Town of Groveland
Groveland hears both sides of fracking debate
In a recent community forum in Groveland, two dozen residents heard from both sides of the controversy over plans to open Western New York to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking,” for natural gas.
John Holko, president of Lenape Resources, owns 139 gas wells in Livingston County — almost all over them use hydrofracking to extract methane locked in deep underground shale deposits.
“Just about everything we do is hydraulically fractured,” he explained. “It’s the means by which we get the resources out of the reservoirs.”
The Lenape wells use the vertical fracturing method: a shaft drilled 100 feet straight down into the ground. The new horizontal method would drop a vertical shaft 5,000 feet below a single well pad, with several lateral shafts branching out in right angles from the vertical shaft as much as 5,000 feet more.
Once the shafts are drilled, gas companies inject a solution of 80 percent fresh water, 14 percent recycled water, five percent sand and around 1 percent industrial chemicals.
“These are food grade chemicals,” said Holko. “This product in the right quantity provides no damage to the environment.”
Under pressure, this mixture fractures the shale and releases the gas back up a 1/2 inch thick steel pipe encased in six inches of concrete.
“New York learned a long time ago that you need to lay your first string of pipe and cement as fast as you can. You can create multiple casing seals and casing seats.
The end result is extraction of 50 times as much natural gas from a single well site with little additional impact on the surface.
Opponents of hydrofracking are worried that the fractures created by this method of drilling will connect to natural flaws in the earth’s rock structure — allowing fracking chemicals, waste products and methane to leech into lakes, streams and freshwater aquifers.
Additionally, opponents say fracking waste — which has sometimes been exposed to low levers of radioactivity — will not be properly disposed of, leading to contamination of water sources above ground
“We are only allowed by state law to dispose of materials in facilities that can handle it,” counters Holko. “Sewage treatment plants will not take it if they can’t handle it. Naturally-occuring radioactive materials will be covered under a completely new regulation.”
Holko referenced the state Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or sGEIS — the set of regulations that will govern horizontal hydrofracking if the method is permitted in New York. “It is a very detailed groundwater protection program,” explained Holko. “The table of contents alone is 28 pages long.”
Holko described potential economic benefits from hydrofracking in New York. A single well, he said, would generate $338,000 in property taxes.
“There are also jobs for well workers, truck drivers, food service, and other businesses right here in the community.”
“In Pennsylvania, natural gas is a $11.4 billion industry providing 2.4 percent of the state’s jobs,” he concluded. “To me, this is the greatest opportunity we have ever seen in New York and I know we can do it with minimal impact.”
Holko recommended people read more about hydrofracking at fracfocus.org, an industry advocacy website.
Refuting industry claims
Following Holko’s presentation was Jordan Kleiman, an associate professor of history at SUNY Geneseo and member of the Rush Citizens Concerned About Hydrofracking, a group that has successfully prompted the Town of Rush to pass a hydrofracking moratorium — a temporary ban on new gas drilling.
“The gas industry claims that fracking is a 60 year old well-proven technology,” he said. “This new process uses directional drilling, high volume, slick water and multi-well pads. These technologies didn’t combine until 2007.”
Kleiman said most gas industry diagrams of a fracking operation show a deep well boring through a blank expanse of unbroken earth. “It doesn’t show all the fractures in the rock. You’re looking at a cartoon.”
Most pro-fracking arguments fit into four categories, explained Kleiman: 1.) drilling will lead to energy independence; 2.) natural gas is a bridge fuel to lead us to an era of more practical sustainable energy sources; 3.) the natural gas industry will rescue depressed local economies; and 4.) natural gas is a clean alternative to petroleum, coal and other traditional fossil fuels.
Kleiman refuted the energy independence claim by pointing out that natural gas, like other fossil fuels, is sold on the international market — as indicated by American ports which are undergoing extensive retrofits to allow for liquidied gas to be exported by sea.
As a bridge fuel, Kleiman says natural gas will be very quickly supplanted by sustainable sources such as wind, water and solar power by as early as 2030.
“In the meantime, heavy investment in shale gas will divert resources from more sustainable technologies because we’re making a commitment to building out an intensive infrastructure for shale gas extraction.”
The bulk of Kleiman’s presentation dealt with environmental impacts — which he described as “a landscape scale industrial process.”
“The natural gas is everywhere, so it is in your interest to drill everywhere. I’ve heard it described as ‘carpet bombing.’”
According to Kleiman, each well will use between 10,000 and 40,000 gallons of chemical additives and make “massive water withdrawals” from nearby freshwater sources.
“This kind of water use is ‘consumptive,’” said Kleiman. “Unlike drinking water, once you contaminate it, you can’t put it back into nature.”
The sGEIS, says Kleiman, allows the following methods of disposal: temporary open air storage, injection wells, municipal wastewater treatment plants, private facilities, transport to other states, and spreading on roads for de-icing and dust control.
“Assessing health impacts is difficult because medical researchers aren’t allowed to expose humans to chemicals,” he explained. “However, we have cases of unintentional exposure to livestock and companion animals.”
A case in Louisiana exposed a herd of cattle to fracking waste. Seventeen of the animals died within an hour of respiratory failure.
In another case, wastewater had been dumped into a creek. Some cattle drank the water and some didn’t. The 36 that didn’t drink from the creek suffered no ill effects. Of the 60 that did, 21 died and the rest failed to reproduce, Kleiman said.
Around one in 20 wells report failures “and all wells will fail eventually,” said Kleiman., citing statistics from Pennsylvania and the Canadian province of Alberta.
“When we drill wells, we are lighting a fuse,” he concluded. “Maybe it’s a 100-year fuse where the bomb will go off on your grandkids unless you can imagine some company monitoring old wells indefintitely.”
Not such a good deal
Kleiman left the economic impact part of his presentation to Bob Thompson, a Livonia farmer and member of the hydrofracing opposition group “Frack Free Genesee.”
Thompson said he has been approached by a gas industry “landsman,” hoping to add Thompson’s 700 acre farm to the growing list of local gas leases.
Thompson said his research led him to a number of social and economic impacts that must be considered along with the potential tax revenues.
“A large truck a minute will be passing along these rural roads,” he claims. “Are you ready to sacrifice your culture for heavy industry?”
Thompson indicated that the state munipalities would incur a number of new expenses, including road repair, social services, emergency services, property clean-up and police.
“There are 82 miles of road in Groveland. It would cost $175,000 to $275,000 to repair a mile of road.”
As out-of-state workers relocate to the county’s housing market, rents will go up, says Thompson, driving low income families out of their rented homes. Thompson used the example of Lycoming, Pa., which had a homeless rate of 81 people in 2009-2010 before drilling began, and a rate of 644 a year later.
Thompson worries about the impact of high-volume hydrofracking on local farms. “We’re the third largest state for organic farms. The Finger Lakes has 90 wineries which represent 85 percent of the state’s production.”
“You can expect to see decreased sales by wineries and organic farms due to real or perceived contamination.” he predicted. “The Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown has said that even the threat of potential contamination would put the future of the company at risk.”
Thompson warned that leaseholders might find unintended consequences from their decisions to sign with gas companies. “These contracts are not designed to work in the landowner’s favor.”
He said most homeowners insurance policies will not cover damages related to hydrofracking. “You’ll have to go to commercial insurance.”
Additionally, a gas lease can cause a default in a conventional mortgage. “The lender may require immediate payment due to any property right that has been sold or transferred.”
In a question and answer session, John Holko had a chance to respond.
“If you don’t want drilling in your community, get together and don’t lease your land,” he said. “But rest assured, the industry will do it right, and New York will regulate it better than any place in the country.”