Sunday, July 18, 2010

Imaginary Hydraulic Fracture Well in Oxford, Chenango Co., NY

Let us imagine that drilling rig No. 43 in Susquehanna Co., PA, also pictured on the July 13 post, is going to be built somewhere else, say in Chenango County in Upstate NY.

I look at my maps and pick a hilltop: Bradley Hill in Oxford south of Norwich. The energy companies go for exposed shoulders, knobs, hilltops.

Once they decide to develop a town, or a whole county, for efficiency's sake the gas company carpet bombs it with sites. But we are only going to think about this one imaginary site today.

There is a pond nearby, other ponds in the vicinity, the Chenango River just west along Route 12. They like to be near water since it takes so much of it to develop a well.  

There is ready land. Enough people in the local towns have signed leases by now to assure the energy companies have complete access to the area, with lands set aside not only for the drilling but other sites near roads for parking dozens of frac tanks, trucks, chemicals, pipe and so on. They will also bury a dense network of transport pipelines to move natural gas out of the area and onto the national grid.

They will build pads the size of city blocks to support the rig and all the stuff that goes along with it. Just building this imaginary site will take weeks of clearing, leveling, laying a thick base of crushed rock for the pads and road.  Imagine on site a dozen frac tanks, a man-made heavily lined million-gallon holding pond for the used frac water, temporary housing for the fracking team. 

The heavy use of town roads will break the weaker ones apart. And who are these men wearing yellow and orange vests in double cab pickups with Texas and Pennsylvania plates cruising the roads?

The site will become home to a 10 story rig that will drill 6000 feet into the ground and then fracture the shale using three million gallons of water mixed with a cocktail of multi-syllable compounds that, if it comes into contact with the water table, will poison it. It has happened, and there are no guarantees it won't happen here. There are a dozen things that can go wrong, and have.

Interestingly, for two years the county board of supervisors' committee on natural gas development has dealt with secondary issues such as brine to keep the road dust down, seismic testing, road capacity, driveway permits, and leasing county-owned lands. They wonder out loud why the primary energy company Norse Energy's people don't come to their meetings. 

Sadly, and unprofessionally, they haven't had any substantive discussion about the overriding question of whether this whole idea is even good for the people of the county and its towns in the long term, at least not publicly. 

I do wonder how they can make small decisions based on large unexplored assumptions? Shouldn't the answers to small questions arise out of a base of sound planning for now and the future? What about the quality of a life lived here? Are the farms to become hayfields without livestock? The towns left to people who cannot afford to leave?

Today Bradley Hill is tranquil, the view sublime and unbroken except for a phone tower. It's high summer in Upstate New York. Let's take a dip in the pond.

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