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Tough New York Drilling Rules Could Rein in Frackers

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Although the natural gas drilling ban has been lifted in New York, tough rules are reining in frackers—those companies seeking to hydraulically fracture shale formations to release the gas within.

Fracking is a controversial process in which a cocktail of water, chemicals, and sand are injected at high pressures into shale rock to shatter the formations and allow access to the gas.

Now, instead of preparing to “exploit the richest deposit of natural gas” in this country, said Reuters, frackers are learning that about half of the land they leased in New York for gas drilling might not be accessible. The bans—so-called buffers—are 20 times greater than what can be seen in Pennsylvania, considered a more industry-friendly state, said Reuters.

Governor Cuomo seeks to lift the fracking ban by 2012, hoping to mirror Pennsylvania’s energy boom; however, he must strike a balance between downward shifting economy and the potential for environmental havoc, especially to New York’s famed fresh water supplies. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommends drilling bans within 500 feet of New York’s 18 key aquifers, 4,000 feet of Manhattan’s and Syracuse’s watersheds, and 2,000 feet of rivers or streams, Reuters explained.

Reuters said it learned that, due to the thousands of acres that will not be accessible to fracking, some firms are considering leaving New York. Royal Dutch Shell leased 90,00 acres in New York for drilling; however, 40% could be off-limits, said Reuters, citing a company source that said limits were seen after Shell modeled its leased New York acreage. “We are looking at a potentially significant impact,” the source said, according to Reuters. Inflection Energy, a small independent, leased 15,000 New York State acres—was considering upping its lease to 50,000—but is reconsidering after it learned that 60% of its acreage could be off limits, explained Reuters. “It is forcing us to change our business model,” said chief executive Mark Sexton. “If the regulations go ahead, we will allocate more resources to Pennsylvania than New York, he added, wrote Reuters.

Four years ago, Norse Energy moved its headquarters to Buffalo hoping for massive profits fracking the Marcellus; however, after a $100 million investment, Norse was just forced to lay off half its staff and watch its shares on the Oslo stock market plummet, said Reuters. Norse owns leases on 180,000 acres in New York and is considering leaving. “We are in survival mode. We bet a lot on New York opening up for development and are now talking to the creditors on a regular basis,” Norse executive vice president Dennis Holbrook said, wrote Reuters. Last year, Talisman Energy, one of the largest Marcellus shale drillers, moved its U.S. headquarters to Warrendale, Pennsylvania, from Buffalo.

The stringent restrictions concerning drilling in areas near aquifers and waterways have taken industry by surprise and New York’s ban on much of its portion of the enormous Marcellus Shale—a gas deposit that spans throughout New York, and into Pennsylvania and West Virginia—has dampened industry’s efforts. The Marcellus ban was enacted following environmentalists warnings over how fracking drilling fluids and methane could contaminate underground water sources and water supplies for millions of residents state-wide, said Reuters.

Industry claims that its leases were completed without foreknowledge that the DEC was putting bans in place; however, noted Reuters, some New York land has long been off limits and New York State is known for its fierce protection of its waterways.

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