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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 22, 2012


Cooke named deputy super
Fracking committee considers effects on neighbors

RENSSELAERVILLE — The crowd at this month’s town board meeting got an update from members of the recently formed Rensselaerville High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Committee, which drew on information obtained at the annual New York State Association of Towns conference in February.

John Mormile, a retired schoolteacher who has been heading the hydrofracking committee since its formation last fall, said this week that the committee may hold a workshop with the town board on how the state’s Compulsory Integration Law can affect residents who own property adjacent to a drilling site.

“When we were giving our presentation to the board, it was obvious they didn’t know what compulsory integration was, and I don’t think most people do,” Mormile said this week. “Basically, in a 640-acre plot — that’s a basic requirement for well-pad drilling for shale gas — if you’re a neighbor, and you’re next to that plot, the gas company drills vertically first, and can drill horizontally underneath your property,” with or without the neighbor’s approval.

These landowners, Mormile went on, have three options, according to his research.

“One is to not sign any lease agreement, and they can still drill under your property, but they’re required to give you some basic royalties after their expenses are met,” Mormile said of gas companies. “Another option, as a contingent landowner, is to sign an agreement that allows them to drill under you, and you get slightly higher royalties; and the third option is, you can put money up front to share the cost of drilling and, of course, that gets you the largest royalties. It’s kind of forcing people to have their property drilled underneath either way.”

However, according to New York State’s Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Law, “A public hearing must precede every compulsory integration order.”

Also at the town board meeting this month, Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury appointed Councilwoman Marion Cooke as her deputy.

“They needed a second person to be in charge,” Cooke said, “in case the supervisor gets sick. Otherwise, we’d be back in the same situation we were in two months ago, where we had no one to sign checks or anything. And, it’s a little easier with a town board member, because they’re aware of what goes on at previous meetings and stuff and be on board with all that stuff.”

Cooke refers to the January resignation of Marie Dermody, who was half-way through her first four-year term as supervisor when she quit.

Hydrofracking

At its Nov. 10 meeting, the town board voted in favor of a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, so that the town could research the effects of the drilling process on this rural town, which sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation, along with the other neighboring Hilltowns, and New Scotland.

Hydrofracking is a drilling process used by oil companies to reach shale deposits, “done in multiple stages, typically using 300,000 to 600,000 gallons of water per stage,” according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC released a revision of its supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) for hydraulic fracturing on Sept. 7. The document reviews the potential environmental impacts of hydrofracking, and how to minimize those impacts; and the public comment period for the DEC’s proposed regulations on hydrofracking has been extended to Jan. 11, 2012.

The DEC would have the responsibility of granting permits for drilling, and the state’s Environmental Conservation Law says that it “shall supersede all local laws or ordinances relating to the regulation of the oil, gas and solution mining industries.”

Some argue that municipalities can exercise some control over hydraulic fracturing by using their zoning laws. The Rensselaerville committee will eventually make recommendations to the town board on what is right for the town.

On Feb. 21, Mormile attended an Association of Towns conference in New York City, along with committee member Jeanette Rice, and they shared their experience with the town board at this month’s meeting.

Michael Atchie of natural-gas company Chesapeake Energy addressed the crowd at the conference, and spoke briefly on the safety of the drilling process, including, Mormile said, “building well-pad containers that are larger than the wastewater containers near the well heads. And he did explain that the gas company has third-party responders in the event of very serious problems. However, he did not say how far from the drilling locale those third-party responders would be, or how long their response time would be. And that’s a problem, because that means the burden would focus on us, locally.”

Atchie’s presentation left the crowd with more questions than answers, Mormile said, though it provided the Rensselaerville committee with some guidance on where to focus its research.

Mormile also reported that Steven Russo, deputy commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, told the crowd at the conference that the DEC has received close to 61,000 comments, recommendations, and questions this year on shale-gas drilling in New York. The chief concern among these responses was the potential impacts on human and environmental health, particularly regarding water contamination by gas migrating into wells and aquifers, air pollution and noise levels around drilling sites, and the release of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) within the shale.

Mormile told the crowd that he expects the hydrofracking committee’s work to continue into the summer before it can begin holding informational sessions, and submit a final report to the board.

— By Zach Simeone


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