Politicians are fond of saying “let the science decide” when it comes to fracking. OK. Let’s give that a shot. The scientists at the USGS were the first to debunk the grandiose overestimates of recoverable reserves in the Marcellus. Taking ”400 Tcf Terry” Engelder’s gaseous fantasy down a notch. About an 80% notch. . .
Now they have weighed in on the DEC’s proposed guidelines (not regulations) via a letter. The scientists at the USGS are typically even-handed in their analysis. Their letter to the DEC is no exception. Here’s a link to their letter to the DEC regarding the SGEIS:
Note that they have flagged many of the same concerns that other scientists have identified. Such as the migration of methane, citing the definitive peer reviewed study.
“Methane contamination of domestic water wells has occurred near selected shale-gas development sites in north-central Pennsylvania presumably due to inadequate casing seals (Osborn and others, 2011). Given this methane migration issue, the revised dSGEIS’s requirement of the installation and cementing of an intermediate casing, in addition to the surface casing, is prudent. However, the design, installation, and ultimate success of casing and cementing prthe shallow geohydrologic system. The revised dSGEIS does not require the detailed mud logging and geophysical logging of the upper part of gas wells needed to determine the distribution of freshwater, saltwater, and gas and to properly design the casing and cementing program.”
In layman’s language what happens is that when the well is drilled, if it hits a shallow gas bearing formation, it is apt to release gas. Such released gas goes up the well bore into groundwater. As the casing in the well bore ages it enables more gas to leak up the bore. Gassing your water well. The USGS understands this. Schlumberger understands this, they sell products and services to try to fix the problem. The DEC understates or denys the problem in order to avoid having to regulate a solution. So they propose a one-size-fits-none approach, which the USGS says won’t work:
“Methane contamination of domestic water wells has occurred near selected shale-gas development sites in north-central Pennsylvania presumably due to inadequate casing seals (Osborn and others, 2011). Given this methane migration issue, the revised dSGEIS’s requirement of the installation and cementing of an intermediate casing, in addition to the surface casing, is prudent. However, the design, installation, and ultimate success of casing and cementing programs are dependent on effective characterization of the shallow geohydrologic system.”
The problem of gas migration is well-known to the industry, as the USGS points out. For instance :
The industry sells services to attempt to avoid leaks that fracking apologists says never happen :
The DEC does not address the problem in its regulations, because it would then have to enforce the regs. which it’s loath to do – and has never adequately done:
The USGS points out that the SGEIS “one-size-fits-none” approach to gas well setbacks to water sources is inadequate :
“The revised dSEIS affords limited protection to domestic well owners with a proposed 500 ft buffer around domestic wells and springs unless waived by the homeowner. The 500 ft buffer around domestic wells does not take local geohydrologic conditions and topographic setting into account. Nearly all domestic wells in upland areas tap the fractured bedrock aquifer. The low storage in these aquifers relative to a sand and gravel aquifer means that changes brought about by drilling, including water quality changes, can be felt rapidly at significant distance from a disturbance –especially if a domestic well is down-gradient of a well pad. “
No surprises there. The DEC’s setbacks are the worst in the USA, virtually ensuring that wells will be gassed.
The protections are transparently political, not based on science – much less local conditions, as pointed out by the USGS.
They also note that the fault maps used by the DEC understates the amount of faulting in the state. The SGEIS uses a faulting map that is out of date and that fails to adequately address seismic risk.
“The revised dSGEIS references the State-wide map of faults and lineaments by Isachsen and McKendree (1977). A more detailed mapping of lineaments in New York’s Appalachian basin was completed by EarthSat (1997) for the New York Energy Research and Development Authority. Through an integrated analysis of lineament, geologic, geophysical, and seismic epicenter data, Jacobi (2002) concluded that there are more faults in New York’s Appalachian Basin than previously suspected, and that many of these faults are seismically active. ”
The USGS confirms all the other studies and commentaries on the subject of faulting and seismic probability.
Although the USGS studiously avoids drawing broad conclusions, we can infer one in particular. The political dodge in New York has been “let the scientists” decide. Scientists don’t “decide” regulatory matters. They inform those responsible. Regulators that work for elected officials do that. And the voters decide who gets to be an elected official. If your town supervisor or state senator ignores the scientists much longer . . .Keep the science and get new elected officials.
James “Chip” Northrup