Pro-gas Coalition Requests County’s Backing

By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH – An advisory committee on natural gas development in Chenango County took no action Tuesday on a request to officially endorse the findings of New York’s updated permitting rules and to discourage municipal moratoriums on drilling from superceding them.

Armed with a map showing that the majority of the county’s landowners are in favor of responsible gas development, Central New York Landowners Coalition President Brian Conover asked for the committee to support its members.

“The overwhelming majority of this county is in the coalition or leased. Our responsibility is to our landowners. We should be at the forefront of this train rather than its caboose,” he said, referring to the permitting process once it begins.

Environmental regulators have been compiling and composing safe drilling procedures since 2008 when concerns were raised about high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the method which made it economically feasible to extract oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale. Fracking, as it’s called, unlocks trapped gas by injecting a well with millions of gallons of highly pressurized water mixed with a solution of soap, sand and chemicals that some worry has the potential to contaminate drinking water.

“I would rather do so after the SGEIS is finished,” Chenango County Natural Gas Advisory Committee Chairman Peter C. Flanagan, D-Preston, said, referring to the 900-page document that is anticipated sometime this year.

The committee serves in an advisory role for the county and can recommend resolutions. Instead of backing the coalition’s request, Flanagan suggested the proposed resolution be distributed to the county’s 23 town and City of Norwich supervisors for their individual consideration. He said he would inform the county board and take the resolution to his own town board.

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There are no official bans on drilling in Chenango County, but several townships are considering joining a long list of New York municipalities that have taken Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens at his word when he said in April that communities identified as anti-drilling wouldn’t be subject to the gas-extraction process. The nearby towns of Butternuts and Middlefield in Otsego County and Dryden in Tompkins County have imposed bans, the latter being in the midst of defending their actions in the courts against law suits filed by gas and oil companies and landowners.

“New York State and the DEC do not appear to have a spine. They are capitulating to local sentiment,” Conover said. “Too much is at stake for us. This is an opportunity for our towns to say we already have development here, when the DEC document comes out, then we can say we’re ready to go.”

Anti-drilling sentiment forming

Anti-drilling sentiment is forming in the towns of Plymouth, Smithville, McDonough and German. Road use regulations are in place in Columbus and have been hotly debated in Afton. Potential pipeline routes met with opposition in Coventry and nearby Sidney. The Town of Guilford is in the midst of writing a comprehensive plan that would give it zoning rights when it comes to regulating land use within its borders. Most Chenango County municipalities do not have zoning, something necessary to enforce bans.

In German, a constituent with expertise in the health field has proposed a resolution before his board stipulating that the town would require only non-frack solutions be employed when drilling. Some companies are employing petroleum, recycled waste water or other chemical-free methods to open tight shale fissures and capture the gas. Supervisor Richard Schlag, D-German, said his town lacked the financial strength to fight any lawsuits that might come with an outright moratorium, so had decided to move forward with a resolution.

“Martens (DEC Commissioner) said towns that pass resolutions, to DEC say, in our case, that when you permit wells in German, take the will of the community in mind, and don’t,” Schlag, who is a member of the Natural Gas Advisory Committee, said Tuesday.

There are currently three Norse Energy horizontal, Utica well permit applications filed with the DEC in the Town of German. Chenango County has between 10 and 20 permit applications waiting that would continue natural gas development first begun here in 2005.

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