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Environmental, gas groups spar over Marcellus Shale drilling

BY JON CAMPBELL •ALBANY BUREAU • MAY 25, 2010, 7:40 PM

Elmira Star Gazette

ALBANY -- Environmentalists descended on the Capitol this week to push a bill that would prohibit issuing natural-gas-drilling permits in New York's Marcellus Shale until a federal study is complete, but a group of drilling advocates called the proposal "unnecessary." 

Natural-gas companies and some landowners are eager to begin drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches across many of the northeastern states and is rich with natural gas. But some are worried about the potential impact of using hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking, to help extract the gas.

Environmental advocacy groups say the practice, which uses a mix of water and chemicals to break up rock structures to make the gas more accessible, could have a harmful effect on the state's drinking water. The Marcellus Shale covers the Southern Tier in New York.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Steven Englebright, D-Suffolk County, would keep the state Department of Environmental Conservation from issuing drilling permits to natural gas companies until 120 days after an environmental-impact study by the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency is completed. The study began in March and a completion date has not been set.

"It's a question about the type of drilling that we are really concerned with," Addabbo said. "We just asked for a moratorium while we consider new types of drilling and maybe the process itself."

Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus Shale gas organizer for national environmental group Earthworks, said the EPA study would include "some of the first clear scientific findings on the issue" of hydraulic fracturing.

"We're just asking New York to hit the pause button, slow down a little bit, and take a good look at this issue," said Steinzor. "Wait until the science is out, because obviously to people across the state, drinking water is a key concern in hydro-fracking."

Earthworks was one of 21 groups that lobbied state lawmakers this week to pass the bill. Actor Mark Ruffalo, a Sullivan County resident who has appeared in such films as "Shutter Island" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," joined the groups, expressing his concerns about the hydro-fracking process to lawmaker.

But the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York has maintained the process is safe and would help create jobs and improve the state's dire economy.  "This is an unnecessary bill that would add further delays while New York's economy continues to fail and industry jobs leave New York for other states," said Brad Gill, executive director of the association. "The EPA has already concluded on more than one occasion that hydraulic fracturing -- a 60-year-old technology -- is safe. What's more, 14,000 wells have already been 'fracked' in New York over the past 60 years without a single case of water contamination."

 

The DEC is reviewing and editing a draft version of an environmental impact statement, which Gov. David Paterson has said must be completed before permits can be issued. DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis told Gannett's Albany Bureau last month that the review process was on pace to wrap up by early fall.

The moratorium legislation is currently in the Environmental Conservation committees in both the Senate and the Assembly.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, Tompkins County, has also sponsored a pair of drilling bills: one that would hold natural gas companies liable for any complications or contamination caused by drilling or hydro-fracking; and one that would make the companies adhere to a municipality's zoning laws, which would prevent them from placing a drilling rig on a school playground or similar places. The liability bill was sponsored by Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, in the Senate, while the zoning bill does not have a Senate sponsor.

Lifton also spoke in support of the moratorium at a media event Monday.

"Let's slow down," she said. "There has been way too much rushing on this. That gas is still going to be there in two years, in five years."

 

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There are 194,500 acres represented in the Coalition as of 8/18/2010. The latest gas offers in New York State are $3000/acre with 20% royalties.

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