A 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