(address removed for public posting)
December 2, 2008
Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation
NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources
625 Broadway, 3rd Floor
Albany, NY 12233-6500
Subject: Scope Comments
To Whom It May Concern:
In the DEC’s 1992 GEIS, Chapter XV – INTERAGENCY COORDINATION: BRINE DISPOSAL, UNDERGROUND INJECTION AND OIL SPILL RESPONSE, section C. COMPLAINT RESPONSE, subsection 1. Water Supply Problems. The DEC has stated that “(T)he initial response to water supply complaints is best handled by the appropriate local health office, which has expertise in dealing with water supply problems.” Included in the section regarding complaints about individual household water supply problems (page 15-5) it states “The lack of mandated approval for individual water supply system construction also complicates complaint investigations. The DOH and most county health departments will not sample well supply systems with substandard construction because poor construction can facilitate the movement of contaminants into water supplies, and water quality in these systems dramatically change in response to conditions such as recent precipitation.”
Due to the scale and method of extraction, the Final Scope must evaluate each county’s ability to provide initial response to water supply complaints related to natural gas extraction. The need for increased staff as well as education in the types of complaints generated from natural gas extraction must be addressed.
As an alternative, the DEC must evaluate whether or not the initial response to water supply problems, within a certain distance of a natural gas well drilling site (that distance to be determined by the DEC by study, with raw data, methodology and conclusions to be provided in the GEIS) should be handled at the state level, especially since the “DEC’s Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law supersedes all local laws relating to the regulation of oil and gas development except for local government jurisdiction over local roads or the right to collect real property taxes.” (quoted from page 3 of the Draft Scoping Document, Well permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs).
Whether the initial response to water well complaints is determined to be the County Department of Health or the DEC, this agency will hereinafter be referred to as “the responsible agency”.
Items to be studied and addressed include:
• If there are water supply complaints within a certain distance (that distance to be determined by the DEC via study, with raw data, methodology and conclusions to be provided in the GEIS) from where gas drilling has commenced, will the responsible agency respond to the complaint regardless of the construction of the well supply system? If any water well complaint develops after gas drilling commences, will the responsible agency respond to the complaint regardless of the construction of the well supply system? Will the IOGA (Independent Oil and Gas Association) fund the responsible agency so that the responsible agency has the resources to conduct these inspections? What information will the IOGA provide to the responsible agency so that the agency will understand under which conditions a complaint may be oil and gas related?
• If the responsible agency has the resources to develop a formal procedure “under which (the responsible agency) will respond to and investigate initial complaints on oil and gas operations to determine if the complaint is oil and gas-related and to provide determinations of possible public health problems” (quoted from page 15-5 of the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program).
• The 1992 GEIS states “To better protect the integrity of individual water supplies, the DEC Upstate Groundwater Management Program recommends the enactment of a State Water Well Construction Code and legislation for the licensing of water well drillers.” Water well drillers, as of January 1, 2003, are required to have passed a certification exam. The majority of wells in New York State, however, have been drilled with no certified well driller on site and no State Water Well Construction Code in force. Will the responsible agency undertake to inspect all water wells within a certain distance (that distance to be determined by the DEC via study, with raw data, methodology and conclusions to be provided in the GEIS) around a gas drilling site, to determine if the water well construction is sufficient to protect the water well supply from any water contamination problems, either from spills, runoff, drilling or hydrofracturing?
• If the responsible agency will not inspect these water wells, what protections do private water well owners, who are not leased with a gas company, have to ensure that their well water will be protected, regardless of the construction of their well?
An unacceptable response to these questions would be such that the natural gas well casing is sufficient to protect all ground water supplies. The DEC raised these arguments in the 1992 GEIS. There is no change in gas well drilling or gas well casing requirements to repudiate the matter of water well construction. This issue is still outstanding and must be studied and addressed, especially for those water well owners prior to January 1, 2003 who were not required to have a certified well driller on site during construction.
The second item that must be studied and addressed is historical and, specifically, cultural landmarks. According to the 1992 GEIS, “Most environmental resources are protected through siting restrictions and permit conditions.”
Since completion of the 1992 GEIS, it has become increasingly apparent that there are areas of Native American cultural importance, especially at the headwaters of river basins. Cultural sites in the headwaters were constructed in relationship to natural features of the land. The historic preservation offices of the Native American cultures that were present in the area prior to colonization must be contacted and consulted so that sites of cultural significance will be properly identified, evaluated and protected. The new GEIS must study and include information on Native American cultural sites in New York State and how those sites will be protected from impact. Because of the scale and method of gas drilling, siting restrictions and permit conditions should be re-evaluated to take into consideration not only the cultural site itself, but also the natural feature(s) of the land that the cultural sites were constructed near, or in relationship to, in order to protect both.
Third, the Draft Scope, section 1.0 INTRODUCTION, subsection 1.1 Description of the Proposed Action, states: “There is also potential for development of the Utica Shale using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing and the Department is aware that this could bring use of those techniques to areas such as Otsego and Schoharie Counties, which would also be new to natural gas development. Other shale and low-permeability formations in New York may be targeted for future application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing if Marcellus and Utica development using this method is successful and the requisite infrastructure is in place. The Department proposes to satisfy the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) for most of these operations through the preparation of a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“SGEIS”), which will be read and applied in conjunction with the existing Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program.”
The Groundwater Protection Council (GPC) report on the DEC website (http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/GWPCMarcellus.pdf) states:
“The potential for impacts to surface water and groundwater from development of the Marcellus shale are expected to be minimal because of the regulatory requirements from state oil and gas
agencies involved and the practices operators are implementing to ensure fluids are contained. In evaluating the risk of fluids migrating up to reach groundwater; the depositional environment of
the Marcellus Shale that produced a thick blanket of Devonian-aged shales above the Marcellus should also be considered as this thick sequence of overlying shales act as series of confining
layers to prevent the vertical migration of fracturing fluids toward groundwater systems.” (page 16, Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas Wells of the Marcellus Shale
Authors: J. Daniel Arthur, P.E., ALL Consulting; Brian Bohm, P.G., ALL Consulting; Mark Layne, Ph.D., P.E., ALL Consulting)
However, only light mention is made of the Marcellus shale in the geologic section of the 1992 GEIS. Specifically, Marcellus shale is mentioned in the following paragraphs:
“The base of the Hamilton Group of Middle Devonian age is marked by the Marcellus Formation. The first of several massive black shale formations of Middle and Upper Devonian age, the Marcellus will produce natural gas where it is sufficiently fractured to create a network of cracks, allowing the gas to migrate to the wellbore. The Marcellus Formation is the most strongly radioactive of the Devonian shales and is a good marker bed on gamma ray logs.” (page 5-23)
“Five of the Devonian shales have been identified as potential gas producers and these are, in ascending order, the Marcellus Formation in the lower part of the Hamilton Group and the Genesee, Middlesex, Rhinestreet and Dunkirk Formations. Eight small Devonian shale gas fields exist in the State, although presently most are shut-in. Although none form large fields, the huge area underlain by gassy shales makes them a significant contributor to New York’s resource base.” (page 5-28)
The 1992 GEIS also states “Some rocks, like shales, have very high porosities, but their low permeabilities make them poor oil and gas producers. Rocks with very low permeabilities are known as tight formations.”
Furthermore, the only stratigraphic section that has been provided by the DEC (http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/33893.html ) is from SW New York State.
• Regulations must be put in place to prohibit horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the uppermost layer of shales, as well as any formations above the uppermost layer of shales, which, according to the GPC report, would not be protected by a “thick blanket of Devonian-aged shale” to “prevent vertical migration of fracturing fluids toward groundwater systems”.
• Shale layers in New York State are not always located underground. Due to geologic faulting and folding, there is a disparity in the geology amid New York State, crossing a short distance. Because of the great disparity in geology within New York State, an updated, exhaustive study of all New York State geology must be done and included in the GEIS, along with study of the impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing on this type of geology. All raw data, methodology, and conclusions in support of the findings must be provided.
• Updated stratigraphic sections must be provided as evidence of the sequence of shales overlying the Marcellus and Utica, in multiple parts of the state.
Addendum submitted 12/5/08:
Subject: Scope Comments – Addendum to my comments of December 2, 2008
To Whom It May Concern:
This letter is being written in addendum to my comments of December 2, 2008, submitted in writing to the DEC at the December 2, 2008 Public Scoping Meeting at SUNY/Oneonta, Hunt Union Ballroom, 108 Ravine Parkway, Oneonta, NY.
I would like to make it clear that I fully support, as the first option, the alternative suggested by the DEC in the dsGEIS which states:
“7.0 ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS
• Alternatives to be reviewed by the dSGEIS will include (1) the prohibition of development of Marcellus Shale and other low permeability reservoirs by horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing…”
In the event that this alternative is not adopted, I am proposing my comments, heretofore submitted on December 2, 2008, as well as this additional comment.
As a second option, I am calling for a new GEIS to be completed by the DEC with respect to The Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program. The new GEIS should include the impacts from gas pipelines and greenhouse gas emissions.
Third, and in addition to my prior comments, honey bees must be studied. Honey bees roam up to 2 miles for nectar and water. They will take water from a variety of sources, including shallow water sources and/or water sources where they can stand at the edge of a water body and take water without drowning.
Because high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing requires chemical additives to complete the process, the DEC must study the effect(s) of honey bees ingesting these chemical additives, both in the diluted form that may be present in pits on site, and in concentrated form that may be present on site as a result of accidental spill or seepage of these chemicals, especially if they are combined with water or rain water. The effects of ingesting gas well brine, which will also be accessible to honey bees, must be studied.