Did you know that the southern region of New York State, and large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, sit above one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world? That geological region is called the Marcellus Shale - that's right, the gas is part of a giant shale deposit underpinning a large swath of those states, and the fact that this is shale-based gas rather than oil-well gas has large implications for any area where an extraction company decides to stake a claim and start extracting gas. I have previously written about some of the facts of shale gas extraction, and I wanted to update where things stand in New York State.
This process is already well underway (or, badly underway) in West Virginia. Additionally, a very similar region in the West in states bordering on Wyoming, has been developed for years with disastrous environmental impacts. Here is a small taste of what has happened there, from the New York Times in 2002:
As it runs through Orin Edwards's ranch, the Belle Fourche River bubbles like Champagne. The bubbles can burn. They are methane, also called natural gas, the fuel that heats 59 million American homes. Mr. Edwards noticed the bubbles two years ago, after gas wells were drilled on his land. The company that drilled the wells denies responsibility for the flammable river.
An hour's drive west, the artesian well on Roland and Beverly Landrey's ranch has failed. After producing 50 gallons a minute for 34 years, the well, the ranch's only source of water, stopped flowing in September. A well digger who examined it blames energy companies drilling for gas nearby, but the companies dispute that. So the couple – he is 83 and ailing; she describes herself as ''no spring chicken'' – hauls water in gallon jugs and drives 30 miles to town weekly to wash clothes and bathe.
Dave Bullach, a welder who lives near Gillette, couldn't take it anymore. For two sleep-deprived years, he endured the incessant yowl of a methane compressor, a giant pump that squeezes methane into an underground pipeline. There are thousands of these screaming machines in Wyoming, where neither state nor federal law regulates their noise. Mr. Bullach stormed out of his house at midnight last year with a rifle and shot at the compressor until a sheriff's deputy hauled him off to jail.... Read the rest of this article
Hearings are currently underway, but only for one more week, in New York State. New York has not had significant shale gas drilling yet, but the extraction companies are poised and eager to cash in on this natural resource. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the gas deposits are under some of our beautiful unspoiled forests and mountains, the tourism destination of the Catskill Mountains. And, perhaps more immediately urgent, this area is the source of most of New York City's drinking water. You can read a recent article on the risks to water and the environment, published by the River Reporter. Despite claims that no harm will be done, there is a history of toxic lakes left behind, full of close to 250 dangerous chemicals and often leaking into the ground water.
This issue, little discussed in the public, needs much more attention.