University at Buffalo releases its first report on hydrofracking (UPDATED)

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New York’s proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing would have sufficiently curbed many of the environmental impacts experienced in Pennsylvania, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo.

The study focused on 2,988 violations from close to 4,000 natural-gas wells filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from Jan. 2008 through Aug. 2011. Of those, 25 violations were considered “major,” which include events like blowouts at gas wells, land spills and water contamination.

New York’s proposed permitting guidelines for high-volume hydrofracking would have helped “avoid or mitigate” the “major” violations, according to the report.

“To me, New York has the adequate understanding and experience to manage this industry,” said John Martin, director of the university’s Shale Resources and Society Institute.

The peer-reviewed report was the first released by the school’s shale institute, which was launched in April to study shale-gas drilling. The study was funded entirely by the University at Buffalo and did not receive industry funding, according to Martin, one of the report’s authors. Co-authors Timothy Considine of the University of Wyoming and Pennsylvania State University professor Robert Watson have received funding from gas companies for previous studies.

Overall, the researchers found that the percentage of gas wells in Pennsylvania that have received environmental violations dropped from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010.

The majority of “major” environmental impacts were “due to operator error, negligence, or a failure to follow proper procedures when drilling,” according to the report. “This suggests that the industry has room for improvement, and the frequency of environmental events can be reduced,” the authors wrote.

UPDATE: The New York Water Rangers — a coalition of environmental groups and hydrofracking critics — offered this response to the report:

“The report’s emphasis on fracking’s purported economic benefits indicates that it may not be an objective assessment of the efficacy of government oversight of fracking. The report attempts to deflect concerns about the documented dangers associated with fracking by focusing on only one indicator of fracking-related pollution – violations – and drawing rosy conclusions based on that limited information.

The report fails to consider other complex problems, such as those related to wastewater treatment and disposal, public health impacts, degraded air quality, and industrialization of communities, among others, all of which cannot be captured by a review of known violations. While the report reviewed violations that are documented by state regulators in Pennsylvania, a large number of violations are never found, reported, or resolved. It is premature for the authors to presume that problems are declining or would not occur in New York, as scientific understanding of the impacts of fracking is just beginning to emerge and regulations have not been updated to address the current and planned scope of industrial activity.”

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of finalizing its proposed rules for permitting high-volume hydrofracking, a technique in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected into underground shale formations to unlock natural gas. That review was first launched in July 2008, and permits for the technique have not yet been issued in the state.

Meanwhile, a coalition of groups pushing for a hydrofracking ban will be in Albany today for a star-studded concert and rally today. You can read about that effort here.

UBSRSI Environmental Impact

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