New plans to extract natural gas and oil from shale could bypass New York’s hydraulic fracturing moratorium. The waterless fracking method uses propane instead of the conventional method that pumps a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals deep underground. Wells that would be fracked using this technology are spread across 135,000 acres in Tioga County, 200 miles northwest of New York City.
Calgary-based GasFrac Energy Services, which developed the waterless fracking technology, claims its process is safer because the chemicals used in the process do not disperse throughout the fracking site. Instead a gel containing that liquified propane gas (LPG) is injected beneath the earth’s surface. GasFrac touts the effectiveness of waterless fracking because the gel vaporizes far underground, while the LPG returns to the drilling site with the coveted petroleum and natural gas.
GasFrac’s plans in Tioga County reflect a new trend in the oil and gas industry as more states and municipalities take a closer look at fracking and its effects on the environment. Chevron, for example, has used an LPG-based process to extract natural gas in Colorado. Meanwhile, GasFrac continues to expand its operations across the United States and cannot keep up with the demand for its services. So is New York about to profit from a renewed oil and gas sector? Environmental advocacy groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council are saying not so fast on bucking New York’s 2010 ban on fracking.
The NRDC and its anti-fracking allies sent a letter to New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens this week to request a full environmental review of LPG-based fracking. According to the NRDC and experts including Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, not enough data exists to verify that waterless fracking is both effective yet without risk. In addition to traditional fracking risks that include contaminated wastewater and the use of toxic chemicals, the NRDC’s Kate Sindling says that LPG fracking risks explosions–including two last year at GasFrac drilling sites.