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July 29, 2009

 

Gas drilling forum focuses on proposed state regulations

Forum

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Mark Millspaugh, president of Sterling Environmental Engineering, speaks to county residents Tuesday about concerns with gas drilling during a seminar at the New York State Grange Headquarters.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Residents at a seminar on gas drilling held Tuesday in Cortland were urged to weigh in on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed state regulations on gas drilling.
The DEC expects to release its revised Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement sometime in the fall of 2009, said Mark Millspaugh, president of the Latham-based firm, Sterling Environmental Engineering.
When it does, he said, residents should be prepared to respond with questions and feedback.
The forum was hosted by the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District at the New York State Grange Headquarters off Clinton Avenue.
About 30 people attended.
The state document is a comprehensive study of the horizontal drilling technique that is used to extract natural gas through a process called hydrofracking, which injects millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the fissures of shale to release the gas contained within the rock.
The impact statement will outline the potential adverse impacts the drilling could have on the environment. The DEC will identify standards that each drilling permit application must meet for an application to be approved.
Until this document is approved no horizontal drilling can occur unless a company chooses to go through a site-specific environmental review, a lengthy process which companies are likely to forego in favor of the generic review that is coming out.
There are currently no active gas wells in Cortland county and no pending applications for horizontal drilling in the county.
Millspaugh said that since the document is not yet released he does not know specifically what hazards will be identified, but he mentioned groundwater pollution and road damage as two likely areas of concern.
Millspaugh said it is up to towns and municipalities to ensure their needs are taken into consideration during the 45-day public comment period that will be held after the document is released.
In the meantime, municipalities and towns must first identify their local resources that need protection, Millspaugh said.
“The DEC is relying on local agencies to provide them with information. They don’t know the local community the way the local people do,” Millspaugh said.
Roads are an area that municipalities have great leeway in protecting, Millspaugh said.
Environmental Attorney Kimberlea Rea of Bronxville also spoke at the meeting and mentioned permitting programs towns could establish to impose controls such as weight limits on local roads.
These permits could also ensure that only specified roads are used for the shipping of chemically treated water and other gas drilling activities. Municipalities could regulate the times the roads are traveled and also require maintenance and repair costs be paid by the gas companies, Rea said.
Residents should demand the DEC be told the ingredients in the chemically treated water used for hydrofracking and share it with the public, she said.
This is proprietary information and not released publicly but Rea said municipalities can argue that they have the right to such information since the treated water will be shipped on their roads. In the event of an accident, emergency responders need to know what chemicals they need to clean up, Rea said.
DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said this morning that the DEC commissioner has said companies would not receive a permit to drill unless they disclose what chemicals are used.
“Drilling will happen. Consult an attorney ... do your homework and communicate with the DEC. And recognize a lot of people in town support drilling,” Millspaugh said.
Freetown Town Supervisor Mary Mackey said after the meeting that she is thinking about sharing with neighboring towns the cost of hiring an engineering firm to explore establishing a road permitting system.
“I want to preserve the quality of life in our rural town. An initial step would be to come up with a permitting process,” Mackey said. She said she would ask officials from McGraw, Marathon and Solon if they would join that effort.
Cortlandville resident Pam Jenkins wants the county to hire legal and technical experts to stay on top of the issue.
“We need to know what is combined with the water that is injected into the ... shale formation. Because those fissures could be contiguous with different underground water sources,” Jenkins said.

 

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