Sep 28 2011

NY Shale Gas Lottery 1

New York Shale Gas Lottery:  ‘Hey, You Never Know’®

Pennsylvania: New Data Show Persistent Problems with Faulty Cement in Shale Wells;

New York:  Energy Industry Veteran Identifies Needed Improvements for State’s Proposal for Shale Gas Extraction

DEC Responds

The latest news from Pennsylvania underscores the challenges New York State residents will face as Governor Cuomo prepares to open the door to shale gas extraction.

Violations data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection “show problems persist with the cemented strings of steel casing meant to protect groundwater from gas and fluids in Marcellus wells,” according to a news report in The (Scranton) Times-Tribune.1

“During the first eight months of 2011, 65 Marcellus wells were cited for faulty casing and cementing practices – one more than was recorded in all of 2010,” according to the news report.

“The steady pace of new violations – an average of eight new wells a month have been cited for casing, cement or leaking gas violations this year – also indicates the complexity of the problem in a state where the geology is neither uniform nor predictable,” reported The (Scranton) Times-Tribune.

Coincidentally in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking public comment on the State’s revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).

This is the instrument by which the state’s political leadership appears ready to open the door to shale gas extraction with the firm promise to the world that, We are going to do this safely.”2

Written comments will be accepted through the close of business December 12, 2011.  For more information, see the third footnote below under Links & Resources.3

Questions New York residents must ask include:  Does the state have specific plans for disposing of the toxic frac water and drilling waste that will be created by hydraulic fracturing industrial operations?

Citizens’ Resource

An excellent resource for those working to understand risks versus benefits of New York State’s current proposal for shale gas extraction is James “Chip” Northrup’s 23-page letter to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, dated July 25.  It offers constructive, detailed comments that demonstrate a thorough understanding of the issues.

Northrup spent more than 30 years in the energy business, starting at ARCO then becoming an owner, operator, and investor in offshore and onshore drilling rigs, plus oil and gas projects in Texas and New Mexico.  He received an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business; and he splits his residence between New York State and Texas.

Among the key challenges identified by Northrup:

  • State agencies are unprepared for horizontal hydrofracking.
  • New York State’s SGEIS is a de facto industrial land-use plan.

Following are excerpts from Northrup’s July 25th letter to Commissioner Martens on these points.  A pdf file copy of his letter is attached below under Links & Resources.4

Northrup:  NY is Unprepared 

“Most state agencies and local governments are not prepared to deal with the challenges of horizontal hydrofracking of shale,” Northrup writes (pp. 1-2 of letter).  His letter cites examples such as the NY Department of Transportation (NYSDOT); Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS); Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office.

He elaborates (emphasis added):  “The lack of facilities to dispose of fracking wastes is emblematic of the State’s lack of preparedness for this activity.  The DEC attempts to mask this lack of preparedness but does not require key shortcomings to be solved prior the issuance of permits.  Proceeding without adequate preparation simply repeats the mistakes made in Pennsylvania.The SGEIS lists various ideas of how to address frack waste disposal – but offers no conclusive solutions.”

“The proposed regulations mention re-use, but re-use is not disposal; it simply increases the net toxicity with each re-use.  The proposal mentions treatment, but filtration will not remove all the toxic chemicals in solution, and thermal distillation is not economical.  Applicants should be required to prove that the flowback material or treated sludge are lawfully disposed of.”

Northrup adds, “Tracking of waste is not sufficient.  Tracking is not final disposition.”  He concludes (emphasis in original):

“Until an applicant can prove how they intend to dispose of the flow back (or the sludge removed from processing flowback), the DEC should not issue a drilling permit.  Until other agencies, including ORPTS and NYSDOT are prepared to deal with the impacts of horizontal fracking, no permits should be issued.”

DEC Responds

This writer contacted DEC to ask whether it had specific requirements for disposing of fracking wastes that go beyond tracking, recycling (re-use) or a treatment that amounts to dilution?

Emily DeSantis, Assistant Director of Public Information for DEC, replied (emphasis added):

“…each applicant must submit a plan for disposal of all wastes created in all phases of the drilling process. In some cases, a back-up plan must also be included. If an acceptable disposal plan is not submitted, the drilling permit will not be issued.

DeSantis acknowledges (emphasis added):  “Currently there are no facilities in New York State capable of accepting high-volume hydraulic fracturing wastewater.  Modifications would need to be made to the facilities and the facility would need approval from DEC.”

“To get an approval,” DeSantis says, “the facility would need to demonstrate through a full headworks analysis, with a sampling of the wastewater, that it has the capability to treat the wastewater within its SPDES [State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] permit conditions.”5

“In addition,” she continues, “the drilling company would need to develop a contingency plan if the primary disposal for wastewater is a publicly owned treatment works facility. The SGEIS specifically discusses this on p. 7-63 and in Appendix 22.”

She referred parties interested in more information on the state’s proposed requirements for waste to this DEC fact sheet:

Northrup:  SGEIS is industrial land-use plan for Upstate

According to Northrup, “The DEC proposes to allow the industrialization of 85% of Upstate [New York] with the SGEIS as the only guide for any area where local zoning does not control (p. 17 of letter).”

Yet he notes that, “the DEC focus on individual wells does not consider the cumulative impact of multiple wells over an extended time period (p. 18 of letter).”

Northrup points out that the DEC requires a one-mile setback between a new well and an abandoned oil or gas well (p. 18 of letter).

He writes (emphasis in original):  “It is ironic to note that the one-mile setback proposed from an abandoned oil well is the farthest setback distance listed in the SGEIS – twice as far as proposed for a municipal drinking water lake, and farther than from a hospital, apartment building, organic farm or school – because none of those uses are identified in the SGEIS – which is effectively blind to local land use.  Abandoned gas wells are apparently more ‘sacrosanct’ to the Cuomo Administration than drinking water.”

He notes, however (emphasis added):  “There is some rationale for not fracking a well next to an orphaned well – if the frack hits the old well bore, it could easily force fluids up the well bore into the groundwater.  However the DEC goes out of its way to discount the probability of a frack doing the same thing to a naturally occurring vertical fault – which are afforded no consideration under the SGEIS (p. 18).”

Northrup concludes his letter this way (emphasis added):

“Commissioner Martens, I appreciate your efforts.  I would encourage your Department to proceed cautiously on these matters and to involve the Comptroller, DOH, NYSDOT and the Attorney General’s office in a collaborative process before the DEC considers issuing any permits for horizontal hydrofracking of shale gas wells.”

To date, Northrup has not received a response from Commissioner Martens or the DEC; but DeSantis of the DEC told us, “Mr. Northrup’s letter is currently under careful review.”

In Part 2, we’ll highlight additional recommendations for New York State’s approach to shale gas extraction from energy industry veteran James Northrup.

Links & Resources

1 DEP inspections show more shale well cement problemsThe (Scranton) Times-Tribune, September 18, 2011, by Laura Legere —

Inspections, Violations, Enforcements Data from PA Department of Environmental Protection – Said to be updated roughly on a monthly basis; opens up into spreadsheets; note that when the website page opens, the top half may appear blank.  Scroll down until you see the links:

2 Webcast of DEC Commissioner Joe Martens press conference, July 1, 2011

3 Public Comments should be made by December 12, 2011 on the revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:  Revised Draft SGEIS (September 2011)

In addition, check out this helpful guide in the form of a volunteer Wiki website, hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy.  It offers a detailed but user friendly guide for the lay person to understand, analyze and respond to the SGEIS document.  You’ll find analyses by knowledgeable folks including Chip Northrup, energy industry investor, and Lou Allstadt, former Executive VP of Mobil Oil Corporation:

Among other issues, the website offers comments on “mitigation” measures including the use of a new third cement casing:

4 Energy Industry Veteran James Northrup’s letter to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens – This 23-page letter is detailed, thoughtful and based on experience in the energy industry.  Many benchmark references to similar issues in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere.  Pdf file:  Chip-Northrup-Comments-on-Draft-SGEIS(2011)

5 SPDES:  State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – To understand what this involves, see the link:

NOTE:  This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link:  Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.


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