County’s Public Works committee debates natural gas right of way law

NORWICH – Two landowners who said they represented a coalition of 40,000 acres criticized Chenango County’s highway department last week for allowing natural gas companies to conduct seismic testing along right-of-ways abutting their land.

Central New York Landowner Coalition members Todd Barnes and Charles Rowe, both of Norwich, also lamented the lack of environmental regulations that would monitor the potential water, soil and air pollution that some experts say could be the result of testing and drilling natural gas wells.

Exploration companies have aggressively targeted Chenango County and other parts of the Southern Tier where geologists have confirmed very large deposits of natural gas can be found beneath the ground. Nearly 2,000 residents attended two informational seminars this month hoping to learn more about leasing their land and/or protecting it.

Sufficient water sources, soap and bacteria-fighting chemicals are needed for the pressurized fracturing activity that releases the natural gas deposits within the well. And because the companies’ activities are exempt from federal Clean Water, Clean Air, Environmental Protection Agency and the Hazardous Waste Acts, states are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Earlier in June, Pennsylvania authorities placed a moratorium on drilling when a natural gas company was found to have used a nearby water source without prior notification.

“One of our issues is permitting testing on county roads in towns where testing isn’t permitted on town roads without first notifying property owners,” Barnes said. “Why is the county giving them permission to mine under my land? Towns are stopping it.”

The Town of Norwich passed a regulation just last month that prohibits companies from receiving permits to test without first acquiring adjacent landowners’ signatures. Only one other town in New York, Cortlandville, invokes the same stipulation on gas companies. The supervisors from Preston and Smyrna said the matter was up for discussion by their town boards, respectively.

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