Sullivan County NY Probably Won’t See Marcellus Gas Drilling

Sullivan County, NY, which has seen a lot of opposition to Marcellus gas drilling, may not have anything to worry about after all. According to those in the industry, the geology for most of Sullivan County just isn’t worth drilling, even if it were to be allowed:

For perhaps the first time, a natural gas industry official says the gas beneath Sullivan County may not be worth drilling, confirming what at least one top geologist and other industry insiders have said.

"The geology in Sullivan County begins to get shallower and thinner. Our perspective is that Sullivan County isn’t a target zone for drilling," said Paul Hartman, director of state government relations for Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas and one of the leading drillers of the Marcellus shale, which sits beneath Sullivan.

Hartman said that Tuesday morning outside SUNY Sullivan, just before the hearings on the proposed regulations for the gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

As soon as he said it, a spokesman for Chesapeake added this qualifier: "But the only way to find out is to drill."

Still, Hartman’s comments — which he made standing next to a cement and steel well bore meant to show that drilling is safe — echo statements by the geologist who first calculated the enormous amount of natural gas in the Marcellus shale.

Terry Engelder, Penn State professor of geosciences in the university’s Appalachian Black Shales Group, said this in April — and affirmed it a few weeks ago:

"(Drilling) is not going to happen. Sullivan is completely off the table." He also cited the poor quality and quantity of gas in the county.

But it wasn’t just Engelder who cast doubt on the possibility of drilling in the county. Two pro drillers mostly agree.

Tom Shepstone, a spokesman for the gas industry who’s been a planner in several Sullivan towns, does believe the county may have some drillable gas, but only in "the towns of Fremont, Delaware and the environs," he said a few months ago.

But Mike Uretsky, a member of a task force established by the National Petroleum Council at the request of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, echoed Engelder and Hartman. He said the geology of the county is "uncertain," just as it is across the Delaware River in Wayne County, Pa.

"Nothing is going to happen in Sullivan and Wayne," said the retired NYU professor from Damascus, Pa., who, like Shepstone, leased his land for drilling.*

*Middletown Times Herald-Record (Dec 4, 2011) – Gas official’s statement aids fracking foes