Sunday, January 10, 2010

Drilling goes on without Marcellus

Just because the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hasn't been granting permits for drilling in Marcellus doesn't mean that there's no gas drilling going on in the state. Last year gas companies submitted 289 permit applications. DEC issued 240 permits for gas wells – about half of the number they permitted in 2008. But the fact remains that DEC is continuing to issue permits under the 1992 GEIS.

As if to underscore this, there are two well permits that have recently been issued for Trenton-Black River wells in the town of Big Flats, and two more pending. One of these is for a well in the town of Dryden. On October 19, Anschutz Exploration Corporation submitted an application to drill the "Cook 1" well, just south of where Irish Settlement Road intersects Route 13. 

The DEC may not be concerned about the impact of this well, but the neighbors are. One is Joe
Osmeloski. He lives just north – and downhill- from the proposed well site and is concerned that drilling activities may contaminate the two streams that border his horse farm.

The streams originate in Yellow Barn State Forest and flow very close to the proposed drilling site before they reach Joe's farm. “My horses drink from those streams," he said.

Drilling into the Trenton-Black River formation doesn't use as much water as Marcellus wells, and it doesn't involve the same kind of hydro-fracking. But drillers do use drilling muds and chemicals reduce friction on the drill-bits and inhibit bacterial growth in the drilling mud. They also inject a weak solution of hydrochloric acid into the rock to dissolve any residual limestone in the formation and "stimulate" gas production.

But that doesn't comfort Joe. "They [drillers] only have to be 50 feet from a stream. Fifty feet is absurd! ” He worries that, should the streams be contaminated, he will lose his livelihood and the farm he has worked so hard to build over the past two decades.

Meanwhile, drilling companies are already filing permit applications for horizontal Marcellus wells. The DEC has a bit of work to do before finalizing the rules for high-volume hydro-fracking in the tight shales - they've still got to read through the 10,000 or more comments on the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) before issuing final rules. But the rush for permit applications has begun. There are already 10 applications for Marcellus wells in Candor and another 12 pending for the wee town of Erin.

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