No Fracking Way

How to Gas Aquifers

by Chip Northrup on March 4, 2013

How do you like your bottled water, still or sparking ? Flammable or non-flammable ?

You could search the world over and you would be hard pressed to find a combination of topography, hydrology and geology to match New York state – for the potential to vent methane from horizontal shale gas wells into the water supply. All the key elements are there – the shallow water wells, the shallow gas deposits that are vented by the shale gas wells, and the abundance of aquifers – for those HVHF’s to pollute. The distinction between “primary” and “principal” aquifers in New York’s proposed fracking regulations is simply an exercise in political science – it has nothing to do with hydrology, much less the risk to an aquifer from contamination. It’s environmental gerrymandering for the sake of political expediency.

The DEC has not even bothered to map the less protected “principal” aquifers.

Rachel Treichler has written an excellent summary of the risks that New York aquifers face from horizontal shale wells, the world champs at venting gas formations into aquifers.

“In his testimony to the  NYS Assembly hearing on the DEC’s proposed fracking regulations, January 10, 2013, John H. Williams, USGS Groundwater Specialist, testified that “the valley fill aquifers found in upstate New York are some of the most important aquifers in the state.” He noted that detailed aquifer maps are available for many aquifers in the Southern Tier, but said that approximately 375 miles of valley fill aquifers have not been mapped at a detailed level and, “Thus a substantial portion of the area with the highest potential for shale gas development lacks the basic hydrogeologic information needed to assess these aquifers, including their spatial extent.” See watch?v=WjuXg9f7jVU, testimony beginning at 10:10. The testimony quoted is one of his first remarks.

Mr. Williams’ testimony on this issue was highlighted by Assemblyman Steve Englebright, himself a geologist, when he questioned DEC Commissioner Martens on Feb. 4, 2013, during the Assembly Budget hearing. See 2h21m at 2:24:40. In response to Mr. Engelbright’s question, Commissioner Martens responded that all New York’s primary and principal aquifers have been mapped in sufficient detail.

This is not the case. A comparison of the USGS map showing which aquifers in New York that have been mapped in detail by USGS at aquifer.maps/aquifer1.maps.html  with a map of New York’s aquifers demonstrates that a majority of the aquifers in the state have not been mapped – as the USGS has testified. 

It is possible that Martens was confused when he said both primary and principal aquifers have been mapped.  The DEC website states only that “All of the Primary Aquifers have been mapped in detail at a scale of 1:24,000.”  See  Nevertheless, not having detailed maps of many of the principal aquifers is a huge problem.

Areas actually mapped: 


mapped New York aquifers

Potential Extent of Aquifers 

New York aquifers












These maps are included in the webpage I created for the slides from my presentation on Helping Local Governments Protect Water Resources in Elmira in Feb. 22,

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