New York in No Rush to Join Gas Drilling Boom

New York state is taking a cautious approach to hydraulic gas drilling in the Marcellus shale region. According to a New York Times article, the state is working on some fairly tough regulations for the its fledgling industry, and has added extra protections for some of New York’s most environmentally sensitive regions. What’s more, lawmakers in the state are considering bills that could delay hydraulic gas drilling in the state for a year or more.

The Marcellus Shale is a formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland. The area has seen the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing in recent years. This process, also called fracking, involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells. The practice makes drilling possible in areas that 10 to 20 years ago would not have been profitable. Hydraulic fracturing, is currently used in 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells.

The process involves a relatively new technology, and is not without risks. This month alone, there have been two major accidents in the Pennsylvania-West Virginia region involving Marcellus Shale drilling. One of them involved a well explosion.

The major concern with shale gas drilling is the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

New York state’s Marcellus Shale region encompasses the entire watershed in the Catskills that provides New York City with all of it drinking water. New York City doesn’t filter its water, thanks to a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, it has spent about $1.5 billion since 1997 to protect the watershed. City officials and environmental activists are worried that fracking in the Marcellus region will endanger New York City’s water.

For now, gas exploration in the region is on hold while the sate Department of Environmental Conservation drafts regulations for hydraulic drilling. Those regulations are expected to be ready sometime this year.

According to The New York Times, New York state legislatures are considering two bills that would make that defacto moratorium explicit for the most intense drilling technologies upstate. One would extend the current moratorium until 120 days after the release of a federal study of the industry’s impact on water quality, while another would impose a one year moratorium.

Earlier this week, the bill that would impose the one-year moratorium received the backing of key lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly. The measure, which will mainly affect the Southern Tier, passed the Senate Environmental Conservation committee on Monday, but it was unclear if or when it would be brought to a vote of the full Legislature. If passed, the bill will suspend hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas until June 1, 2011.

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