A gas drilling rig belonging to Chesapeake Appalachia, location unknown.
DEC drilling rules draw reactions
Part 1 of 2
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Varied as they are, reactions were somewhat negative to last week’s release of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) proposed new rules on gas drilling.
The Democrat requested comment from a variety of interested and involved parties. Formal written comments are likely to be made to the DEC by the current November 30 deadline, and submission guidelines (and the draft SGEIS itself) can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/energy/58440.html.
Comments were solicited but not obtained from Hess Corporation and Chesapeake Appalachia, two of the largest companies interested in gas drilling locally. Chesapeake would only say that it’s still reviewing the document. Damascus Citizens for Sustainability also did not provide a response as of press time.
Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon, who recently took over from Bill Pammer, will be making a report on the draft document to the Sullivan County Legislature this Thursday.
While Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther did not offer her reaction yesterday, she has scheduled a public hearing on the matter before the NYS Assembly, set for Thursday, October 15 at 9 a.m. in Room 306 of the State Capitol in Albany.
“The Assembly wants to solicit input on this draft, and I am eager to hear from all stakeholders on this important issue,” she said.
Following is a roundup of the remarks made by other groups and individuals:
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
“I call it the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, which has pushed hard for environmental safeguards in gas drilling.
In particular, he liked the mandatory baseline water testing, steel tanks to hold contaminated fracturing (“fracking”) fluid and a 1,000-foot buffer around New York City’s upstate drinking water supplies.
But allowances for five-acre open pits of wastewater from multiple wellsites as far as four miles away from the storage area gave him great cause for concern.
“Sixteen million gallons of toxic fluid in five-acre ponds? C’mon,” Ferguson remarked.
And even though the DEC will require companies to disclose the chemical composition of that fracking fluid, he said it doesn’t change the worrisome reality that 22,000-40,000 gallons of potentially toxic chemicals will be used per horizontal well.
Plus there’s no consideration for cumulative impacts, he observed, and an intriguing proposal to use propane rather than millions of gallons of water to frack the Marcellus Shale was given short shrift.
“This is a game-changer,” he said of the propane idea. “... Yet they reference this in one paragraph and then drop it.”
Calling the SGEIS draft a “half-baked” document, Ferguson hopes the DEC can be convinced to hold public hearings where people can speak, rather than just scheduling info sessions and soliciting written comments.
He’s not holding his breath, though.
“The DEC basically is not there to protect us,” he said. “They’ve said to us, ‘Our priority is to promote natural gas extraction in New York State.’”
Catskill Citizens will be sending a written response to the DEC in the weeks ahead, Ferguson confirmed, if only to ensure the DEC is aware of the group’s concerns before the draft is finalized early next year, paving the way for drilling in the area.
“This is it,” he observed. “After this, there’s no recourse.”
Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association
Noel van Swol, representing the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, said his group was pleased the DEC finally provided the draft regulations after more than a year of wrangling.
“They look to be extremely reasonable,” he said of the proposals, “and it is our hope that they will set a new national standard and end the environmental controversy.”
Representing some 70,000 acres in western Sullivan and Delaware counties, the group has found suitors have a renewed interest now that the regulatory landscape is clearer.
“Everybody is suddenly perking up,” said van Swol.
And he doesn’t believe the proposed rules will harm either the environment or the gas companies.
“If this [shale play] is as rich as it appears, the companies will be able to afford whatever is necessary,” he predicted.