Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will Science Determine NY Drilling Policy?

When it comes to fracking, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly and publicly pledged to “let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

And who could be more scientific and less emotional than the US Geological Survey? Dusty Horwitt, Senior Counsel for the Environmental Working Group recently reviewed comments the USGS sent in response to the most recent revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in shales. 

The plan is flawed, say the federal scientists. And allowing drilling and fracking would endanger water supplies of rural and urban residents.

In the SGEIS the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposes that a 500-foot buffer is sufficient to protect water sources and aquifers.

USGS disagrees. A 500-foot buffer around aquifers that supply major municipal water systems may provide only partial protection to these aquifers, they say. Likewise, a 500-foot buffer for private water wells and springs affords only limited protection and doesn’t take local geology, hydrology nor topography into account.  Water quality changes can occur at significant distance from a disturbance – especially if a domestic well is located below a well pad – and USGS suggests that in some cases state regulators need to be thinking in terms of miles, not feet.

Federal scientists also criticized the SGEIS for under-representing number and extent of natural faults in the region where shale gas drilling would occur. USGS pointed out that drilling and hydraulic fracturing directly beneath faults could potentially allow contaminant to flow upward into underground aquifers. They pointed out that there are generally far more natural faults in bedrock overlying the Marcellus Shale than other places.
USGS also criticized what they perceive as a lack of detailed information on underground freshwater sources. The depths of underground drinking water sources are not well documented – these must be established so that drilling companies can design casing and cementing to prevent migration of gas or saltwater into underground drinking water supplies. NY State doesn’t require drilling companies to map underground fresh water and salt water sources before they drill – and that information is critical to the design and installation of effective casing and cementing. You can read more here.

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