By Anya Tikka
JEFFERSONVILLE The Town of Callicoon Democratic Committee invited US Geological Survey Hydrologist William M. Kappel to Jeffersonville to explain the hydrofracking process.
The focus of last Saturday’s meeting was on information, and how to influence the state regulations, regardless of where one stood on the controversial topic of gas drilling. After his presentation, Kappel fielded lively questions from about 75 in attendance.
Meeting organizer Bruce Ferguson, in his opening remarks, said the public has until December 12 to comment on the 1,537-page draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation that regulates hydrofracking. Everyone needs to be educated about the drilling process, Ferguson said.
Although much of the information was not new, Kappel’s clear and informative presentation outlined the hydrofracking process and how to go about influencing its regulation.
He explained “… DEC only enforces the rules that come from the legislators,” so the only way to influence regulations effectively is to contact the legislators either to uphold or repeal Article 23 of the New York Environmental Conservation Law that states the state has precedence over local towns to regulate mineral use rights.
Currently the Town of Dryden is being sued in New York for passing new zoning laws to bar all gas drilling within its borders in an apparent test case. The Anschutz Exploration Corporation is asking the Supreme Court in Tompkins County to invalidate Dryden’s ban.
Kappel went on to say that whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, towns can use road laws to prevent thousands of truckloads of heavy traffic, tax the value of gas wells, regulate the location of wells, use of water, and the disposal of produced, contaminated water.
“Roads weren’t meant for that kind of heavy truck traffic,” commented Kappel.
Currently, 58 companies are waiting for permits in New York to start drilling according to Kappel, adding drilling for natural gas has been going on for 150 years here.
“In New York we have a lot of trees, and people behind the trees,” said Kappel to laughter from the audience, referring to the fact fracking is under close scrutiny here although it’s been going on in remote, uninhabited places for a long time.
Kappel explained that there’s gas in the shale, “But for commercial operations, the concentration may not be enough to be worth drilling.” That’s why it’s a step-by-step slow process, starting with exploratory wells. It may turn out there’s not enough worth drilling.
In New York, one projection foresees 60,000 wells over time. Well pads are 3-4 acres, and are capped after use. There are about 20,000 non-documented orphan wells, according to Kappel.
One of the key factors in the process, Kappel continued, is how to get the gas to the market place. The wells need to be near the pipes, and in fact some wells in nearby Pennsylvania are already being capped due to the inability to transport the gas, although new pipes are built all the time. The gas companies will want to drill near the Millennium Pipeline in New York, he added.
Among the health hazards mentioned by Kappel, the Marcellus Shale contains radioactive uranium in large quantities that’s released in the hydrofracking process, as well as methane gas.
Other concerns include the flooding of wells from heavy rains and the water contamination problems.
Kappel said that energy services giant Halliburton claims it has formulated a new “green” fracking fluid that you can even drink. “It tastes like beer, apparently,” quipped Kappel to another round of laughter from the audience.
“There are risks in the process, and accidents do occur,” admitted Kappel.
Larysa Dyrszka from Bethel asked, “If accidents happen, where do we go?”
The state DEC and Health Department, said Kappel.
While the actual fracking takes place about 8,000 feet down and fresh water is about 500 feet down, the wells have to go through the layer. New York has tough laws that require casing the length of the wells with cement in three layers, although when pressed by the audience about how long the cement lasts, he admitted that no one knows.
“We hope the fractures won’t spread vertically from the horizontal fractures upward,” he said.
“Fractures are a concern,” Kappel noted.
Because Pennsylvania’s laws allow building wells that don’t have the cement casing all the way up to the surface, it makes it much easier for methane to seep through, as happened in Dimock, claimed Kappel.
Inge Grafe-Kieklak of Jeffersonville spoke up to assert that methane in Dimock had nothing to do with the gas drilling.
In New York, the homeowner has to prove the gas company caused their water problem, said Kappel in response to a question from the audience, and to do that, he or she needs to establish a baseline for the water quality to start with.
Melissa Easton from the audience said catskillcitizens.org has information on how to do this in their water testing section.
Small groups of people gathered and talked among themselves after the meeting.
Mark Switko of North Branch said it’s about pro-health.
“I have a 9-year-old daughter. I’m concerned if drilling can be done safely, about pollution from trucks, air pollution, I prefer some alternative way,” Switko said. “There are no benefits to locals apart from the leases, and Kappel said ‘They drill, and once they’re done, they’re gone.’”