Portland hears from drillers

PORTLAND – Members of the Portland Town Council heard a lengthy public comment with open minds during a recent meeting. Several representatives from the gas and oil fields, some of whom are town residents, and all who have drilled on town property, came out to present their side to the League of Women Voters’ requested moratorium on the transportation of hydrofracking materials.

With none of the league representatives in attendance, Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz opened the public comment by pointing to the 2,000 plus page supplemental generic environmental impact study (or SGEIS) that is currently being reviewed by state leaders before lifting the delay on permit applications.

“Basically they’re looking at just five counties in the whole state, this document shows the fracking methods to be used, it talks about regulations for ponds, although what is proposed would be hauled directly out with no storage and it looks like they’re intending to put some tight regulations on this after learning from what has happened in other states. I guess at this point, we have to ask ourselves ‘what does a moratorium do for the Town of Portland?'”

The supervisor also pointed out that the two state roads traverse the town and the fact that hazardous materials are already transported across them daily.

“That’s why trucks are plackered, I just think we’re opening up a can of worms by looking at hazardous materials coming off of state roads, and I feel the board needs to research this further before taking any drastic steps because I don’t see any benefit to the Town of Portland on placing a moratorium. New York State has put a lot of time in reviewing this to make sure it’s done safely and to protect our resources.”

Tim Hull, vice president for Empire Energy, followed by noting that placing a moratorium would force the town to ask taxpayers to prepare a lot of documentation that would have no effect, since the legality of taking potential hydrofracking materials off of state roads would negate the moratorium.

“I don’t see anything happening in this county for at least five to seven years. The permit process is a one-year-long process and you can’t drill within 100 feet of a flood plain. Traffic studies have to be done so you don’t disturb people, road use agreements, all of that is part of the process before the DEC can even look at an application,” stated Hull.

He also gave a nod to local representatives in this part of the state that have to routinely fight downstate metropolitan politics in order to keep gas and oil businesses going. Potential issues with landowners having their rights taken away, especially in the realm of mineral rights or gas royalties and a potential decrease in the assessment of their property or increase in their property tax, were other issues that Hull stated could come from a moratorium or ban on hydrofracking.

“My job at that point, is to go to investors and if there is a politically shaky environment surrounding the process, it makes it harder to get the investments. It’s not just a matter of pass the moratorium and it will have no effect – because it does” he added.

Councilman Al Valentin posed questions to the group on behalf of town residents throughout the meeting stating “you can’t ignore the environmental argument.”

“Anytime you do anything, you stand a chance of screwing up. In Pennsylvania, the problems that have been there were with containment ponds. In New York, everything would go directly into containers; nothing would be flowing back into a pit. You would have at least two layers of pipe to protect the aquifer. Before you can drill any well you have to get water samples from everyone, drill, then resample up to a year after. That’s part of this document, New York state has looked at the issues that other states have had,” stated Hull.

The group claims that New York state is one of the more stringent states that has delayed opening the application process, out of the more than 30 which are now allowing hydrofracking, defined as creating a fracture with high pressure, high volume water.

“I want to be able to tell residents that their water is going to be OK, that noise pollution will not exist, that’s why I’m asking these questions to you. You have to admit that horizontal fracking is more involved,” stated Valentin.

Dave White, an eastern division representative of EnerVest and a Mayville native, explained that while it is a bigger expanse of drilling it’s a smaller disturbance to land to horizontally drill because it’s done from a pre-constructed pad. White also added that security fencing, noise abatement systems, roadway engineering are even more are strictly adhered to for any drilling process, as well as several hundred to a few thousand feet of setback space from any property.

“The company does the engineering on roadways and it’s done at our expense. The towns are protected by the state in the SGEIS and we would be willing to provide more in-depth information or meet with you again to answer any more questions you may have,” added White.

He also told the council that even at this stage, it is very much an unknown whether or not it would be worth tapping into Marcellus Shale. While the concept is new to the area, it has been performed over several decades, citing initial deep tests that have been performed in Olean and as close as Westfield.

The group thanked the council for keeping an open mind about the issue.

Councilman Rick Manzella concluded, “This whole thing started as a resolution they wanted us to adopt and all of the sudden it’s a moratorium, next will be a complete ban on drilling as a whole. I personally think taking this whole thing under review and tabling any further discussion of drilling or fracking of any sort is what needs to be done.”

Valentin added that he was glad to hear the other side of the issue Wednesday and that he is still conducting research of his own on the issue.

Concluding that the council’s responsibility is “to make the best decision for our residents,” Schrantz and the rest of the council members resolved to table the issue for further discussion.

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