The production of natural gas intersects with water in two ways: the protection of the surface water table; and the use of water in hydraulic fracturing.
In New York state, the Department of Environmental Conservation has promulgated regulations virtually guaranteeing the protection of surface, fresh water supplies. For 30 years - from 1979-2009 - when the state had a viable natural gas industry, the DEC issued over 10,000 permits to drill natural gas wells. There was only one documented case of migration of methane into a fresh water supply. That is an excellent record in anyone's book, and the DEC's proposed regulations for shale drilling are even tougher. There is no incentive for a natural gas production company to make "short-cuts" on such rules. The protection of fresh water supplies benefits everyone.
The other, and more talked about matter, is the use of water in hydraulic fracturing. Though hydraulic fracturing has been an approved practice in New York for at least 40 years, it has come into renewed focus because it is essential in unlocking the natural gas trapped in shale formations.
If these shales, deep in the earth, are not fractured by water and propped open by sand which is pumped along with the water, they will not give up their natural gas reserves. Thus, by definition, if you stop hydraulic fracturing - you stop natural gas production. So, logically, the opponents of natural gas have lobbied against stimulating shale with water as a political means to shut down the natural gas industry.
In other states, strides have been made to address the public concerns about how water is used in hydraulic fracturing. Lists have been promulgated of how much water and sand are used and what chemical additives are employed - largely consisting of soap or "surfactants" to reduce friction when pumping the water.
Pipelines have been laid as a substitute for trucking water to drilling locations. However, perhaps the biggest breakthrough has been in the recycling of water used in hydraulic fracturing. Some natural gas production companies in Pennsylvania are now filtering and recycling 100 percent of the water which is recaptured from the process.
Undoubtedly, additional improvements and efficiencies can and will be made in the manner in which shale rock is stimulated to produce natural gas. There is a common interest between the industry, the general public, and environmental oversight agencies to insure that the safest and best practices are adopted when water is used to produce natural gas.
What is not in the public interest is to blindly stop natural gas production by saying "no" to hydraulic fracturing.
By 2015, the Marcellus Shale in the Northeastern United States will account for 25 percent of all natural gas been consumed in the country. Because of dramatic increases in both oil and natural gas production from shale, the United States is less dependent on Middle East oil than we have been in 50 years.
Though New Yorkers consume more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year to heat our homes and run our electric plants, we expect others to produce it. This needs to change. New York needs to be a producer as well as a consumer of natural gas.
Rolland Kidder was a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from 1975 to 1982 and of its Environmental Conservation Committee. He is former owner and chief executive officer of a Western New York natural gas exploration and production company.