Born of the energy crisis of the 1970s, gas driller Lenape Resources flourished in western New York for more than three decades — until the revolutionary technology that sparked the nation’s shale gas boom brought the industry to a screeching halt in New York under a moratorium now in its sixth year.
Today, Lenape has just five employees, down from 100 in years past. "Those five, we’re trying to give them work in Pennsylvania," said John Holko, the company’s president. "We’re not going to be here much longer."
As another year closes with a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York and no timetable for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decide whether to lift it, drilling interests have all but given up on the state, and environmental groups are pressing for a permanent ban.
Advancements in horizontal drilling and fracking — which releases gas from rock by injecting a well with a mix of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure — have yielded so much gas from the Marcellus Shale underlying much of the Mid-Atlantic region that gas prices have plummeted. As a result, the less productive vertical wells still allowed in New York are no longer in demand, Holko said.
While other states have allowed shale development even as they scramble to draft regulations, New York has had deep shale drilling on hold since it started developing new rules in 2008. Amid intense pressure from anti-fracking groups, Cuomo has said he wants his health and environmental commissioners to take all the time they need to decide whether fracking can be done safely.
Critics of fracking cite potential air and water contamination and disruptive industrial activity near population centers, while supporters say state regulations mitigate the risks.
At the same time, dozens of towns have enacted their own bans or moratoriums in case the state does approve fracking — although most are outside the region along the Pennsylvania border considered most profitable for gas exploration.