Hydrofracking Overview

Let’s start with the good news.  Governor Cuomo has determined that NYS will not allow HVHHF, high volume horizontal hydraulic fracking, in the State because of research showing severe environmental and public health concerns.  This announcement was made on December 17, 2014.  Although gas will not be extracted in the state, that does not eliminate the processing or transporting of gas produced elsewhere.

Fossil fuels, including methane (Natural Gas), are responsible for much of the human-made portion of global warming.  Tapping the Marcellus shale for gas undermines activities and policies that promote energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

The process for extracting methane from deep under the ground is called “Hydrofracking.” The process drills in the Marcellus Shale and forcefully injects thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals. This process produces massive quantities of toxic water that has grave environmental consequences not only for local communities’ water supplies, but for entire regions, as fracking waste is spread on roads to settle dust or melt ice and sent to municipal wastewater treatment plants where it cannot be decontaminated.

The popular argument is that using gas is ‘cleaner’ than using other fossil fuels, that it can be a ‘bridge fuel’ to renewables.  However, a recent Cornell University study found that natural gas extraction through “hydraulic fracturing” or hydrofracking creates as much greenhouse gases as coal, if not more.

What is Marcellus Shale?
Marcellus Shale is a methane-rich rock formation that lies 6,000 to 9,000 feet below the Catskill Mountains, the Delaware River Valley, the Allegany Plateau, to beyond the shores of Lake Erie, spanning 28 New York Counties. Limited technology and market forces have severely limited its extraction until now.

Recent advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing combined with soaring energy prices have brought much industry focus to New York State with tens of thousands of acres of gas leases already purchased. Much of upstate New York could be transformed into an industrial grid work of gas fields and pipelines. Once the exploitation of Marcellus Shale is underway, the Utica Shale in northern NY won’t be far behind.

Hydraulic Fracturing Presents Substantially Harmful Impacts to Upstate NY
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting water, sand, and chemical additives into shale at extremely high pressure, separating rock fissures and allowing the gas to flow out the drill bore while the sand holds the cracks open. Because Marcellus shale formations are so deep, millions of gallons of water are required and subsequently millions of gallons of contaminated water are produced.

3-9 million gallons of water are required to fracture a well and a single well may be fractured up to 18 times. Each fracking episode entails 600-800 truck trips to deliver water to the well pad, as well as several hundred trips to haul away contaminated “produced water”. Much of this contamination comes from naturally occurring chlorides, heavy metals and radioactivity previously locked in the shale. But the “produced” water also includes fracking fluids – tens of thousands of gallons of industrial chemicals whose exact composition remains uncertain and held as a trade secret. Recent disclosures to NYS have revealed 260 separate chemicals in frack fluid including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, endocrine disrupters that are dangerous even in small quantities.

Accidents Happen
In spite of assurances of drilling’s safety from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), incidents of groundwater contamination are mounting. Marcellus shale drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania resulted in 9 contaminated private drinking water wells. In 2007, the drilling of a single gas well in North Brookfeild, NY blew out at least 11 drinking water wells. From 1983 to 2008, the Chautauqua County Dept. of Health documented more that 120 cases of ground water contamination from natural gas wells.  Thousands of spills, explosions, fires, and illegal releases have been documented in NY, though fines and enforcement actions are rare.

New York Lacks Basic Infrastructure to Treat Wastes  

Of the 134 waste water pre-treatment plants in the state only three accept waste “flow back” water and in a limited capacity. There are no new industrial wastewater treatment plants proposed to take these wastes, yet drill permit applications are mounting. Failure to address this issue will lead to illegal releases and exported wastes to Pennsylvania and Ohio, states struggling with their own wastewater issues. Landfills in New York state are already being paid to take drilling muds from Pennsylvania! Also, see the NYT Series that exposes the problems associated with fracking wastewater in PA.

*Portions of the information from this Overview come from The Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter website.