FREDONIA - The process of hydraulic fracturing to remove natural gas in New York state has been a widely discussed, and sometimes controversial topic.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released a document on proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing in the state.
Kim Sherwood, a hydrologist and watershed planner, discussed the document Monday at the State University at Fredonia. Sherwood gave a broad overview of the proposed regulations. The document by the DEC is more than 1,000 pages and can be found online at www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html.
Sherwood described the difference between vertical drilling, the traditional method, and horizontal drilling.
"(Vertical drilling) goes down ... until it hits the target layer. The wellbore is encased in metal and has cement around the outside. Once the target formation is reached, water, sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure down that wellbore to crack that casing," Sherwood said. "Once the pressure is backed off, that fluid comes back out of the wellbore where it is collected. The gas flows through those cracks to the wellbore and up to the surface."
The new proposed way to drill will be horizontal drilling which starts identical to the vertical drilling. A wellbore is placed down into the ground vertically.
"The horizontal (drilling) begins the same way as the vertical (well) bore but then it turns so eventually it goes horizontally," Sherwood said.
According to Sherwood, there are many myths regarding the horizontal and vertical drilling debate. The first myth is that the main part of the debate is a balancing act between water and jobs, but this is not true.
"It is often portrayed as a simple balancing act between water and jobs, energy, security and the environment," Sherwood said. "... This really oversimplifies the situation by orders of magnitude."
A second myth is the document is only addressing the Marcellus shale. The document will supplement the current regulations but not replace them. The proposed regulations are also not limited to marcellus shale but any low permeability gas reservoir. There are many differences between vertical and horizontal drilling. One of the main differences is the well spacing. With traditional drilling, there is one gas well on one well pad sitting on 40 acres.
"The DEC is encouraging multiple wells on a single pad - six to nine wells on one pad," Sherwood said.
By horizontally drilling there is less ground disturbance, fewer access roads and fewer well pads. A negative effect for is horizontal drilling requires more water, about 50 times the amount vertical drilling requires. The water can come from various sources including surface water, ground water or sustainable waste water or previously used fracking water. Withdrawing water however will cause strain on local roads.
"A loaded water tanker is about the equivalent axle weight load of almost 10,000 passenger vehicles," Sherwood said. "The point here is this is a very trucking intensive industry. You are going to have traffic where you never had traffic before."
The DEC estimated the amount of heavy loads for one way trips would be 1,148 loads per well in the early well development and 831 light loads per well. In later well development where some water is piped in, the trips would be reduced to 625 heavy loads and 795 light loads.
The proposed regulations from the DEC require applicants to rigorously test initial water withdrawals as well as setbacks for limitations on where wells can be drilled in regards to drinking water sources, among others.
Sherwood said the best way to become informed is to "dig for information." Some websites he recommended were the DEC's drilling information page at www.dec.ny.gov/energy/46288.html, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Natural Gas Resource Development Center at cce.cornell.edu/Community/Pages/NaturalGas.aspx and the Penn State Extension page at extension.psu.edu/naturalgas.