A couple months ago NY Department of Environmental Conservations (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens and five senior staff members visited PA to learn what’s gone wrongwith Marcellus drilling. On that list:
- improperly cemented casings
- excessive fracking pressures
- wellhead equipment failure
- lack of appropriate stormwater controls
- inadequate blowout prevention equipment
- high TDS (total dissolved solids) associated with disposing drilling waste fluids into public wastewater treatment plants
All of these problems, says Martens, will be adequately addressed in the revised SGEIS.
But John Quigley, former Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources thinks NY state and municipal officials need to pay attention to some of the other lessons they could learn from PA. At last month’s Finger Lakes Institute conference in Geneva, Quigley warned that PA’s experiences with shale drilling should provide a cautionary tale to NY. Not just about Marcellus shale, he said, but about resource extraction in general.
Pennsylvania has seen waves of natural resource extraction as companies have drilled for oil, mined coal and cleared millions of acres of timber to fuel the industrial revolutions. “In each case PA got it wrong,” Quigley said. “They privatized profits and socialized the costs.” The end result, he said, is a blighted environment, un-cemented and unplugged abandoned wells, 5,000 miles of dead streams (acid mine waste), air pollution, blighted communities and a declining population.
“The boom-bust cycle has ravaged the state,” Quigley said.
Marcellus shale underlies two thirds of Pennsylvania. Right now 7 million acres are tied up in gas companies – that’s a quarter of the state’s land mass, Quigley said. Energy companies estimate that over the next two decades they’ll drill 60,000 to 200,000 new wells. For every 60,000 wells they’ll need 15,000 miles of gathering lines, he explained, and 1700 miles of pipelines that will fragment the landscape.
Marcellus shale is only part of the story, Quigley said. Industry leaders predict that they’ll be drilling Utica shale for the next 100 years. “That will have more cumulative impact than all of the previous extractive industries combined,” he said.
With only 3300 Marcellus wells drilled so far, it’s hard for people to visualize the implications of large-scale industrialized shale-gas drilling, Quigley said. The important question is whether states can adequately regulate the drilling, monitor the activities and mitigate the impacts. Pennsylvania, he said, was slow to regulate the industry and has been “playing catch up”.
“We need to have disclosure of chemicals,” Quigley said. Other things on his must have list include: protecting local government authorities; reducing surface impacts that fragment the landscape; monitoring drilling wastes and groundwater. “We need an abundance of caution in protecting irreplaceable resources,” he said.