What is Marcellus Shale?
Marcellus Shale is a methane-rich rock formation that lies 6,000 to 9,000 feet below the Catskill Mountains, the Delaware River Valley, the Allegany Plateau, to beyond the shores of Lake Erie, spanning 28 New York Counties. Limited technology and market forces have severely limited its extraction until now.
Recent advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing combined with soaring energy prices have brought much industry focus to New York State with tens of thousands of acres of gas leases already purchased. Much of upstate New York could be transformed into an industrial grid work of gas fields and pipelines. Once the exploitation of Marcellus Shale is underway, the Utica Shale in northern NY won't be far behind.
Hydraulic Fracturing Presents Substantially Harmful Impacts to Upstate New York.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting water, sand, and chemical additives into shale at extremely high pressure, separating rock fissures and allowing the gas to flow out the drill bore while the sand holds the cracks open. Because Marcellus shale formations are so deep, millions of gallons of water are required and subsequently millions of gallonsof contaminated water are produced.
3-9 million gallons of water are required to fracture a well and a single well may be fractured up to 18 times. Each fracking episode entails 600-800 truck trips to deliver water to the well pad, as well as several hundred trips to haul away contaminated “produced water”. Much of this contamination comes from naturally occurring chlorides, heavy metals and radioactivity previously locked in the shale. But the “produced” water also includes fracking fluids - tens of thousands of gallons of industrial chemicals whose exact composition remains uncertain and held as a trade secret. Recent disclosures to NYS have revealed 260 separate chemicals in frack fluid including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, endocrine disrupters that are dangerous even in small quantities.
In spite of assurances of drilling’s safety from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), occurrences of groundwater contamination are mounting. Recent Marcellus shale drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania resulted in 9 contaminated private drinking water wells. In 2007, the drilling of a single gas well in North Brookfeild, NY blew out at least 11 drinking water wells. From 1983 to 2008, the Chautauqua County Dept of Health documented more that 120 cases of ground water contamination from natural gas wells. The DEC would not officially substantiate these claims because there was no pre-testing of water to establish correlation. To date, The DEC has never provided conclusive proof that hydraulic fracturing is safe, nor can they produce any evidence of ground water monitoring for natural gas well in NYS. Thousands of spills, explosions, fires, and illegal releases have been documented in NY, though fines and enforcement actions are rare.