Press & Sun-Bulletin: Drillers target three counties in Southern Tier

Steve Reilly

BINGHAMTON — A portion of the Southern Tier stretching from Binghamton west to Elmira is likely to be the bull’s-eye when natural gas drillers target New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale, according to experts in shale geology.

Terry Engelder and Gary Lash, geologists whose calculations have been credited with helping spur the natural gas rush in Pennsylvania, said the Southern Tier holds the most promise amid the 18,700 square miles of New York covered by the Marcellus.

“There are certain geologic parameters that determine the economic qualities of gas shale,” said Engelder, a professor at Penn State University. “In New York state, the combination of these parameters is optimal under Broome, Tioga and Chemung counties.”

Those geologic qualities include the depth, thickness, core pressure and organic richness of the portion of the Marcellus that lies about 3,000 to 5,000 feet below the surface.

In 2008, Engelder and Lash, a professor at the State University College at Fredonia, released a study estimating 50 trillion cubic feet of gas is recoverable from the Marcellus, which stretches from New York to Tennessee.

Since then, drilling activity has boomed — most notably in Pennsylvania — alongside a heated debate over whether the horizontal, high-volume hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract the gas is harmful to the environment.

Permitting for high-volume hydrofracking has been on hold in New York since 2008. But state Department of Environmental Conservation officials last month indicated that permits could be issued as soon as early next year.

It is the opinion of Engelder and Lash that when the first Marcellus drilling comes to the state, it will likely start in the Binghamton area.

“I think Broome County — especially the southern half of Broome County — holds a lot of promise,” Lash said. “The Marcellus is deep and it’s quite thick. It borders on Susquehanna County (Pennsylvania), where there’s been a lot of success.”

However, Engelder said drilling in New York isn’t likely to match the Keystone State’s productivity.

“That’s largely because the geological parameters are even better in Pennsylvania than in New York,” he said. “But nevertheless, I think that those three counties in southern New York state will benefit greatly.”

Questions surround the potential productivity of the rest of the 29 counties that completely or partially overlap with the Marcellus.

“We’ll just let the operators themselves experiment outward in New York state from that central core,” Engelder said.

John Holko, secretary of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, an industry group, said he concurred with Engelder and Lash. “All indication, before any holes are put in the ground, is that that’s the area to be,” Holko said, referring to the three Southern Tier counties.

Of the 58 permit applications for horizontal Marcellus Shale wells pending with the DEC, 34 are for wells that would be located in Broome, Tioga and Chemung counties. The others are in Delaware and Cattaraugus counties.

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