September 30, 2008

Companies Explore New Drilling in N.Y.

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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that about 70,000 wells have been drilled in the state, 14,000 of which are active. More and more landowners are permitting drilling companies to explore the trillion-cubic-feet of natural gas deposit in the Marcellus Shale formation — the marine sedimentary rock prevalent throughout New York.
Prof. Susan Riha, Charles L. Pack Research Professor of Forest Soils and Director of New York State Water Resources Institute, stated in an e-mail that there is renewed interest in obtaining gas from the Marcellus Shale formation due to a relatively new drilling technique called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracing. Hydrofracing allows for the creation of both vertical and horizontal cracks in a well of interest. As a result, it increases the amount of gas recoverable from any well dug in the rock formation, including those in upstate New York.
However, Riha warned that hydrofracing can have significant impacts on the environment ranging from the withdrawal of large volumes of water to the possible leakage of chemical wastes into surrounding bodies of water.
“All construction sites, as they involve the disturbance of the natural surface, are vulnerable to extreme runoff during heavy rainfall events, which can not only erode the construction site, but also cause pollution in streams, ponds and lakes downstream from the construction site,” she stated.
Elizabeth Buck ’11 witnessed the arrival of two drilling companies — Chesapeake Energy and Fortuna Energy — in her hometown of Elmira, N.Y. Buck observed that while some residents of her town gave in to the benefits of drilling, others expressed discontent. Some landowners were too connected to their plots of land or simply saw it as unnecessary to allow drilling companies to cut across their property.
Yet, despite mixed feelings, Buck said she believes that the two drilling companies in her hometown operated in a fair manner.
Buck praised Chesapeake Energy’s support of her town’s Agricultural fair and Fortuna Energy’s support of the community, citing their use of helicopters to survey the town rather than four-wheelers that would require cutting down trees.
“They give you the opportunity to ask questions, [rather than] getting stuck in bureaucracy… They’re conscious that they will destroy a little, but they do their best to follow at least something that has already been there,” she said.
Until recently, Mollie Futterman ’10 was unaware that there are gas wells in upstate New York.
“I grew up in Ithaca, but only became aware of the drilling sites fairly recently, since it has been in the news a fair amount in the past few months,” Futterman stated in an e-mail.
Futterman expressed contempt with the issue, claiming that though drilling might promote economic development in the short-run, the environmental impacts far outweigh the economic incentives.
“Instead of devoting money, time and energy to drilling for natural gas, we should be looking more intensively into updating and creating technologies that will allow for more efficient use of renewable energy,” Futterman said. “Wind, solar and geothermal energy are examples of ‘true’ renewable energy sources.”