On Friday evening, there was an informational seminar on gas drilling at the Liberty High School about gas drilling, sponsored by Catskillmountainkeeper.org and the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management. The meeting was very informative. The tone of the meeting wasn’t “Stop the Drilling”, because drilling here is almost inevitable as Sullivan County sits on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale. Rather, the presentations focussed on how to ensure that drilling occurs in a way to minimize community and environmental disruption, as well as issues in the gas leasing process. The organizers brought in experts from Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico who have had years of experience dealing with the oil and gas industry, as well as legislation and regulation in their states. An attorney from Binghamton who works on gas leases in Broome and Delaware counties talked about gas leasing issues. Lastly, the Sullivan County planning director talked about municipal impacts.
My estimate is that there were over 400 attendees, a very large crowd in this county, and included elected officials, landowners considering leasing, concerned citizens, and yes, a handful of us Realtors.
I learned a lot and found a number of things very interesting. I had the impression, prior to the meeting, that the gas wells themselves were big, tall derrick-like things that were lit up and made noise 24/7. It turns out that my impression is correct — but only during the well drilling phase, which typically lasts 4 to 6 weeks per well. Once the well is drilled and is put into production, the well profile is very low with much less equipment and noise. The biggest disrupter during the drilling process seems to be the delivery of the million+ gallons of water (in tank trucks) required for the drilling.
My second misconception is that there could be wells every few hundred yards, sort of like those oil wells you see churning away in Los Angeles when you drive near LAX. The technology likely to be used here is “horizontal drilling” (just approved by the NY legislature) that permits one drill pad to service wells drilled horizontally in different directions — so a relatively small few acre drill site could extract gas under a much larger area.
One of the most interesting presentations was from Bruce Baizel, a staff attorney for the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project. He was asked to take a look at the current regulations and legislation in New York to identify areas where regulations could be strengthened to provide better community and environmental protections. For example, NY regulations permit lined “holding ponds” for the water produced during the drilling process. He said that in the west, because of ground contamination from ponds, they’ve been outlawed in favor of more secure steel tanks for storing the water until it can be hauled away.
Its still very early in the process, to know what the impacts of gas drilling will be. The New York experience may be very different than Pennsylvania because of the different roles of the state environmental protection divisions in regulating gas drilling. There are also watershed issues that are unique to this area that need to be addressed.
There are implications, though, on the real estate side that are real and immediate. Delivery of the natural gas to market is key, and it would seem that proximity to the newly expanded Millennium Pipeline increases the appeal of a site to gas drillers. The second is that the gas industry seems to like flatter land for well pads (drilling sites). The real estate community also has to come up with a way to identify parcels that have gas leases, as well as track gas drilling permits. My hope is that the county will fund some sort of gas drilling office so this information is available from a single source. A question I’m sure I’ll be asked by second home buyers is what is the likelihood of gas drilling within a certain proximity of a property they’re considering buying. Over time, as we get more experience with this, its a question we should be able to answer.
There’s still a lot to learn about all this. I’d like to thank Catskill Mountain Keeper and the Sullivan County Division of Planning for getting the ball rolling, to provide good information without a lot of hysteria and emotion.