Monthly Archives: October 2009

Driller: No Plans for Wells in Catskills

About a week after you read it on The Fly Line, the New York Times reports on Chesapeake Energy’s withdrawal of its plan to draw water from the West Branch of the Delaware River for hydro-fracture natural gas wells.

The Times said the company “will not drill for natural gas within the upstate New York watershed,” as though there was only one watershed in upstate New York. Context suggests the Old Grey Lady means the Delaware, Esopus and Schoharie watersheds, which supply the city with much of its drinking water.

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon told the paper, “We are not going to develop those leases, and we are not taking any more leases, and I don’t think anybody else in the industry would dare to acquire leases in the New York City watershed.”

Geography mistakes aside, McClendon’s comments appear to signal that the Esopus, Beaverkill, Willowemoc, Schoharie, Neversink and branches of the Delaware, along with their tributaries, will be safe from ruinous withdrawals and contamination by the natural gas industry. That is very good news.

Unfortunately, the rest of New York, not to mention Pennsylvania and West Virginia, isn’t lucky enough to be the source of water for New York City. McClendon made clear it will be drill, baby, drill everywhere else.

McClendon also told the Times that Chesapeake plans to reveal the make-up of the “fracking fluid” that will be used to break up shale a mile underground and free up the gas. Dick Cheney (yes, the same Dick Cheney that will be the guest of honor at the American Museum of Fly Fishing’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C. Nov. 12) got the natural gas industry exempted from disclosing the dangerous chemicals in fracking fluid back in 2005. But now, “The industry is moving quickly to complete disclosure,” McClendon told the Times.

As I’ve written elsewhere, knowing what’s in the fracking fluid is about the same as knowing the caliber of the gun pointing between your eyes.

Gas Driller Drops Plan to Tap West Branch Delaware

Citing public opposition and tight restrictions, Chesapeake Energy has dropped its controversial request to withdraw a million gallons of water per day from New York’s best trout stream, the West Branch of the Delaware River.

“In light of the limitations proposed for the project and the comments provided by various parties, we have decided to withdraw the application and reassess our approach to the situation,” the Charleston, W. Va. company wrote to Mark Klotz, chairman of the Delaware River Basin Commission, in a letter dated Oct. 20.

In September, when the company asked the DRBC to postpone a hearing on the project, it said it hadn’t had time to examine conditions the DRBC wanted to impose – “particularly with respect to the proposed pass-by flow.” The DRBC had planned to require the company to stop withdrawing water any time the West Branch got down to a flow of 250 cubic feet per second at the withdrawal site, about eight miles below Hale Eddy, N.Y.

The water was to have been used for hydro-fracturing, a method of drilling that permits access to what might be 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped thousands of feet underneath Pennsylvania, West Virginia and southern New York.

Hydro-fracturing has been viewed with alarm by fishing advocates, who fear fragile trout streams will be seen as cheap and convenient sources of water. Each gas welll uses as much as 9 million gallons, and some experts predict thousands of such wells could spring up on the Marcellus Shale formation over the coming years. Hundreds of thousands of acres of private land have already been leased by energy companies hoping to drill.

Hydro-fracturing is also controversial because the water it injects into and then withdraws from wells is densely polluted with highly toxic substances. Groundwater contamination and fish kills from spills in streams have been reported in several states.

Only 30 Percent of Streamflow Safe From Gas Drillers

Natural gas drillers with permits to draw water from trout streams would be entitled to continue taking water even in low-water conditions — stopping only when the stream gets down to 30 percent of its average daily or monthly flow, whichever is greater, under new rules proposed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Described as a “Natural Flow Regime Method,” the proposed regulation is part of an 800-page draft generic environmental impact statement released last week by the DEC in anticipation of thousands of applications for natural gas wells in the southern half of the state.

The hydro-fracturing method of natural gas drilling uses millions of gallons of water for each well. The prospect that trout streams will be seen as cheap and convenient sources has alarmed environmentalists and fishing advocates. One company has already asked permission to withdraw water from the West Branch of the Delaware River, one of the region’s premier trout streams.

The DEC says a separate permit will be required for each water withdrawal, and drillers will be required to submit a “stringent and protective streamflow analysis.”

The Natural Flow Regime Method requires a “passby flow” of 30 percent of the average daily flow or average monthly flow, whichever is greater. On a small stream with an average flow of 50 cubic feet per second, a driller would be entitled to continue withdrawing water until the stream has been reduced to just 15 cubic feet per second, by natural conditions like lack of rainfall and by the withdrawal itself.

Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said the 30 percent passby flow is based on well-established formulas that have worked in other states.

“We believe that that will ensure that aquatic communities in the stream are protected,” Wren told me in an interview this week.

The leading coldwater conser­vation group is not so sure.

“Trout Unlimited is still in the process of analyzing the water withdrawal component, as well as all of the other aspects of the draft SGEIS. However, at first glance, the proposed Natural Flow Regime Method appears to be an antiquated method by which to set water withdrawal levels — particularly when other states in the region are moving toward a watershed approach to deal with water withdrawals,” said Elizabeth Maclin, TU vice president for Eastern Conservation.

The Marcellus Shale formation, which could contain as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, lies beneath West Virginia, Pennsylvania

and the southern half of New York, from Chautauqua County to the Hud­son River and as far north as I-90.

Other parts of New York could see hydro-fracturing in the future.

“Sedimentary rock formations which may someday be developed by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing exist from the Vermont/Massachusetts border up to the St. Lawrence/Lake Champlain region, west along Lake Ontario to Lake Erie and across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions,” according to the DEC. “Drilling will not occur on state-owned lands in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves because of the state constitution’s requirement that Forest Preserve lands be kept forever wild and not be leased or sold. In addition, the subsurface geology of the Adirondacks, New York City and Long Island renders drilling for hydrocarbons in those areas unlikely.”