Last year, Governor David Paterson signed into law legislation that made the spacing of natural gas exploring wellheads to be set up in the Marcellus Shale Play region of New York, which is basically the Delaware watershed. The Marcellus Shale Play is a reservoir of natural gas that stretches from Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York.
New York is the major concern here, because if private companies can begin drilling in this region, there stands the chance that the state can benefit from an abundance of natural gas. To put this in perspective, New York uses about 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year. The Marcellus Shale region can allow for anywhere from 168 billion to over 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas. It burns cleaner than oil and it is right here at home.
Why is there such controversy over this opportunity for a better energy source? The process is more of a concern than the result. In order to extract this natural gas from embedded rock, a relatively new system of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) is used. It means a giant spider-like wellhead gets set up and drills about 2,000 feet into the ground (the Marcellus Shale region actually goes as deep as 7,000 feet, but most of that deep part is in Pennsylvania).
Water pressure hits the fractured rock which then forces the natural gas up. The water that the drilling company uses is mixed with heavy chemicals – and those chemicals are pretty much unregulated at this point. What that means is that if these chemicals get into our water supply, the cost would be big. The City Council, through Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilman James Gennaro, want people to sign a petition on the council’s website that asks “Governor Paterson to hold off on allowing any drilling in the Delaware-Catskills watershed.”
This is just another issue that puts Paterson in the most difficult of political places. Along with trying to close a budget gap with a State Senate that is less than organized, and being challenged in his own party, he sees the chance to explore affordable energy and he needs to now reconsider the environmental dangers.
The Marcellus Shale Play will eventually be drilled and the best case scenario is that some legislation, like the legislation facing Congress and the Senate that holds drilling companies responsible for any missteps and contamination, will be passed. At this moment, there is not much regulation. After all, the excitement about an energy source so close to home is a good thing, but the rush to drill might be costly if we do not take smaller steps that guarantee us that our water supply is safe.
In the end, natural gas, with wind, solar, biodiesel, and a smaller degree of fossil fuels will be our energy answer – a combined pastiche of new alternatives and old solutions. The air will be cleaner, and the Middle East will be a little less wealthy from it all. But because affordable energy that comes from us and not from overseas is so attractive, we could make the mistake of letting emotion win the day, when we need to be prudent.
Environmental die-hards would like to see no drilling for natural gas, and if industry and politicians move too quickly with unregulated exploration, the opportunity could be lost. This is the issue for next year’s gubernatorial race. When these people come to your political clubs and senior centers, ask them what they think about drilling for natural gas in upstate New York. We know where the governor stands. Now its time for the challengers to weigh in, thus making the coming race more about natural gas and less about hot air.