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NY Becomes First State to Impose a Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

Kate Sinding

Posted December 11, 2010

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Today, New York became the first state to stand up to big oil and gas by imposing a formal moratorium on any new drilling using the controversial technology of high volume hydraulic fracturing - or "fracking" - prohibiting it from proceeding in the state unless demonstrated to be safe.

Although the full text of Governor Paterson's Executive Order establishing the moratorium has not yet been published, the press release announcing it earlier this afternoon states:

"The Executive Order requires that, if approved, high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted until July 1, 2011, at the earliest. This should allay any fears that high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling under study by DEC will commence without assurances of safety."

At the same time, though, the Executive Order is not as strong as legislation passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state Legislature, because it does not apply to the fracking of vertical wells in shale formations, including the Marcellus and Utica Shales.

With today's action, Governor Paterson has acknowledged that fracking poses serious threats to our health and safe drinking water – but his moratorium only protects us so much. While he has called time-out on some kinds drilling, there remains a gaping loophole remaining that leaves New Yorkers at risk from the dangers of fracking.

With Paterson on his way out, and powerful oil and gas corporations still eyeing our backyards – it will be up to the incoming governor to close the loophole and follow through on protecting our future. We’re counting on Governor-elect Cuomo to make sure our health and environment are protected from the very real threats knocking on our door.

The issue with the exclusion from the Executive Order of vertical wells in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations is two-fold.  First, the gas industry has threatened to start drilling such vertical wells with the intention of later converting them to horizontal wells, which are precisely those that are banned by the new Executive Order and are the subject of current investigation by the state's Environmental Conservation department. Horizontal wells - which would be new in New York - involve the use of much higher volumes of so-called fracking fluids, i.e., water mixed with thousands of gallons of undisclosed chemicals and chemical-treated sands.  Because it may be harder to deny permits for horizontal wells once vertical wells are drilled, there is a risk that companies could do an end-run around the on-going environmental review process. 

Second, industry has also threatened to drill vertical wells in lieu of horizontal wells. State law mandates that only one horizontal well can be drilled per square mile, whereas 16 vertical wells could occupy the same area, carrying with them significant additional surface disturbance and environmental impacts.

Industry should be warned that any attempt to circumvent the on-going environmental review process by taking advantage of the the vertical well loophole created by Governor Paterson's new Executive Order will be closely watched by environmental groups.

It is also important to note that vertical wells - particularly those drilled in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations - carry with them some of the same concerns associated with high volume hydrofracked horizontal wells.  Indeed, the much-publicized problems in Dimock, PA were largely created by badly drilled vertical wells in the Marcellus Shale.

It is for all these reasons that we now look to Governor-elect Cuomo to ensure that New Yorkers' health, drinking water and environment are fully protected against the serious harms that have befallen those in other states that have not adequately evaluated the risks of new gas production using fracking.  The New York State Senate and Assembly both understood that the will of the people of this state is strongly in favor of no new drilling unless industry demonstrates it is safe.  We look forward to working with the new governor to ensure that the people's will is fully respected.

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William FehrDec 11 2010 11:57 PM

It is very sad that some people who call themselves environmentalists are really just NIMBIES. Natural gas is the low carbon, low emmission, low cost energy that will allow us to get to energy independence in the USA.
We can't get to a cleaner energy future without it and in reality without alot of it. NY State already had 13,000 wells fraced in it without issues with any of them. But fracing is not the issue, it has been proven safe. What is the issue is how to generate enough clean energy in this country to benefit the environment. Please don't allow your dislike for oil/gas companies to bias you against a vital form of energy to prevent climate change.
You aren't helping.

VictoriaTx.usDec 12 2010 01:27 AM

In-situ uranium mining in Goliad, Tx. has also brought the dangerous possibility of future water supplies becoming fractured conditions of contamination by the opposing need of energy.

VictoriaTx.usDec 12 2010 01:41 AM

Animals trough up to a bank. People, mined for water before fueling needs were ever considered, and fuels should remain only as that, secondary and a luxury. NOT, a necessity !

Fossils won't be around any longer by excavating the history beyond what ground will be left !

VictoriaTx.usDec 12 2010 02:05 AM

When the Lord GOD Almighty 1st fracted the firmament, he gave in us through a part of the very Love within, a salvation to become shared in wisdom and in the end, so shall be the same giving corrective nature, lest spread of immaturity lingers as falsely exhumed energies of mere anticipated separation.

Mary McNamaraDec 12 2010 05:27 AM

Wake up Penn. before it is too late !
It is not to late to put laws in place to protect the enviroment. Yes we need new source of fuel ,and yes we can get it from home.But history has shown when there is natural resource boom .It turns out bad .WHY... no laws to over see
EXAMPLE: logging ,coal mines

KeepItSimple KeepItSimpleDec 12 2010 09:20 AM

>high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted until July 1, 2011, at the earliest. This should allay any fears

Nope. This does not allay fears. Just Google "fracking accidents". We need at *least* a 7 year moratorium. In the meantime, rescind ixisting suspect leases using eminent domain. This law---where the government can appropriate private property---has been used countless times in the energy industry's favor . . . time to use it in favor of the environment and victimized landowners. (It was used, incidentally, to take the entire city of Centralia PA as a result of a mine fire burning beneath the borough since 1962. It’s certainly justified to use it to*prevent* ecological disasters.)

Nat HayesDec 12 2010 11:35 AM

Issues with fracturing fluids are no different than any other waste material governed by existing state and federal laws. High volume contamination of public drinking water may occur if the fluids are processed by ill-equipped treatment facilities, but is extremely unlikely from an overturned waste haul truck by a stream or during the fracturing process. "Fracking" is a straw man for failed public infrastructure, unscrupulous construction practices and unprofessional regulatory enforcement.

Pennsylvania's Independent Regulatory Review Commission has accepted updates, modifications and amendments to 25 PA. Code, Chapter 78 (Oil and Gas Wells) back in mid-November which are a combination of the best practices of several states as applied to the peculiarities of Pennsylvania geology, producing formations and historical practices of the industry. The issues in Dimmock, PA, and other instances in Montana et al. relate to the drilling method employed to construct the vertical sections of the wells through near surface geologic formations, not the fracturing process.

Like other states, Pennsylvania is blessed with natural and unnatural geologic hazards. In the case of drilling for resources in Pennsylvania, one may encounter any combination of materials at various pressures, abandoned mines, acid rock, etc. when advancing through the layered geologic formations. If the driller does not follow best practices, then they put themselves in danger - kickback causing fires at the wellhead - and they put the neighboring public in danger - mineral and fluid migration through a poorly plugged annulus between soil and rock formations and the outer casing. This "bad plug" provides a conduit for those natural and unnatural hazards to mix with our groundwater.

Loss of water sources and contamination of water has been occurring in Pennsylvania for the entire +150 year history of resource extraction - coal, limestone, clay, shallow and deep deposits of natural gas, and on and on. As far as I'm concerned, it's a battle we're all losing; and I feel it's most unfortunate that out of all the potential hazards associated with the Marcellus Industry people are focusing on "fracking" which should be near the bottom of a long list of pre-existing issues that are now heightened and magnified because of the activity surrounding the resource extraction from the Marcellus Formation: poor surface transportation infrastructure, poor wastewater treatment facilities, unscrupulous/unsafe heavy vehicle trucking and transport, predatory land leasing, poor erosion and sedimentation controls, excessive draw of water for drilling from sensitive streams and ecosystems, poorly regulated private drinking wells (or in the case of PA, not regulated at all...) - Just to name a few.

MikeDec 12 2010 01:40 PM

i was just thinking that this water can be used as fuel...

James BarthDec 12 2010 03:31 PM

It is absolutely false to describe this 8 year old technology of high volume, slickwater, multistage hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into shale and other unconventional plays, as "proven safe", let alone that it has been performed on "13,000" wells in NYS. This is not your 1948 Halliburton (grandpappy) process. One might as well compare the Wright Brothers plane to a rocket travelling at 2,100mph, which would describe the new technology.

It is also false to describe shale gas as low emission, low cost, or low carbon. Our government tax policies subsidize the fossil fuel energy companies in a huge way, and the environmental remediation costs are never figured into the equation. How much will it cost to deal with the Deepwater Horizon damage (though not natgas, still to the point)?

As far as "clean burning" of the "blue flame", when one considers the pollution thrown into our air and soil by this shale gas extractive process, it is barely better, if at all, compared to coal (see Horwath). Methane leakage from pipelines, compressor stations, storage tanks etc amounts to over 3 trillion cubic feet per year (worldwide) according to a very conservative US EPA estimate.

The belief that the U.S. will ever arrive at the point of "energy independence" through the use of any fossil based fuel is just plain ridiculous.

We are living a delusional, non-sustainable, lifestyle, in an economy that should be described in the same manner. Shale gas is the new bubble. Go visit Bernie Madoff in prison, if you believe in this way of being.

At a minimum, this contaminating, polluting process must be federally regulated, and our profound sources of potable water and population, must be placed off limits to this drilling. It is up to everyone to give "nimby-ism" the political theme it used to have, "think globally, act locally". If you can't stop them from drilling 200 feet from your private water well, where will you be able to stop them?

James BarthDec 12 2010 04:06 PM

Most informed critics fully agree that the focus should be taken off the defined timeline, and exact moment, that hydraulic fracturing occurs, when it comes to investigating the major contamination issues, and challenges, this process presents.

If they are drilling and frac'ing a 10,000 foot lateral, then they are using ten million gallons (minimum) of fluid laced with up to 2 percent chemical additives (figures as stated in June, 2009, by the Ground Water Protection Council in a statement given to Congress), plus proppant that can also contain chemicals). This water and these chemicals are trucked and mixed on site, which makes for "an accident waiting to happen" every time a well is drilled and frac'ed in this process. Then we have the twenty or so percent toxic flowback (while 80% remains unrecovered). So, it is not the wisest course for critics to obsessively focus on the frac'ing moment, when the whole process is a grave threat, including blow out.

I disagree with the contention that migration is only possible through the mistakes in casing during the drilling process. The Hazen & Sawyer report for the NYC DEP, plus Paul Rubin's and Jim Northrup's statements, explain clearly how the pre-existing faults and brittle structure of the geology of the Appalachian Basin, combined with the up to 15,000 psi explosive fracturing of the five to ten million gallons of fluid are a recipe for disaster, if not now, then in twenty years of migratory pressure? As Northrup points out, what company is doing 3-D seismic testing over the entire lateral?

Many gas industry apologists try to push off the notion that gas migration in the Dimock area was a pre-exiting problem. If so, then what gross negligence is it to drill in that geology? On the other hand, PA DEP strongly states that the gas migration was production (thermogenic in nature), not bio-genic. This doesn't stop the same people from repeating the same false attacks against the victims in Dimock. Some people even say the victims dumped chemicals into their own wells in order to make their case against Cabot.

Who thinks that the cement casing doesn't fail over time, or with seismic activity?

This drilling only shows an illusion of profit when new holes are constantly being drilled. The decline rate in productivity is approximately 70% during the first year, then again within the second year. Then, it is a trickle.

Do we turn all of our land surface (and subsurface) into drill holes?

Is this our "energy independent", "environmentally friendly", future?

AditiDec 13 2010 01:20 AM

It is not to late to put laws in place to protect the environment. people should aware more on this sensitive issues, as it concern about there future, Yes we need new source of fuel ,and yes we can get it from home. But history has shown when there is natural resource boom .people should encourage others to understand more on the plight of the environment and encourage non governmental organization to take care for educating like go green kids by the greenyatra team and others, It turns out bad .WHY... no laws to over see

Brendan O'ConnorDec 16 2010 06:09 PM

"Chesapeake, Schlumberger fined $22,000 each in cattle deaths:"...Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its contractor Schlumberger Technology Corp. each must pay $22,000 for violating state law in connection with the deaths almost a year ago of 17 heads of cattle at a natural gas well site..." " (Louisiana)-

"Natural gas pit fire and leaking pipes - more accidents in Pennsylvania"-

"Incidents where hydraulic fracturing is a suspected cause of drinking water contamination" (NRDC)-

"Searsmont airs concerns about recent gas leak: "...In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 7, New England Road residents were awakened by a loud hissing noise coming from the new natural gas compressor station on their quiet country road..." (Maine)-

"Fouled drinking water prompts gas drilling ban"-

"Ugly Reality of Fracking: "...Ernst, a biologist and environmental consultant to the oil and gas industry, says EnCana “told us ‘we would never fracture near your water.’ But the company fracked into our aquifer in that same year [2004].” By 2005, she says, “My water began dramatically changing, going bad. I was getting horrible burns and rashes from taking a shower, and then my dogs refused to drink the water. That’s when I began to pay attention.” More than fifteen water-wells had gone bad in the little community..." "-

"Gas well leak forces evacuation of nearby residents: "...The Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office reports nearly 25 homes in south Caddo Parish were evacuated as a precaution Monday morning, after gas vapors were detected at a well site..." " (Louisiana)-

"Company, state monitoring spill of water used in gas drilling operation: "...The spill of about 160 barrels of treated water from a drill pad in Cottonwood Gulch occurred about 2 a.m...The water that escaped the tank, though it had been treated, contained saline water and “a minute, and I underline minute, amount of additives used in the (hydraulic fracturing) process..." " (Colorado)-

"Fractured gas well questions multiply: "...On May 7, 2008, a sinkhole as wide as two football fields developed near this small town of 230. As that sinkhole developed, a quarter-mile away a geyser of fluid gushed from an abandoned well on property owned by the community’s mayor. The mayor said in the April 11 article that he had to cut down 100 trees on his property that were killed by the fluid..." " (Oklahoma)-

"Rayzor spill raises a stink: "...About 42 gallons of “drilling mud” accidentally spilled from an open tank truck at the Rayzor Ranch gas well site Thursday night.." (Colorado)-

"Cabot ordered to close Dimock pit after "black fluid" issues" (PA)-

"Toxic drilling waste is getting spread all over Texas farmland: "...The family doesn’t own the mineral rights on their property, and earlier this year, they had no say in the matter when Aruba Petroleum showed up to drill a gas well 300 yards away from their door. The Ruggieros made a decision then to allow Aruba surface use of part of their land, in return for a $30,000 one-time payment. They didn’t understand then what trouble and toxins they were letting themselves in for..." " (Texas)-

"DEP Penalizes Range Resources $141,175 for Spill in High Quality Waterway: "...The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Range Resources $141,175 for an Oct. 6, 2009, spill of fluids from a gas drilling operation that killed fish and aquatic life in a high-quality waterway in Hopewell Township, Washington County. Approximately 250 barrels of diluted frac fluids were released from a broken joint in a transmission line and flowed into an unnamed tributary of Brush Run. At least 168 small fish, primarily creek chubs and blacknose dace, and some salamanders and frogs were killed..." " (COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Dept. of Environmental Protection)-

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