Protecting Natural Resources From Expanded Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale Fields
Audubon New York, the state program of the National Audubon Society representing 27 local chapters and 50,000 members, is deeply concerned with the recent rush to expand drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale field and the impacts this increased development could have on birds, other wildlife and their habitats in New York State. Primarily, this expanded energy development could have serious impacts to important forest and wetland habitats that support many Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Many of these issues and concerns were not adequately addressed in the DEC's draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS).
Across the state, Audubon New York has identified 136 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), using internationally accepted criteria, that represent the most important habitats for birds of conservation concern in the state. Of these 136, 40 IBAs are in the area that would be potentially impacted by drilling in Marcellus shale region, including some of the best remaining unfragmented forests of the state which are critical for successful reproduction of forest-breeding birds. In order to ensure our important natural resources are properly protected from expanded natural gas drilling, Audubon New York strongly urges the passage of comprehensive legislation, or development of stronger regulations that include the following important provisions:
- Put priority wildlife habitats off limits to drilling: Priority landscapes and key acquisition parcels identified in New York State's Open Space Conservation Plan; key species, ecosystems, and habitats identified by Audubon New York, the New York Natural Heritage Program, and the NYS DEC in its Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy; as well as priority natural areas identified in other State planning processes and by other conservation organizations must be prioritized for protection from expanded drilling. Sensitive areas and priority sites must be off limits to drilling where drilling and fragmentation pose too great a risk to these natural resources. The conservation measures necessary for the sustainable management of key parcels must take priority over any other considerations as drilling permit applications are reviewed by DEC.
- Reduce forest fragmentation: In our judgment, a pattern of placing drilling pads every square mile, complete with new access roads and a network of pipeline rights-of-way to serve each pad over potentially one third of New York State will result in significant forest fragmentation. Forest fragmentation of this scale and magnitude is not conducive to sustainable forest management and will negatively impact birds of conservation concern, including many Neo-tropical migrant species. The dSGEIS did not address and identify adequate mitigation for the scope and impact of fragmentation. The dSGEIS expressed concern only with deer wintering areas, heronries and rare, threatened and endangered plants in the Natural Heritage data bank. Other key wildlife issues -- including habitat destruction, fragmentation, lack of good biodiversity data, and cumulative impacts -- are not discussed in the dSGEIS, and must be addressed.
- Contain 'flowback' water in covered tanks: Audubon New York opposes storing drilling or 'flowback' water in open, uncovered water impoundments on the drill pad sites. Despite assurances to the contrary in the dSGEIS, it is our judgment that the water used in the drilling operations is toxic to birds and other wildlife. All water used in production must be put in covered storage tanks and taken off site for proper treatment at facilities that are equipped and properly regulated to treat these toxic waste waters. Storing 'flowback' water in open sites would generate the greatest risks to wildlife and water quality, and should be prohibited.
- Cumulative impacts must be seriously considered: Audubon New York is very concerned about the absence of any serious discussion of cumulative impacts of multiple drilling operations across this broad forested landscape. As an example, the dSGEIS does not consider the impact of drilling pads, roads, and pipelines, which, taken together, will have a highly adverse impact by fragmenting the largely intact forested landscape. These impacts are not considered together because approval for these separate activities is the responsibility of two separate agencies - DEC and the Public Service Commission. The impact statement should be a joint effort of several state agencies, not a single agency with limited, albeit important, jurisdiction.
- Protect all water sources equally: The dSGEIS applies different rules and standards to drinking water in different regions. There appears to be one set of rules for parts of the Catskill Watershed which serves the New York metro area, and another less stringent set of rules for the Delaware and Susquehanna watershed in the Southern Tier counties. The state must apply the same restrictions to the rest of the state as will apply in the Catskill Watershed. All drinking water resources deserve the same top level of protection. In addition, a comprehensive water withdrawal program must be developed and enacted by the state.
- Mitigation funding must be required: To offset the many negative and destructive environmental impacts from expanded drilling for natural gas, strong mitigation requirements must be put in place which call for the protection and restoration of surrounding habitats and species that will be impacted. In addition, Audubon New York strongly believes a Severance Tax must be established and the funds dedicated to the protection of unfragmented forests, restoration of wetland habitat, and improvement of water quality, in addition to providing increased staff to the DEC and other agencies.
The DEC relies on existing regulations to mitigate almost all of the likely adverse impacts. However, Audubon New York strongly believes the existing drilling regulations are too weak, and must be improved upon to be better than those proposed in the dSGEIS. Also, the State, DEC in particular, does not have enough trained, competent experts in a broad variety of disciplines to oversee this big and complicated project. Each horizontally drilled well will use at least 1 million gallons of water to bring the natural gas to the surface. Multiply this by eight wells per pad, potentially one pad every square mile and 1,000 to 2,000 permits issued each year and this will consume and pollute a vast amount of water over a very large landscape. New York State residents deserve the best regulations and technologies there are to make sure our natural resources and our communities are adequately protected.
Audubon New York urges the State to delay this rush to drilling so these critical issues facing birds, other wildlife, their habitats and our communities can be worked out, and better, more stringent regulations can be developed. The dSGEIS dismisses three alternatives to the project in favor of pressing ahead despite all the deficiencies in the current regulatory and monitoring framework. DEC does not believe they have the authority to say 'no' to this project which has such statewide adverse implications; the agency does not want to phase it in over time or by area and does not want to wait until better 'green' technology comes along. We cannot accept any of these dismissive statements as final and the DEC and the State must not ignore a fourth option - that is to delay, to wait until the State has better regulations and better technology in place. The gas will still be there.
Co-moved, and Seconded by, Respectively
All 27 Chapters of the Audubon Council of New York State
Register for the 2016 Women in Conservation Luncheon
Join us May 17th for the presentation of the 2016 Rachel Carson Award at the annual Women in Conservation Luncheon.