When natural gas drilling comes to your town

When natural gas drilling comes to your town

featuresNew York Greens hold forum to educate about new drilling methods
by Deyva Arthur, Green Party of New York State

The Steuben Greens decided not to wait but to take a proactive approach to encroaching natural gas drilling. With state hearings not far away, they felt residents of western New York needed to be prepared. This local Green Party held a forum on the health and environmental impacts of new horizontal gas drilling techniques proposed for the district. While natural gas drilling is becoming a more popular energy alternative to oil, communities across the country do not know the full environmental consequences of this industry.

The forum, organized in conjunction with the Bath Peace and Justice Group, began with a documentary film, (Title) by Two Cent Films and Crestone Media. The film documents the impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, and features Theo Colburn, a research chemist who has studied the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.†

Schoharie Valley from Vroman's Nose. photo by Andy Coates
Schoharie Valley from Vroman's Nose. photo by Andy Coates

With several public hearings coming up sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Steuben Greens wanted local residents to be ready to voice their opinions about the substantial increase in drilling and held a discussion on how drilling impacts health and the environment. The forum was meant to prepare people to give testimony at the DEC hearings in Bath, Elmira and Allegany (near Olean).

The DEC has scheduled these hearings to receive comments on its “Draft Scope for Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs.” The scope states the DEC has received applications for permits to drill horizontal wells to evaluate and develop the Marcellus shale for natural gas production. Wells will undergo a stimulation process known as hydraulic fracturing. While the horizontal well applications received to date are for proposed locations in Chemung, Chenango and Tioga Counties, drilling could expand to other counties such as Delaware, Sullivan, Otsego, and Schoharie, where natural gas production has not previously been pursued.

“The rush to use natural gas as a transition fuel has serious negative environmental consequences.” David Cyr

As natural gas drilling increases, Greens such as David Cyr of the Green Party of New York State are speaking out. He said, the “politicized concept of ëenergy independence’ is producing an un-clean net result. Ö The rush to use natural gas as a transition fuel has serious negative environmental consequences. Whenever a corporate solution to an environmental problem seems remarkably green, look into it again – much more carefully.”

Cyr said it is predicted that over the next 20 years natural gas use will double and efforts to find new sources increase. To the west of the country there already is a sizable natural gas industry; now companies are eyeing the east, especially from Virginia up to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

As the Stueben Greens are finding, natural gas companies use newer methods for drilling. Cyr said natural gas companies have to go deeper and in more difficult places to find sources. Halliburton has developed a “high pressure, horizontally bored and hydrofractured drilling process Ö which essentially ó rather like alchemy ó converts stone into gas.”

Cyr said the natural gas industry has increased use of shale gas drilling by 300 percent since 1990 and is in turn creating substantial amounts of hazardous waste that can easily contaminate fresh water. In his description of the process he said, “The vertical holes are drilled far deeper and the bits bore multiple horizontal holes over great distances. A large number of hazardous chemicals are combined with enormous quantities of good fresh water. That “slick water” mixture is used to flood the drilled holes. By means of huge diesel burning air compressors, it’s then pressurized up to 8,000 psi. That converts as much as a thousand times more water than traditionally used into toxic wasteÖFar higher volumes of toxic fluids, and much higher pressure is used to make those fluids behave as powerful explosives to shatter stone formations that lie beneath water supplies.”

Cyr warns the public is ill informed regarding the impact of gas drilling and it is up to activists like the Stueben Greens to educate communities about the dangers. He said, “cheerfully optimistic TV advertisements assure viewers that gas corporations are going to bring about energy independence for America, by using new technologies providing amazing quantities of domestic ëgreen’ energy production. They don’t mention the invasive scale of well sites required to achieve that; nor their expropriation of enormous quantities of fresh water which is more valuable than the gas squandered to get it; nor the staggering amount of hazardous waste the new technology produces.”

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