Appalachian Basin

Finger Lakes Region Has Been Developing Oil & Gas For Decades

New York continues to wait for Governor Cuomo to make a decision about whether to bring shale gas development into the state. Many who oppose natural gas development don’t know that it has successfully been done in the state and around the Finger Lakes extensively for years.

While Pennsylvania continues to reap the benefits of shale gas development, New York again gets hit with another delay in the regulations they have been waiting on for more than four years.  The Department of Environmental Conservation will miss the November 29th Deadline they set to have the regulations completed.  The most ironic part about this constant feet dragging is the oil and gas industry has been operating safely in New York since 1821, when the first commercially produced well was drilled in Fredonia.  Yes, the industry has been developing in New York for a long time including in the wine-rich Finger Lakes region.

A majority of the Finger Lakes wine region lies on top of the Marcellus Shale, a formation currently being developed over the border in Pennsylvania. It is debatable at this time if the Finger Lakes will see development in the Marcellus Shale due to certain depth regulations in the current draft SGEIS, but, nonetheless, it has been a hotbed of opposition to the state moving forward.

The biggest concern for hydraulic fracturing to jump the border lies with the wine industry and their concern over whether the oil and gas industry can coincide with the winery industry. This “Wine and Brine” campaign has even led to some of the largest consumers of propane and natural gas in the state, the wineries, opposing propane storage at historically proven locations. Here is some of the reasoning behind their fears for co-existence.

Some grape growers fear that if shale gas drilling, or fracking, is allowed in this region of postcard-perfect hills and crystal-clear lakes, the muddy well sites and rumbling trucks will not only endanger the environment but threaten the Finger Lakes’ reputation for pristine beauty.

In their view, wine does not pair well with drilling. – Boston Globe Article

What many people don’t understand is that there is already development in the Finger Lakes Region.  Most, if not all, of the existing wells are vertical as opposed to horizontally developed, which has a greater surface land disturbance because of the number of wells needed to produce the same amount of gas. Yet, despite this more noticeable difference, most people don’t even know these wells surround their vineyards and wineries.

Gas & Oil Wells Co-Existing with Vineyards
Gas & Oil Wells Co-Existing with Finger Lake Vineyards & Wineries

Provided above is a section from a map of currently producing oil and gas wells and their proximity to wineries and vineyards between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.  Horizontal gas development would, of course, significantly reduce the amount of surface disturbance to extract the same amount of gas  and increase the separation between wells as well as wineries, thereby reducing the impacts, whatever they may be, from what already exist.  Yet, here is what we hear from some wineries:

‘‘If the drilling does come to the Finger Lakes, what I can see happening in a heartbeat given a couple of accidents, all of the sudden the consumers are going to say, ‘Are your vineyards near any wells?’’’ said Peter Saltonstall of King Ferry Winery by Cayuga Lake. ‘‘If people start thinking something is wrong with it, then we are sunk. That’s something I stay up nights and worry about.’’ – Boston Globe Article

Winery owners should already be answering the question, “Are your vineyards near any wells?” with a yes, based on the proximity of many of these wineries to gas and oil wells.  They should already know the impacts, because they’ve been living with them for years, but, of course, they don’t because the impacts are minimal. In fact, some vineyard owners already have gas wells on their properties helping to provide ancillary sources of income to cover the holding costs and keep the properties in their favored use as vineyards, as open space and as tourism attractions.

Winery owners also worry about tourism being negatively impacted by the temporary sight of rigs and truck traffic, but the reality is that rigs are temporary as well as few and far between.  As for the traffic?  Well, try to get through Watkins Glen on race day.  If the area can survive that traffic, the additional from natural gas development is a walk in the park.

Importantly, unlike Pennsylvania’s situation, there will be an ad-valorem tax implemented in New York if and when horizontal shale gas development comes across the border.  The ad-valorem tax will flow money right into the local community where the well is located to do things that will improve the area, support tourism and stimulate the economy.   This New York State property tax will kick in as soon as a New York well is in production.  Please watch the following presentation on the ad-valorem.

Pennsylvania has proven to us that this process can be done safely.  Given the history of gas development in New York, especially in the Finger Lake region, and its prolific nature, there is no reason the wine industry and the natural gas industry cannot co-exist together.

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