A crowd of about 2,000, mostly landowners, gathered in Bainbridge, NY, recently to urge state and federal policymakers to allow the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) techniques to develop natural gas in the state’s Marcellus and Ithaca shale formations.

“With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, landowners, bankers, lawyers and gas industry representatives filed into General Clinton Park and fanned out across the sprawling grounds along the Susquehanna River. Some wore bright yellow T-shirts stating: ‘Pass gas. It’s a movement,'” the Ithaca Journal reported.

The landowner groups protested the New York Department of Conservation’s (DEC) existing moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The ban is expected to stay in place until the DEC completes its review of of the environmental impacts of deep horizontal well drilling and high-volume hydrofracing (see NGI, July 28, 2008).

State Sen. Tom Libous, who attended the rally, has been pressing the DEC for months to issue the regulations for gas drilling. He has set up a website (safedrillingnow.com) for the public to sign a petition to pressure DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis and New York Gov. David Paterson to act more quickly.

The DEC’s draft of the supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on horizontal well drilling and high-volume hydrofracing was supposed to be issued in July, but now the agency is saying September, said Libous spokeswoman Tina Ruocco. Libous supports drilling in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale “if it is done properly,” she said. New York is home to a portion of the Appalachian Basin’s Marcellus Shale.

The DEC confirmed that it now plans to issue the draft SGEIS in September. “We never had any mandated due date” for the release of the draft SGEIS, said DEC spokesman Yancey Roy. “Our original target date was this summer.”

Following the release of the draft SGEIS, the agency will take public comments, review them, and then adopt a final SGEIS, which would spell out the conditions that applicants would need to meet to obtain drilling permits. The issuance of the final SGEIS could be wrapped up by the end of the year, one source said. But others are less hopeful, with one industry observer noting that the comment period on the draft SGEIS could take up to 90 days.

Until the environmental review is approved, the only wells operating in the New York portion of the Marcellus are vertical wells, about 15 of them. These don’t require as high volumes of water as horizontal wells, Roy said.

While the DEC moratorium was the focus of the Bainbridge event, signatures were collected on letters to federal lawmakers, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), expressing opposition to efforts by Congress to federally regulate the use of hydrofracing in developing shale gas.

In June Hinchey joined two other House lawmakers and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in offering companion bills that would require oil and natural gas producers to disclose to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the chemicals they use in their hydrofracing processes (see NGI, June 15). The measure — the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act — would strip out a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which declared that hydrofracing was not intended to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, producers said.

Hinchey also was the author of a bill, which passed the House in June, that calls on the EPA to examine the risks of hydrofracing to the nation’s drinking water (see NGI, June 29).

In an effort to head off these attempts to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level, the Natural Gas Supply Association has released what it calls a “representative sample” of the additive ingredients that are used in hydrofracing fluids (see related story).

Hydrofracing involves the injection of fluids into wells at extremely high pressures to crack underground formations and stimulate the flow of oil and gas. More than 90% of oil and gas wells in the United States employ hydrofracing. Producers contend that hydrofracing does not harm public drinking water and that stripping them of this exemption would stunt natural gas production, particularly from shale gas plays.

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