Future of fracking in county foggy

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the state of New York has become a hot topic.

Although the possibility of major industrial fracking in Chautauqua County has yet to be thoroughly discussed, there are many questions to be answered.

County Legislature Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, said there may be some special work sessions involving fracking in Chautauqua County in the coming months.

“We’ve got some people that want to try to educate the legislators on fracking,” Gould said. “We were going to do it at the end of last year but we decided we would wait and do it at the beginning of this term.”

According to Gould, plenty of land in the county is available to be drilled. However, he declined to comment until he knows more information on the topic.

“Economically, it’s good, I hear,” Gould said. “Environmentally, there are questions.”

More than 30 U.S. states allow high-volume hydraulic fracking, but New York is not one of them. Since 2008, a moratorium has been in place on the subject in order for environmental review.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not mention fracking in his State of the State address, nor did he include it in his 2014 budget.

“Before we do anything at the county level, we must see what the state has found and what their policy is going to be,” said County Executive Vince Horrigan. “I believe fracking should be done safely and responsibly and only under those conditions. There’s a lot of information on both sides of the issue there, but I think we have time to see what the state is going to do and we’ll go from there.”

Since hydraulic fracturing’s inception in 1947, 2.5 million projects have occurred on oil and gas wells worldwide as of 2012, more than 1 million of them in the United States according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Also, the nation’s first shale gas well was designed in Fredonia in 1821 by William Hart.

“Without fracking, there wouldn’t be any natural gas wells in Chautauqua County,” said Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown.

Using small explosions in combination with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, shale formations are shattered during the process of hydraulic fracking.

The chemical mixture’s purpose is to hold the fractures open, allowing natural gas to seep out and up to the surface where it’s collected. Fracking can occur horizontally or vertically underneath the earth’s surface.

Horizontal fracturing entails drilling many miles down vertically, and then extending the well out to the side. Also, many more thousands of gallons of chemical solution are used with horizontal fracking.

In terms of horizontal, high-volume hydraulic fracking, Goodell said the issue lies in how chemicals are treated when they’re pumped back out of the ground. If recycled or disposed of properly, there is virtually no environmental impact, he said.

Although both occur many miles down, horizontal fracturing can span miles on either side of where a well is drilled. In the course of initial production, a portion of the fluid is recovered. It’s either recycled and used at other drilling sites or disposed of.

Those against fracking say it’s dangerous to the environment and fear the chemical solution may contaminate drinking water. Opponents claim millions of gallons of toxic wastewater will be produced from every new well because of the chemical mixture used.

Town of Chautauqua residents fear fracking’s presence in Chautauqua County and spoke of it at the January town board meeting.

Portland resident Diane Hofner wants the town to put a ban on fracking and on the transport of any fracking waste through the town. Hofner spoke of health problems, which she said have occurred in areas of Pennsylvania where fracking is allowed and cited issues with the chemical solution.

Nancy Karp also attended the meeting and said the town has a responsibility to protect Chautauqua Lake. Karp said it is vital for the town to impose a local moratorium and long-term ban on the process until more conclusive studies are performed on the effects of fracking on land as well as on bodies of water.

The process in order to prepare a natural gas well for collection takes roughly three to five months, but a well can produce natural gas or oil for years. After the resources have been exhausted, the well is filled with cement and capped roughly three to five feet below the surface.

Those in favor of fracking in New York cite economic advantages such as job creation and a high amount of taxes returned to local municipalities.

Landowners who allow fracking on their property are entitled to a royalty fee and free natural gas to heat their homes.

“It increases the value of the property, reflected in purchase prices,” Goodell said. “Not only do wells pay nearly $1 million in school taxes directly (in Chautauqua County) but they also significantly improve the value of the property, resulting in more property taxes being paid for the land.”

Anti-fracking group New Yorkers Against Fracking claim the state is being targeted by the oil and gas industry for fracking the Marcellus Shale, a large stretch of sedimentary rock prevalent in New York, particularly the Southern Tier and areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said America was closer to energy independence than it had been in decades.

“One of the reasons why is natural gas, if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change,” Obama said.

Congressman Tom Reed believes New York, and America, can profit from fracking Marcellus Shale.

“We need this economic development,” he said.

Furthermore, according to Reed, the production of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania in 2009 had an economic output of more than $3.8 billion and generated more than $400 million in state and local tax revenues while creating 48,000 new jobs.

“There is no reason to believe that we wouldn’t see a similar positive effect in New York,” Reed said.