The Empire Energy Forum Strikes Back for Natural Gas
There was an Empire Energy Forum held in Oneonta, New York, Friday. The powerpoint presentations were extremely informative and the audience left encouraged that common sense and facts could strike back against the hyperbole from the other side and bring natural gas development to New York, finally.
The Empire Energy Forum is all about “bringing experts and verifiable facts to New York’s energy debate” and what a debate it is, as readers of this blog know all too well. Landowners and other residents of the Southern Tier desperate for economic development are exasperated over repeated delays as Governor Cuomo seemingly reaches out to appease every loud and impertinent voice no matter how irrelevant, demagogic or just plain wrong they may be. Fortunately, natural gas supporters are determined and persistent fact seekers who will not be rolled.
The Empire Energy Forum is an important arsenal of data for them as they participate in the ongoing debate. The Oneonta event was similar to the Binghamton Empire Energy Forum where several topics were addressed with a view toward giving natural gas supporters the latest information. All the material presented was up to date and relevant, unlike so much of what we hear from our friends on the other side.
The first expert to present at Oneonta was geologist, Timothy Eriksen, manager of the Moody and Associates, Inc. office in Waverly, New York. The firm specializes in environmental and groundwater analysis and does a great deal of work in Pennsylvania. Eriksen discussed many topics; from a description of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas to groundwater characteristics in Pennsylvania. He told the audience he was “pro-science” and supported the natural gas industry because the science had proven it was safe.
Eriksen began by discussing the difference between horizontal and vertical natural gas well development. He talked about why horizontal development is more efficient and results in far less surface disturbance than vertical. He also noted New York State was the first state to develop natural gas and pointed out many wells have already been hydraulically fractured, albeit with lower volumes of water, although many people choose to ignore this fact. Eriksen also informed the audience about www.fracfocus.org, which, contrary to claims of the other side tells anyone interested exactly what is in hydraulic fracturing fluid.
The remainder of Eriksen’s presentation addressed groundwater issues in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania does not regulate private water wells and, yet, the Commonwealth has the second highest number of water wells in all 50 states. This has resulted in approximately 40% of private water wells falling below the Safe Drinking Water Act quality standards. Eriksen gave the audience dozens of reasons for poor water quality in Pennsylvania. Many of them included poorly construction practices and natural occurences such as flooding; none of them included anything related to natural gas development.
Next to speak was John Holko, owner of Lenape Resources, Inc. and a petroleum engineer. He discussed technological advances now allowing companies to seismically evaluate an area and turn the legs of the well horizontally to extract to maximum amount of natural gas with the least disturbance. Holko has developed wells all over New York State and has worked in similar fields most of his life. Hydraulic fractured horizontal wells are, by far, the best way method for extracting natural gas based on the geology of the Marcellus Shale.
Holko pointed out companies in New York State are, nevertheless, still allowed to develop vertical wells. Companies are also permitted to hydraulically fracture wells using limited amounts of water. The Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) has, he suggested, pushed New York bit overboard with respect to regulation, leaving some companies stranded.
It isn’t that regulations aren’t necessary, according to Holko, but that they keep multiplying. He suggests New York State’s regulatory structure is supposed to assist in developing businesses, but it’s clear the state is trying to limit natural gas development as opposed to preventing problems and aiding business. The standards recommended in the SGEIS will lead companies to lose efficiency and ultimately increase the number of natural gas wells needed. The recommended setbacks for natural gas wells, as an example, will force the companies to develop several pads to extract what one natural gas well should be able to do.
Since the 1980s, there have been 10,000 natural gas wells developed in New York State with no problems, according to Holko. What more of a health impact study do we need that we can’t find from history? There is always going to some disturbance, he noted. Natural gas development is like to building a Walmart and we don’t see folks opposing the building of a Walmart because they do not like bulldozers. The bulldozers are only there for a limited time and once they are gone everyone gets to purchase food and incidentals at less expensive pricing. It is the same with natural gas, Holko pointed out. Once the well is in production, the rig is gone and the public can enjoy a more economical energy source.
The session ended with a question and answer period. Here are some examples of questions asked and answers given by experts who served as panelists:
Q. What about radioactivity?
A. The amount of radioactivity is typically less than what you are exposed to even in simple medical procedures.
Q. How long will companies hang around waiting for New York to open for business?
A. Not long, because most companies can easily develop in many other states.
Q. Should we be concerned about earthquakes with hydraulic fracturing?
A. Driving a large truck down the road could lead to a reading on a seismic test but as far as natural gas development there is no permanent seismic disruptions from natural gas development.
Q. What about Dimock?
A. The water was tested by not only Moody, but also the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection and it came back clean. Hydraulic fracturing did not contaminate any water in Dimock.
Q. Does the state have the facilities to recycle the water if natural gas were allowed to begin in New York?
A. Gas companies are very willing to take their fluid to Pennsylvania but the facilities are easy to develop in New York and that will happen.
Q. How long will a typical well produce?
A. A conservative number would be 20 years. The amount of time each well will produce varies based on many things. One thing we do know for sure is the initial production is very high and drops quickly, but levels out and continues to produce for years.
Q. What are your thoughts on Gasfrac?
A. Propane is slightly less efficient and water appears to be the best bet based on New York geology.
There were two separate question and answer sessions. Hear others from the first session below.
The second session was also very involved with some great questions. Watch it below!
The presenters did phenomenal job touching on all the points of controversy with the public regarding natural gas development. If you understand natural gas development it is nearly impossible to argue against it, which is, of course, why the Empire Energy Forum exists.