By Tom Wilber • Press & Sun-Bulletin • June 7, 2008
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As prospectors fan out over the Marcellus Shale stretching across the Southern Tier and points south, New York state regulators are trying to stay one step ahead.
A bill in the state Assembly addresses the massive space requirements of wells employing newly developed technology to drill horizontally for natural gas. Currently permitting regulations — drafted for horizontal wells — are broken down into 40-acre units. That is enough to encompass a typical gas pool a single horizontal well would be expected to tap.
Determining underground boundaries of a well is crucial as companies calculate royalties for property owners above the gas.
Because horizontal drill rigs can extract gas from an area that extends well beyond 40 acres, regulators have to issue permits under a non-conforming use, a process that requires more time and paperwork.
The bill, A10526, is intended to allow more uniform development of the Marcellus and, ideally, allow single wells to be spaced on 640-acre tracts, said bill sponsor William Parment, D- North Harmony.
"It’s going to make things more uniform and make it less cumbersome for the DEC," he said.
At least, that’s the intention.
Environmental advocates say the bill — while well-meaning — may fast-track development already moving too fast for communities and local governments to keep up with.
Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Catskill Mountainkeeper have called on Albany lawmakers to oppose the bill, which would essentially make it easier for DEC officials to permit Marcellus wells.
The group characterized the bill as a potentially harmful attempt to ease the regulatory burden on DEC officials.
"Any attempt to streamline and accelerate this apparent gas boom without proper planning and environmental consideration is unwise," states a position paper the lobby submitted to lawmakers.
Rep. Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, said she supports the bill because it will improve oversight of the drilling process while allowing it to move forward. Lawmakers have to move thoughtfully with the public interest in mind, she added.
"There’s no way around it. Roads are going to be built and trees are going to be coming down," she said. "We have to weigh the benefits of this enormous resource and find a way to get at it without infringing on people’s rights or environmental protection."