and property owners who live and work in the area likely to be tapped.
“We want to bring together as well-infor-med a group as possible,” said Alison Clarke, chairwoman of Canandaigua-based Center for Sustainable Living, one of the forum’s sponsors. There is a sense of urgency, said Clarke: This type of natural-gas drilling could affect water and soil quality, as well as increasing truck traffic, taking out forests and making other potentially harmful changes.
The new Department of Environmental Conservation rules, released for public review Wednesday, apply to the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale region, which also runs through parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The rules are in addition to statewide oil and gas regulations released in 1992.
More than a year ago, Gov. David Paterson told the DEC to address concerns about drilling, effectively halting it.
Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, said the state’s regulations already were regarded as the nation’s strictest, but he didn’t feel the additional rules would discourage drilling.
Gill said with the regulations getting final approval, expected around the first of the year, “I think we will see drilling in New York and the economic boom associated with it.”
Environmentalists and residents worry about chemicals used to fracture rock and release the gas, the huge amounts of water required, and possible threats to water supply.
Sally Howard of Henrietta is concerned. She is involved with a number of organizations promoting tourism and local agriculture and is co-founder of Seeking Common Ground, a not-for-profit group promoting sustainable-living practices.
“When I need peace of mind and a vacation, I love to go to the Finger Lakes,” she said. “I believe the Finger Lakes region has everything at stake with this Marcellus Shale and ‘hydrofracking.’”
The new regulations, contained in a 500-plus page document, address the potential effects of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as “hydrofracking.” They include measures companies must take to protect the environment and nearby communities.
For example, before drilling, energy companies must:
• Disclose what chemicals are in the “fracking” fluid — a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals — that they pump into the shale at high pressure to release the gas.
• Test private water wells within 1,000 feet of drilling sites before projects begin, to provide baseline information and allow for future monitoring.
• Fill out checklists and certification forms to ensure technical compliance with drilling permits.
• Prepare plans for reducing greenhouse gas, visual and noise impacts; and submit a road-use plan covering trucking, to which they must adhere. State inspectors also must be on site during well construction.
“I would love to think we could do this safely,” said Howard. “But I believe it is dubious. The long-term risks may be greater than short-term benefits.”
The region’s clean water, farming, tourism, wine making and general quality of life are all at risk, contends Howard.
People living near natural gas wells in Colorado and Wyoming have complained about bad-tasting well water, well blowouts when fracturing is going on, and health problems they believe are caused by methane or chemicals from gas production.
|What is it?
Marcellus Shale is a sedimentary rock formation deposited more than 350 million years ago in a shallow inland sea in the Eastern United States where the Appalachian Mountains now stand. This shale contains significant quantities of natural gas. New developments in drilling technology, along with higher wellhead prices, have made the Marcellus Shale an important natural gas source.
How is the natural gas tapped?
Production of commercial quantities from this shale requires large volumes of water to drill and hydraulically fracture the rock.
This water must be recovered from the well and disposed of before the gas can flow. Concerns about the availability of water supplies needed for gas production and questions about wastewater disposal have been raised by water-resource agencies and residents throughout the Marcellus Shale Gas development region.
SOURCE: U.S. Geological Society
Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maurice Hinchey of New York, whose district covers parts of the Southern Tier including Binghamton and Ithaca, have sponsored a bill that would place hydraulic fracturing under oversight of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Clarke said drilling in the Finger Lakes has been “talked about for close to 10 years.” Now it is imminent, she said: “Time is short.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.