December 14, 2009

Gas drilling permit, letter

I wrote last week about a propspective gas well drilling into the Trenton-Black River formation in Dryden. As I'd noted then, Town Board member Jason Leifer wrote the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and here's the letter he got back:

From: "Linda Collart"
Date: December 11, 2009 4:13:57 PM EST
To: "Jason Leifer"
Cc: "Town of Dryden Supervisor", "Jack Dahl", "Jodi Rospendowski"
Subject: Re: Notice of SEQR Negative Declaration, Proposed Gas Well Drilling, Town of Dryden, Tompkins County

Mr. Leifer, we received your December 7, 2009 letter requesting additional information regarding the negative declaration issued for disturbance of more than 2.5 acres of land in Tompkins County Agricultural District #01 associated with the proposed Anschutz Exploration Corporation Cook #1 gas well. Please be advised that the disturbance of greater than 2.5 acres in an agricultural district is the only issue that this negative declaration applies to since SEQRA review for individual gas wells has been completed through the "Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program" (GEIS) finalized in 1992. The following is a link on our website where a copy of this document may be accessed: In accordance with the GEIS, DEC has determined that drilling oil and gas wells will have no significant impact on the environment if operations conducted are consistent with Department regulations and the recommendations in the GEIS. Consistent with the GEIS, conditions will be added to our permit to address disturbance in an agricultural district. The reasons supporting the Department's determination of significance are provided in detail within the negative declaration itself under the heading "Reasons Supporting This Determination".

The Department has no regulatory requirement to contact local governments when a permit application has been received. The only noticing requirement to local governments regarding the drilling of a gas well would be in accordance with ECL Article 23, Title 3 (Section 23-0305.13) that requires the operator to notify the local government by certified mail prior to the commencement of drilling operations. When we receive an application for a permit to drill a gas well, within a day or two it is posted in the online Oil & Gas Searchable Database at: . Local governments may track applications that we have received through this database and request information regarding the application from my office.

There are no regulatory requirements for a gas well operator to conduct water well sampling on adjacent properties. Wter well testing would be up to the operator and what has been negotiated in lease agreements with individual mineral rights owners. The Department has no regulatory jurisdiction regarding the terms and conditions of private lease agreements.

Mineral Resources will request a letter from Anschutz confirming that they will not be conducting hydrofracturing operations on this well. If they do propose a hydrofrac, information regarding the frac will be required to be submitted so it can be determined if the completion work proposed is consistent with the GEIS. Typically, companies do not hydrofracture a Trenton/Black River well.

Permit application documents are attached for your information. The permit for this well has not been issued. You may keep track of the permit status on our Mineral Resources online Searchable Database using the link mentioned above. There will be no hearings associated with this permit application and/or issuance. A compulsory integration hearing will be scheduled after permit issuance and uncontrolled (not leased) mineral owners within the spacing unit established for this well will be notified to make an election regarding how they want to participate in the well 30 days prior to the hearing. The compulsory integration hearing date will be provided in the Searchable Database. There are no other DEC scheduled hearings associated with this permit application and/or issuance.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss at (585) 226-5376.

Linda Collart
Regional Mineral Resources Supervisor

It's a polite letter, but it also highlights just how weirdly distant the state is from local government on these issues, and how little care they take in evaluating applications. The only issue they evaluated was the disturbance of more than 2.5 acres in an agricultural district. The rest they automatically assume will be fine, per their 1992 Generic Environmental Impact Statement. They're also not very interested in communication with towns until the operator gets around to letting towns know that drilling is about to start.

I'm also worried that DEC thinks their Searchable Database is a solution, when I don't see any reference to this application in their 90-day permit look-back. It jumps from Tioga County to Wayne County. That could be the wrong place to look - but it's not at all clear what would be the right place to look.

I'm glad that DEC replied promptly, but I don't think this letter will exactly set anyone concerned about the longer-term potential impact of gas drilling on our area at ease.

They also sent the application (4.7MB PDF) and some supporting maps (111KB PDF).

Posted by simon at December 14, 2009 12:27 PM in ,
Note on photos


Mary Ann said:

It's not on the permit look-back page because no permit has been issued. The DEC notified the town of the SEQR negative declaration. That's the letter I forwarded to Jason. It's hard to imagine that no permit will be issued following a "neg dec" but there are other considerations.

Zoning Director, Henry Slater has spoken at length and corresponded with DEC regarding compliance with town stormwater regulations. It's possible that the permit will include stormwater compliance conditions.

On the Searchable Database page enter "Town - equals - Dryden" in the three fields at the bottom of the page. The last line on the next page refers to well #31109264310000 - "Cook1" and lists relevant data from the application.

The only obvious place to look for recent information is the permit look-back page. Whoever built this web site apparently didn't consider that people - or even towns - might be interested in knowing about applications before they resulted in permits.

Yes, you can enter a query every single time you want to find out what's going on. That's a lot of work and a lot of visits on a daily basis, and not something I think the state can plausibly suggest as a way "Local governments may track applications that we have received through this database."

It's great that Henry Slater is speaking with DEC about stormwater, and I'm glad that Jason Leifer wrote them. The ugly part, though, is that the state genuinely seems to lack an interest in notifying anyone about applications for permits.

Their "Searchable Database" is not exactly a brilliant interface for getting the word out, and so far as I can tell from the letter, they didn't really have to notify the town. I'm not really sure how the story even got out. There was one extra bit of warning - the need for a negative SEQR declaration - solely because the drilling was taking place in an ag district.

The state needs to notice that gas drilling is no longer a routine process, and change the way they do business.

Nathanael said:

One of the most serious problems is that the 1992 GEIS is severely out of date. It's simply invalid and obsolete, because the science has changed radically since 1992, as has the technology. :-/