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No drilling in the region?

By Fritz Mayer
April 25, 2011

In a discussion about the fine points of the Marcellus Shale in the Upper Delaware Valley, professor Terry Engelder said, “I wish it would make Narrowsburg rich, but it’s not going to.” In this region that assessment will be met with a mix of glee, disappointment and skepticism.

Engelder is a Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and one of the foremost experts on the subject.

In a phone interview on April 22, he remarked specifically about the chances of successful drilling in Wayne and Pike counties in Pennsylvania and Sullivan in New York.

He said, “Maybe the northwestern corner of Wayne County will work, but certainly Pike County is off the table, and to the best of my knowledge, there’s a huge probability that Sullivan County is off the table.”

He added that drillers will likely never be interested in drilling in most of the watershed that drains into the New City reservoirs because there is no recoverable gas there. Also, most of the Delaware River Basin will not be affected by drilling.

However, the northwestern reaches of the basin, in Delaware and a bit in Broome Counties in New York, as well as some part of Wayne, may likely be impacted, if and when the Delaware River Basin Commission and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation each finish their task of formulating drilling rules.

Engelder’s projections about the location of likely drilling in the future is not much different than the view put forward by the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance and various other landowner groups and organizations in a press release in early March.

The organizations published a map with a line that ran started near Waymart, ran just north of Bethany and continued to the Upper Delaware River near Milanville. In New York, the line continued through Cochecton, into Jeffersonville or perhaps just north of it, through Youngsville and south of Livingston Manor.

He agreed that his approximations were similar to those and said the people who created that boundary understand the geology of the shale, and that is not going to change. He said the exact boundary, however, of has not been firmly established and may shift a bit as the drilling companies continue to explore the issue.

He explained the geological forces that determine whether gas will occur in recoverable quantity in the shale or not. In order for sufficient gas to have been created, there needs to be a certain amount of organic matter in the rock. If the pressure and heat were too intense hundreds of millions of years ago, much of the gas could have been “cooked” away.

The "anti" mantra

The mantra of the anti drilling crowd has always been "wait for the science" or "let's do a cumulative impact study" or "what's the hurry". The fact is that they have no intention whatsoever of honoring the science if the science is contrary to their agenda which is kill the drill. This is evidenced right here in this very story where we have a highly educated Penn State professor giving his opinion on the topic. The anti drillers rush to disprove, discredit and dismiss his opinion. Their goal is to stall drilling indefinitely or at least until more favorable political environs at which time they can crush it. Landowners such as myself see through this ploy. We have done our research and have concluded that the risks are small and acceptable on our land. We have also concluded it is our duty to manage our resources properly for the good of our selves, the local area, and the nation as a whole.

TheNatural misinformation

TheNatural’s statements are incorrect, to say the least.
This “gas drilling struggle” is most real, and will remain so.

“We” have given the DRBC nothing. The Agency either has authority, or it does not, and this will, most likely, be determined in a Federal Court of Law.

Fourteen or so “Test wells” were allowed by the DRBC, without review (except by the rubber stamp PADEP), in the Delaware River Basin. Several of them were drilled in our area, the Woodland Partners well near Callicoon, and the Crum well in Milanville, to name but two. NWPOA, Hess, and Newfield, chose to drop their pursuit of a hearing against the DRBC, and chose not to drill the other wells that had received PADEP permits. The fact remained, that the industry did not need to drill the numerous other “test wells” in order to gather the information they needed. Those would all have been “production” wells in the end.

The description of those opposed to this industrialization and contamination in the Basin as “wealthy elite”, and “vacationers” vs. “struggling property owners” who are pro shale drilling and hydro-frac’ing, is as offensive, as it is false.

The research that I performed for Damascus Citizens, on Damascus Township, shows clearly that 29% of the properties leased to drilling, in the Township, were owned by non residents, and their percentage of the total acreage leased, amounted to 38%.

I would further clarify this by pointing out that only 25% of the total number of properties owned by primary residents had been leased for drilling. The combined total of acreage leased for drilling amounted to 69% of the Township's acreage, even though only 33% of the owners of property leased.

This gas extraction issue, in our Basin, is about safety, health, and land use. It is not a division between “wealthy elite” (second home) property owners and “struggling” primary resident property owners. If one were to seek a division among property owners, it would be more appropriate to describe it as holders of large properties, vs. holders of small properties, and even that doesn’t paint the whole picture.


Mr. Barth states that natural gas extraction, "in our basin" is about safety, yada, yada, yada. Does that mean that in other basins it is not about safety, yada, yada, yada? What is Mr. Barth's vision of energy supply for the next thirty years? He easily rules things out, but what does he expect to fuel this country into the foreseeable future? Mr. Barth's penchant for voodoo math is well known and easily dismissed. Figures do not lie, but...

Engelder speculation

In 2002, Prof. Engelder projected minimum recoverable gas from the Marcellus. That year, multi-stage hydraulic fracturing in horizontals was introduced in shale. That combined with developments in slick-water fluids, along with PA's willingness to allow extraction companies to experiment on its citizens, and environment, led Prof. Engelder to up his estimates, in 2008, to between 16.8 tcf, and 51.4 tcf of recoverable gas in the Marcellus. The following year, his projections jumped another 1,000 %, as further experiments yielded more "positive" results.

In 2008, projections for toxic, flowback waste averaged 70% recovered, with 30% remaining underground. In 2009, Cabot began reporting that 80-85% remained underground, and 15-20% returned to the surface. This, by the way, co-incided with the outcry and concern about disposing the flowback waste. The revised figures were very convenient to the industry.

The residents and property owners of the Delaware River Basin have put up a valiant, stiff fight, against the industry's proposed industrialization, and contamination, of our precious area. Perhaps industry just wants to diffuse our opposition?

That will not happen, regardless of how Prof. Engelder's speculation turns out. The professor is not sure of the boundaries, whether the "maginot" line is at the Lackawanna Syncline, or further south, through Damascus/Cochecton. More importantly, he avoids discussion about all the other target zones above and below the Marcellus.

Perhaps, in two years, we will be hearing estimates on how those zones of stone are the "Kuwait" of gas? In the meantime, we will fight them at the river's edge, in the sky, in the fields and the forests (apologies to Churchill). Whatever exists below, the surface is our precious life blood, and we will not let it become a wasteland.

The Shale play

This is all very interesting. This entire gas drilling struggle could be a moot point. That would mean that we have given the DRBC increased control over our property for no good reason. It would also indicated that test wells should have been allowed to determine if there is any need to even carry on this struggle. This would be good news for the wealthy elite that vacation or have moved to the river basin, and very bad news for property owners struggling to keep their property. You all know which side of this issue you are on.