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Natural Gas Exploration and Development in the Finger Lakes Region of New York: A Tale of Science, Politics and Public Perception



New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, NY


     For the past 30 years, Silurian Medina Group sandstones reigned as New York’s major natural gas play. Recent exploration success targeting the Ordovician Trenton / Black River carbonates, however, has transformed New York’s industry. With fewer than 100 producing wells, production from the Trenton / Black River is forecast to surpass the Medina by the end of 2002. A quick comparison of reservoir characteristics shows that the Trenton / Black River is more of a technology play compared to the Medina. The structurally-controlled Trenton / Black River reservoirs are formed in narrow zones of hydrothermal dolomitization requiring high resolution seismic and other technical methods of identification.

     New York’s Trenton / Black River production region is centered around the Finger Lakes and contains a mix of private, state, and federal lands. The region  experienced both the Oriskany boom of the 1930s and the Queenston development of the 1960s. In 1998, the federal government received a request to grant a lease in the Finger Lakes National Forest, the only designated national forest in New York.  Situated between the southern sections of Cayuga and Seneca lakes, the forest totals approximately 16,000 acres. In 2001, United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management jointly issued the draft environmental impact statement outlining drilling alternatives as required by National Environmental Policy Act. This action generated an acrimonious public debate over natural gas development on federal lands where scientific reasoning was effectively disregarded.