In recent months the ongoing debate over the extraction of natural gas from shale formations using high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State has reached a fevered pitch. Advocates take the position that the natural gas locked in the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations in western and central New York State represents an affordable and environmentally friendly supply of domestic energy which will create thousands of needed jobs, bring in much needed tax revenue to the State, and boost the State’s overall economy. Opponents argue that the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing to extract the shale gas poses a real risk to the environment and to sources of drinking water. Geologists estimate that the Marcellus Shale formation alone contains anywhere from 44 trillion to 144 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. For comparison, the entire state of New York uses on an annual basis about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year. In addition, there are other shale formations in the State such as the Utica Shale that may produce substantial quantities of natural gas in the future.
Dvirka and Bartilucci Consulting Engineers has positioned the firm to provide the needed environmental engineering services if and when the exploration of shale gas reserves in New York State is eventually permitted to move forward. The firm has organized a Shale Gas Task Force which is being led by Thomas P. Fox P.G., Vice President in our Woodbury, New York office and James J. Magda, Associate in the Syracuse, New York office. D&B will be able to provide a wide range of environmental engineering services for public and private sector clients including:
- On-site Monitoring
- Project Planning/Site Development
- Environmental Permitting
- Hydrogeologic Assessments
- Storm Water Management/Erosion Control
- Water Supply Engineering
- Post-Exploration Site Restoration
While this work is currently on hold in the State, D&B is already assisting a client in assessing the logistics and feasibility of constructing a wastewater treatment facility specifically designed to accept and treat the various wastewater streams that will be generated by the shale gas industry.
What is Hydraulic Fracturing?
Oil and gas development is not new to New York State with oil production occurring in western New York as early as the 1860’s. Furthermore, hydraulic fracturing of gas wells has been successfully used in New York State since the 1950’s. However, the hydraulic fracturing that is used in the extraction of gas from low-permeable shale formations requires a much greater quantity of water than conventional hydraulic fracturing, on the order of 2 to 4 million gallons per well. In addition, the water is injected under high pressure into the formation and is mixed with various chemicals and additives in order to make the process more effective. This process is referred to as high volume hydraulic fracturing or HVHF. The extraction of the natural gas which has been known to be present in these low permeable shale formations for many years only became feasible with the advent of the HVHF technology in combination with previously developed horizontal well drilling technologies.
What are the Environmental Concerns?
While hydraulic fracturing has been safely used throughout New York and the Country for many decades, some people fear that the use of HVHF will contaminate groundwater supplies. Proponents of the technology counter that New York’s aquifers are rarely more than several hundred feet deep whereas the HVHF will be performed at depths of over 2,000 feet. Although thousands of gas wells tapping the Marcellus Shale have been safely drilled and undergone HVHF in adjoining Pennsylvania and other states, there have been isolated accidents and environmental impacts that have made the headlines.
Other concerns include the need for a relatively large supply of water in remote higher elevation areas in order to perform HVHF. This may require the withdrawal of water from small environmentally sensitive back-country streams near the drilling site or the transportation of water to the site by tanker truck which requires literally hundreds of truck deliveries.
What Does the Future Hold for New York?
With a close eye on the evolving shale gas industry in neighboring states, ongoing research, and the continued advances in the technology, the NYSDEC released a revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) in August 2011 for public comment which evaluates the potential impacts associated with HVHF. In early-September, the NYSDEC also released for public comment their draft regulations which take into consideration the findings of the SGEIS and modify and strengthen their existing regulatory framework governing oil and gas exploration. Some of the key provisions of the new regulations include the prohibition of the use of HVHF in the New York City reservoir watershed and State Parkland and limiting these activities in the vicinity of private and public supply wells. In addition, the NYSDEC held a number of public hearings throughout the State in November 2011 to listen to the public’s comments on the SGEIS and their draft regulations.
While it is unclear at this time exactly when the Agency will finalize their regulations and permit the use of HVHF in New York, most speculate that it will not be until late-2012. When permitted, the NYSDEC estimates that between 400 and 1,650 well permits will be issued per year and industry experts estimate that the extraction of shale gas using HVHF in New York could occur for over 30 years. The New York State Public Policy Institute conservatively estimates the shale gas industry will generate up to $11 billion in economic output over this period. While estimates vary widely as to the total number of jobs to be created by the shale gas industry in New York, shale gas exploration in Pennsylvania has produced 48,000 jobs in 2010, based on State statistics.
D&B – Ready to Apply Our Environmental Engineering Knowhow…
D&B has positioned itself to provide engineering services to private and public sector clients if and when shale gas exploration is eventually permitted in New York State. D&B’s Syracuse New York office is strategically located within 2 hours or less of the State counties that are anticipated to be the major shale gas producers. This new service sector for D&B will be spearheaded by Thomas P. Fox, Vice President in our Woodbury, New York office and James J. Magda, Associate with the firm and located in the Syracuse, New York office.