The Environmental Review Process for Natural Gas Exploration in the Marcellus Shale
A Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) provides a comprehensive review of the potential environmental impacts of an activity and how these impacts could be mitigated. The Department prepared a Supplemental GEIS (SGEIS) to assess issues unique to horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (sometimes referred to as hydrofracking) in the Marcellus Shale and other low permeability reservoirs. The Draft SGEIS for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale was released on September 30, 2009 and comments were taken from the public until December 31, 2009. After much public comment, DEC revised the Draft SGEIS and made the Preliminary Revised Draft document available in July 2011. Additional information was added and a Revised Draft SGEIS was released September 7, 2011.
The Purpose of the Revised Draft SGEIS
There has been significant public comment associated with the September 2009 draft. The Department expended considerable effort in addressing the comments and in additional research. In an attempt to keep the public informed on the progress, this Revised Draft SGEIS was posted and provided for public comment September 2011.
Permitting During the Environmental Review Process
While the process of preparing the SGEIS is ongoing, any entity that applies for a drilling permit for horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale and opts to proceed with its permit application will be required to undertake an individual, site-specific environmental review. That review must take into account the same issues being considered in the SGEIS process and must be consistent with the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act and the state Environmental Conservation Law.
Background on Gas Well Drilling in the Marcellus Shale
What is the Marcellus Shale?
The Marcellus Shale is a black shale formation extending deep underground from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York. Although the Marcellus Shale is exposed at the ground surface in some locations in the northern Finger Lakes area, it is as deep as 7,000 feet or more below the ground surface along the Pennsylvania border in the Delaware River valley. Drilling activity is expected to focus on areas where the Marcellus shale is deeper than 2,000 feet.
How much natural gas is in the Marcellus Shale?
Geologists estimate that the entire Marcellus Shale formation may contain up to 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout its entire extent. It is not yet known how much gas will be commercially recoverable from the Marcellus in New York. To put this into context, New York State uses about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.
Why all the interest in the Marcellus Shale now?
Although geologists have long known about the natural gas resources of the Marcellus Shale formation, the depth and tightness of the shale made gas exploration and extraction very difficult and expensive. Interest has increased significantly of late due to:
- recent enhancements to gas well development technology, specifically horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing,
- the proximity of high natural gas demand markets in New York, New Jersey and New England and
- the construction of the Millennium Pipeline through the Southern Tier.
Questions have been raised about possible environmental and community impacts. Most concerns are related to water use and management and the composition of the fluids used for fracturing the shale. These are discussed below.
Landowners have been approached by energy and land management companies about leasing their land. Although leasing is not regulated by the Department, information about leasing gas well rights is available on our website.
Use our on-line data base to find information about existing wells and permit applications.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are legal and common in New York. The majority of wells in the Marcellus Shale will be hydraulically fractured.
A horizontal gas well. Image courtesy Brad Cole,
Horizontal drilling has been used in New York since the 1980s. A "horizontal well" is first drilled down vertically to a depth above the target gas-bearing rock formation. Special tools are then used to curve the well so that the hole is drilled horizontally within the gas-bearing rock for up to several thousand feet. Ten percent of DEC's 2007 well drilling permits were for directional and horizontal wells.
Except for special tools used underground, horizontal drilling is performed using the same equipment and technology as vertical drilling, with the same protocols in place for aquifer protection, fluid containment and waste handling.
Benefits of horizontal drilling:
- Maximum contact with the gas-bearing rock formation, so that more gas can be produced from a single well.
- Multiple horizontal wells can be drilled laterally from the same surface location, so that less of the ground surface is disturbed compared to using vertical wells to produce the same amount of gas.
Hydraulic fracturing consists of pumping a fluid and a propping material such as sand down the well under high pressure to create fractures in the gas-bearing rock. The propping material (usually referred to as a "proppant") holds the fractures open, allowing more gas to flow into the well than would naturally. No blast or explosion is created by the hydraulic fracturing process, which has been used in New York since at least the 1950s. Hydraulic fracturing technology is especially helpful for "tight" rocks like shale.
Quantity of water needed for hydraulic fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale will require large volumes of water to fracture the rocks and produce the desired amount of gas. Each well may use more than one million gallons of water.
The hydraulic fracturing fluid typically contains compounds added to the water to make the hydraulic fracturing process more effective. These may include a friction reducer, a biocide to prevent the growth of bacteria that would damage the well piping or clog the fractures, a gel to carry the proppant into the fractures, and various other agents to make sure the proppant stays in the fractures and to prevent corrosion of the pipes in the well. The Department is assessing the chemical makeup of these additives and will ensure that all necessary safeguards and best practices are followed.
More information, including general information about fracturing fluid additives, is available in the report Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas Wells in the Marcellus Shale released in September 2008 at the Ground Water Protection Council's Annual Forum.
Disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluid
Fluid removed from the well is required by law to be handled, transported and disposed of properly.
Did New York recently approve a new type of drilling?
No. In July 2008 Governor David A. Paterson approved a bill that extends uniform gas well spacing rules and establishes boundary setbacks to protect the interests of adjacent property owners. This new law has been widely misreported as allowing a new type of drilling, or somehow making it easier to get the environmental permits necessary for drilling. In fact, the new law only addresses well spacing. It authorizes nothing new nor in any way does it reduce the environmental review needed before a drilling permit is issued.
DEC's Regulatory Program and Permitting Process
New York State's well-established regulatory program oversees drilling. DEC's Mineral Resources staff - averaging 22 years of experience per person - conducts a rigorous permitting process which protects the environment and landowner before the permit is issued, during drilling, when the well is plugged and when the site is restored. This includes:
- Review of each drilling application for environmental compliance before any drilling, which involves:
- Screening of the proposed well location to identify any environmental sensitivities, and
- Review of the proposed well design is to ensure that it is protective. (See Important Links at right.) This ground water protection diagram (PDF, 204 KB) illustrates how the required well casing and cement protects fresh water aquifers;
- On-site inspection of actual drilling operations; and
- Enforcement of strict restoration rules when drilling is completed.
Municipal water wells are protected by the requirement for a full environmental assessment if a proposed oil or gas well is within 2,000 feet of the municipal well and a supplemental environmental impact statement if within 1,000 feet. All groundwater, including private wells, is protected by strict construction requirements for oil and gas wells.
As a result of New York's rigorous regulatory process, the types of problems reported to have occurred in states without such strong environmental laws and rigorous regulations haven't happened here. No known instances of groundwater contamination have occurred from previous horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing projects in New York State.
The Final Scope
The final scope for the Supplemental GEIS was released on February 6, 2009.
The Draft SGEIS
The Draft SGEIS was released on September 30, 2009 and the public comment period ended on December 31, 2009.
The Revised Draft SGEIS
On Dec. 13, 2010, Gov. Paterson issued an order requiring DEC to perform additional review of the environmental impacts of high-volume hydro fracturing and horizontal drilling. This review was to be completed by June of 2011 and then opened to public comment. The Preliminary Revised Draft SGEIS was issued July 2011 and the Revised Draft SGEIS was issued September 7, 2011. The comment period ended on January 11, 2012.
Other Agencies with Jurisdiction
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) regulate the rate and volume of water withdrawals within their respective basins. These regional water authorities must review and approve water used for hydraulic fracturing projects in the Marcellus Shale. DEC has representatives on both Commissions and also regularly communicates with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection regarding the city's upstate water reservoirs.
Executive Order No. 41: Requiring Further Environmental Review
WHEREAS, the 2009 New York State Energy Plan supports the development of in-State energy resources, including natural gas, to achieve the Plan's multiple public policy objectives; and
WHEREAS, low-volume hydraulic fracturing, or conventional fracking, has been used successfully and safely in New York State for many years to extract natural gas consistent with the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program promulgated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (Department) in 1992; and
WHEREAS, new technologies have emerged, and are being deployed in other states, to extract natural gas more efficiently through a process known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling; and
WHEREAS, there is a need for further study of this new technology prior to deployment in New York State; and
WHEREAS, in 2008, I directed the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation to initiate a formal public process to update the 1992 GEIS to ensure that any new technologies deployed in New York State are first thoroughly analyzed and regulated to ensure that all environmental and public health impacts are mitigated or avoided; and
WHEREAS, the Department issued a draft scope for an updated GEIS on October 6, 2008, held public meetings in the Marcellus shale region, received more than 3,000 written comments, and issued a final scope for the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on February 6, 2009. The Department released the Draft SGEIS for public review and comment on September 30, 2009, held four public hearings in the region and New York City, and received more than 13,000 written comments during a public comment period that closed December 31, 2009; and
WHEREAS, tens of thousands of citizens, landowners, local governments, large and small businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders have expressed their heartfelt support for or opposition to the new technology, but most agree that an objective, science-based analysis is the best approach to setting new policy.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, David A. Paterson, Governor of the State of New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of New York, do hereby order as follows:
- The Department shall complete its review of the public comments, make such revisions to the Draft SGEIS that are necessary to analyze comprehensively the environmental impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling, ensure that such impacts are appropriately avoided or mitigated consistent with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), other provisions of the Environmental Conservation Law and other laws, and ensures that adequate regulatory measures are identified to protect public health and the environment; and
- On or about June 1, 2011, the Department shall publish a Revised Draft SGEIS, accept public comment on the revisions for a period of not less than thirty days, and may schedule public hearings on such revisions to be conducted in the Marcellus shale region and New York City; and
- Recognizing that, pursuant to SEQRA, no permits may be issued prior to the completion of a Final SGEIS, the Department, subsequent to the conclusion of the public comment period, shall report to the Governor on the status of the Final SGEIS and the regulatory conditions that are necessary to include in oil and gas well permits to protect public health and the environment.
G I V E N under my hand and the Privy Seal of the State in the City of Albany this thirteenth day of December in the year two thousand ten.
BY THE GOVERNOR
Secretary to the Governor
More about Marcellus Shale :
- Large Map of Marcellus Shale Formation - A map showing the extent of the Marcellus Shale formation in New York State and recently drilled wells which produced natural gas from this formation in 2007
- Map of Primary Aquifers and Marcellus Shale Extent - Large map showing primary aquifers in relation to the Marcellus Shale.
- Commissioner's Testimony at NYS Assembly Hearing on Oil and Gas Drilling for DSGEIS - Commissioners Testimony at NYS Assembly Hearing on Oil and Gas Drilling for the Draft SGEIS.
- Commissioner's Testimony at NYS Assembly Hearing on Oil and Gas Drilling October 15, 2008 - Commissioner Grannis assured full environmental review of proposals to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to develop natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations.
- Commissioner's Testimony at NYC Council Hearing on Natural Gas Drilling in the New York City Drinking Water Watershed - Commissioner Grannis assured full assessment of any future applications to drill for natural gas in the watershed.
- Commissioner's Editorial on Marcellus Shale - An editorial from DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis concerning natural gas exploration and drilling in Marcellus Shale.
- Effect of Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act - Certain exemptions or exclusions in these federal laws do not hinder the Department from regulating any aspect of Marcellus Shale development or from requiring that information about the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluid be submitted to the Department