Natural gas production from the Marcellus shale in upstate New York through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) was halted in 2008 when Governor Patterson, using New York’s Generic Impact Statement (GEIS) established a moratorium as a result of complaints regarding chemicals found in drinking water near installations where this technology was being used. The moratorium has been extended since that time, more recently by Governor Cuomo.
As noted in my previous posts, it is no secret that I am in favor of producing the vast amounts of shale gas in the Marcellus and other formations in various parts of our country, provided that proper fracking regulations are promulgated and vigorously enforced. We must recover this vital domestic resource to move closer to energy independence, to switch more users from crude oil-based fuels and coal to natural gas and to create large numbers of jobs.
However, there is strong resistance to fracking by a very vocal and powerful environmental lobby which is said to have influenced Cuomo’s decision and hopes to ban fracking in New York and elsewhere. Their vehement opposition to fracking is largely based on a number of cases in Pennsylvania and other states where fracking chemicals evidently leaked into acquifers or were found in streams from runoffs near the drilling sites. Opponents of fracking also point to release of methane gas (a Greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere in large amounts at some installations and to the despoiling of the landscape by the thousands of well installations used to extract the shale gas. These are legitimate concerns.
Actually, this happens to be a time when extending the moratorium is not a bad idea if the time is used to consider how fracking can be made environmentally acceptable to all but the most extreme enviromentalists. The drinking water problem is still not completely understood, since the chemicals found in a number of cases in acquifers near fracking installations can actually come from a number of sources: well casing leaks, leaks through fractured rock, drilling site discharges, leaks from waste water storage ponds and transportation spills. All of these can be dealt with to a very large degree with proper standards, regulations and enforcement. The chemicals used for fracking are well known, generally found in household products, cosmetics, etc. and, in low concentrations, pose no hazard. In cases where hazardous chemicals from the shale itself Not from fracking fluids) are detected (e.g. arsenic) fracking may have to be discontinued there.
With fracking going on in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere, more and more experience is being gained in the use of the shale fracking technology. More regulations are also being applied in reducing the amount of methane leakage in to atmosphere. With proper regulations and vigorous enforcement we should be able to reduce the number of “incidents” to an acceptably limited number, similar to what has always been the case for oil and gas drilling that has gone on for many decades.
As to lifting the moratorium, it is obviously of vital importance to protect the watersheds that serve large centers of population such as New York City, Syracuse, etc. Also, fracking should only be allowed when it is dome thousands of feet below existing acquifers. But this leaves a number of counties where the Marcellus shale should be fracked, in particular where local communities want to proceed with hydraulic fracturing, which will make their farmland much more valuable and which will create large numbers of jobs.
New York is benefitting from the very low natural gas pricing that is increasingly due to fracking being carried out in a number of other states. So, New York should not get the benefits without sharing in any environmental costs It stands to reason that all fracking installations should be regulated and supervised to allow safe operations that will not allow chemicals to contaminate drinking water nor despoil the landscape. We can only hope that New York’s moratorium will be lifted when the current problems have been properly dealt with.
I have recently read an excellent, evenhanded book Under the Surface. Fracking, Fortunes and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale by Tom Wilber, a reporter who has been covering this topic for a number of years. I recommend this book to interested readers of this blog.