The Frackin’ Fracas Continues

In August, we reported on actions by the New York State Senate to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to recover natural gas from shale formations in that state’s share of the Marcellus Shale play, largely as a result of efforts by the Working Families Party, an organization which appears to be funded in no small part by George Soros.  We have now learned that the New York State Assembly has passed the moratorium as well, and sent it to outgoing Governor Patterson for signature.  As with much “well meaning legislation,” the bill was passed on Monday, November 29 as the clock approached midnight.  Patterson has the remainder of a ten day window to sign the moratorium into law.

 

The intent of the moratorium as stated by lawmakers is to provide state environmental authorities six months to study the experiences of other states where hydraulic fracturing has been employed, and to draft appropriate regulations.  One wonders what might be learned in six months that hasn’t been learned in the 60 years that the fracturing technology has been used.

As it turns out, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has been studying hydraulic fracturing, and drafting regulations, for over three years and doesn’t expect to complete those regulations within the six month moratorium / grace period.  The imposition of this moratorium is nothing more than “feel good” legislation designed to appease the environmental left in New York State, with detrimental consequences such as

  • Delays in the creation of production and support jobs in a state with over 900,000 unemployed workers
  • Delays in direct revenues of about $1million annually to the state
  • Significant financial harm to landowners.  A number of landowners in the state are obligated to leases to exploration companies that were signed years ago for $15 per acre.  Most of those leases are approaching maturity and would be renewed at significantly higher values, but this interference by the state government will allow the enactment of force majeure and the extension of the leases for up to a year.

 

The issues that New Yorkers are debating pertain primarily to water – protection of drinking water, acquisition of the large volumes of water the fracturing process requires, and treatment or disposal of that water after fracturing is complete.  Some of the issues are valid while some are not, and some are unique to Marcellus, and some, again, are not.

Drinking Water contamination is a hot topic in the fracturing debate despite decades of the process being used to recover oil and gas from shale formations with no such claims until recently,  in Dimock, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Now we hear stories of flammable faucets attributed to natural gas seeping into water wells as a result of new drilling activity, yet residents of the area have witnessed that phenomenon long prior to the Marcellus activity, as evidenced by a comment to the post linked above –

Gasland is a joke. I live in Dimock. I have lived here for over 50 years. People need to educate themselves and not be sucked in by all of this negative media. Come here and see for yourself. Talk to the old folks who tell stories of lighting their wells on fire since the 30’s and 40’s. Go to Salt Springs Park where you can light the bubbling spring on fire. It’s always been an attraction. Get your facts straight!

 

Thus one wonders if the claims and lawsuits suddenly arising in northern Pennsylvania are factual, or opportunistic? 

Nonetheless, some of the concerns in New York may be sufficiently valid as to warrant further investigation.  Unlike other shale plays, and other areas of the Marcellus play, groundwater aquifers in parts of New York are about 200 feet deep, and the shale gas is only about 2,000 feet deep as opposed to 7,000 feet in other areas.  Disturbed geological formations, in these unique instances, bear further study to assure that the well bore is the only path for the gas to migrate upwards.  It might be reasonable to restrict drilling in certain areas, but it is unreasonable to outlaw fracturing throughout the entire Marcellus play.

Claims of substandard cement well casings have also been made and attributed to the “Gasland” phenomenon.  Less scrupulous production companies could indeed be guilty of applying inadequate standards to their operations, but this would only suggest that the regulatory authorities in Pennsylvania fall short of the standards applied by other state agencies across the country for the last sixty years!  Perhaps New York State needs to strengthen its regulations and enforcement so as to be up to the job, though as noted earlier, an additional six months won’t likely accomplish what three prior years have failed to achieve.

Process Water  The hydraulic fracturing process requires a substantial volume of water to fill and pressurize the well so as to fracture it and release the gas.  Water is not available in such abundance in New York, and alternative sources need to be identified.  Concerns about heavy traffic on substandard rural roads to allow that water to be brought in by truck, thus accelerating the wear of those roads, have also been expressed, though one can’t help but wonder that significant municipal revenues and other economic activity brought about by natural gas drilling could more than pay for a few road repairs.

Process Water Disposal is a third hot topic surrounding the fracturing process.  That substantial volume of water mentioned above must be removed from the well after the fracturing process is completed.  It contains chemicals (oh, horror!) which are added to the water to enhance its lubricity, along with potential brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organics picked up from contact with the rock formations being fractured.  Certain of these constituents are outside the realm of conventional wastewater treatment technologies and warrant special attention.

Concerns about the temporary impoundment of these recovered waters on site until proper disposal is arranged have also been expressed.  Should these impoundment facilities be compromised, the water could seep into surface grounds and waters.  Yet this concern, as the well casing concern, is not insurmountable, but rather requires the cooperation of responsible drilling companies and capable state regulatory authorities, as has been successfully accomplished elsewhere for (forgive the redundancy) over sixty years.

Here at The Hayride, we have grown weary to the point of exasperation over this word “moratorium.”  New York’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is but another political ploy to appease the environmental left, allow Governor Patterson to leave office with a flourish, and allow the state to claim another “first.”  It does nothing in and of itself to resolve the issues raised by the people of New York, as only education of the populace and the application of sound technology can do that.

There is risk with any worthwhile venture, from drilling for natural gas to walking across the street to check the mail.  That risk can only be mitigated by responsible people and responsible companies applying sound technology, wisdom and caution to their endeavors.

Natural gas can restore our economy, serve as a clean energy bridge until new, fiscally sound technologies can be developed, and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.  We can’t afford to leave it in the ground.



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