Thursday, April 30, 2009

Natural Gas Drilling in New York Controversial

by Scott Baker Page 1 of 1 page(s)

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I attended a sparsely attended meeting regarding the possibility of drilling for NG in the Marcellus Shale region last night, sponsored by local Community Board 8 in Manhattan. The Marcellus Shale is home to 90% of New York City's drinking water. Although there were only about a dozen audience members, some of whom served on the community board, those who were there knew what they were talking about, and about the dangers of commercial fracturing to obtain Natural Gas (NG).
There comments are partially summed up by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's white paper (dismissed as a "literature review" by the NY State Petroleum Council's Rep: Cathy Kenny) here:

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Unfortunately, the NY State Petroleum Council does not have an online link to their counter-report, but basically they say the Stringer report "should not be regarded as scientific analysis, but rather a literature survey" and that the findings of the Stringer report, and of the sources such as Propublica:

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of contaminated water wells, exploding houses from NG buildup, cancer clusters and other health effects, should not be applied to the wells to be drilled in New York, because they will not use the same sorts of containment pits as the western states where there have been the biggest problems. The industry rep did not say what will be used in place of containment pits, however. It is hard to see why the New York projects differ from the rest of the country except in scale, and in that sense, the results should be only worse for the industry's position. Kenny cited the NY Dept. of Conservation's null findings on harm from "fraking" without mentioning that the DEC basically has never studied the issue (as confirmed by Propublica and audience attendees last night), so it is, for now, unqualified to comment. The DEC plan to remedy this later in the spring with a new report, but admit they are on a learning curve.

I think members of the Pickens Plan (like me) should be advised that there are currently several restrictive proposals in the works to limit or outright ban NG drilling in what is arguably the largest source of NG in the country. As a NYC resident, I can hardly be considered impartial, and it is clear that if our watershed becomes polluted by the industry's stew of 250+ - and proprietary list of - chemicals, it will be a long-term catastrophe for the region. NYC gets 90% of its water unfiltered, so constructing a multi-billion plant to begin filtering the water - even assuming the technical hurdles could be overcome - is essentially a non-solution.Despite my membership in the Pickens' Plan, I have to oppose NG drilling, at least anywhere near the 9% of area that constitutes the watershed. There are currently proposals to restrict drilling to 1-2 miles form the watershed, but with reports of chemical migration over 20 miles underground, even in smaller projects than proposed for New York, it's unclear, at best, whether this will be enough.
Also, as was pointed out in the meeting, this restriction should not mean that we should endorse fraking elsewhere in the state, just that the limited constituency of CB8 and the city does not represent the rest of the state and so cannot speak for them. Of course, the state DOES seem to feel entitled to speak for the city by allowing/disallowing drilling to commence.

Opposing drilling upstate is a difficult decision for me, since I do recognize that drilling would bring substantial revenues into a particularly depressed area of New York State, and that ending the half trillion a year import cost of oil will require some viable domestic alternative to imported oil. As a long-term member of the Pickens' Plan, I am well aware of the arguments to get off the petrostate teat.

But, wind (supported by the Pickens Plan too) and other renewables can provide for our base load power, while electric, hybrid electric/flywheel, electric/compressed air, or hydrogen fuel cells can answer our transportation needs as well as natural gas, without the CO2 contribution and the substantial local environmental damage. As even T. Boone Pickens recognizes, NG is a medium-term solution, until we can move on to something else. Perhaps the something else will not occur in his lifetime, or even some of ours, but we need to start preparing for it now, rather than add to our environmental messes.

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