Friday, March 13, 2009

Marcellus Shale Gas Play Swamps State Agencies

Ah, if the exploration for and production of oil and gas was only as simple as the science and engineering. Of course now we have politics. I suppose there has always been politics, but have politics and environmental regulations ever been so restrictive? It is not my intent to discuss politics here, but the following article provides some insight into some of the issues that must be dealt with before exploration and production can even begin.

March 10, 2009
New York understaffed to handle gas rush
By Tom Wilber (source : The Ithaca Journal)

The debate over natural gas production in the Central New York region is often couched in terms of economy versus ecology. But many advocates and officials believe one doesn't have to be sacrificed for the other.

There is a catch, of course, and it has everything to do with money.
In order to capitalize on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, while minimizing environmental risks, there must be sufficient manpower to draft and enforce regulations.
On that, there is little disagreement.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection is creating 37 new positions - despite a statewide hiring freeze - to oversee Marcellus production. The positions will be added to Pennsylvania's Office of Mineral Resources Management, which oversees nearly 600 employees who handle many issues in addition to natural gas production.

Officials in New York, however, have few answers as to how 19 employees in the Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation - part of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation - will be able to handle a rush of permits and intensive drilling activity on this side of the border.
"Clearly, we are not staffed to do the job," said Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, D-Endwell.

As a member of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee, Lupardo has been closely following the heated debate over gas drilling's ecological consequences and its economic opportunity.
While she champions environmental causes, she is quick to acknowledge the importance of the economic boost the gas rush promises for the Southern Tier.
"You can't have a conversation about this topic without talking about both of these things," she said.

As of now, there are no provisions in the proposed New York budget to add to the state's Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation. But adjusting for the gas rush has to be addressed, Lupardo said, and she and other lawmakers are "waiting to hear from the governor's office on what direction to take."

Lindsay Wickham, a spokesman of the New York State Farm Bureau, is scheduled to travel to Albany early this week to lobby lawmakers to address issues related to the gas rush.
"We know they (New York oil and gas regulators) need more staff," he said. "That's been an ongoing issue for years."

Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for New York State's Division of Budget, said Friday the state is determining the need for more staff and how to pay for it as it assesses the environmental impact from drilling.
For now, permit applications in New York are effectively on hold while companies wait for the state to update its drilling regulations, expected to be completed later this year.
"Both of those processes are ongoing and will be resolved as we get more information," he said.
Not everybody feels the urgency to staff up.

Dan Fitzsimmons, who heads a group of about 400 residents owning about 15,000 acres in the towns of Binghamton and Conklin, is afraid the regulatory overhaul delaying Marcellus production in New York will stifle interest over the long run.
"Pennsylvania is doing it right," he said. "They have the industry, and now they are hiring the people. Let's get the industry here first."

Pennsylvania's natural gas industry is, in fact, booming, with a record 7,924 permits issued and nearly 4,200 new wells drilled in the past year, according to information from the DEP. Agency officials expect to process and oversee 40,000 new drilling permits during the next three years.

By comparison, about 2,000 permits were issued in the year 2000.
Like New York, Pennsylvania faces a budget crisis and hiring freeze. But the DEP is creating 37 new positions and opening up a new office in Williamsport to oversee the gas rush in the northeast and north central regions.

The positions will include geologists, environmental engineers, oil and gas inspectors, and water quality experts, said Teresa Candori, press secretary for the DEP.
"This has the potential to be an enormous economic development," she said. "The comparison is to the gold rush. We want to make sure we can take advantage of the economic opportunity while protecting our water resources."

To pay for the staff increases, Pennsylvania has increased permit fees for drilling.
The New York State Farm Bureau - whose members have a large stake in the issues economically and environmentally - supports a similar approach for New York, Wickham said.
Lupardo said lawmakers and administrators are considering a fee increase as a way to pay for oversight, although no formal proposal has been publicly brought to the table.
Without more regulators, permit applications and review could become quickly backlogged, which would in turn discourage development, according to some industry watchers.
Could a logjam and pressure from industry make it too convenient for officials to rubber-stamp applications to keep up with an overwhelming workload?
Lupardo doubts it.

"I would be surprised if this is fast-tracked without environmental oversight," she said. "There are way too many people looking at this."
Wickham wasn't sure.
"There is no question the gas industry is a very powerful lobby," he said.

Addendum: An interesting comment from a reader....

urn4580 wrote:
This is but one of thousands of examples why government can offer nothing but excuses.Get ready for when 'the messiah' socializes healthcare in the US.Your heart attack will have to wait six months because "clearly we are understaffed to do the job..."3/10/2009 8:09:19 AM

No comments:

Post a Comment