Energy companies and environmentalists praise gas-drilling time-out in New York

Date: February 28, 2011

MARY ESCH Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Environmental groups and energy companies both claimed victory after Gov. David Paterson ordered a seven-month moratorium on some natural gas drilling in the state, although environmentalists would have preferred the broader ban that the Legislature had approved.

The outgoing Democratic governor vetoed a bill on Saturday that would have suspended all new natural-gas drilling permits until May 15. Instead, he issued an executive order prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled wells, such as those in the Marcellus Shale region of southern New York. The order stands until July 1.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water thousands of feet underground to crack shale and release natural gas trapped inside it. The Environmental Protection Agency is examining the process to see if it imperils drinking water supplies, as opponents claim.

Permitting of gas wells in New York\’s part of the Marcellus region, which also underlies parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, has already been on hold for two years while the state Department of Environmental Conservation reviews its potential effects on the environment.

In vetoing the Legislature\’s oil and gas-drilling moratorium, Paterson said it would have applied to all conventional, low-volume, vertically drilled wells, effectively shutting down an industry that has been operating safely for decades.

Low-volume hydraulic fracturing of conventional, vertical wells uses several thousand gallons of water per well, versus up to 8 million gallons per horizontal well with high-volume fracturing.

Paterson\’s budget office estimated that such a broad ban would cost thousands of industry jobs, stop landowner payments and significantly reduce state and local revenues from permit fees and taxes.

A coalition of about a dozen environmental groups released a statement praising Paterson\’s moratorium while warning that it creates a “loophole” that industry can exploit. That is, it doesn\’t apply to vertical wells, “exactly the kind of wells that were responsible for ruining nine square miles of aquifer and poisoning the drinking water of more than a dozen families in Dimock, Pa.,” the groups said.

Copyright: Times Leader

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