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Drilling in the Marcellus Shale

Forum on Health and Environmental Impacts of New Gas Drilling Techniques

On Sun., Feb. 1, 2009, the Finger Lakes Group sponsored a well-attended public forum on the health and environmental impacts of new gas drilling techniques at the Southeast Steuben County Library in Corning.

The forum began with a showing of a 31 minute documentary film showing the impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Colorado. The film features landowners and town and county officials discussing the impacts of the gas drilling on their lives. The film also features Dr. Theo Colburn, a research chemist who lives in Colorado, discussing her studies of the chemicals used by gas drilling companies. After viewing the film, we discussed possible health and environmental impacts in our area if the DEC allows widespread use of these new techniques in New York State.

Horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (also known as "hydro fracking") are techniques used by gas drilling companies to produce gas in so-called "unconventional gas" formations, which include gas shales such as the Marcellus shale found in New York and Pennsylvania, and the gas shales, tight gas sands and coal bed methane found in Colorado. Fracking wells drilled into the Marcellus shale formation requires millions of gallons of water per well. Mixed into the water are friction reducers, oxygen scavengers and other corrosion inhibitors, biocides, surfactants, and scale inhibitors, many of which pose human health hazards.

The environmental impacts of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing are being studied by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Last fall, the DEC held six hearings in the Southern Tier on its Draft Scope for Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs. Comments were due by December 15, 2008. A final scoping document is expected shortly taking into account the hundreds of comments received. The comments submitted by the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter on the DEC's draft scoping document can be downloaded here.

Dr. Colburn's website,, gives the results of her studies of the health effects of the products and chemicals used in the gas production process. She has collected data about the effects of chemicals used by gas drilling companies in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Washington and Wyoming. Her research provides a glimpse at the patterns of possible health hazards for those living in proximity to gas development.

For more information

Marcellus Shale Formation—Are You Being "Fracked"?, by Gene Stolfi in the Winter 2008 issue of the Finger Lakes Sierran

Oil and Gas Accountability Project,

The Endocrine Exchange, TEDX,

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation,

Shale Shock,

Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas,

Catskill Mountainkeeper,

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability,

Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes,