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Dan Hust | Democrat

This was one of dozens of slides shown at a recent county-sponsored forum on gas drilling. It illustrates Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s drilling site criteria.

Drilling forum offers science and advocacy

Part 2 of 2
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — July 27, 2010 — Four panelists gave their views on gas drilling at the July 15 county-sponsored forum on drilling’s environmental and health impacts.
This is the second half of the article that originally appeared in this past Friday’s Democrat.
Advocate argues New York isn’t ready
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Senior Attorney Kate Sinding has become one of the most-quoted anti-drilling advocates in the country, and as the next speaker after Law, she made no bones about her feelings on the industry.
“Hydraulic fracturing is an inherently violent activity,” Sinding stated. “... You’re going down and pulverizing rock, and that can’t be taken back.
“... When those wellbores aren’t properly constructed,” she added, “they create a perfect pathway for contamination.”
And the wellhead isn’t always what’s called a “Christmas tree.”
“You’ve got big condensate tanks on there,” Sinding explained, with noisy, vibrating equipment operating 24/7.
Plus, “the Marcellus is a very, very salty formation,” she said. “... And New York State doesn’t currently have any facilities licensed to handle wastewater from natural gas drilling activities – neither the salt nor the radioactivity.”
Citing ozone pollution in western rural locales as bad as that in Houston or Los Angeles, Sinding said that “the speed and rate at which wellpads get developed ... is not something we’re at all equipped to deal with.”
She criticized the state for not including studies on cumulative and long-term impacts in its coming update of drilling rules.
“They failed to propose any regulations at all,” she said of the ongoing process. “... They’re just going to do it through permit conditions.”
But her standards are apparently quite high.
“There is no state we can point to that has adequate regulations,” Sinding related.
Noting she’s an advocate, not a scientist, Sinding said the industry needs to start tracking where fracking fluids go once they’re underground – especially if they endanger aquifers, which could render large drinking water supplies unusable for decades.
Plus, with the Utica Shale (underlying the Marcellus) presenting even more opportunities for the oil and gas industry, “that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ultimate impacts,” she warned.
Chesapeake weighs in
The only member of the panel to present a positive view of the drilling industry was a member of that industry: Paul Hartman, director of state government relations in New York for Chesapeake Energy Corp.
Though focused on Broome County currently, Chesapeake has been actively leasing properties in the Marcellus for the past two years and is currently the largest leaseholder in the state.
Hartman, however, insisted he’s not a shill for the industry, pointing out his stint as the Nature Conservancy of NY’s director of government relations, where he led a successful campaign to increase the state’s Environmental Protection Fund from $205 million a year to $222 million.
He also has extensive experience as an Albany lobbyist, including for the American Heart Association.
Through the course of his presentation, Hartman promoted the safety practices of Chesapeake and the gas industry in general, noting the lengths to which his company goes to ensure the integrity of the well and surrounding water supplies.
He drew a distinction between the drilling process and the fracking process (which begins after drilling has been completed), and listed the types of acidic chemicals that comprise .5 percent of the water/sand mixture used to prop open the fractured, gas-rich shale.
Though the mixture is different for varying geologies, Chesapeake uses just six of the near-300 additives available for fracking fluid, he added.
As for the millions of gallons of water needed to frack one well, Hartman said the gas industry accounts for only .1 percent of industrial water use in the U.S. Power generation comprises 71.7 percent, he said, followed by 16.2 percent for mining and 12 percent for public water supplies.
“Chesapeake Energy has made a commitment to 100 percent recycling and reusing all our produced water,” he explained, referring to the water/fracking fluid recovered from a gas well. “This is a huge step forward for the industry.”
He acknowledged that a completed wellpad can have more than a wellhead on it (or the six wellheads Chesapeake creates), but he said current technology has shrunk pad sizes from three acres to 1.5.
No water is discharged into the land surrounding the pad, he claimed, and all water sources within 1,000 feet of the well site are regularly tested.
“We go to great lengths to ensure the integrity of the site,” he added.
In the end, “the site is completely reclaimed when a well is no longer productive,” said Hartman.
Like the rest of the industry, he expects NY’s regulations to get tougher, but he feels that’s the role of the state rather than the federal government, which has exempted gas companies from following the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, among others.
“The industry is only as good as the enforcement,” he acknowledged.
But he affirmed Chesapeake is willing to pay more to the state to up its enforcement staff levels.
Some audience questions – like what happens to radioactive drill cuttings when they’re shipped to landfills but exceed acceptable safety levels – Hartman could not answer, but he vowed that Chesapeake will be a good neighbor, transparent and responsive.
“The closer people are to these activities,” he remarked, “we’ve found the more people embrace them.”
While he admitted nothing human beings do can escape impacting the environment, Hartmen felt the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
“The environmental benefits of natural gas have long been well-known,” he said, pointing out that gas-powered machinery produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less than oil.
“This is an opportunity for a real environmental impact in our energy,” Hartman stated. “It is not the final answer [to transitioning to green energy], but we have many decades to go.
“... The innovation in this industry is evolving daily.”
For a complete video of the forum and another that preceded it, log on to the county’s website at
Officials are planning one more free forum – on drilling’s economic and community impacts – on Thursday, August 19 at 5:45 p.m., again at the Monticello High School.

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