October 22, 2009, Rochester City Newspaper Editorial: SHALE: What about the water?

SHALE: What about the water?

link to complete article here: http://rochestercitynewspaper.com/news/blog/2009/10/SHALE-What-about-the-water/
There's a good reason why so many environmental groups and even politicians - Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example - want the DEC to extend the comment period for the DEC's new shale gas-drilling regulations: it's a very complicated topic....


That was evident during Monday night's forum on natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale, which covers most of New York's Southern Tier. Energy developers are eager to tap into the Marcellus, as well as the Utica Shale, because of significant gas reserves.

The forum, held at Brighton Town Hall and sponsored by local environmental and good government groups, featured four panelists: Catskill Mountainkeeper founder and director Wes Gillingham; RIT communications professor Diane Hope; Chemung County Farm Bureau President Ashur Terwilliger; and biochemist and SUNY Oneonta professor Ron Bishop.

Gillingham made a compelling point about one of the most crucial issues - water. The energy companies have their sights set on an area in the heart of the Catskills, centered on Peas Eddy and Hancock, in Delaware County. It's one of the thickest parts of several shale formations, which means it has high potential as a natural gas resource.

The method that developers want to use to mine the gas creates a couple of water-related issues. Developers want to use a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing; that's where a slurry of water, chemicals, and sand - fracking fluid - is forced down a well at very high pressure to crack dense rock and release the gas trapped inside. Each well uses between 3 million to 5 million gallons of water, which will come from local streams and lakes. In some places, like the Delaware River Basin, large withdrawals are regulated. In other places, they aren't. Lake Ontario, for example, will be regulated once a new commission puts regulations in place, but it is currently unprotected.

The used fracking fluid, which is heavily contaminated with chemical additives as well as substances from the rock formation, has to be stored somewhere. It is often temporarily put into ponds until it can be trucked out and treated. The panelists pointed out that New York's wastewater infrastructure is in need of investment, and there are few facilities equipped to handle the drilling waste.

There's also the issue of whether the DEC has the staff to adequately review well permits and to enforce regulations. Terwilliger suggested charging the energy companies more for well permits to pay for additions DEC staff.

By no means are these all of the issues and concerns. The forum sponsors put together this handout, which provides a good jumping-off point.

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