Boon or Bust Part I: Why we went, what we hoped to learn

Editorís Note: This is the first in a seven-part series on natural gas drilling gleaned from a recent staff outing to Pennsylvania. It will continue each Thursday in The Evening Sun.

The Evening Sun staff traveled to Montrose and Dimock, Pa. on Dec. 7, 2010 to obtain first-hand accounts about drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, the resulting impact on those communities, and, ultimately, to draw for readers a picture depicting what Chenango County could expect if shale gas drilling were permitted here.

It was a cold, snowy day on the drive down, but it took less time than planned to reach the widely-publicized epicenter of the nationís focus on shale drilling. We drove through the Susquehanna County capital of Montrose, noting the glassy reservoir that feeds it to our left, but, surprisingly, saw no anti-drilling signs on peopleís lawns. Only upon reaching our destination of Carter Road in Dimock did we finally see any anti-drilling sentiment.

Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.ís admitted drilling accident that allegedly polluted 18 Carter Road area residentsí wells has grabbed headlines, and the company eventually paid $4.1 million to the residents with contaminated wells and $500,000 to partially offset the stateís investigation into the cause of well contamination. Reporter Brian Golden scored an interview with one of the affected families, and in the next article of this seven-part series, heíll describe their sentiments and the Dimock disaster in detail.

Brianís piece will also delve into the environmental activistsí perspective on the dangers related to the controversial high-water volume, hydraulic fracturing drilling method needed to extract the energy source from shale, as there have been other alleged accidents in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana and Wyoming. The possible water, soil and air contamination from fracturing ultimately resulted in an Obama Administration directive to the Environmental Protection Agency in March to study for a second time whether it should be regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Most readers know by now that fracturing, which is not new, just improved, also prompted New York Gov. David Paterson to take caution back in 2008 when companies began targeting this stateís newly discovered riches in the Marcellus Shale. He halted permitting, giving the Department of Environmental Conservation time to revise and update its regulations. Executive orders announced during the governorís last days in office have extended release of those regs through at least July, leaving companies and landowners wanting to develop the regionís shale gas potential effectively shut out of New York at this point.

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