The issue of drilling the Marcellus Shale rock formation for natural gas is the most heated environmental debate we have seen across New York State in decades. But what does it all really mean for YOU as a New Yorker?
What is Marcellus Shale?
Marcellus Shale is the largest shale plate in the US. It is sometimes called the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas." The formation stretches from West Virginia to New York’s southern tier; it's been estimated that it could meet the US demand for natural gas for anywhere from 3 to 25 years.
Why is this so critical right now?
Drilling in the Marcellus Shale has recently become a central issue as our country looks for alternatives to coal-fired power plants for energy. The source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change are increasing, and the recent global recession stimulated need for more affordable fuel. In New York, hydrofracking has not yet been permitted so there is still opportunity to shape the outcome. The Conservancy is working to provide scientific information to guide the development of sound policy and regulations to avoid, minimize and mitigate the impacts of hydrofracking to our forests and freshwater.
What is hydrofracking?
If drilling is done in New York's Marcellus Shale formation, it will be with a process called high volume horizontal fracturing, or hydrofracking, which drills down into beds of rock (known as shale) using large volumes of highly pressurized water to crack the shale, releasing natural gas trapped in the rock. This process uses between 1.5 - 9 million gallons of water per fracking treatment over a 4- to 6-week period. This water is treated with a wide array of chemicals. Thirty to 40 percent of this water returns to the surface, contaminated with salts, metals, oil and grease, fracking chemicals and radioactive materials.
What are the impacts of hydrofracking on the environment?
It’s actually what we don’t know about the impacts of hydrofracking that make it so important to examine this process so closely. But this is what we know:
- Hydrofracking can affect streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater – critical water supplies for New Yorkers.
- Marcellus Shale lies under the New York City watershed and the Delaware River Basin, which together provide drinking water for more than 16 million people. Water used in the hydrofracking process comes back contaminated, requiring high-level treatment. The lack of adequate treatment facilities in New York is a serious problem.
- Hydrofracking requires as much as nine million gallons of water per well; withdrawing this much from surface and groundwater sources may disrupt natural flows.
- New York's forests provide clean water and clean air, and support wildlife, recreation and economic activities. Marcellus Shale runs through some of the largest forested regions of our state. Clearing for well pads, roads and pipelines would break up the forest and degrade habitat, diminishing the valuable functions they provide today.
What is The Nature Conservancy role with regard to hydrofracking?
The Nature Conservancy is playing an important role in helping shape the policy issues regarding hydrofracking. We are providing science-based information to inform policy decisions and regulations in order to avoid and minimize the impacts on natural resources. Specifically, the Conservancy has advocated that the permitting of hydrofracking in New York State should not proceed until key issues are addressed, including: cumulative impact assessment for forest resources, more stringent protection of forest resources, establishment of water withdrawal regulations, adequate agency capacity available to manage regulatory requirements, and wastewater disposal issues.