November 23, 2011
Health board calls for local input during gas drilling permit process
The Cortland County Board of Health is urging the state to consider input from local health boards when issuing gas drilling permits in Cortland County.
County Health Department Director Catherine Feuerherm said the information is crucial to protecting public health and local resources.
The board passed a resolution calling for local health departments to have input in the permitting process. It will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Jim Seward and other state representatives.
The resolution calls for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a Memorandum of Understanding between the DEC and health departments, outlining the roles and responsibilities of health departments and the DEC.
The memorandum would eliminate any questions about who is responsible for what type of oversight, Feuerherm said.
Additionally, Feuerherm said she wants to ensure the protection of the county’s sole source aquifer.
Feuerherm wants the rules regarding air and water quality monitoring in the state Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement to be tightened. She wants more of a collaborative approach with the DEC responding to concerns from the beginning, instead of a complaint-based system.
To this end, Feuerherm said she thinks gas companies should establish an escrow account to fund any testing. The account would pay for routine water and air quality testing, not just complaint-based tests, Feuerherm said.
Input from local health departments is necessary because the SEQR does not fully address the potential health impacts of drilling, Feuerherm said.
For example, she cited the potential for radon to be present in the equipment which may be reused again in the commercial world with no oversight by the DEC.
“So the DEC is the one making the rules yet it involves more than the DEC,” Feuerherm said.
Feuerherm hopes the resolution, being introduced by county health departments throughout the state, will get the attention of the governor.
“We’ve not been a presence at the table and the state Department of Health will be dealing with different issues than we will and provide a broader, statewide approach,” Feuerherm said.
Allowing local input will ensure the public health and resources are protected, she said.
“This is what we need to protect the public health at a local level,” Feuerherm said.
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