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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 29, 2011
By Jo E. Prout
ALBANY COUNTY The clock is ticking for New York residents concerned about hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, and its effect on their drinking wells. On Wednesday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued its draft regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, opening a 60-day public review period that will end Dec. 12.
As early as the new year, the state could begin issuing permits for the practice, which injects millions of gallons of water combined with chemicals like diesel fuel into ground wells to fracture rock formations so as to extract natural gas.
Local towns, weighing the benefits of the possible $1 trillion industry against the possibility of widespread and long-term well water contamination, are watching to see what laws Albany County will draft. Towns are also waiting to see which way the courts will decide on current legal disputes between three Oneida County towns, hydrofracking corporations, and the farmers who want to lease their land to them.
In Rensselaerville, plans for a moratorium are already underway. Last week, the town board voted to hold a public hearing on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. for a possible one-year moratorium.
“I am neutral. I don’t know enough about it,” said Rensselaerville Supervisor Marie Dermody about hydrofracking. “We’re seeking to create a committee of objectively-minded people” to prepare a study “for the benefit of the entire town,” she said. “If [the moratorium] gets passed, it might be nine months. It all depends on when the law is filed with the state.”
Dermody, whose town created a similar committee to study the effects of wind energy, said that she looks forward to the results of a hydrofracking study.
“I’m in favor of anything that can increase tax revenue and the tax base, but not at the expense of the health and safety of town residents,” Dermody said. “I want [to have] my cake and eat it, too.”
New Scotland Planning Board Chairman Charles Voss said that the town board is “kicking it around,” but that no plans are specifically in the works regarding regulations for hydrofracking. Voss suggested that the town has little stake in the Marcellus Shale deposit, unlike other, nearby towns.
The shale deposit extends from Ohio and West Virginia through Pennsylvania and into New York. The rock is exposed in a few places in New York State along the Finger Lakes, but drilling is supposed to focus on areas where the Marcellus shale is deeper than 2,000 feet, according to the DEC.
For New Scotland, Voss said, he is unsure whether or not the town would be for or against the practice or any need to regulate it.
“I don’t know if it’s hit the radar yet for us,” he said.
Timothy Lippert, a member of Berne’s planning board, said that nothing has been done about hydrofracking legislation there.
“I have brought it up for five months. [The town board’s] not letting it get on the agenda,” Lippert said. “The local boards have not taken any action to protect the water supply of the residents.”
Lippert noted Congressman Paul Tonko’s views about the creation of a water-based economy in New York. Lippert said that he attended an anti-fracking meeting in Schoharie County that Tonko also attended.
“The DEC has completely let down the people of New York State and Albany County by ignoring our water supply,” Lippert said. “We get all our water from the ground.”
With Albany County having many times the amounts of earthquakes as other parts of the state, he said, “How safe can a well be?”
Lippert said that the Berne Town Board is stalling putting hydrofracking on its agenda.
“No one is coming in saying it’s the greatest thing,” he said. “Ignoring the environmental issues won’t make it go away. Berne is burying its head in the sand. I hope that somebody in Albany County speaks up for the residents.”
Berne Supervisor George Gebe, who announced his resignation this week, did not return a call Wednesday.
Also, calls to officials in Westerlo were not returned in time for print.
Knox drafts ordinance
In Knox, the planning board has discussed hydrofracking at its last two meetings, according to Dan Driscoll, a longtime member of the board.
“I’ve just sent a draft change to the zoning board…an ordinance to ban hydrofracking,” Driscoll, an engineer, said. “It’s based on the draft ordinance for the town of Ulysses [Tompkins County]. It goes to the section of the Knox ordinance that bans several industrial activities, and adds to the list.”
The section under the Knox ordinance for prohibited industrial uses would now include extractive industries and injection wells, and would also add definitions of these uses to the ordinance, Driscoll said.
“We’re aware that Albany County has drafted a law. We’re watching what happens there, and the lawsuit [of the town of Dryden],” which is also in Tompkins County. “We’re interested in seeing what the results are,” he said.
While not specifically banning the practice of hydrofracking to retrieve natural gas, which could be superceded by state law, the town would prohibit the use of a staging facility, which could affect the large number of trucks needed for the recovery operations, Driscoll said. The proposed ordinance could also prohibit a terminal for the bulk storage of natural gas. (For details on court history on such laws, go online to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under archives for Aug. 18, 2011.)
The draft ordinance “is concerned about town facilities, roads, and things,” Driscoll said. The board will meet again on the second Thursday of the month, or Oct. 13.
“We’ll see what the board wants to do,” Driscoll said.