Drillers Face Flack on Hydraulic Fracturing

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has charged that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) has failed to determine if a natural gas well drilling technique threatens New York City's drinking water.

by Patick Crow

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has charged that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) has failed to determine if a natural gas well drilling technique threatens New York City's drinking water. Drillers use hydraulic fracturing (hydrofraccing) to inject water containing toxic chemicals into rock formations in order to boost natural gas flows.

The Washington, D.C.-based EWG said that often benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene remained underground after injection and were “likely to be transported by groundwater supplies.” It said drillers are beginning to use hydraulic fracturing to produce gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in southern and western New York, near aquifers that provide water to 14 million people in the New York City area.

This is a result of a drilling boom in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale that's spread into New York, as companies use advanced horizontal drilling and hydrofraccing techniques to produce large volumes of gas from the formation.

EWG said the NYDEC has stated that it “does not... find a significant environmental impact associated with [hydraulic fracturing], which has been in use in New York State for at least 50 years.”

But New York City Councilman James Gennaro has asked NYDEC to require gas companies to disclose the chemicals they're using and for the agency to conduct testing to determine if hydraulic fracturing has polluted water supplies.

“This cavalier approach to the science is unacceptable, particularly when the integrity of New York's drinking water is at stake,” Gennaro wrote the state agency. “Contrary to the DEC's assertion, a consistent body of emerging science indicates that hydraulic fracturing can contaminate water supplies.”

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer also issued a report that urged the state to study use of hydrofraccing fluids, which he said may be a threat to New York City's water supplies.

Oil associations have maintained there's no evidence hydraulic fracturing harms drinking water and that existing state regulations are sufficient to provide government oversight. The National Petroleum Council, the energy secretary's industry advisory group, has said hydraulic fracturing is necessary for 30% of current U.S. natural gas production and 60-80% of all wells in the next 10 years will require it to remain viable.

Last year the state DEC launched an extensive study of the use of water for fracturing and the composition of drilling fluids added to the water.

DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said, “Horizontal drilling is not new. Hydraulic fracturing is not new. And drilling into the Marcellus Shale is not new. But the drilling operations proposed involve all three of these elements, along with greatly increased water use. This review is designed to ensure that if the drilling goes forward, it takes place in the most environmentally responsible way possible.”


About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for more than 10 years. Crow is now a Houston, TX-based freelance writer.


Hydrofraccing


The Marcellus Shale natural gas field formation extends through parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Verginia. Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofraccing, is used to create fractures from a borehole into rock formations. These are maintained by a proppant, a material such as sand grains or other material, to prevent them from closing. The technique is used to increase or restore the rate which fluids, such as oil, gas or water, can be produced from the formation.

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