The Marcellus Shale stretches from eastern Ohio, northern and western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and into the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region of New York. Decomposition of organic materials in the sediments has trapped vast natural gas reserves in this formation. Those reserves, estimated at more than 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, have the potential to "meet the entire nation's natural gas needs for at least 14 years." To put this into context, New York state uses about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.
The Marcellus lies nearly a mile or more below the surface, which makes reaching the natural gas contained within the shale a very expensive operation. Rising energy prices, new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques and the construction of the Millennium Pipeline through the Southern Tier have made the natural gas reserves more appealing. That has touched off a gas rush, leaving residents as well as local and state governments scrambling to deal with this sudden interest in drilling in the region.
In July 2008, Governor David Paterson signed a bill to streamline the application process for drilling in the Marcellus Shale, but also ordered the state to update the 1992 generic environmental impact statement in order to address issues related to the large volumes of water required for the hydraulic fracturing process. The Draft Supplemental GEIS was released on September 30, 2009 and the public comment period ended on December 31, 2009. The DEC is currently reviewing comments received during the public comment period. The final Draft Supplemental GEIS will be released in 2010. The update will examine the potential impacts from new horizontal drilling techniques, and the potential impact to groundwater, surface water, wetlands, air quality, noise, traffic and other cumulative impacts.