Blog by Sue Smith-Heavenrich reporting from Owego, New York.
I am a freelance journalist, writing about Marcellus gas issues, the environment and science. I live in upstate NY, surrounded by forest and fields. There is gas beneath my feet. member: Society of Environmental Journalists; Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.
"Our quality of life has an unquenchable thirst for energy. Offshore drilling and production helps to satisfy this thirst." --Richard Haut
Extracting energy requires trade-offs. “We want clean air, but we also like the convenience of electricity,” said Richard Haut during a lunch-hour seminar last Tuesday. Haut, founder and senior research scientist at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), visited Cornell to promote what he calls “environ- mentally friendly drilling systems.”
But his talk left many people hungry for answers...
Haut embraces the idea that drilling is coming and the only question is how to minimize the damage. Take hydraulic fracturing: about 50 percent of all wells drilled into shale, tight gas and coal-bed methane formations use fracking. Within 25 years, he said, 75 percent of all gas wells will be fracked.
“But the typical frack site is an accident waiting to happen,” Haut said, pointing out potential spills, pit leaks and heavy truck traffic. Another issue is dealing with flow- back and produced waste fluids. Haut showed examples of mobile treatment units but never described the technology under development...
The problem with Haut’s environmentally friendly drilling approach, says Cornell engineering professor Tony Ingraffea, is that it reflects the worldview that shale gas development is inevitable, so we just have to “do it right.” This precludes true scientific investigation of many issues that this development presents, he said, noting that instead it focused on technology, such as how to build a well less likely to leak. “Such a view is also an admission that the thousands of shale gas wells already made, and those underway now, are not ‘being done right’,” Ingraffea said.
Physicist Bill Podulka agrees.
“The wide array of acknowledged problems and lack of currently available solutions underscores what many gas drilling critics have been saying: this technology is not ready.” What was missing, Podulka says, is discussion about excluding drilling from areas too socially or environmentally fragile. Instead, he said, the context boiled down to “how do we allow business as usual while bringing environmental damage down to a level we can tolerate?”
See: Gasland - The Debate
[At the Cornell 2011 Energy Conference]...Ithaca attorney Helen Slottje, from the Community Environmental Defense Council, addressed the nature of property rights.
“People often say, ‘It’s my property and I can do anything I want to,’” she said, adding that there is an overarching understanding of public welfare. In addition, property ownership does not grant a person the right to use his property in a manner that interferes with another’s use of his land.
“Each landowner has the right to quiet enjoyment of his property,” Slottje said. And the rights property owners have over activities conducted on their land change with time.
“A very fundamental property right is the right to exclude,” Slottje said. But New York law allows compulsory integration: the pooling of unleased landowners into drilling units when 60 percent of the land in a unit is leased.
When drilling into conventional reservoirs, where gas and oil flow from unleased land to the well, compulsory integration makes sense. But in shale, drillers must break the rock to release gas and that, said Slottje, involves a trespass.
This diagram, from Petrocasa, explains the widely held gas industry view, "Horizontal drilling also has less impact on the environment. With horizontal drilling, it's possible to extract gas from property adjacent to the well. That means that natural gas can be removed from under property without being on the surface of the land." (Neil Zusman 2011-04-20). For property owners who don't lease, how is this a good thing?
“When you are integrated, you are left with no right to exclude,” Slottje said. “You are left with toxic compounds beneath your land and you are not even compensated at market value.” [At this time integrated landowners are not paid for use of the land and receive the lowest possible royalty, 12.5 percent.]
Slottje warned municipal officials to avoid getting trapped into thinking they have to provide road use agreements. In a 1969 case, the courts found that a corporation’s claim to the right to profit was not greater than the residents’ right to not be impacted. What that means, she explained, is that no corporation has the right to use local residential roads for high-impact industrial traffic. New York law implies that communities can say “no” to heavy trucks, preserving residential roads for local use.
The biggest problem Slottje sees facing municipalities is the increased erosion of enforcement of environmental regulations. “So we’re swinging back to protecting the environment through property rights and home rule,” she said.
See: Spectra Energy Watch