How is natural gas drilling like a game? It is frequently referred to by the oil and gas companies as a “play,” only it is a game in which there is no level playing field, no clear-cut winners, and no ”do-overs” if mistakes are made.
In this game, New York State, by way of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is required to be the referee and regulate natural gas wells as they are drilled, yet there are not enough inspectors (currently there are only 19 inspectors to regulate 6,683 pre-existing vertical wells across the entire state), nor is there necessarily money to train and hire more during the state’s budget crisis. The federal government is primarily a benchwarmer, since the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempts the oil and gas companies (and horizontal drilling, by extension) from the clean water, air, and safe drinking water acts.
There are also at least two divisions, or tiers, in the game of natural gas drilling and extraction; us (i.e. the majority of New York State) and New York City. In the DEC’s draft scope document for the
Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or dSGEIS, New York City and its drinking water are provided with a special “1,000 ft. wide protective corridor” around aqueducts and a 1-mile buffer around reservoirs. In contrast, we are expected to be content with a minimum of 50 ft. from public streams and rivers, 100 ft. from wetlands, and 100 ft. from private homes and water wells. (To give you a visual image, 100 ft. is about 1/3 the size of an average football field.) Why is the clean drinking water of New York City considered to be more important than our own?
Cities like Oneonta, and larger towns and villages should not be complacent, either. While the scoping document apparently thinks that municipal water should have more protection than private water wells
(around 1,000 ft.), the DEC and the private gas companies reserve the right to obtain special permits to drill closer if there is a lot of natural gas to be extracted. Drilling can also take place a short distance from public buildings like schools (150 feet away), and even in densely populated suburbs, as in Fort Worth, Texas. Airborne pollutants like diesel fumes, methane, and evaporated fracking chemicals from open pits, and 24-hour noise from compressors and drills, recognize no boundaries or exclusive addresses.
So, what can you do to level this “playing field?” For starters, attend the Department of Environmental Conservation’s scoping hearing on December 2 in the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUCO. (Doors open at 4:30 pm.) Learn more online and talk to your friends about the issue. Hold off on leasing your land. Attend your local village and town board meetings and remind them, the DEC, and Governor Patterson who they are working for—not private gas companies, but YOU. Only by standing up now can we prevent the “Marcellus Gas Play” from turning into a game of Russian Roulette. Or a New York State version of the movie Erin Brockovich.
Megan Byrnes, Concerned Citizens for Otego