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Utica Shale Natural Gas Drilling in NY

Charlotte Gerber is an author with a keen interest in politics and the environment.

Gas drilling schematics.  (

Gas drilling schematics. (

The natural gas boom is not limited to the Marcellus Shale Formation; yet another, possibly more lucrative natural gas deposit exists called the Utica Shale Formation. This formation runs from the middle of Pennsylvania up through Quebec and has high revenue potential.

While much of the focus has been on the Marcellus Shale Formation that stretches across Appalachia, the research and development of the Utica Formation has had oil and gas companies vying for poll position in getting landowners to sign away the rights for exploration. In addition, the rich mineral deposits that also lie along both of these natural gas formations are incredibly valuable.

About the Utica Shale Formation

The Utica Shale Formation, also known as Ordovician Utica Shale, overlaps the Marcellus Shale Formation as it extends from Quebec, Canada, to the middle of Pennsylvania. It is underneath the Marcellus Shale, which means that natural gas drilling companies would have to drill much deeper to reach these gas deposits. Shale gas deposits can be tapped by using vertical drilling or by the hydrofracting process.

The Utica Shale is a thick shale; it ranges in depth from 150 to 700 feet thick. Shale gas that has been extracted successfully exists in rocks from the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras.

Utica Shale Production Potential in NY

The current output for natural gas wells in the Utica Formation located in Quebec have an output of approximately one million cubic feet per day. This formation overlaps a substantial portion of the Marcellus Shale Formation in the Southern Tier of New York. If drilling were to be done, either vertically or by use of hydrofracting in New York, it would decrease New York City's dependency on oil and coal.

New York will be deciding which natural gas drilling permits to issue in the coming months. Currently there is a heated debate on whether hydrofracting should be allowed or not, due in part to concern over the salt water brine produced during the process being released into water tables.

How Natural Gas Drilling Is Changing Lives

Many newspapers have reported on the natural gas exploration occurring in Pennsylvania. The reports, however, seem to only cover problems that arise in the drilling process, not the positive effects that have occurred or are happening to local and state economies, as well as for landowners, many of which are farmers.

One report, Bradford County Residents see Marcellus Shale development changing their lives, on the website detailed how the farmers are likely to blow their earnings from natural gas drilling on “dream vacations,” and that the drilling was taking place in picturesque “old pastures.” The writers apparently had no concept of what it is like to be a farmer, nor what the rural community has to do in order to eke out a living. Farmers do not have 401K or retirement plans. They usually don’t have health insurance and rarely, if ever, can afford to send their children to college.

Running a farm is very expensive, and with agriculture prices diving and extensive new government regulations forcing many farmers out of business, it is no wonder that these rural dwellers are ready to latch on to anything that will lift them out of poverty. These landowners have the right to sell the rights to natural gas drilling companies if they wish, and they should not feel that they have to preserve unusable pasture land for the general public's viewing pleasure.

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Natural Gas Drilling Updates for NY

November 2014: Currently Gov. Andrew Cuomo has refused to take action to allow hydrofracting in NY stating that he will let science decide the outcome. A recent study by the Ohio State University released in September, 2014 revealed the cause of groundwater contamination in Ohio and Pennsylvania: "There is no question that in many instances elevated levels of natural gas are naturally occurring, but in a subset of cases, there is also clear evidence that there were human causes for the contamination," said study leader Thomas Darrah, assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State. "However our data suggests that where contamination occurs, it was caused by poor casing and cementing in the wells," Darrah said.

August 2010, there is a moratorium on drilling/hydrofracting in NY, which would last until May of 2011. This moratorium has the potential to be extended an additional 3 years if the EPA does another study of the hydrofracting process and its relationship to drinking water.

The EPA previously did a similar study that was published in 2004. The new proposed study would cost taxpayers 1.9 million dollars.

Update: March, 2011, drilling will be permitted beginning in July of this year. Permits are being issued, and have been since November of 2010. Propane fracking may be the favored method in the fracking process as there are many opponents of hydrofracking.

Update: October, 2011, a second open comment period is nearing the end on the latest SGEIS report. At the end of the comment period, gas lease permits may be issued beginning in 2012. Latest report from the NY Post: Fracking Gets a Clean Bill of Health

Update: December, 2011, a third open comment period is going to be allowed. The DEC appears incapable of making a decision in a timely fashion. The comment periods have lasted for 3 years now.

Update: February, 2013, the DOH has found no health issues with fracking and has advised the DEC accordingly. The DEC is finalizing the SGEIS report and permits will be issued 10 days after the finalization of the document.

The JLCNY has sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo stating the following: February 15, 2013 – Binghamton, NY. “Towns simply do not have the expertise, knowledge and resources to properly evaluate and administer natural gas development. Towns passing bans or moratoriums are acting upon emotional and political pressures from various groups opposing natural gas development, and not empirical evidence derived by the towns. Most towns have done little or no independent investigation into natural gas drilling. Many bans are primarily delay tactics to discourage drilling companies from coming to New York State all in direct violation of New York’s Environmental Conservation Law 23-0301 which states that it is in the public interest to drill in a manner as will prevent waste and provide for the operation and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that will achieve a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas.

“It is with this in mind that we ask the Court to understand that we as town officials recognize our limitations and we ask that issues related to the regulation of natural gas development, including bans on natural gas activity, continue to be under the jurisdiction of the state. We also ask the Court to recognize that the Association of Towns does not speak for a significant number of its members to the extent that it supports either the pro natural gas development or anti natural gas development positions. In fact, the Association’s town members were never asked to vote on whether the Association would submit Amicus Curiae briefs in these cases.”


Ron Gawthorp from Millboro, Virginia on July 11, 2010:

Darned good hub. I didn't know about the Utica. Glad for the info. I was recently visiting relatives in Illinois and was told the lease hounds are working on shales in Trenton section for possible horizontal development. It was seldom feasible in vertical wells but always put out a good shell. Keep on writing.

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