Libous, Martens Shoot Down Proposal for Fracking Test

shoot downA group of Chenango County, NY officials have come up with a great idea: Use the abandoned Camp Pharsalia prison facility in a very rural part of the county (sits on 52 acres, owned by the state) to drill several test Marcellus and Utica Shale wells, and use it as a living laboratory with everyone involved—the state, the drilling industry, environmental groups and academe. In other words, let’s just test this out to see if there are any problems. The experiment would be a public-private partnership between the state and the drilling industry. Brilliant!

This forward-thinking group submitted their proposal to the state Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel in January:

Drilling the test wells would "demonstrate the best practices" available for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, according to the proposal.

"The development of these wells would give the public and professionals a place to observe a well’s development," the two-page document states, "and obtain a better understanding of the DEC’s role in the oversight process."

The proposal was submitted in January to the DEC’s 18-member hydrofracking advisory panel, which is tasked with devising a fee structure to generate revenue once permits are issued for high-volume hydrofracking.

The source of the proposal is the Chenango County Ad Hoc Natural Gas Committee, an informal group of town supervisors and other officials in the county.

The remote prison grounds would provide a low-risk environment for state officials to study hydrofracking, Town of Smyrna Supervisor James Bays said.

"If the regulators and the industry are linked — with academia right there too, to add further credibility to what we’re doing — to me the pressure’s off and that’s one possible way to move forward," said Bays, who sits on both the DEC’s hydrofracking advisory panel and the natural gas committee in Chenango County.*

There’s just one problem: The state’s second highest ranking Republican Senator who also sits on the fracking advisory panel, along with a spokesperson for the DEC, have shot it down without even considering it:

State Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, who also serves on DEC’s hydrofracking panel, said the agency hasn’t reached a point where the Camp Pharsalia plan can be discussed seriously.

"I think it’s a good idea, but right now we’re not at a stage to fully consider this proposal," Libous said. "We need to wait for DEC’s final recommendations, regulations and permitting guidelines before moving forward with this type of project."

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the agency will not be considering any proposals for permits to use high-volume, hydraulic fracturing in advance of the completion of its review process.

"No permits for that activity can be issued until the SGEIS process is complete," DeSantis said.*

Finally, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens himself seemed to slam the door shut on such a plan at yesterday’s legislative budget hearing. He admitted he was not aware of the idea before yesterday, even though it was sent to his own advisory panel last month:

When Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, asked about "persistent rumors" in Albany that the state may be working on some sort of hydrofracking pilot program in the Southern Tier before the DEC’s permitting guidelines are in place, Martens said that’s not the case.

"I’m not aware of the rumor, and I can not conceive of any mechanism that would allow us to go forward with a pilot outside of our (permitting guideline) process," Martens said. "You can lay your ears to rest."(2)

(1) Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Feb 7, 2012) – Group proposes gas drilling test site at Camp Pharsalia

(2) Ithaca Journal (Feb 7, 2012) – DEC: Some hydrofracking permits ‘conceivable’ in 2012

  • Anonymous

    Proposed test wells in Chenango County are an opening that should be strongly encouraged by Landowners. A direct appeal to the Governor , bypassing Marten, might work.The Governor might see this as a politically safe  opportunity to start drilling by saying he is testing the safety and environmental protocols  of the proposed  new regulations. Antis will strongly oppose such a test and therefore it would require a united effort by all the landowner coalitions for such an appeal to work.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant? Not!

    Why not?
    *  Who is going to pay for these wells?  They cost millions of dollars each to bring into production.  DEC will not have the money.  Once permitting begins, costs of regulation and remediation will rise, and there is no compensating source of income. 
    *  The location is a poor choice.  It is most likely out side of the Utica fairway and probably on the edge of the Marcellus fairway.  Operators will begin drilling where they think that there is the best chance to make a profit.
    *  Camp Pharsalia is 52 acres, only enough for one vertical well.  For a pad of six or eight well would need 640 acres — no easy task to lease that much land around the camp.

    It would make more sense to limit the number of initial permits and closely observe each.  Already there are over 50 applications in several counties.  One or two wells in each county would give a range of geologies.

    Understandably officials in Chenango County are looking for a way to get money spent locally, but this would be bad state policy.

  • Jim Willis

    Absolutely brilliant, and you misunderstand the concept and the local conditions. It’s squarely in the Utica play. I don’t know for sure, but it’s almost certain Norse Energy has all sorts of leases around that land since they have so much of it in the area. And the concept is that a driller would put up the money to do it, the county/state would share in the royalties with the driller, should it get that far. What’s not to like???

  • David R Marsh

    The oil and gas companies should just go to the Indians and drill on their land and tel the state of NY thanks for nothing.

  • Anonymous

    I read Norse energy applied for two permits in Nov. or Dec, 2011  for sites in McDonough and Smithville [Flats?].

  • Anonymous

    The Utica in Chenango County is probably overmature. Therefore probably not going to see any gas in that area. It certainly is in the Marcellus and would most likely yield gas. The process is the same just deeper for the Utica, cant see why this would not work. Unless, of course, you are opposed to the possibility of a potentialy successful experiment.

  • Anonymous

    I support a successful testing of fracturing techniques anywhere in New York. Obviously, Norse is spending their dwindling resources where they think they would be successful if given the chance to drill. If the article was accurate , those are the sites they placed their bets. I am also hoping that Gasfrac , with their LPG fracking, will soon have enough fracking sets to send one to New York State where they would qualify to work under the old GEIS rules. But I’m for anything that would get the ball rolling.

  • Jim Willis

    Nice thought, and I’m sure offered tongue-in-cheek. The state of course would not allow that without their say-so, and more importantly, it needs to move forward for the thousands of hard-working, honest folks who want to lease their land. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jim Willis

    I believe you are correct. I recall they did apply early for some Utica permits hoping that the new regs would be released long before now. As you know, Norse has been trying to hold on long enough for drilling to begin in NY by selling off bits and pieces of the company.

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