New York state releases Marcellus shale drilling proposal

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Oct. 1 -- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a draft proposal to govern potential natural gas drilling activities in the Marcellus shale, specifically horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) outlines safety measures, protection standards, and mitigation strategies that operators would have to follow to obtain permits.

New York Gov. David A. Paterson directed DEC to prepare the SGEIS. The state has not yet allowed any horizontal development of the Marcellus shale.

A public comment period on the draft is open until Nov. 30. DEC will accept comments in writing, either via e-mail, regular mail, direct online submissions, or delivered at public information sessions. Those sessions have yet to be scheduled.

“Well permitting and drilling is expected to be more onerous in New York,” than in some other states, Raymond James & Associates Inc. analyst John Freeman of Houston said in an Oct. 1 research note.

“While the rules have not been set in stone, New York has provided a path in which operators could develop the Marcellus shale,” Freeman said. “Still it is too early to tell if exploration and production and oil field service companies will be willing to jump through these additional hoops to operate in New York.”

Frac fluid disclosures
Proposed predrilling requirements include disclosure of the fracturing fluid compositions and the percentages of chemicals to be used for each well. Before drilling, private water wells within 1,000 ft of the drillsite will be tested to provide baseline information and allow for ongoing monitoring. If there are no wells within 1,000 ft, the survey area will extend to 2,000 ft, the proposal said.

Companies will have to follow Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Delaware River Basin Commission protocols for water withdrawal and also complete a stringent state-required streamflow analysis regarding water withdrawal plans.

Technical compliance proposals call for operators to complete a new "Pre-Frac Checklist and Certification Form" to ensure technical compliance with the permit and to provide details about final wellbore construction and hydraulic fracturing operations.

All operators also would be required to prepare plans for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, visual impacts, and noise impacts before starting operations.

A section on drilling and postdrilling requirements calls for operators choosing to store fracturing flowback onsite to use steel tanks to protect the environment. Before a permit is issued, the operator must disclose plans for disposal of flowback.

Centralized flowback impoundments are prohibited within boundaries of public water supplies including the New York City watershed.

In principle aquifer areas, the draft proposal calls for state inspectors to be present when operators start to cement wellbore casings.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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