Water Quality Task Force leads fracking discussion

Fracking was discussed at the Chautauqua County Legislature’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting Wed-nesday night, but not in a political way.

The five members of the committee met at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse to learn more about the controversial issue. Kim Sherwood and Bill Boria of the County Health Department’s Water Quality Task Force were invited to the meeting to present on what fracking is, what its effects are on the environment and what considerations should be taken into account while it is being done.

Committee Chairman Fred Croscut said fracking was being discussed at Wednesday’s meeting solely to get the facts on what it is and what the consequences of it really are.

“The reason we had this, I think we need to be proactive instead of reactive and I hope we scratched the surface of this a little bit tonight,” he said.

Sherwood and Boria told the legislators that while fracking does bring jobs to an area, the issue is much more complicated than balancing those jobs with the preservation of water resources around them. It is possible for waste materials to rise to the surface if wells are left abandoned after drilling.

The two presenters also stressed that gas drilling can potentially impact surrounding water wells and the water inside them if they are not examined regularly or if drilling commences too close to them.

After the presentation, Legislator George Borrello proposed an idea to bring it in front of the entire county legislature in a meeting devoted entirely to learning about fracking.

“I thought it was very objective and it was good information,” Borrello said. “I think it would be good to share because there will certainly be more people there to absorb it. At the end of the day, however, I think we’ve gotta see what the state does first.”

“It’s a tough topic, it’s real divisive and it gets real nasty real fast,” Sherwood said. “Somehow we’ve gotta find the people that are willing enough to roll up their sleeves and sit down, as some communities to our east have done, that haven’t already experienced gas drilling, and say ‘OK, what do we have, how do we accommodate this and how can we best be prepared should it come here?'”

The committee agreed that the most ideal time to hold such a meeting for the legislature would be in September, after the summer is over.

Legislator Rod Rogers said he and his colleagues need to hear not only from the researchers who presented at the meeting, but also from those whom fracking will affect, including those poised to gain from it and those who own water wells that could potentially be affected by it.

“No matter what we do, we will have people from both sides of the issue attend, but that’s what you want,” he said. “We expect, hopefully, to have a good public representation there and invite the town supervisors and others because it comes back to them, as well.”

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