Tioga County Fracking Deal Leaves DEC With Choice

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A framework deal struck between a Tioga County landowners group and a Houston-based energy company could leave the state Department of Environmental Conservation with an interesting choice.

The leaders of the Tioga County Landowners Group, which represents about 135,000 acres and 2,000 200 families in the rural Southern Tier county in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region, has agreed in principle to enter into a partnership with eCorp International to drill for natural gas underneath the land.

But here’s the catch: eCorp would use a technology pioneered by Canadian company GasFrac, which uses liquified petroleum gas (LPG) with a handful of chemical additives to fracture underground shale formations rather than the water/sand/chemical mix used in high-volume hydrofracking. That means that, as of now, it would be covered under the DEC’s 1992 permitting guidelines for conventional gas drilling, and not under the yet-to-be-completed guidelines for high-volume hydrofracking.

High-volume hydrofracking has been held up in New York as the DEC completes its review of permitting guidelines, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement. It’s an addition to the 1992 document, the Generic Environmental Impact Statement.

“DEC has met with landowner group representatives and company technical people on this issue previously,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in a statement. “If we receive a formal application, we will follow the current permitting process as set forth in the 1992 SGEIS, however, our review may require additional information and additional (State Environmental Quality Review Act) analysis, including an (environmental impact statement), if warranted.”

What that means is this: The DEC would review any formal permits for LPG fracking under the 1992 document, but it’s reserving the right to require further environmental reviews of the technique, which has been used in Canada but not in New York.

That’s what sparked the DEC’s current review of high-volume hydrofracking back in 2008, when gas companies had applied for permits under the 1992 permitting document. The agency eventually decided that it needed to conduct further review of hydrofracking with more than 300,000 gallons of water, and put a hold on permits until the ongoing review is finalized.

Chris Denton, an Elmira-based attorney representing the Tioga County landowners group, said the deal will be presented to the individual landowners in the group in the coming weeks. He said the decision to go with GasFrac was based on the environmental benefits of using LPG rather than an effort to speed the process up.

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