OXFORD – The hydraulic fracturing debate is heating up in the Village of Oxford as trustees settle in tonight at a public hearing on a one-year moratorium on shale gas drilling. The meeting, set to begin at 7:30 p.m., has been moved to the Oxford American Legion to accommodate the anticipated crowd.
The proceedings in this tiny Chenango County locale of 1,450, are significant because if Oxford does enact a moratorium, it would be the only municipality in New York to prohibit drilling where the industrial activity will most likely occur. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Chief, Joseph Martens, has listed Chenango County as one of the Southern Tier counties where the Marcellus Shale would first (because of the formation’s sufficient depth) be developed.
While Oxford was finalizing its plan over the past month, the City of Binghamton’s moratorium on natural gas drilling, imposed in 2011, was struck down following a lawsuit filed by a Vestal-based landowners coalition and five businesses.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process whereby large quantities of water mixed with chemicals, solvents and sand are shot down through a well shaft more than a mile underground and then veer horizontally, targeting shale formations. The intense pressure and fracking fluid breaks open fissures in the rock, the sand keeps the layers propped open and the gas is released to be captured at the well head. Opponents of the process argue that chemicals contained within both the fracturing fluids and the formation wastewater might somehow escape through the shaft and contaminate the water table. Landowner groups wanting to lease their land and companies wanting to develop natural gas say the process is safe, and point to the NYDEC’s draft permitting regulations which would require three layers of cement casings around the steel well shaft.