NY says frac ban would allow wide Marcellus access

July 11, 2011
New York state plans to reverse 2009 findings and ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, but it said 85% of lands underlain by the Marcellus shale would be accessible under its recommendations.

New York state plans to reverse 2009 findings and ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, but it said 85% of lands underlain by the Marcellus shale would be accessible under its recommendations. The state Department of Environmental Conservation released a report July 1 in which it recommended that drilling be banned in all primary aquifers and a 500-ft buffer zone and that surface drilling be prohibited on state-owned land including state forest and wildlife management areas.

DEC recommended that high-volume fracturing be allowed on other private land with rigorous protections and that an advisory panel on implementation be appointed. DEC also issued regulations to codify these recommendations into state law. The recommendations, if adopted in final form, would protect the state's environmentally sensitive areas while realizing the economic development and energy benefits of the state's natural gas resources, the agency said.

DEC said the recommendations strike "the right balance between protecting our environment, watersheds, and drinking water and promoting economic development."

High-volume fracturing

DEC's 2009 draft report would have allowed high-volume fracturing in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. It said the areas "are unique in that they are the only unfiltered supplies of municipal water in the state and deserve special protection. The previous report also would have allowed high-volume fracturing surface drilling in primary aquifers and on public forests, wildlife areas, and parkland; the 2011 report reverses all of these recommendations."

A 60-day public comment period on the recommendations starts in August. There is no administrative or discretionary moratorium on high-volume fracturing, DEC said. By law, no permits may be issued until the public comments are considered and the final supplement generic environmental impact statement is released.

DEC plans strict enforcement and oversight of high-volume fracturing, saying it would issue no permits until it has the proper enforcement capacity to monitor all fracing.

In preparing the recommendations, DEC engaged consultants to perform research, sought further information from the gas drilling industry, considered more than 13,000 public comments, and studied other states' regulations and experience, including site visits to Pennsylvania incident sites.

In describing the controls on high-volume fracturing on private lands, DEC said no permits would be issued for sites within 500 ft of a private water well or domestic use spring. No permits may be issued for a proposed site within 2,000 ft of a public drinking water supply well or reservoir at least until 3 years of experience elsewhere have been evaluated. No permits will be issued for well pads sited within a 100-year floodplain.

In most cases, an additional third, cemented well casing is required around each well to prevent the migration of gas. The three required casings are the surface casing, the new intermediate casing, and the production casing. The depths of both surface and intermediate casings will be determined by site-specific conditions.

All new guidelines will require that flowback water on site must use watertight tanks within a secondary containment. No open containment will be allowed. A secondary containment will also be required for all fracturing additive containers, additive staging areas, and flowback tanks to ensure any spills of wastewater or chemicals at the well pad do not migrate into water supplies.

New permit process

DEC recommended a new permit process requiring strict stormwater control measures to prevent stormwater from contaminating water resources.

Pursuant to the governor's signing of DEC's water withdrawal legislation, which the state legislature recently passed, a special permit will be required to withdraw large volumes of water for industrial and commercial purposes to ensure there are not adverse impacts.

All withdrawals from surface water bodies will be subject to limits to prevent impacts upon ecosystems and other water quantity requirements. Identification of the water source an applicant intends to use will be required, and an annual report must be issued on the aggregate amount of water it has withdrawn or purchased.

Since the 2009 SGEIS, many drilling companies have started to recycle much of the flowback water, greatly reducing the need for disposal, DEC noted, but applicants must have DEC-approved plans for disposing of flowback water and production brine.

DEC would institute a process to monitor disposal of flowback water, production brine, drill cuttings, and other drilling waste streams that is similar to the handling of medical waste.

DEC would require full analysis and approvals under existing state and federal water laws and regulations that must be completed before a water treatment facility could accept flowback water. This would include a treatment capacity analysis for any publicly operated treatment works facility and a contingency plan if the primary disposal for wastewater is such a facility.

DEC would notify local governments of each well permit application for high-volume fracturing.

An applicant must certify that a proposed activity is consistent with local land use and zoning laws. Failure to certify or a challenge by a locality would trigger additional DEC review before a permit could be issued.

The 2011 SGEIS identifies 322 chemicals proposed for use in New York and includes health hazard information for each as identified by the state Department of Health. Applicants must fully disclose to DEC all products utilized in the high-volume fracing process. In addition, applicants must agree to publicly disclose the names of the additives, subject to appropriate protections for proprietary information.

Operators will be required to evaluate using alternative additives that pose less potential risk.

DEC will require enhanced air pollution controls on engines used at well pads and will monitor air quality at well pads and surrounding areas. It will require use of existing pipelines when available rather than flaring gas.

Disturbing the land surface is strictly restricted in private forests of 150 acres or more and in private grasslands of 30 acres or more by requiring applicants to comply with best management practices.

The 2009 SGEIS did not adequately consider the community and socioeconomic impacts of high-volume fracturing, and DEC has engaged independent consultants to thoroughly research these types of effects.

Specifically, researchers are examining both baseline data and the potential effects of development in the areas of socioeconomic conditions including positive and negative impacts; transportation infrastructure, current road use, and the impacts of increased traffic; and visual and noise impacts. DEC expects the research to be finished by July 31, 2011, and it will be considered and reflected in the final draft of the report.

Upon final adoption of the permitting standards, the department will implement a system of oversight, monitoring, and enforcement. The successful implementation of high-volume fracturing policy will also require close consultation with local governments and communities.

DEC will form a high-volume hydraulic fracturing advisory panel made up of outside environmental and industry experts and local government representatives.

The panel will develop recommendations for funding to ensure the proper oversight, monitoring, and enforcement of mitigation measures, including both state and county agencies responsible for drilling activities and reviewing water sampling data; measures to minimize socioeconomic and other impacts on local governments and communities; a fee structure for drilling development; and a mechanism for the funding of infrastructure improvements.

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