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Winter 2009 Issue of the Finger Lake Sierran

Marcellus Shale —To Drill or Not To Drill?

by Gene Stolfi, Finger Lakes Group ExCom, Steuben Environmental Management Council

Some environmentalists feel the danger of pollution is too great and that the gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale should be left untapped. Landowners over the formation want to cash in on the gas boom and do not want to hear any negative information that might prevent them from striking it rich. Local politicians, looking at the short-term jobs and cash-flow to fix their ailing economies, are leaning toward unconditional support of the gas companies. Gas companies are trying to minimize costs and maximize extraction rates to capture as much gas as possible and make a profit. So how do we decide which is the correct way to proceed?

In industry, corporations require a cost analysis to justify a new product or equipment line. How much does it cost? How soon will the expected pay back be? What is the overall cost and the profit or loss potential?

On top of the Marcellus Shale formation are the rivers and feeder streams that charge the Eastern aquifers. Drilling through this ground water layer causes pollution! The gas companies say the pollution is minimal. The question is how much and what chemicals are involved?

After the vertical shaft is drilled, a pipe is inserted to a depth that is supposed to be under the aquifers. A second pipe is then inserted and cement is poured between the two pipes. This is an attempt to isolate the fracking fluid from the surface and ground water. When the rest of the well is drilled and the hole is pressurized with fracking fluids at pressures exceeding 5.000 PS1, this fluid will seek the path of least resistance. That could be up along the outside of the larger pipe, through layers of Marcellus Shale, or up (or down) cracks and fissures in the shale or bedrock. It will travel in all directions. There is no way of knowing where it will go. There will be contamination from fracking fluid pressurized in the ground and spilled on the surface. The question is, how much and from which chemicals?

The aquifers will be contaminated! Again, the question is, how much and with which chemicals?

After the aquifers are contaminated, large metropolitan areas, small cities and towns, and individual landowners relying on wells will require water treatment. After treatment, the water may or may not be potable, but it will never again be as clean as it is now. The cost of water treatment on this scale will dwarf the few dollars that gas will provide, and taxpayers will be stuck forever spending an amount that is too large to estimate for something that has, until now, been free.

Ground Rules for Gas Drilling:

• If you can't remove the gas without polluting, don't do it!

• Do not put anything into the ground that isn't potable or edible!

• Require diesel filters on all equipment and trucks - they work! This would reduce air pollution

Government agencies, state and federal, must step up and be responsible for guarding against the potential of the greatest ecological disaster in the history of mankind - pollution of 20% of the freshwater in the world.