Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chesapeake Scraps Plans for Disposal Well in Wine Country

 photo of Heron Hill Winery, just a few miles south of Pulteney along the Keuka Lake wine Trail.

Today Chesapeake Appalachia LLC officially and formally withdrew their permit applications for converting the Bergstresser well into a class II underground injection (disposal) well.

In letters to the US EPA and the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) William Fowler, writing for Chesapeake, states that Chesapeake has "determined that we no longer require" the permits needed for turning the old gas well into a disposal well for drilling wastewater. Their main reason - they told the EPA - is their "enhanced operational capability to reuse/recycle water produced from development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale.

But to NY's DEC Chesapeake says their decision is based "primarily in the fact that the state will not allow completion of Marcellus Shale wells" until the SGEIS is completed. And, Fowler adds, once Marcellus wells are drilled in NY Chesapeake will "evaluate the need for any supplemental disposal facilities".

One thing Chesapeake is adamant about: their decision to take their permits off the table has nothing to do with the disposal facility posing a threat to the environment. Nor does it have anything to do with the very vocal opposition to the project.

Ha! say the 400 to 500 folks who tried to find seats in the Pulteney Fire Hall just 9 days ago. Ha! says Congressman Eric Massa who, today, congratulated the families of the Finger Lakes on their victory.

"The concerned citizens of the Finger Lakes showed everyone that a strong grassroots movement can defy all odds and emerge victorious," Massa said in comments to the press this morning. Some politicians may try to swoop in and take credit for today's news, Massa said, but this victory clearly belongs to the people who fought to protect their homes. And Jeff and Jodi Andrysick shouldered much of the work: they organized petitions for a moratorium as well as the two meetings in the Pulteney Fire Hall.

But the residents of Pulteney - and indeed residents across upstate NY - need to worry about more than just this single well. Conversion of an old gas well into an injection well will set a precedent in NY, warns Walter Hang, president of Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting. “If this disposal well is successfully built, it will only be the first of many," he told the gathering at the Fire Hall on the 7th.

Hang's words echo those of Penn State Cooperative Extension agent Tom Murphy. During a webinar last month, Murphy said that old Trenton-Black River wells make ideal underground injection wells. He believes that gas companies will continue to drill into Trenton-Black River because once they extract the gas, the TBR wells give companies a place to dump their Marcellus waste.

There are currently 112 active Trenton and Black River wells in New York State. Most of these are located in Steuben County (where Pulteney is located), but more than 40 are located in Chemung County, just a left turn and down the road from me. While the wells are labeled "active" on the DEC website, clicking on their production records reveals that - at least a few of the wells - aren't lining anyone's pockets with income. To a company desperate for disposal options, these wells look like holes in the ground just waiting for frackwater.

Right now now one's drilling horizontal Marcellus wells in NY, but once they get the go-ahead and the Marcellus drilling takes off, the question of what to do with the millions of gallons of wastewater will become more acute. 

While gas companies eye depleted Trenton-Black River wells as potential disposal sites, environmental activist and lawyer Rachel Treichler says, "No community is a proper site for a deep injection well disposing of toxic fluids." There are, she says, too many reports of contamination and earthquakes from these types of wells. 

Right now, Treichler says, the gas industry has no adequate means of dealing with the toxic wastewater produced by hydrofracking in the Marcellus shale. So, she adds, the New York legislature should not allow hydrofracking in the state.

So, even as people celebrate Pulteney's victory the rest of us need to keep an eye on the neighborhood gas wells. 


  1. Great post, Sue! I wonder if people like us can maintain the required supervigilence to sniff out the hazardous plans the gas companies will pursue in so many communities in PA and NY. It is a daunting task.


  2. Sue,
    Wonderful news. Such a relief, but frankly, the whole process of hydrofracking itself, needs to be addressed. The water it takes to do it, the violent subterranean process and the poisonous waster water disposal all add up to disaster. There has got to be a better way. Can you spell solar? Keep up the good work. Pultney was just the beginning.