New York moves to update its fracking ban to include liquid carbon-dioxide as well as water

The measure would immediately block a Texas company that wants to use the method as an alternative to hydraulic fracturing with a water-based solution

Joan and Harold Koster
Joan and Harold Koster pose for a photo in front of a historic barn on their property, known as Itaska Valley Farm, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Whitney Point, N.Y. The Kosters were asked by Texas-based Southern Tier Energy Solutions to lease their land to extract natural gas by injecting carbon dioxide into the ground, which they rejected and are opposed to.Heather Ainsworth (AP)

Natural gas drilling companies would be banned in New York from using an extraction method that involves injecting large amounts of liquified carbon dioxide deep underground under a bill moving through the state legislature.

The measure would immediately block a Texas company that wants to use the method as an alternative to hydraulic fracturing with a water-based solution. The bill passed in the state Assembly on March 12. The state Senate is expected to vote this week.

The company, Southern Tier Solutions, says on its website that it wants to use carbon captured from power plants, rather than water, to extract natural gas in New York’s Southern Tier, where the underground rock formations make more traditional drilling methods unprofitable.

Opponents say the company is simply trying to use a different mix of chemicals to circumvent New York’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, and they claim that using captured carbon instead of water involves many of the same environmental risks.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said New York doesn’t have much of an appetite for allowing fracking of any kind. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said she would review the legislation.

The company ultimately wants to lease one million acres, and hopes to start some drilling as soon as this summer if it can get a permit. The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it hasn’t yet received an application.

Company officials and its president, Bryce P. Phillips, didn’t return phone and email messages from The Associated Press. But in past interviews, Phillips has said using carbon dioxide rather than water for fracking could have environmental benefits.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground under pressure intense enough to break layers of rock that contain oil or natural gas deposits so that the fossil fuel can be extracted. Fracking can cause earthquakes and has raised concerns about groundwater contamination.

Energy companies have done this kind of fracking for years in the Marcellus and Utica Shales, vast rock formations that extend for hundreds of miles. Pennsylvania, with a long history in oil and coal extraction, welcomed the jobs it brought. But political opposition stopped a gas bonanza from taking off in New York, Maryland, Vermont and some other states.

New Yorkers began calling their state representatives last fall after thousands of residents in Broome, Chemung and Tioga counties got letters from Southern Tier Solutions, offering to lease their land for drilling.

Retired sheep farmers Harold and Joan Koster, whose farm is outside Binghamton, were among the many landowners who received letters.

“We were ready to throw it right in the trash,” said Harold Koster. “This guy from Texas wants to come in, take the goods, rape the local people in terms of their environment and labor, and by the time they’re done, take the resource, and leave them with nothing.”

John Nicolich, whose land is in Windsor, along the Pennsylvania state line, also received an offer, which he says he won’t sign until more is known about the risks and benefits of CO2 injection. Still, he thinks banning the technology isn’t fair.

“My resource as a mineral owner is potentially being pulled away,” he said.

Phillips described his plans in an interview in December on the WCNY-TV radio show Capitol Pressroom. He said the carbon dioxide would be captured and piped from power plants in Pennsylvania, and once injected, would either stay underground or in pipes to be reused for more fracking.

“No methane is released into the atmosphere through this process. No carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere,” Phillips said.

Liquified carbon dioxide has been in development for decades as an alternative to water in fracking, and some researchers agree with the extraction industry that it could ease pressure on the aquifers and groundwater that ultimately supply water for drinking and irrigation.

As for environmental impacts, “the devil is in the details,” said Birol Dindoruk, a professor of petroleum engineering at University of Houston.

In places with a water shortage, or where wastewater disposal might be an issue, the use of carbon dioxide to improve, or stimulate, the gas extraction can be seen as an alternative, he said.

“You don’t have to clean up as much as you would clean with certain fracking fluids,” Dindoruk said, depending on what additives are in the mix. But any such operation would have to prove that its total CO2 emissions would be lower than fracking with water.

“If they claim to be green,” said Dindoruk, “they would have to show it in numbers.”

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