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New York Review of High-Volume Fracking to Continue Into 2011

As development of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania ramps up, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation continues work on a final supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS), which is not expected to be completed until next year.

Speaking at the 2010 Marcellus Summit at Penn State, Brad Field, director of mineral resources for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), cleared up some widely held misconceptions of the state's development of the Marcellus and outlined a time line for SGEIS completion.

"There has been a lot in the media and the Internet about the status of hydraulic fracturing in New York," Field told the audience. "First off, the link between horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and Marcellus development is an obvious one...but everyone needs to keep in mind that horizontal drilling is not a new technology in the oil and gas business. It is not a new technology from a regulatory perspective.

"Around 10% of our well drilling permits in New York are for horizontal or directional wells, so that technology in and of itself is not exceptionally new. Hydraulic fracturing has taken place in New York since the 1940s or 1950s...We are still open for business. We issued over 500 permits in 2009. Low-volume fracking does take place in the Marcellus, in the Utica through vertical wells at this time, but nothing of the high-volume variety is going forward."

In July 2008 New York Gov. David A. Paterson directed the DEC to prepare an SGEIS, effectively placing a moratorium on much of the Marcellus development in the state (see Daily GPI, July 24, 2008). The SGEIS was requested because the original Generic Environmental Impact Statement was completed by the state in 1992, before this type of shale development was on the table.

Field said what is different with the current Marcellus development is high-volume hydraulic fracturing, with much larger volumes of water. "The other issue we're looking at is the longer duration of impact at a particular wellpad due to multi-well drilling and the depth and duration of the drilling activity," he said.

"Groundwater contamination is a very big issue for us as regulators," Field said, noting that gas migration is the number one concern. After conducting a recent study Field said DEC found that "if you're greater than 2,000 feet below the surface and there is at least 1,000 feet between the target zone and the underground source of drinking water, that the likelihood of any impact from hydraulic fracturing at high volumes is nil."

Whether to develop New York's Marcellus acreage has been a hot topic. Following a series of public hearings and meetings across New York, over 13,000 comments were generated, which the DEC is going through now. Last month protests and street closings pre- ceded the first day of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing in Binghamton, NY, to determine the scope of a two-year study it will be conducting on the impact of hydraulic fracturing pro- cesses on drinking water. The New York EPA hearings were the last scheduled in a series that included meetings in Dallas, Denver and Canonsburg, PA (see Daily GPI, July 15; July 12).

Field said the department is currently working on the final SGEIS, which he doesn't expect will be completed until early next year. "That's the last step. We issue the final, then no sooner than 10 days after that the finding statement, which has the road map for how we will implement the findings."

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