Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling in NY

Nothing stirs up controversy like drilling for natural gas, or oil for that matter.  Even before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, people have been fighting it out verbally at Town Hall meetings across western and the Southern Tier of New York.  Everyone has an opinion, from the environmentalists worried about chemicals leaching into local water supplies to the land coalitions formed to protect individual landowner’s interests.

Marcellus Shale Formation Maps and Images

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Reclaimed area after installation of a natural gas well in Chemung County, NY.  (DEC.NY.gov)Map of Marcellus Shale Formation in New York State (DEC.NY.gov)Marcellus Shale map (in blue); Devonian Shale (in green).  (geology.com)Hydrofracting well (geology.com)Map of Appalachia (ARC.gov)U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Map (geology.com)
Reclaimed area after installation of a natural gas well in Chemung County, NY.  (DEC.NY.gov)
Reclaimed area after installation of a natural gas well in Chemung County, NY. (DEC.NY.gov)
Map of Marcellus Shale Formation in New York State (DEC.NY.gov)
Map of Marcellus Shale Formation in New York State (DEC.NY.gov)
Marcellus Shale map (in blue); Devonian Shale (in green).  (geology.com)
Marcellus Shale map (in blue); Devonian Shale (in green). (geology.com)
Hydrofracting well (geology.com)
Hydrofracting well (geology.com)
Map of Appalachia (ARC.gov)
Map of Appalachia (ARC.gov)
U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Map (geology.com)
U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Map (geology.com)

Where is the Marcellus Shale?

The Marcellus Shale is located in an almost identical location to the map of Appalachia. It extends from Tennessee to New York (see image). Ironic, considering this is one of the poorest areas in the United States, even today. The possibility of families finally crawling out of poverty by a windfall named “natural gas” has given hope to thousands. With an economic downturn that has increased unemployment to new highs, especially in Steuben County, New York, the possibility of natural gas drilling has many getting ready to line up at local unemployment offices.

While drilling can cause an employment boom in areas where drilling is taking place, it is a bone of contention for many environmentalists. This is especially true in areas where hydrofracting is taking place. It is important to note, however, that not all natural gas drilling employs the hydrofracting process.

To Fract or not to Fract, that is the Question

A hot topic on many people's minds is whether hydrofracting should be allowed in the drilling for natural gas. This is one of the reasons for the delay in issuing permits for natural gas drilling in New York. Fracting is not needed in most cases to drill for natural gas. The drilling can be done vertically. Fracting is only done when the drilling needs to be done horizontally, after drilling down vertically (see image).

Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals being used in the fracting process may leak into the above water tables (since drilling for natural gas is below the water tables). The fracting process produces what is known as brine or TDS (total dissolved solids)- a salty backwash that is a result of high pressure water and sand being pumped into the gas well. The salt content is three times that found in the ocean's salt water. Gas companies are not releasing the information on the chemicals being used in this process to the general public, though many people already know the contents of this process. The companies do not need to release this information to the public because it is proprietary information. It is known that benzene and cadmium are among the toxins contained in the backwash.

A concern is how the TDS or brine should be disposed of. In Pennsylvania it is disposed of in local waste treatment plants, but there is a question as to whether these plants are able to handle all of the waste water being created by the drilling boom.

Lighting Water on Fire

Alternative Ways of Managing Fracting Waste

There are other options on the horizon for handling fracting waste, whether it is being done in the United States or other countries around the world. Geomembrane and geosynthetic clay liners may be a long term solution for storing the brine created by the hydrofracting process. This may be a way for waste treatment plants to keep up with the pace of drilling by having a storage area specifically for fracting waste until it can be safely treated.

NY Natural Gas Drilling Updates

November 2014: Currently Gov. Andrew Cuomo has refused to take action to allow hydrofracting in NY stating that he will let science decide the outcome. A recent study by the Ohio State University released in September, 2014 revealed the cause of groundwater contamination in Ohio and Pennsylvania: "There is no question that in many instances elevated levels of natural gas are naturally occurring, but in a subset of cases, there is also clear evidence that there were human causes for the contamination," said study leader Thomas Darrah, assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State. "However our data suggests that where contamination occurs, it was caused by poor casing and cementing in the wells," Darrah said.

As of August 2010, there is a proposed moratorium on drilling/hydrofracting in NY, which would last until May of 2011. This moratorium has the potential to be extended an additional 3 years if the EPA does another study of the hydrofracting process and its relationship to drinking water. At the time of this writing, New York Governor David Paterson has not signed the moratorium.

The EPA previously did a similar study that was published in 2004. The new proposed study will cost taxpayers a projected 1.9 million dollars.

UPDATE: December 11, 2010

New York Governor David Paterson vetoed bills S.8129-B/A.11443-B
that were to have imposed a moratorium on all drilling in New York State. However, there is a temporary moratorium on hydrofracking until July 1, 2011 (at the earliest). This veto will allow gas companies and their workers to continue work on existing wells in addition to allowing permits to continue to be issued for natural gas drilling.

Update: March, 2011, drilling will be permitted beginning in July of this year. Permits are being issued, and have been since November of 2010. Propane fracking may be the favored method in the fracking process as there are many opponents of hydrofracking.

Update: October, 2011, a second open comment period is nearing the end on the latest SGEIS report. At the end of the comment period, gas lease permits may be issued beginning in 2012. Latest report from the NY Post: Fracking Gets a Clean Bill of Health

Update: December, 2011, a third open comment period is going to be allowed. The DEC appears incapable of making a decision in a timely fashion. The comment periods have lasted for 3 years now.

Update: February, 2013, the DOH has found no health issues with fracking and has advised the DEC accordingly. The DEC is finalizing the SGEIS report and permits will be issued 10 days after the finalization of the document.

The JLCNY has sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo stating the following: February 15, 2013 – Binghamton, NY. “Towns simply do not have the expertise, knowledge and resources to properly evaluate and administer natural gas development. Towns passing bans or moratoriums are acting upon emotional and political pressures from various groups opposing natural gas development, and not empirical evidence derived by the towns. Most towns have done little or no independent investigation into natural gas drilling. Many bans are primarily delay tactics to discourage drilling companies from coming to New York State all in direct violation of New York’s Environmental Conservation Law 23-0301 which states that it is in the public interest to drill in a manner as will prevent waste and provide for the operation and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that will achieve a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas.


“It is with this in mind that we ask the Court to understand that we as town officials recognize our limitations and we ask that issues related to the regulation of natural gas development, including bans on natural gas activity, continue to be under the jurisdiction of the state. We also ask the Court to recognize that the Association of Towns does not speak for a significant number of its members to the extent that it supports either the pro natural gas development or anti natural gas development positions. In fact, the Association’s town members were never asked to vote on whether the Association would submit Amicus Curiae briefs in these cases.”


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Comments 7 comments

Gerber Ink profile image

Gerber Ink 4 years ago from upstate New York Author

Hi Phil,

I used to live in Syracuse and worked in Camillus many years ago. We don't have a pipeline here since we're a rural area, but many people use propane (they have large tanks) to heat their homes and businesses. It would be nice to have access to our own natural gas resources to lower the cost of heating our homes in the winter here (Steuben County). Fuel oil prices are eating up everyone's paycheck, and not everyone can chop their own wood or afford a pellet stove.


Phil 4 years ago

Syracuse, NY, taped into the Maecellus shale well over 1210 yeares age to light their streets and fuel the houser stoves (of those who could afford it). The well is still furnishing gas to our friend. Their farm is just south of Basldwisville. Marcellus is a suburb on the west side of Syracuse, about `10 miles south of Baldqwinsville.


Gerber Ink profile image

Gerber Ink 5 years ago from upstate New York Author

Hi Hugh, The disposal is being paid for by the gas companies - it is part of their contract that they have with the landowner coalitions where they are currently drilling. My spouse was hauling their waste this past summer - it isn't considered hazardous material. The drillings are being dumped in construction waste areas at local landfills. The water waste is/can be treated at waste water facilities as well as other new facilities that are distilling the fracking fluid and removing the chemicals during the process, then recycling the water. The left over chemicals are primarily salt, and this is/can be used to salt the roadways during the winter.

The fracking solution formula was released by JLCNY a few months back - here's the link to the chemical formula breakdown: http://www.jlcny.org/site/index.php?option=com_con...

I agree that there are still questions out there, but we have other containment issues that are just as important while we're trying to "go green," but are being largely ignored. This includes the disposal of lithium batteries for electric cars and the disposal of mercury lightbulbs, both of which are also going to our landfills, yet no one has agreed how to "handle" them yet.

Another issue is that we need natural gas if we're to wean ourselves off of petroleum products. For example, Schwan's (food company) runs all of their delivery trucks on natural gas. Perhaps those types of vehicles would be more acceptable to consumers than electric cars.

Hopefully the fracking issue will be resolved to everyone's (ok, well mostly everyone, since you can't please everybody) liking. In the meantime, vertical drilling will continue for natural gas, though it means more holes in the ground to do so.


Hugh Williamson profile image

Hugh Williamson 5 years ago from Northeast USA

I agree that the gas will be a good thing but I'm concerned about the hydrofracking which, as I understand, will be needed because of the type of shale in a lot of the drilling areas. The disposal will be expensive -- who pays? If the drillers won't divulge what's in the waste, how can anyone be sure it's being disposed of properly?

I'm sure all of the issues can be dealt with, but it doesn't look like we're there yet. Lets consider the impact on the generations that will follow and do this right.


Gerber Ink profile image

Gerber Ink 5 years ago from upstate New York Author

Hi Uncle TomsCabin - (I like the name - Harriet Beecher Stowe is one of my great aunts!). That aside, I agree with what you say about the work ethic, especially in Steuben County. While we do have a lack of businesses in our area, there are many who simply rely on unemployment benefits as their main source of income. No one wants to work anymore, nor look for work. In addition, NYS tax on gas is ridiculous, and for people who have to drive 45 mins or more to work don't want to pay a third of their paycheck for gas. People are simply giving up.

NYS needs the gas drilling, whether it is done vertically or horizontally, if for no other reason than employment. We're a bankrupt state and we're not attracting businesses because of our high taxes. The money to sustain the growing number of poor and unemployed in NY has to come from somewhere, and we have to stop looking to the Federal government to bail us out.


UncleTomsCabin 5 years ago

We will benefit greatly from the development of our natural gas resources. The state of New York has done a very poor job of education and teaching what our country was built on. Freedoms did not come easily nor without sacrifice and

the level of ignorance here in the southern tier only proves how little remains of the American spirit. We are a depressed area because industry was driven out and replaced with high taxes and abusive regulations. A clean abundant energy source should bring about new life for a dying area, but the people must be first reintroduced to the term of good work ethic.


Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 6 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

I live in Steuben county and I am glad they are not drilling here. Glad I found you. Great topics. I will follow and rate up

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