Some recent letters in The Daily Star and other local papers have implied that supporters of candidates for town and county offices who oppose gas drilling are fear-mongering, or that we can rely on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect us.
Based on many years working in the industry, I believe there is legitimate reason for concern, and I do not believe the DEC’s proposed regulations will protect us. Just a few examples:
• The DEC’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) indicates two major geological faults running through the middle of Otsego County. Its map (fig. 4.13), based on 1977 data, shows these to be among the largest in any of the likely drilling areas, yet it proposes no limitations to drilling close to these faults. Such faults can provide open channels to the surface for any nearby drilling and fracking even without new earthquakes. Actually, more recent data show many more faults, but the DEC has ignored these.
• Industry advertisements say that high-volume horizontal hydrofracking will take place many thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers, but the DEC would allow it just 1,000 feet below the aquifers.
• Several local press accounts and industry statements have focused on the Marcellus Shale and the fact that it is only deep enough to drill in the southern portion of Otsego County, as if the rest of the county has nothing to be concerned about. However the proposed SGEIS and regulations cover all gas drilling, including the Utica Shale, which is deeper, thicker and drillable in most of the county.
• Amazingly, the DEC’s current draft says nothing about how close a well can be to a home or public building. For that, you have to go back to the antiquated 1992 GEIS and regulations which allow wells 100 feet from a dwelling and 150 feet from a public building (school, hospital, nursing home, etc.). Even with thousands of pages in the proposed Supplemental GEIS, many parts of the old 1992 GEIS based on 1970’s and 80’s data would still be valid. This is a confusing and cumbersome system for everyone.
• The DEC proposes only temporary distances of 2000 feet from municipal water sources like Lake Otsego or the Oneonta reservoirs, where gas wells could not be drilled for three years. Then what? Do we go back to the 150 feet of the 2009 SGEIS?
• The DEC does not require drillers to demonstrate competence or a history of safe operations. The driller who currently holds the most acreage in Otsego County has never gone through the whole process of drilling wells, connecting to pipelines and selling gas to the market. In Quebec, Canada, that company has been cited by the government for leaking gas wells, and the province has imposed a moratorium on gas drilling.
• The DEC would require drillers to state what alternative safer fracking fluids they have considered. That’s a great idea, but they leave a loophole. “Operator will use alternative hydraulic fracturing additive products that exhibit reduced aquatic toxicity and pose less risk to water resources and the environment, unless demonstrated to DMN’s satisfaction that they are not equally effective or feasible” (appendix 6). So, an irresponsible driller can avoid using much safer additives if he can show that they are just a little less effective.
• The DEC estimates 1,149 heavy truck trips and 831 light truck trips for a single horizontal gas well (table 6.60). That is just when they are loaded, so double the numbers to include the return trips and add them together for almost 4000 truck trips. Additional wells on the same pad would use fewer trucks, but the numbers would still be huge. These are only the trucks that are directly associated with the gas drilling. The DEC has ignored all of the other trucks that would bring in pipe and equipment to build the gathering pipelines and access roads, to build compression stations, or to repair the roads that will be damaged by all the other trucks.
• The DEC proposes not to control the pace of gas development in most areas except as limited by staff availability (SGEIS 9.2). They will not consider what else they have already approved in an area or any other industrial infrastructure construction like pipelines or compression plants when issuing permits for individual wells. This means the DEC will do nothing to assure that towns or counties are not overrun by multiple simultaneous gas drilling projects and construction of the associated industrial infrastructure.
Regardless of their political affiliations, voters in the upcoming elections have an opportunity to make sure that they elect candidates to town and county offices who are truly committed to protecting our area from the health and environmental hazards of high volume horizontal hydrofracking as well as the massive industrialization that it would bring. This is not a partisan issue.
Look for candidates who were early to support “home rule,” the right of each town to enact land use laws that govern whether and where industrial activity is allowed. The companies that want to drill here are required to adhere to local land use requirements when they drill in other states. Even if you like drilling, you probably do not want it right next to your home or your children’s school or your parent’s nursing home. Also, look for candidates who know that the DEC’s proposed SGEIS, based in part on the out of date 1992 GEIS, is not going to protect us.
There are incumbents and new candidates running for town and county seats who were early to recognize the threat that gas drilling industrialization would bring to our tourism, education and health care-oriented economy, as well as to the quality of our air and drinking water. They deserve our votes. Other incumbents and new candidates are either in favor of drilling or said nothing until it was time to campaign. Worst of all are those incumbents who have used their official positions to advance drilling for personal interests without regard for their constituents.
Lou Allstadt is a retired Executive Vice President of Mobil Oil Corporation who now lives in Otsego County. He was in charge of Mobil’s oil and gas drilling in the US, Canada and Latin America. He was also on the board of the US Oil and Gas Association. He is presently a member of the Otsego County Natural Gas Advisory Committee.