Appalachian Basin

Looking Through A Telescope from the Wrong End

Gregory H. Sovas
Environmental Consultant, XRM, LLC

In New York – as the former Director of the Division of Mineral Resources for twenty-one years from 1979 to 2001 – apparently my former staff and I have not done a good job of communicating the successes of our oil and gas regulatory program to all of the citizens in the state.  I say “all” because I think the legislators, landowners, the oil and gas industry, and the public in general in the Southern Tier have supported both the industry and the way in which the industry has been regulated by the state.

Casing and cementing conditions were developed with the industry during the mid 1980’s requiring redundant casing and cementing of all wells drilled since that time. These conditions were imposed to protect the valuable groundwater resources of the state. Over 10,000 wells have been drilled since then with virtually no incidents of any long-term impact to our groundwater.

Chesapeake Energy’s Case-E Casing Display

Going back to the “all” issue, where did we go wrong? How could so many people be so impassioned against drilling and hydraulic fracturing’s percieved impacts to groundwater when history in NY has shown no impact in over 10,000 wells developed since the 1980’s?

In the words of the warden from “Cool Hand Luke,” we have a “failure to communicate.”

New York State has a robust and responsible environmental regulatory program for all aspects of oil and gas exploration and development. High volume Marcellus Shale wells could be drilled under the existing regulatory authority. But the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) did the right thing in examining impacts that were not addressed under the previous Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and in enhancing the current regulatory program.

So now almost four years later, we have the DEC putting together a document that doesn’t recognize the already existing, robust regulatory program and purports to establish a new standard for a regulatory program that can’t be clearly defined or understood in the document.

DEC’s view is that costs of compliance for outlandish permit requirements are no problem for the deep pockets of the gas industry, and it doesn’t matter that New York is in competition with the other states in the Marcellus play. The attitude is that the gas industry should be happy that they will have the opportunity to produce in New York no matter how small the area  and how uneconomic development might be. Never mind that they have devalued the acreage in New York, and the real people that will suffer will be the landowners. They are looking through a telescope from the wrong end.

The right way to view the Marcellus is to maximize its impact for the citizens of New York. That means appropriate environmental safeguards consistent with advancing technology and science, including preserving our precious groundwater resources. That means making all lands, private and public, available to leasing and development including state lands for the benefit of the taxpayers. That means capturing as much investment as possible in NY for our economy and our tax base. That means bonuses and royalties to our landowners and direct real property taxes to our communities. That means developing a long-term supply of clean-burning domestic natural gas in our backyard to stimulate manufacturing in upstate New York again.

New York State and the DEC need to look through the telescope the right way. Let’s not hurt our landowners!

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