September 9, 2010
Maps show acreage leased for gas drilling in county
Nearly half of land could be drilled if rules for hydrofracking OK’d
CORTLAND — Nearly half of the land in Cortland County is leased by natural gas companies, which are lining up to drill in the region after state rules for a controversial drilling method know as “hydrofracking” are enacted, according to a map drafted by the county Planning Department.
The map not only accounts for properties but includes roads and state land. If those were excluded, the total percentage of leased property would be much higher, said Planning Department Director Dan Dineen.
Dineen found the results staggering.
“It is quite surprising the amount of land that is leased,” Dineen said.
The map, which was completed last week, does not specify which companies are the predominant lease-holders in the county.
Dineen said the department has been working on the map for the past six months but outdated tax map numbers made the task difficult. The department compiled the information from gas leases filed with the County Clerk’s Office.
County geographical information system specialist Eric Lopez has been mapping the lands and said 48 percent of total property area in the county is leased.
The map highlights all the leased lands in orange, showing state land in green with intermittent white areas where no land is leased. It was not known by press time what portion of the state land is leased for gas drilling.
The city of Cortland shows no leased lands while a few properties in the villages of Marathon and McGraw are leased.
The vast majority of Scott, and large portions of Homer and Virgil are also leased.
Countywide, 18 percent of property parcels are leased. This is because of the numerous unleased parcels in cities and villages.
“There are so many more parcels in the city of Cortland and the villages and none have gas leases ... and that brings down the percentage of number of parcels that have leases,” explained Dineen.
“While larger parcels outside the cities and towns have leases and that brings the percentage of land that is leased higher,” Dineen said.
The map does not distinguish between active and nonactive drilling sites.
Dineen said there are some active vertical drilling operations in the county.
There is a de-facto moratorium on horizontal drilling, however, while the state Department of Environmental Conservation reviews the technology used in these operations. Commonly known as hydrofracking, hydraulic fracturing involves injecting large quantities of chemically treated water into the underlying shale to free trapped gas.
The local group Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County has been active in informing the public about the potential environmental risks of hydrofracking and also informing property owners about their rights when it comes to signing lease agreements.
Jim Weiss, a concerned Marathon resident, said the map will give landowners who do not have gas leases an accurate picture of what is going on around them.
Weiss said although almost half of the county is leased, that does not represent the percentage of the population in favor of drilling.
“It is important to realize that most of these leases were negotiated by landmen who never said a word about hydrofracking, deceiving landowners who expected traditional, less invasive gas drilling,” Weiss said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Lopez said since tax map numbers were recently changed, finding the actual property boundaries was a time-consuming task and delayed his progress.
Lopez said the map will be kept updated and as he finds new data, he will refine the map.
The map does not categorize the leases based on expiration dates. It is unclear whether any soon-to-expire leases will be renewed.
Dineen said the map will be provided to interested citizens and municipalities.
The map are available for viewing at the Planning Department at 37 Church Street.
“They will give municipalities an idea of the extent of gas leases in the county so when they work on their local regulations, whether they be road preservation laws or whatever, it gives municipalities a sense of the amount of land that is leased,” Dineen said.
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