NY Landowners Face New Threat: Floodplain Boundaries

floodplain boundariesAs many of you have heard via the national media, the Binghamton, NY (Broome County) area—where much of the drilling in New York State is likely to occur once drilling begins—was just hit with the worst flooding in its history, after the previous “worst ever” flooding occurred only five years ago, in 2006. This type of flooding is referred to as a “100-year flood” and it causes the government to re-draw floodplain maps to indicate where such areas are capable of extreme flooding.

Landowners who live in the Greater Binghamton area and who want to lease their land for shale gas drilling will want to closely watch where the boundaries are drawn because the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which regulates shale drilling, is looking to put land inside those floodplains off limits to drilling.

The double-punch of Irene and Hurricane Lee may cause the state to rethink where it allows fracking.

Much of the hurricane-related flooding occurred in the heart of the state’s share of the Marcellus Shale, around the Binghamton area.

Kevin Cahill, chair of the State Assembly’s Energy Committee, says the state should update maps to show which Shale areas are susceptible to extreme flooding. The state wants to prohibit fracking in those areas, known as 100-year floodplains, because of the potential to spread pollution and cause other damage.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Environmental Conservation told North Country Public Radio that a taskforce will examine the floodplains issue. She also said that the DEC wouldn’t delay its review of the environmental statement released last week.*

The 90-day public comment period for New York’s new drilling guidelines just began and runs through December 12. Shale gas drilling in New York is expected to begin in 2012.

*Rochester City Newspaper (Sep 13, 2011) – ENVIRONMENT: Mother Nature vs. fracking

  • Anonymous

    Lost in translation:  The draft plan currently up for public comment already endorses the reasonable idea of forbidding shale gas drill sites from within the currently mapped 100-year flood plains.  (See page 27 of the executive summary.)

    For most of this floodplain acreage, the underlying shale gas could still be developed by horizontal reach from drill sites intelligently sited on the sidelines.  So there would be limited hardship on the resource owners in the valleys.

    The fair question is whether the U.S. needs to redraw the 100-year floodplain lines, given that two such 100-year floods have swamped Greater Binghamton, NY, in the last five years. 

    I say, if they redraw the lines, so be it.

    The true, underlying, and under-appreciated issue here is that drilling opponents are not even being challenged in their effortless exploitation of The Flood of 2011 (coupled with popular ignorance), in order to invent yet another new avenue for shale gas doubt. 

    Helping out the flood victims doesn’t seem to matter.  Even the facts don’t seem to matter.  Whatever might freak people out — that’s what matters.

  • Anonymous

    This might be something all landowners might want to watch in more ways than just those related to drilling.  Working for an engineering company, I know once those boundaries are established, it can be time-consuming, as well as financially costly to overcome those boundaries once they are established should you want to develop your land for ANY purpose including residential construction.

    In PA, I understand it goes beyond the state’s DEP department to allow drilling in a flood zone; it actually requires a review by the Army Corps of Engineers.  In Wyoming, any proposed construction or project adjunct to a BLM boundary must be reviewed by the Army Corps.  Our company was working with a client wanting to do something on his land, I don’t remember what it was, but it was a relatively minor project.  Army Corps determined it a no-go, because an ancient one-time stream, in case of flood, might in some alternative universe allow fish to inhabit it again.

    While I’m not in disagreement about certain activities not being allowed in flood zones, I AM worried about the possible future ramifications on landowners if sufficient investigation is not given about where those boundaries are laid.

  • Great thoughts and insights. Thanks!