Gas drilling concerns want to know what the hold up is

NORWICH – The low drone from drilling rigs can still be heard through the hills and dales of Smyrna, landmen have begun to infiltrate further north into Madison County and rumors are flying about more lease deals coming to Broome County property owners.

All that activity should be enough to spur state lawmakers into completing the Marcellus Shale permitting process, a group of Chenango County supervisors say – not to mention the constant bombardment of communiqué over the Internet from local government officials, environmentalists, landowner coalitions and natural gas industry lobbyists.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is supplementing its environmental regulations for hydrofraking permits in the natural gas rich Marcellus Shale. The update was to have been completed in March, but isn’t expected now until fall. Industry followers say many companies are lined up to drill once permits can be issued.

“Very simply, what else is in New York? This is an opportunity that is almost certain,” Chenango County Supervisor Peter C. Flanagan, D-Preston, and chair of the county’s special committee on natural gas, said Tuesday.

A rally scheduled for Aug. 23 in Bainbridge, sponsored by 23 Central New York coalitions, aims to provide a forum for landowners to ask their elected county and state officials, including Governor Paterson - who will all be invited - why the DEC’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is being held up.

“We’re going to get an invitation. I suppose they’ll have a seat for us and if we’re not there ... The way I understand it is we are going to be asked to weigh in on the state. They want to know why no SGEIS yet, and ask us: ‘What are you doing about moving things along?’” said Flanagan.

Bryant LaTourette, whose coalition, the Oxford Land Group, is sponsoring the rally, said in a press release that gas drilling “is being impeded by undue delay at the DEC.”

Members of the Chenango County Natural Gas Committee speculate that the document is being held up by state legislators posturing for a severance tax on production.

Another factor could be environmentalists and their downstate supporters who have called for a moratorium on hydrofraking in the New York City Watershed in the Upper Delaware River. They say both surface water and underwater aquifers could be threatened by the chemicals in hydrofraking solutions, formation water and spill accidents.

DEC Spokesman Yancey Roy said yesterday the SEIGS is delayed because “third party information,” or technical information from the industry itself and its consultants, has taken longer to obtain.

“As for the time frame, DEC is dealing with a number of consultants, technical advisors, and state agencies, and though no one particular sector is to blame, if one consultant is a week late, then it pushes someone else back a week or two. The state is trying to be comprehensive in its review and given a project this size, a small slippage in the time frame isn’t unusual,” said Roy.

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