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New York's Welcome Mat for Fracking Likely Limited

Legislators and regulators in New York are hinting that should high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) be permitted in the Empire State, localities that are the most receptive to the practice may be the first -- and, possibly, the only -- areas to allow it.

Two supporters of Marcellus and Utica shale gas drilling in New York -- state Sens. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) and James Seward (R-Milford) -- believe the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will ultimately approve fracking, but possibly in select areas first. Conventional drilling doesn't require wells to be stimulated using fracking, but it is used in nearly all unconventional wells that are drilled horizontally.

"I believe they're going to look at areas of the state where there is Marcellus Shale, where there is potential for drilling in areas of the state that are going to be open to it," Libous, who also serves as the Senate's deputy majority leader, told The Journal News on Monday. "It just doesn't make sense for them to do it elsewhere, and I think there are enough areas of the state that would be open to it."

Seward concurred. "My sense is once DEC completes [its] process, I think that we'll ease into this. There will be a limited number of permits. Where the best opportunity is for the most return on wells and where the local community welcomes the opportunity, I think that obviously makes sense to issue permits that meet those two criteria."

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis indicated that regulators may indeed be considering that approach as they continue to finalize a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on fracking. The SGEIS would serve as the agency's regulatory framework for unconventional drilling.

"Under the draft SGEIS, if a local government does not feel the applicant's plan is consistent with land use and local zoning laws, the municipality can raise a flag with DEC," DeSantis said. "If high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, local governments will get advance notice of all applications, and can comment on compatibility of such application with local land use laws and policies. DEC will consider this in its review of the permit application and can deny or condition a permit based on this information if it deems such action is appropriate based on the impacts."

Cherie Messore, spokeswoman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, told NGI's Shale Daily that "while it may be premature to speculate, activity will begin in the areas that geology has determined the most productive and where there are leasing opportunities. This may be places in or around Chemung, Tioga and Broome counties, as they are the more geologically desirable regions bordering Pennsylvania. Support for natural gas there is also considered significant.

"All residents have to do is look across the border to see the tremendous impact the Marcellus Shale has had on Pennsylvania: a booming economy, an active workforce and a protected environment. It's inspiring."

Last week DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said there was no timetable for a final decision on whether fracking would be approved (see Shale Daily, April 23).

Although Libous' and Seward's combined jurisdictions are among the most coveted by oil and gas companies for development -- specifically, Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Otsego, Tioga and Tompkins counties -- some localities are in opposition. The Town of Middlefield in Otsego County and the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County have enacted local ordinances that ban fracking. In separate rulings earlier this year, county judges have upheld those ordinances (see Shale Daily, Feb. 29; Feb. 23). Both decisions are expected to be appealed.

In July 2008 then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the DEC to complete the SGEIS, which effectively placed a moratorium on drilling horizontal [i.e. unconventional] wells in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale. Paterson requested the SGEIS because the original impact statement was completed in 1992, before technological changes in shale development.

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