Friday, June 29, 2012
Shale Gas Review A blog by Tom Wilber, journalist and author covering Marcellus and Utica shale gas development Thursday, June 28, 2012What’s next in Cuomo’s fracking plan for New York...? Clues found both in remarks, permitting data If Governor Andrew Cuomo can be taken for his word, the wheels of shale gas development will soon begin turning in New York state, without legislative involvement. Last week, Cuomo said the long-awaited policy document necessary for permitting high volume hydraulic fracturing wells would be issued “shortly” and, he added, while the legislature is not session as to avoid “a political discussion.” Cuomo has been promising to push forward with the contentious issue of shale gas development and fracking in particular since he took office in 2010, so it’s hard to know what “shortly” means. But stakeholders on both sides are taking his latest remarks seriously. Grass roots anti-fracting groups have turned up the heat with their demonstrations, phone calls, and letter campaigns targeting elected officials. Drilling proponents have fallen into camps both critical and supportive of Cuomo’s recently reported approach to limit the debut of fracking in New York to certain areas, based on the lead of local governments. But drilling supporters are also eager to see some sort of policy that would allow permitting to begin. That is expected to happen through the final SGIES (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement), which includes the state DEC”s environmental review of shale gas impacts that has been in the works for four years -- the document Cuomo says will be released “shortly”. Last week, during an interview with the Albany’s WGDJ-AM, Cuomo indicated he was sticking with the idea of letting localities, rather than state government, determine how fracking operations will play out in New York. To do this, the state would count on a process of natural selection, more or less, to approve permit applications, talking into account where local governments want shale gas development for economic reasons, and where they (or the state) wants it banned for public health and safety concerns. “Many times a town or a city will say, ‘That’s nice, I’m glad you think that Albany, but stick to Albany, we know better. Government closest to home knows the best.’ “ Cuomo said. Reading a politician is a tricky, but I don’t think I’m not going too far out on a limb by characterizing Cuomo’s approach as an attempt to reach a compromise in the highly polarizing issue of fracking. Having been in the news business for some time, I’m also keeping in mind the political strategy of releasing controversial material during a time when the mainstream media, activists, and politicians are distracted. Often this means late on a Friday, during the height of summer vacation, and/or when legislative session is out. In short, upcoming summer months square with that scenario. In search of more clues as to where and when shale gas permits will be issued in the Empire State, though, I followed the lead of industry watcher and blogger Andy Leahy, and turned to the New York State DEC’s data base that tracks permitting activity. My take is similar to Leahy’s, and it’s really not a big surprise. The companies are setting their stakes down in the south central part of the state, over the richest part of New York’s Marcellus Shale and near major pipeline infrastructure. Chenango County is one strategic spot. Here Norse Energy, the Norway firm, has been developing the Herkimer Sandstone formation for a decade, and it intends to use its landhold and hardware to begin exploring the Utica and Marcellus shales as it works it’s way south toward the Millennium Pipeline in Broome County. I count 20 Norse permit applications in Chenango County for either the Marcellus or Utica, most of them from this year. If Cuomo releases his permitting document, Norse may also be among the first out of the gate in Broome County, where it this year applied for five shale gas permits in the town of Sanford. Chesapeake, of Oklahoma City, is also vested in Broome County, with a dozen applications in the Town of Fenton from 2009. In Tioga County, Talisman, a Canadian company, has 11 active shale gas permits applications in the Town of Candor from 2008 and 2009. Carrizo, a Houston company, filed one this year in the Town of Owego. But while these and other companies are positioning themselves to be among the first to sink shale gas wells in the Empire State, the regulatory and business atmosphere remains unsettled. Permits will likely have to be updated after the SGIES is finalized. Environmental groups, such as EarthJustice, have threatened to stop the industry from advancing with challenges to the legal integrity of a state policy that allows fracking to be tried in some areas while banned in others on environmental grounds. Moreover, the price of natural gas remains low, and some shale gas ventures in New York are languishing. They include a proposal by eCorp to get around the SGIES by using propane rather than fracking fluid to stimulate wells in Tioga County. The proposal, announced in late May, would give landowners a working interest in well operations rather than up-front lease payments. So far, this pay-me-later versus pay-me-now proposition has not generated much enthusiasm from landowners, and there is no deal on the immediate horizon. Meanwhile, Chesapeake has sold mineral rights to 160,000 acres in the Finger Lakes region to Minard Run, a family-owned company in Bradford, Pa. Minard plans to drill exploratory wells into conventional formations over the next 18 to 24 months, with a “high probability” of also exploring the Utica Shale using unconventional horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing in Cayuga and Seneca counties. This is in a region with strong drilling opposition, and could be, under Cuomo’s strategy, excluded from the state’s initial round of permit approvals. Drilling proponents have questioned the soundness of Cuomo’s approach that allows some state residents to develop their mineral rights, but not others. Meanwhile, the legislative picture remains turbulent during an election year. Many fracking bills were in the pipeline as the legislative session ended last week, but none made it to the floor, indicating a reluctance by lawmakers to attempt to legislate a process that is still in the works administratively. The legislature can convene at any time, and would be likely to do so if the final SGIES – along with issues about where fracking is or isn’t allowed -- raised enough political concern. While any attempts to seriously curb or ban shale gas drilling is not likely to pass the current Senate, controlled by pro-drilling Republican leadership, it will be interesting to see whether the state’s policy, should Cuomo finalize it prior to elections, will stand up to the political test that will come on Nov. 6.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Editorial: Houston Chronicle Thursday, June 21, 2012 News that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering a plan to permit hydraulic fracturing in some parts of the Empire State, as reported on the Chronicle's Fuel Fix blog, is a healthy sign that this new technology is gaining wider acceptance ("Idea of limited NY fracking divides energy camps," chron.com, June 14). For many Texans, oil companies are up there with mom, apple pie and a hypothetical Texans vs. Cowboys Super Bowl. But for many folks around the country, most of what they know about the oil business comes from media coverage of the bad news - incidents like the Exxon Valdez disaster, or BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill year before last. Such colossal disasters understandably foster skepticism about the business. In the case of fracking, that generates worries about environmental impact and water contamination. We share those concerns, but we also know the industry's capable of addressing them. And the benefits from natural gas cannot be denied: a cheap, clean burning fuel that can help America on the path to greater energy independence while creating solid jobs. The New York plan, which sets out a middle path, would allow fracking only in the deepest parts of the Marcellus Shale formation, at least 1,000 feet below the water table, and only in areas that agree to it. This proposal has appropriately been called a demonstration project, showing people that fracking done right is not the ecological bogeyman it has been made out to be. And requiring local approval rebuts fears of invading oil companies ruining communities. On the other side, it emphasizes to energy companies that the shale rock formations that crisscross our country are bountiful enough that we do not need to frack in risky or controversial locations. This policy of slow, limited fracking could also help ease concerns of environmentalists who recognize the benefits of natural gas but worry about the extraction process and whether emergency responders are prepared to handle potential accidents. Not every state is comfortable with a Texas-style wildcatter mindset. Gov. Cuomo's plan offers a model for other states to set them on the path to good jobs while driving national energy production. Natural gas is the future, and they should want to be a part of it. Go for it, New York.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012 SCLOC Political Action Committee Minutes. The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. by Chairman Jeff Heller at the Corning Natural Gas Blue Room, Corning, NY. Present: Jeff and Kathy Heller, Ken and LaVera Knowles, Dana Knowles, David and Karen Ballard, Leo and Linda Knowles, Neil Vitale, Ellen Zver, Ed Heagle, Bill Lock, Peter Olausson, John Starzec, and Tim Olszowy. Also, representing Schuyler County were Ken Blanchard and Barlow Rhodes. Neil collected money from those attending the JLC clambake happening this Friday, June 15th. Karen collected money from those participating in the “pool” on the expected date of Cuomo’s Let’s Get NY Drilling announcement. Update on Town Resolutions: Kenny, Jeff and Neil reviewed the names of towns that have signed the resolution in support of drilling, those expecting to sign and those unknown or negative. Kenny presented a color map of Steuben County showing each town: green – pro. Kenny said it is involving too much time to present to a town board in their normal allotted time of 3 – 15 minutes. Jeff wrote a brief narrative discussing why a board should sign the resolution. He will e-mail us a copy. Anyone can use this at board meetings. Jeff said 90% of the moratoriums are signed outside the Marcellus Shale region. Kenny talked of a new contact and help for us, James (Jamie) Johnson, Executive Director of the Steuben County IDA (Industrial Development Agency). Discussion on upcoming town meetings and who will attend: Cameron on 6/13 - Jeff and Gordon; Troupsburg on 6/13 - Lisa; Lindley on 6/13 - Ballards, John Bloise, Ed Heagle; Urbana 6/19 - Jeff; Tuscarora 6/19 - Neil and Kenny; Howard 6/21 - Neil. Kenny gave a general update. There is some change in structure forthcoming. Kenny is in contact with some companies. An Executive/BTO meeting is scheduled for further planning and discussion. The tide is turning. Jeff is working on a letter to the general SCLOC membership on what we are doing. Kenny said we need to think about and plan some summer meetings for the public. The movie “Truthland” would be excellent to show. Jamie Johnson, IDA, would also like to speak to the public at these meetings. Peter said if we show this movie, we need to do so ASAP, as it will soon be released, uploaded to UTube and quickly old news. Peter suggested we have an exclusive pre-screening of the movie to town board members. He said we could check with local theatres to see if we could do an exclusive showing. Neil gave an update on Joint Landowners Coalition. Neil had a television set up and gave us a showing of “Truthland”. Jeff said the resolutions are our center of attention now. The more towns that sign the more pressure will be on. The Steuben County map looks good as only the Town of Wayne has passed a moratorium. Jeff said Town of Fremont was most interesting when a local landowner stood up and asked for a show of hands on what residents would consider suing the board if they passed a moratorium and most raised their hand. Needless to say Fremont did not pass a moratorium. Fremont board members had also attended a gas well tour before their meeting as did the Town of Bath Supervisor. Jeff asked if anyone was interested in gas well tours. Jamie Johnson set up a Shell tour for some town board members. Jeff will make some connections on the gas well tour and another compressor tour. Next meeting will be Monday, July 9, 7:00 p.m. at the Corning Natural Gas Blue Flame Room. Meeting adjourned at 8:45 p.m. with a motion from David and second from Ellen. Respectfully Submitted, Linda J. Knowles Secretary
Thursday, June 14, 2012
By DANNY HAKIM Published: June 13, 2012 New York Times ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology. The plan, described by a senior official at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and others with knowledge of the administration’s strategy, would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination. Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations in the administration are still continuing. The strategy has not been made final and details could change, but it has been taking shape over several months. It would be contingent on hydraulic fracturing’s receiving final approval from state regulators, a step that is not a foregone conclusion but is widely expected later this summer. Department of Environmental Conservation regulators last year signaled their initial support for the drilling process around the state, with exceptions for environmentally sensitive areas like New York City’s upstate watershed. Since that announcement, the Cuomo administration has been deluged with tens of thousands of e-mails and letters mostly objecting to the process, which is better known as hydrofracking or fracking, and protesters have become a regular presence at the Capitol. Mr. Cuomo’s administration is now trying to acknowledge the economic needs of the rural upstate area, while also honoring the opposition expressed in some communities, and limiting the ire of environmentalists, who worry that hydrofracking could contaminate groundwater and lead to other hazards. The administration had initially expected to allow 75 hydrofracking permits in the first year, but now expects to reduce that to 50. In fracking, large amounts of sand, water and chemicals are injected deep underground at high pressures to extract natural gas from rock formations. President Obama expressed support for natural gas drilling in his State of the Union address this year, saying, “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” But concerns have persisted about the chemicals used in the process. Last year, for instance, federal regulators linked fracking to a contaminated water supply in part of central Wyoming. In New York, while more than 100 communities have passed moratoriums or bans on fracking, a few dozen in the Southern Tier and in western New York have passed resolutions in favor of the drilling process. “A lot of people look at this as a way to save our property,” said Dewey Decker, a farmer and the town supervisor of Sanford, in Broome County, just north of the Pennsylvania border. Residents of the town have already leased thousands of acres to a drilling company. Mr. Decker said the area’s traditional dairy business had been in sharp decline, and the promise of fracking had already helped some residents. He said there were “a lot of people who, when we signed and got the upfront money, were going to be losing their land and couldn’t pay their taxes.” The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation that stretches from the Appalachian Mountains into the central and western parts of New York. State regulators believe that by limiting drilling to areas where the Marcellus Shale is at least 2,000 feet deep, risks of contaminating the water supply with toxic chemicals will be reduced. Regulators would require drillers to maintain a 1,000-foot buffer between water sources and the top of the shale formation. Environmental groups have been divided over whether fracking should be allowed at all. Some mainstream organization have not completely closed the door on the idea of fracking. “We recognize that gas is going to be part of our energy mix and it’s preferable to other types of fuels that are out there,” said Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “So it’s not really an option to say ‘no way’ to natural gas. But we’re not in a rush to see this resource extracted in New York.” Mr. Moore expressed a number of concerns, like oversight of chemical use and disposal, and the added cost that hydrofracking oversight would create for state and local governments. “If this is going to happen,” he said, “we want to make sure it happens to the highest standards and doesn’t have the pace and scale of drilling in states like Pennsylvania, where it’s been fast and furious, and you’ve ended up with a lot of problems as a result.” By contrast, smaller, more local groups have been adamant that fracking is inherently unsafe and should not be allowed anywhere in the state. “Within five years, you’ll start to see these chemicals show up in the water system,” said Ramsay Adams, executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, one of the more vocal opponents of fracking. Mr. Adams added that he feared pristine regions of New York would be turned over to drilling companies, which would cut down trees, use large trucks and “bring every bad thing you could unleash on people.” The critics have been countered by the industry’s considerable lobbying muscle. Ten companies or trade groups that lobbied on fracking and other issues of concern to the natural gas industry spent $4.5 million lobbying in Albany over the last three years, according to an analysis prepared by the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Everybody wants groundwater protected and people protected,” said James Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. “The industry is very serious about doing this safely here in New York. We know there is a great deal of scrutiny here, and our position is for safe development.” But, Mr. Smith said, “overregulation is going to be a concern.” “If the regulations are too severe, it will limit New York’s competitiveness with other states,” he added. “Developers won’t come here. Landowners won’t have the opportunity to mine their resources. Businesses, school districts, tax bases across the state will suffer, too, as a result
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter Published: Monday, June 11, 2012 NEW YORK -- Experts with an eye on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's presidential ambition say the first-term Democrat is facing a stern political test that could go a long way toward determining his viability as a national candidate. That homegrown fight is over hydraulic fracturing. Whether Cuomo will run for the White House in 2016 is a no-brainer to political veterans here. They say the popular, middle-of-the-road son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo is prepared to go where his father never did and make a decisive play for the Democratic nomination. But in the run-up to that decision, a vexing test has emerged in New York over what once seemed like a shoo-in environmental permitting process for a breakthrough technology. A groundswell of opposition on the environmental left to the process known as high-volume fracturing, or fracking, has built over the past several years and put Cuomo in a bit of a box. That is because Cuomo has tried from the start of his administration to position himself squarely on the center-left. He has worked with Republicans to craft sound budget after sound budget, winning accolades from both sides for setting his sights on making Albany work. Yet this time, on fracking, Cuomo finds himself caught between the economy on the center-right and the environment on the left. He will soon have to make a decision after years of delay on permits for natural gas producers. Whatever move he makes is bound to either alienate a core constituency opposed to fracking or distance the governor from a pro-development, upstate agenda meant to address rampant unemployment. That kind of test is precisely the kind of challenge that will come up on the campaign trail during the primary process in 2016. How Cuomo handles the matter in the months ahead could be crucial, experts say. To Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at State University of New York, New Paltz, Cuomo has so far worked hard to balance the state budget, minimize taxes and "bring New York into a fiscally responsible circumstance." That side of his politics has been matched by accommodating the left on social issues, specifically on enacting a same-sex marriage law. Now comes fracking, which Benjamin sees as "a highly visible test" of Cuomo's disciplined national image in the making. Whether the governor can tiptoe between the left and right this time and emerge stronger is a question, he said. "It matters because he made economic development a priority in New York," Benjamin said. "It has become not only substantively important but also symbolically important." Dodging a decision? Also emerging is a battle in the state's court system. As Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has slow-walked its way through the question of ending a moratorium against fracking since 2008, local opposition in dozens of municipalities has matched the outcry from activists, and various attempts to ban fracking at the local level have already ended up in court. That the issue has gone to the judicial system before Cuomo's administration settles it at the state level has put pressure on the governor to say yes or no after years of delay. Steve Cohen, the executive director of the Earth Institute and a sustainability professor at Columbia University, said that dynamic means Cuomo has to decide soon or possibly lose control of the issue. To many, Cuomo has lately looked unsure about fracking, telling reporters in February that a final decision was "a few months away." Now it is June, and Cohen says the pressure is picking up to settle the matter by the fall at the latest. "Anything past that, if he gets into the winter months without a decision, it will just look like he's dodging it," Cohen said. But Cohen also suspects that Cuomo has exactly the right formula in mind. He pointed out that nearby states looking to profit from gas deposits in the sprawling Marcellus Shale have proceeded with haste and left many with the impression that producers were dictating the agenda there. In Ohio and Pennsylvania specifically, Cohen said the rush to permit during the early days of the recent gas boom, before prices tanked and left developers waffling, created a kind of Wild West that Cuomo has avoided. "I think he's doing the right thing," Cohen said. "Carefully and thoughtfully is the correct thing to do." Cohen added that he personally has evolved on the question of fracking. At the outset of the regulatory process over permits, in 2008, Cohen was skeptical, but after researching the topic in detail he now believes Cuomo can position himself where no other politician has managed to position himself: as pro-development and pro-jobs with tough rules meant to protect water supplies and limit local footprints. Cohen also says activists have set up a false test for Cuomo as they look to ban fracking outright, because they are "debating doing this against doing nothing." He said the planet is in a transition stage from fossil fuels to something else, but while that "something else" is not yet determined, the reality is humans need energy. "The question is what is the least bad thing you can do," he said. "If you're going to have hydrofracking, do it in a way that's as careful as you can possibly be." Cohen added: "I don't see anyone turning their lights off." Separating from Father Mario Jeffrey Stonecash, a political scientist at Syracuse University, agreed that Cuomo appears to have managed the situation well so far. He noted that the upstate New York economy has been stagnant for decades, and rural areas have shed population and farmers, but to him, Cuomo is looking a lot more presidential than rival politicians or former heads of state. "It is tricky, and taking your time is probably a good idea," he said. "Not everyone is like George [W.] Bush and thinking from the gut." Still, Cohen returned to the notion that Cuomo could be interpreted as dodging the issue if he is not careful. He said an air of indecision is precisely what Cuomo has always tried his best to avoid, to distance himself from his father, who famously had an airplane waiting to take him to the New Hampshire primary in 1992 but ultimately never ran for president after years of public fretting. "It's not so much which way he decides, but if he doesn't decide, then they'll be comparing him to his father," Cohen said. "I think he needs to be careful about that. He has managed to avoid any impression of indecision so far." In the end, Benjamin said he is surprised the issue has emerged as "consequential nationally," but he believes it has because it tests a Democrat's capacity to be seen as a tough reform candidate who can balance his liberal base with economic pressures in his state. And energy issues, always difficult locally, have consistently ranked higher on the national scale, he said. "It's a real test of political skill," Benjamin said. "I don't see the way this matter resolves clearly. I think it's very much up in the air as to whether we do it or not do it." "A lot of it depends on what they actually come up with," added Cohen, who seems to think Cuomo will lift the moratorium combined with strict oversight. "I think fair-minded people will say whatever they come up with is better than what anybody else has done."
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Every Resident in Steuben County Needs to Read Jeff's Letter that was Published in The Leader May 30th
"Now is the time for all good men (and women of course) to come to the aid of their towns and villages." That may not be exactly how the original saying went, and it probably did not apply to the current situation, but for now it does apply to the natural gas drilling issue in Steuben County. To understand the relevance of the above statement you have to review the statement made by Mr. Martens. He said: "I think logically where there is less resistance and less opposition and there is not a local land-use plan in place, I think those will be easier to permit than in other places." As a result of Marten's statement, and in part to counter the moratoriums the antis are pushing - have you noticed 90% + are outside the Marcellus Shale area (and isn't Vermont cute!) - the land owners coalition has sent a resolution of support for gas drilling to all 32 towns and 13 villages in Steuben County. These resolutions simply state support for gas drilling and trust in the DEC to safely monitor the process. In a recent article in The Leader on this subject the reporter stated: "Any vote by the board on any matter dealing with drilling would require the four leaseholders to recuse themselves, or abstain, from voting,..." Two prominent Steuben County Attorneys, who have represented several towns in the County, have researched the NYS ethics laws and found nothing that would call for a recusal in this situation. This resolution would not put any money in anyone's pocket. Any land owners on the board who are under lease now would have already received their money from their leases. Any future money to be made from drilling would benefit the board members exactly as it would all land owners. In addition, the Ad Valorem tax revenue would benefit everyone in the town. A "conflict of interest" is where the Board Member has a unique and personal benefit not available to others in the community. With the tax revenue benefits for our towns, counties, and school districts under Title V's ad valorem tax in New York, and the benefits that represents to all the residents, and all the other economic advantages (undeniably illustrated in Pa. and Ohio), coupled with the undeniable needs of our state, we need what gas drilling will bring. We need to get over all the imaginary, emotional, "problems" the antis keep bringing up, accept the fact that they often are not telling the whole truth, look at the fact that at least sixteen other states are using horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and realize that none that are using it are stopping the process. We need to realize that if the "devastation" the antis see was even remotely true, those states would in fact stop the process. Remember the little old lady in Dansville screaming" They're killing hundreds of babies in Pennsylvania" - you really had to be there! So, if you are a resident who supports gas drilling, and all it will bring to our area, now is the time to contact your town or village board members and let them know how your feel. The anti's have had it their way for four years, it's time for the rest of us to raise our voices too! Jeff Heller SCLOC Bradford, N.Y.