Chesapeake Energy won't drill for gas in NYC watershed
By Brian Sweeney
Chesapeake Energy, one of the country’s largest gas producing companies, announced last week that it would not drill for natural gas in the New York watershed. The company said it wouldn’t develop the leases it has signed with watershed residents and will not pursue additional leases in the watershed.
“We have made the business decision not to drill in the watershed,” said Chesapeake spokeswoman Maribeth Anderson.
The announcement by Chesapeake Energy was in response to growing criticism about potential environmental impacts from drilling in the watershed.
The Catskill Region is among a series of northeastern states that sit atop the Marcellus Shale, which is reported to hold a huge supply of natural gas. Recent improvements in the drilling practice known as “hydrofracing” have made it possible to extract this enormous natural gas resource.
Hydrofracing involves the high-powered spraying of a combination of water, sand and numerous other chemicals to break the rock and allow the gas to be released. The process is controversial because of its potential environmental impacts.
In addition to the noise resulting from the drilling process and the disturbance of the area around the well sites, the biggest concern is potential well water contamination from the chemicals that are not retrieved.
The gas drilling industry was exempted from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act that was passed as part of energy legislation in 2005.
A drilling moratorium is in place in New York State while the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) updates its rules for gas drilling. The DEC last month released an 800-page report regarding its proposed gas drilling regulations (see below) The public has 60 days to comment on the document, but organizations such as Catskill Mountainkeeper are seeking an extension to at least 120 days.
Advocates of gas drilling in the region look upon this as an opportunity for regional residents to strike a significant windfall from leases and associated business activity.
Opponents, however, are concerned that any benefits will be offset by significant environmental damage. Of particular importance locally is potential damage to New York City’s water supply via pollution of the upstate reservoir system.
Many local residents also have cited possible irreversible damage to their own drinking water sources as a result of the hydrofracing chemicals.
Gas companies have said that the combination of chemicals used in the drilling process is proprietary and most of the chemical names have not been named. The new DEC regulations require that the chemicals be identified.