Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Researcher says New York state not equipped to handle increased deep gas drilling

An Ithaca, N.Y., researcher has compiled a list of 270 files documenting wastewater spills, well contamination, explosions, methane migration and ecological damage related to natural-gas production in the state since 1979. The list comes as the state tried to deal with heavy demand for gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale that uses hydraulic and chemical fracturing. Walter Hang, president of evnironmental research firm Toxic Targeting, used the state Department of Environmental Conservation's own hazard substances spills database to compile the list, Tom Wilbur reports for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.

DEC officials say the proportion of the files actually pertaining to gas drilling is less than 0.1 percent. But as New York advertises its gas industry as clean and tightly regulated on the eve of increased production, Hang says regulation is "fundamentally inadequate." DEC has temporarily suspended Marcellus permitting while it develops regulations for the process known as "fracking," pumping millions of gallons of water and chemical additives into wells under high pressure to fracture the deep bedrock and release gas.

Only 60 of the 270 cases on file were actually caught by DEC regulators, Wilbur reports. Wang says the rest were called in by residents, public-safety officials, affected parties or "people who just stumbled over them." The DEC data also shows a history of methane migration, a problem encountered in Pennsylvania fracking and New York gas operations not using fracking. Wang says the data shows DEC is not ready for an influx of drilling activity beyond all historical comparisons, despite a DEC's Division of Mineral Resources supervisor's answer to that question at a public hearing last year: "We have been doing fine so far. ... No problems." (Read more)

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