Dansville overflows for fracking hearing

By Amy Kotlarz/Catholic Courier    |    11.21.2011
Category: Local News


DANSVILLE -- Hundreds showed up but only a portion got to speak during a public hearing in Dansville Nov. 16 on proposed state regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

In addition to the Dansville hearing on the process, which is also known as hydrofracking, a hearing took place Nov. 17 in Binghamton. The public also will have a chance to be heard Nov. 29 in Sullivan County and Nov. 30 in New York City.

The public will have until Jan. 11 to comment on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). The document outlines new permit conditions for horizontal natural gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing across the state, including in shale located in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.

The SGEIS estimates that a typical well with a 30-year life could generate $1.45 million in tax revenue for local governments while also increasing demand on government services and infrastructure. It notes that the state could receive millions in higher personal income tax receipts, depending on the level of development. If 413 wells were drilled under the low-development scenario, the drilling could create 4,408 full-time jobs, and if 1,652 wells were drilled under the medium-development scenario, the drilling could create 17,634 jobs.

The SGEIS recommends that the DEC limit simultaneous construction of well pads and wells to lessen cumulative impacts, which it says would mitigate impacts on community character, noise and increased truck traffic, as well as visual impacts.

Some speakers argued that high-volume hydraulic fracturing may be able to provide an economic boost for the area. Dan Fitzsimmons, president of Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which is a coalition of landowners that support natural gas drilling, said landowners have been waiting since 2008 for the revised regulations to be finalized.

Chuck Gauss of Campbell said he was not at the hearing to speak but he was there to hear the discussion. He has land that he has not leased, but he might consider doing so in the future. To him, the issue came down to one of trust in the DEC’s findings that high-volume hydraulic fracturing can be done safely with certain regulations in place.

"I’d like to see the actual facts instead of all of these innuendoes and allegations," said Gauss, a retiree who in the past has driven a school bus and delivered mail. "I don’t think anyone wants bad water. I have to put trust in what the DEC finds."

Jason Ballard of Lindley, who lives about a mile from the Pennsylvania border, said hydraulic fracturing has brought an economic boom to his neighbors in Pennsylvania.

"In our state, we are running on fumes, and we are sitting on a full tank -- one of the biggest in the world," Ballard said of the natural gas believed to be locked in the state's Marcellus Shale rock formations.

High-school senior Chad Vitale of Steuben County spoke in support of moving forward with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, and he noted that more natural gas produced in the U.S. may wean the country off a dependence on foreign oil.

"A treasure trove of subterranean hope exists right under my feet," Vitale said.

Yet several speakers active in the Diocese of Rochester spoke about with concerns about the process.

Ruth Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities, spoke on behalf of the diocesan Public Policy Committee, which has reviewed the revised regulations. She said the report does not include a complete assessment of the costs and fiscal implications, and noted that it also is lacking a review of the public-health aspects of the high-volume hydraulic fracturing. She noted that the natural gas industry has challenged the legality of local high-volume hydraulic fracturing bans enacted by some communities.

"These bans represent the will of the people at its most basic level," Marchetti remarked.

Sister of St. Joseph Lorraine Julien said she is concerned that toxic chemicals from fracking fluid could make their way into the area's water supply.

"The SGEIS does not ban fracking chemicals that are toxic and carcinogenic," Sister Julien said.

Anne Kriz of Farmington, chair of the Social Justice Outreach committee of Fairport's Church of the Assumption, said she believes that instead of the state investing in the development of a fossil fuel, it should be investing in renewable sources of energy. She noted that New York's agriculture and tourism industries depend on clean water to survive.

"There is no way for these industries to coexist with hydrofracking," Kriz said.

Joyce Hunt, co-owner of Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, said at a rally prior to the hearing that vineyard owners in the Finger Lakes fear that widespread hydraulic fracturing could harm their businesses. She noted that the wine industry contributes $3.7 billion a year to New York’s economy, and she said word of one spill or industrial accident could irreparably harm the area’s tourism industry.

"As a seventh-generation farm family, we take the long view and consider ourselves stewards of the land," Hunt said.

Gary P. Hoffman of Middlesex, a member of the Vine Valley Hydrofracking Study Group, said prior to the hearing that his interest was piqued in hydraulic fracturing because he is an engineering consultant specializing in reuse of waste energy at industrial facilities. He and several neighbors formed the study group, and they learned, while speaking to executives at several area banks, that industrial-leasing-related activity may violate clauses in homeowners' mortgages, mortgage insurance, mortgage title insurance and homeowners' insurance. Hoffman said these effects could occur without warning and could prevent a person from selling land or from receiving payment if an insurance claim is filed.

"People should know about the financial ruin they will face if they lease their property," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: People may still submit comments to the DEC online or in writing. Visit www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html or mail written comments to Attn: SGEIS Comments, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510. Include your name, address and affiliation (if any).

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