Saturday, September 29, 2012

NY Not Likely to see Fracking Rules this year

"Friends of Gas" landowners and gas industry folks were hoping to see the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) pass the hotly-debated SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) sometime this year. But now - at least according to DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis - it looks like that may not happen. The reason: DEC's recent decision to include a review of health effects related to hydrofracking. That review will likely cause the DEC to miss a November 30 rule-making deadline.

For a good analysis of the issue, see Tom Wilber's articles here and here. He's the environmental journalist who has followed the issue for the past decade and has written a well-worth-reading book on the topic: Under the Surface.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Inadequate Oversight of NY Oil & Gas Wells

Bradford County, PA Sept 2012

While New Yorkers debate the safety of hydrofracking, state regulatory reports show problems with conventional oil and gas drilling. According to AP reporter Mary Esch, reports by NY regulators “reveal thousands of unplugged abandoned wells and other industrial problems that could pose a threat to groundwater, wetlands, air quality and public safety.”

Two days ago Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based firm, Toxics Targeting, released documents and a video highlighting some of those shortcomings. The big question, he wonders, is whether the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is equipped to regulate hydrofracking.

At the heart of the problem is the lack of inspections – and state inspectors. A July report by Earthworks found that oil and gas well inspections occur too infrequently and too irregularly; fines are inadequate; lack of data prevents public scrutiny of DEC's oversight; and citizen complaints seem to be ignored.

DEC has proposed, in the SGEIS,  that if high-volume hydraulic fracturing is used to drill wells in NY, drilling permits will be issued only to the extent that the department can review and oversee activities and adequately inspect well pads and enforce regulation. But their 15 or so inspectors can’t even keep up with wells already in production.

From 2001 – 2010 the number of oil and gas well inspections decreased by more than 1,000 per year. In 2001 the Division of Mineral Resources conducted one inspection per 2.6 active wells. By 2010 they were only able to conduct one inspection for every 4 active wells. During that same decade, the number of active wells increased by 1,000 – leaving 76% of New York’s active wells uninspected.

The low fines don’t seem to deter companies from taking shortcuts and polluting the soil and water. In 2006 only 12 enforcement cases resulted in penalties, and the fines are generally less than $2,000 per case. Low penalties certainly won’t deter violators and can’t even begin to compensate those harmed by methane migration and brine spills.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Well Pads on Slopes Prone to Erosion say Penn State Researchers

Pad construction on a hilltop in Van Etten, NY

According to a new report by Penn State soil scientists, 50 to 70 percent of the shale-gas pads that are developed on slopes are prone to erosion and sedimentation problems. This isn’t surprising, but it’s nice to have data back up what some of us have suspected all along.

In a press release Patrick Drohan, assistant professor of pedology and principle investigator for the study, said that the potential for erosion problems is substantial because of the extensive scale of the shale-gas play. Not all sites have problems, but at least 10 percent of well pads are constructed on slopes greater than 8 percent, and Drohan worries about such areas every time there is an intense rain event.

The problem is that most soils on the Allegheny Plateau, where shale-gas development is concentrated, are acidic, rocky, shallow and of poor fertility. About a quarter of the sites are underlain by “fragipan”, a subsurface horizon that restricts downward root growth and water movement. (Yup, we’ve got that here in NY, too.) The fragipan layer complicates drainage, especially where pipelines run down slopes.

The researchers are also concerned about the 21 percent of pads that have been developed on potentially wet soils – places that potentially have a water table within 18 inches of the surface. Drainage problems around those sites could result in the loss of amphibian habitat. Well pad development in such areas could disrupt local water movement around pad and the recharge to nearby headwater streams as well.

Drohan and his colleagues are also looking at ecological disruption caused by shale-gas infrastructure, such as pipelines, that often traverses steep slopes and poorly drained areas. “We now think that pad development is a lesser landscape disruption than the pipelines,” said Drohan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Funnies

the Sunshine Revolution by Russeau                                                                                          

Cartoon used by permission of Mark Wilson of  

Used with permission from LH Miller

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Marcellus Drilling Creates Largescale Landscape Disturbance says USGS

USGS image

This aerial view, from northwest Pennsylvania, shows the level of disturbance that natural gas activities can have on forests and other natural resources. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is documenting landscape changes resulting from construction of well pads, new roads and pipelines for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Bradford and Washington counties. The information will be used to help determine the potential consequences for ecosystems and wildlife.

"The widespread use of hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas and coalbed methane in these counties has unlocked new sources of energy, but it is also modifying the landscape at an unprecedented rate compared with other forms of energy development," USGS Director Marcia McNutt told the press earlier today.  

Terry Slonecker, lead author of the research said that large-scale landscape disturbance can have a significant impact on ecological resources and the services they provide. This study provides a quantitative look at the levels of disturbance, forest loss and other changes to land use and land cover. Data will help assess the impacts of drilling disturbances on wildlife, water quality, invasive species and socioeconomic impacts, among other investigations. 

Just how much land is affected? In Bradford County 642 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3700 acres of disturbance. That includes 45 miles of new roads and 110 miles of new pipelines. Farther south, in Washington County, 949 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 4445 acres of disturbed land, including 172 miles of new roads and 134 miles of new pipelines.

You can read the study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Bradford and Washington Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010” at

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Protesters Block Inergy Facility near Watkins Glen, NY

William Huston / Shaleshock Media
Over on Seneca Lake, just north of Watkins Glen is a salt mine that Inergy is converting to a gas storage facility. Even though there are tons of questions about the environmental issues - including a large  impoundment for holding brine that will be pumped out of the salt caverns when gas is stored - the company is steaming ahead with its plans.

Seneca Lake is beautiful, with wineries lining the shores and boats bobbing about. It's nestled in between hills, so any leaking brine or other things would, of course, run downhill into the lake.

William Huston / Shaleshock Media
That's got a number of citizens concerned. They've petitioned their town boards, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation and Inergy representatives, to no avail. So yesterday a few hardy souls - 17 of them, mostly gray-haired and over 60 - headed to the gate of the Inergy facility to express themselves more clearly.
William Huston / Shaleshock Media
Two of the protesters chained themselves to the fence and kept traffic from entering or leaving for two hours. Another stood alongside, refusing to move when ordered to do so by the police, summoned by Inergy to clear them out. Three people were arrested: Jerry Alderson of Hector, age 63 and editor of the No Frack Almanac; Gary Judson, age 72, a retired minister; and Susan Walker, aged 53, of Dundee.

William Huston / Shaleshock Media

They were charged with trespassing, stuffed into sheriff's cars and transported to the Schuyler County Jail for processing. Lo and behold, there on the wall, engraved on a bronze plaque at the jail was a prayer that very well could have been written for these protesters:
Lord, I ask for courage.
Courage to face my own fear.
Courage to take me where others will not go.

I ask for strength.
Strength of body to protect others.
Strength of spirit to lead others.

I ask for dedication
Dedication to my job, to do it well.
Dedication to my community, to keep it safe.