October 28, 2011
Gas industry reps defend hydrofracking
Forum put on by Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY draws about 45 people
CORTLAND — Hydrofracking as a method of natural gas drilling is unlikely to damage the water supply and will help America’s energy supply, although it does increase road use and the process of setting up a drill can be disruptive.
Those were some of the opinions offered Thursday by two scientists and an attorney who represented the gas drilling industry at a community forum, sponsored by the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
About 45 people at the Cortland County Office Building auditorium listened to the three experts, peppering them with often skeptical questions.
The three were Scott Cline, a geologist and engineer for gas and oil companies; Tom Johnson, a Clifton Park hydrogeologist and SUNY Cortland alumnus; and Adam Schultz, an attorney who has spent much of his career working in natural resources.
Jeff Heller of the Steuben County Landowners Association, a coalition of people who own gas drilling leases, served as moderator.
Several in the audience were members of Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County, an activist group opposed to hydrofracking.
Hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a horizontal drilling method that injects millions of gallons of water treated with chemicals and sand deep underground into a shale formation to crack or fracture it and extract natural gas. It has been used in Pennsylvania to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale formation, and gas companies plan to use it in Central New York and the Southern Tier after state regulations are approved.
The drill goes vertically through rock to a spot below the water table.
The shaft is lined with a casing and then cement. Then a drill goes horizontally through the shale, for about 4,000 feet, and that shaft also is lined with a casing and cement. The drill operation uses pressure to fracture the shale and the well pulls in the gas.
Questions ranged from the potential for water pollution, to how landowners can stop gas companies from extending leases, to how tough New York state’s regulations for the gas industry actually are and how tough the Department of Environmental Conservation’s review of new regulations will be.
Heller said it is true that the drilling process, before the well is set up, drastically increases road traffic as trucks carry the hydrofracking fluid and water in and out. He and Cline said the process can create noise and light, as the operation runs around the clock for 15 to 30 days as the well is set up.
But Johnson and Cline said the chances are remote for any water pollution from the fracturing itself, as the weight of rock above the fractures does not allow them to be wide enough to carry fluid up to the water supply. Johnson said there was some chance of leakage as the well is drilled.
GDAC member Chris Applegate of Virgil asked what landowners can do when old leases expire — leases signed a few years ago, when companies were paying less for drilling rights — and a company forces the landowner to extend it.
Heller said a landowners’ coalition could help, but said a lease is binding and if a landowner has questions, he or she should not cash the company’s first check.
Schultz said there is more negotiation now, but landowners need to have legal advice in signing a lease.
Syracuse-area resident Mark Cooney asked why companies did not explain, when they were asking landowners to sign leases back in 2007 or 2008, just how large a well pad would be — 5 acres — and what hydrofracking involved. Schultz said New York’s drilling regulations were already the toughest in the nation and could be tougher when the DEC is done.
Cooney said afterward he is skeptical of the DEC and of the gas companies’ claims of drilling’s safety.
Pamela Jenkins asked what percentage of the gas would be exported. Cline said very little is being exported right now, and much of it would remain in the U.S. if Americans used it. Schultz said the nation’s energy consumption is enormous, and the U.S. will need something as petroleum runs out.
One audience member asked what happens to the water treated with hydrofracking fluid. Johnson said the industry for treating such water is long-established, the process removes radioactive material, and most municipal water treatment plants are not equipped to handle the water so specialty companies do it.
Cline said 90 percent of the water in hydrofracking is used again in drilling.
A man who said he lives in the country because he wants quiet asked how noisy the drilling is. Cline said it is an industrial process, so there is noise, but companies try to block it.
Virgil resident Dale Taylor said he hunted deer while vertical wells were being drilled on land off Page Green Road, and he could hear the deer grunt over the noise and it was not loud on the main roads.
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