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Source: Syracuse Post-Standard

Hundreds turn out to boo and cheer proposed natural gas drilling


Posted: November 13, 2009
Originally Published: November 13, 2009

Binghamton -- More than 750 people from across New York packed a high school auditorium just outside Binghamton on Thursday evening to boo and cheer proposed state regulations to allow deep drilling for natural gas throughout Upstate New York.

Geologists estimate the Utica Shale — an underground black rock formation that stretches from Ontario, Canada, across nearly all of New York state and under every building in Central New York — holds tens of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. The Utica Shale and untapped Marcellus Shale, which also contains a huge reserve 7,000 to 9,000 feet below the earth’s surface, has public officials and large landowners seeing dollar signs in their dreams.

But environmentalists object to the new process devised to capture those resources. They say the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not adequately safeguard the public in the 809-page draft regulations it issued in October.

Jack Ramsden, of Syracuse, who is a member of Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, stood at the hearing — the closest one to Syracuse that the DEC will hold — clutching a sign that expressed his feelings: “DEC: Puppet of Industry.” To collect the gas, drillers shoot under high pressure millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into a well, which breaks up the shale and creates microscopic pathways for the gas to escape. The process is known as fracturing, and is commonly called “fracking” or “hydrofracking.”

Ramsden said that gas companies have already signed 1,300 leases in Onondaga County to drill on 25,000 acres. “We just cleaned up Onondaga Lake. Now we are going to pollute it again,” Ramsden said, adding that millions of gallons of wastewater from drilling operations would threaten water sources in the state.

At two prior public DEC hearings, the crowd was predominantly opposed to hydrofracking. But in Chenango Bridge, landowners seemed to overwhelming support the drilling.

About a dozen elected officials urged the DEC to “pass gas.”

Assemblyman Gary Finch, R-Springport, whose district includes Cayuga and Cortland counties, said New York should take advantage of the economic opportunity, like Pennsylvania, which has already approved hydrofracking permits. “The environmental dangers can be prevented with proper oversight,” he said.

After 50 minutes, the regular folk got their chance to testify. “I think this gas business is going to be the biggest thing since the Erie Canal,” said Fred Gaylord, of Greene.

“Maybe you who would like to dictate to us how we can use our land would like to pay our taxes,” suggested Chris Lacey, a Chenango housewife, who said her family hopes to earn income from gas drilling leases on their 80 acres.

Dereth Glance, of Syracuse, executive program director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, received the first boos of the hearing when she asked the DEC to extend the public comment period until the end of January.

She urged DEC officials to continue to prohibit oil and gas leasing in sensitive watersheds — as it did in 2006 for Bear Swamp State Forest, in the Skaneateles Lake watershed, the drinking water source for Syracuse.

She questioned whether taxpayers will be forced to pay to build dozens of new wastewater treatment plants to handle the “cocktail of chemicals” and potentially radioactive waste found in hydrofracking wastewater.

Glen Williams of the town of Chenango, who owns more than 100 acres, said he’s refused to lease his property to gas drillers. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but it doesn’t smell good to me.” He said that his neighbors’ homes would lose all their value if drilling polluted the aquifers feeding their wells.