September 17, 2008: Sensible drilling is the ultimate goal

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To The Editor:
In response to Stan Weingast’s letter in last week’s issue of the CMN, I have to say that learning about gas drilling by attending these “informational meetings” held by anti-drilling groups is sort of like going to an “informational meeting about air travel” and then being shown pictures of all the worst airplane crashes of the last decade. There is a certain amount of distortion going on.
The truth is somewhere between the images of devastation purveyed by the anti-drillers, and the sunny green meadows shown in gas company ads. Will it be noisy and dusty for a few weeks while they’re drilling a well near you? Yes. Will there be increased truck traffic, and road damage? Yes. Do we need to have a strong DEC inspection team to keep an eye on the gas companies? Yes. Do we need strong regulations about treatment and disposal of wastewater from wells? Yes.
So, will every gas well turn into a toxic Superfund site? No. There are currently some 13,000 oil and gas wells in New York State and not a single case of water contamination.
It should be noted that the cases most often used to sensationalize the dangers of gas drilling come from shallow coalbed methane (CBM) wells out West, where the rock being fractured is very close to the level of the overlying water table. Here in the Catskills the two are separated by thousands of feet of bedrock, and DEC regulations require that the wellbore must be completely cased with steel and cement to prevent any infiltration of fluids from the wellbore.
Images of wells and access roads dominating an arid Western landscape should be seen in context – those are CBM wells drilled on 10-acre spacing. The most likely spacing for deep shale gas wells in this area is one well per 100-160 acres, and probably some multilateral wells on 640-acre spacing. When it’s done, you have a single metal pipe about five feet tall sticking up in the middle of a three-acre clearing, which has been re-landscaped to its original contours, and reseeded with grass and trees.
Contrast that with landowners forced to sell out and subdivide because of the tax burden of owning a large parcel of land. Such subdivision is less visible, less dramatic, but relentless; and it will slowly turn our countryside into suburbia. A house every five acres, or a gas well every 100 acres – which scenario is more disruptive to the landscape? Money from gas drilling will allow many farms to be kept intact and working; and open land will remain open for generations.
The money to be gained from gas drilling may amount to $30,000 per acre in royalties over the life of a well, for landowners large and small. Even someone with a small lot and a house on it could reap tens of thousands of dollars if their land was included in a well unit, with the well actually being drilled on their neighbor’s land, as much as 4,000 feet away.
That sort of economic boost for this area is well worth the tiny amount of risk, just as we decide to take a risk every time we fly on a plane—because the benefit far outweighs the risk.
There is a long and very sensible article about the real risks of gas drilling. Anyone interested in this topic should read it. You can Google “A Broad Look at the Environmental Issues of Natural Gas Drilling by Kevin Lewis” or you can see it at this site: http://www.pagaslease.com/forum/index.php?topic=1527.0.
Any landowners in Delaware County who are interested in seeking the safest, most environmentally protective lease possible, contact the Central New York Landowners Coalition. (www.cnylandcoalition.org).

Garth Battista,
Halcottsville