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Propane fracking in NY can't go forward without a new environmental review

Kate Sinding

Posted April 12, 2012

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Several recent media reports have described plans by a Canadian gas company, GasFrac Energy Services, Inc., and the Tioga County Landowners Association to drill gas wells using the unconventional technique of fracturing with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).  Troublingly, representatives of the parties have indicated that their intention is to circumvent the on-going environmental review of fracking in New York – which has resulted in the current de facto moratorium on any new high-volume fracking – by using an alternative fracking agent, i.e., LPG instead of water.

LPG’s main constituent is propane, a highly flammable, and hence explosive gas.  It is used in a few limited locations as an alternative to fracking with a water-based fracking fluid, but has not, to our knowledge, ever been used in the Marcellus Shale.

Today, NRDC, together with 14 of our allies and a well-respected geologist, sent a letter to New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens making clear our position that any application to frack with LPG in New York would trigger the need to undertake a new full environmental review.  In short, LPG fracking – and its particular risks and impacts – is not analyzed in either the most recent draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement or the earlier 1992 oil and gas development GEIS.  As such, it cannot legally be undertaken in New York absent the preparation of a full environmental review that evaluates its risks.

And it does present real risks – including some that are different in nature from those associated with “traditional” fracking.  First and foremost is the risk of explosion –a risk highlighted by two major explosions last year at GasFrac well sites that injured fifteen workers and caused the company to suspend all of its operations for two weeks.

Other hazards relate to the trucking of thousands of gallons of LPG to well sites; compressing and re-condensing the LPG for reuse; mixing the LPG with chemicals, which, as with water-based fracking, is necessary for LPG fracking; and the generation of wastewaters contaminated with not only the usual toxic fracking brew but also explosive gas.

Give them points for creativity, I suppose, but don’t give GasFrac and Tioga County Landowners any permits for propane fracking in New York without first subjecting it to thorough review.

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Joe RealityApr 12 2012 05:35 PM

What's wrong? LPG fracking takes too many of your complaints off the table so now you have to come up with new ones? Let's see, using the GasFrac process means no wastewater and hence no disposal issues to address. It means cutting truck traffic from 800+ trips down to 30. The process uses three NON-TOXIC chemicals in the gel which remains in the ground after the process. ("Wastewater contaminated with explosive gas??" What on earth are you talking about?) In essence, the process uses hydrocarbons that already exist in the ground to coax out more hydrocarbons. If you are an environmentalist and a realist, you should be in favor of this. It is as clean a process as you will find. If you are a nut job who is opposed to any sort of fossil fuel exploration, you will oppose it. Question: How did you get to work today? What do you think is powering that computer you are working on? How do you think all those goods got into your supermarket? Reality is kind of tricky ain't it?

navApr 12 2012 06:53 PM

"And it does present real risks – including some that are different in nature from those associated with “traditional” fracking. First and foremost is the risk of explosion –a risk highlighted by two major explosions last year at GasFrac well sites"

This information is false, there has been only one confirmed accident with LPG, it took place in January 2011, it was a flash fire that caused 3 minor injuries. After this incident the company added multiple layers of additional safety.

The second incident you mention happened on another site, while Gasfrac was present, their technology was not applied yet, the source of the fire was the well itself (flash fires happens in wells regardless of them being fracked).

This second statement is also false:

"and the generation of wastewaters contaminated with not only the usual toxic fracking brew but also explosive gas."

LPG does not use water and does not produce waste water, perhaps you are confusing it with the salty water that comes with any oil and gas production. There is also no toxic gas coming out, the propane revert back to gaseous state and is produced with the well natural gas.


I don't understand why lies and misinformation should be used to make a point, if you have an issue with oil and gas production in general, say so, but creating such false accusations is basis for a slander lawsuit.

John DoeApr 12 2012 07:06 PM

I have to agree with Joe Reality .There is a huge amount of miss information in the media about LPG well fracturing.The LPG is pumped as a liquid not a gas in a zero oxygen environment.Gasfrac`s safety program is the best out there right now in the well servicing industry with remote monitoring systems including Cameras ,LEL monitors . The on site explosions that happened last year were due to third party vendors that were working on the same location not due to gasfracs operations.It has been proven that 100 %of the LPG and Chemicals have been pumped in the Canadian Operations are trapped and reused by the operators of the well with zero waste .The environmental front needs to get informed about oil and gas operations before they comment about it in the public domain.

Stanley R ScobieApr 12 2012 07:45 PM

As far as I can tell the Blog here is referring to the legal status of LPG fracking in New York.

Attorney Sinding is quite correct that the process has not been reviewed under NY State Environmental Quality Review Act - SEQRA requires any action with a likely substantial environmental impact to be given a "long hard look."

Since the process was never contemplated in NY's 1992 review of vertical drilling and low-volume hydrofracture development, it would be simply incorrect, reckless and, irresponsible to proceed on the basis of what are, to this point, essentially media and industry assertions about the safety or lack therof of the process for hydrocarbon development.

It is clearly frustrating to some people that NY would take such a "long hard look." However, as Governor Cuomo has stated repeatedly, it is necessary to be certain of the health and environmental safety of any process of methane extraction - based on the science.

LPG Hydraulic Facking will recieve the same careful review as has Hydrofracking development using the slickwater process. The citizens of NY deserve no less.

Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., , Senior Fellow, Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy

Jess PerryApr 13 2012 09:31 AM

is this article a late april fools day joke? how can a person this uninformed put out an article that is so inaccurate!! what is your agenda? it is a closed loop fracking system that has been used on over a thousand wells with 1 minor incident, and uses no water and has no flaring or burning off of waste gases and the gas they use can be reused on the next well?? this IS a very good waterless fracking system that protects our water supply that is very safe and has been used in canada for years now!!!!

RyanApr 13 2012 10:33 AM

GasFrac technology has actually been used in the Marcellus in the past, it just was not being used at the time when you wrote this article. I see "your knowldege" is quite limited. In addition, GasFrac does not have the same wastewater risks as hydro fracking. It does have a flowback liquid, but it is 100% recyclable and the "explosives" end up mixed in with the natural gas from the frack. Furthermore, GasFrac is able to extract the gas much more efficiently than with water because it does not damage the formation. yes it is flammable and explosive, but that means the safety precautions will account for that which is why in most GasFrac operations the employees are working 200 ft away from the well. DO YOUR RESEARCH and then come out and write a blog article...maybe after you have spent time reading you will end up on the other side fo this argument.

Big_xApr 13 2012 11:12 AM

LPG is a mixture of hydrocarbons, with the general split being 50/50 propane and butane, not mostly propane.

girl, you seriously need to do a better job of educating yourself.

why aren't you concerned about di-hydrogen monoxide? the most deadly chemical today

Kenneth MackApr 13 2012 11:23 AM

Permits, under the 1992 law, LPG fracking has the right for permit approval.
If the Environmentalist wish to have additional Studies done, The Company, Gas Frac, KNOWS without a doubt that its process & technology will pass the necessary safety standards in place TODAY.
It is time that the Environmental Lobby seeks to embrace the most friendly fracking technology available.
Our RESOURCES are there, we have to retrieve them for ENERGY INDEPENDENCE.
Time to be part of the SOLUTION instead of being the U.S. major PROBLEM!!!

Trevor HinkleyApr 13 2012 01:20 PM

She is a blogger with the NRDC. She couldn't possibly have the foresight to do an in depth investigation before she starts spouting her ignorant opinion. And what research she does is going to be so heavily slanted, she won't take time to understand the reality that it had. Major explosions? your homework woman....

Larry AmesApr 13 2012 03:25 PM

Kate, Just because you and a multitude of "antifrack environmentalists" have been so focused on water fracking that you have completely missed the elegant solution of LPG fracking, doesn't mean everyone else has. I am a member of the Tioga Landowner's Coalition and we have been looking at this technique very hard for quite a while. It is the answer to environmentally safe gas extraction. Nearly every American lives in close proximity to compressed natural gas every day. Handling it is well understood and regulated. That should not shut down gas extraction in New York. I've got to say I'm really sick of city folk nimbys nay saying everything and anything without knowing what they're talking about. They heat their homes and cook their food and power transit buses, etc. with natural gas and want it cheap and plentiful... just as long as it comes from somewhere else. They don't even like to see it extracted from their vacation grounds. Well I happen to live right here at ground zero. I am an environmentalist and have studied this issue long and hard. As far as I'm concerned its a go with Gasfrac.

Please do your homework.

Joel_50Apr 13 2012 07:01 PM

Propane is used safely by consumers in millions of homes throughout the US. People cook and grill with it; they heat their homes with it. It is safely carried by railroad tank cars and delivery trucks that crisscross New York and other states.

How this is supposed to be an environmental threat is more than a bit of a stretch. On a volume basis, far less propane than water is needed for fracturing operations. The truck traffic is minuscule, compared with that required for a water-based fracturing job. Because the gelled propane gasifies under petroleum reservoir conditions and returns to surface tankage as a gas, it leaves any resrvoir contaminants where they are and does not bring them to the surface. Essentially all of the propane used in the treatment is recovered for recycling into the next fracturing job. Alternatively, it can be sold into a pipeline because it is a salable product. There is not a drop of water used, and there is nothing to dispose of. Repeat, there is no disposal of anything. Propane fracturing treatments also require very little flaring during flowback operations, compared with water-based fracturing jobs.

On top of all that, a growing body of data shows that propane fracturing is superior to water-based fracturing in the fundamental purpose for which it is undertaken: to stimulate additional well production. Propane treatments also take significantly less time, so they are less disruptive than water-based treatments. In all, this should make everyone happy. Producers get better wells, and the public benefits from superior environmental protection.

Furthermore, the state benefits from a substantial new revenue source, and in the long run, good local jobs in the oil and gas industry are created. Not as many people will have to move away, and young people graduating from high school, especially, will have more opportunity close to home.

One more item. People talk about the water produced with oil and gas. This is a factor in most oil and gas wells and has been so since the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. By now there are extensive regulations and legal protections of landowners in place throughout the country, including New York. People are right to pay attention to how this water is handled. However, it has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing -- whether with propane or water-based fracturing fluid -- as the produced water would be there whether you fractured the well or not.

herman schwartzApr 14 2012 03:36 PM

Comment removed; please keep the conversation civil. — Switchboard editors

responsible reportingApr 14 2012 09:20 PM

From the source you reported alleging that propane fracs had something to do with the fire at Husky operations last year:

Gasfrac was preparing to conduct a propane fracture at the Husky well site Monday afternoon, company chief financial officer James Hill confirmed in an interview. But he said the fire appeared to emanate from the well rather than Gasfrac equipment, which had not yet begun operations. It is “not at all possible” that the explosion came from a similar cause as the January accident, he said.

If you had bothered to read the article you had linked you would see the LPG frac had absolutely nothing to do with that fire.

The other fire that happened at a Gasfrac operation resulted in a major change in safety equipment and there have been no further issues in the next 1000 frack jobs they have done.

You would print a retraction if you had any credibility.

Comments are closed for this post.


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