In the OBSERVER for June 22, a former gas company owner set forth the environmental benefits of horizontal drilling. He based his argument on the fact that clusters of horizontally drilled wells are placed farther apart than vertical wells and accordingly need less space and fewer access roads while producing more gas.
What he said is entirely true. The problem is with what he didn't say. Setting aside all questions of pollution, released radiation, and other hazards, the normal construction and operation of high volume horizontally hydrofracked gas wells (HVHF) is very different from anything we have seen here before.
Whereas conventional wells use 50,000-80,000 gallons of water per well, HVHF wells use 2.5 million to 6 million gallons per well. They use 30-300 tons of chemicals per well, versus 4 tons per conventional well. They also use hundreds of tons of sand. It takes 1,699 round trips of heavy trucks per well to haul all these materials, or 10,194 round trips for a pad of six wells, the usual number. Each well takes about five months to prepare, versus two months for a conventional well. And the work proceeds 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Imagine the traffic, noise, dust, and interference with ordinary life that construction of each pad involves. And where does the water come from?
Advocates of HVHF point out that water returns from each well and is increasingly reused, reducing the demand for fresh water and the truck traffic hauling it. But only 10-30 percent of the water injected during the preparation of a well returns to the surface, so the benefits of reuse are limited. People who have moved here to escape HVHF in Pennsylvania report that they could hear the operations from more than a mile away, and that the traffic through their towns was unbearable, even with water being reused.
After the well has been fracked, a noisy operation continues around the clock, with floodlights by night. If the released methane gas is burned, there are flares. You may not like any of this, and may refuse to have such operations on your land. But you might have no choice, since if your neighbors allow 60 percent of the land in your area to be drilled, the operation can proceed on your land too, whether you like it or not. Of course, in that case you would get a financial return. It would be hard to sell your house, but you could afford to move away.
Ironically, the same issue of the OBSERVER that carried the column on the environmental benefits of HVHF also carried a piece about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initiative to develop tourism in our area. Can you imagine what HVHF would do to tourism, nevermind home values? Why would anyone battle trucks to get around to the wineries or steelhead streams? Why would anyone come to the Chautauqua Institution if they could see and hear gas operations on the hills around the lake?
The writer of the column concludes, "In addition to consuming energy, New Yorkers should be taking responsibility for producing it." That's like saying that because we eat meat, we should cut down our forests and raise cattle. There's plenty of gas - that's why its price has gone down. That's why port facilities are being built to send American gas to other countries. On the contrary, if we keep our gas in the ground for the time being, it will be available if the country ever really starts running out of sources of energy and we must sacrifice our farming, wineries and tourism to provide it.
Minda Rae Amiran is a Fredonia resident and is a member of the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County.