Our future and fracking
On March 19, at the County Legislature’s informational meeting on high volume hydrofracking, some points were made that have important implications for the economic future of our county.
Michael Hogan, of Hogan Energy Consulting, explained that if Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifts the moratorium and fracking comes to our region, it is not the local companies such as Empire Gas that will be doing the work. The machinery, expertise, and costs of that drilling are such that only huge corporations such as Exxon Mobil can undertake it.
Kim Sherwood, of the Chautauqua County Water Quality Task Force, explained that at least 75 percent of potential gas-producing property in the county is already under lease. These leases allow drilling all the way to the core of the earth – if that were possible – so terms negotiated for our usual drilling in sandstone will hold for the Utica shale that lies beneath it.
Most landowners will not be able to get enhanced prices and protective measures such as Mary Hajdu has negotiated for her clients in Pennsylvania, because their land is already leased. That means landowners might not be able to hold the drillers accountable for any damage.
Mr. Sherwood stated the leases are held by a number of smaller companies – I think he said about 20. So the large corporations will be buying up the leases from those companies, whose owners probably stand to make a good profit from them.
William Boria, of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Sherwood, and Mr. Hogan all agreed that the EPA has been unable to enforce existing safety regulations for lack of staff. The agency has too few people to inspect drilling sites more often than once a dig, if that.
Mr. Hogan made a point of saying that the industry he represents wishes the EPA were on the job, but in the present political climate it seems unlikely that the agency will see a significant increase in its budget.
These are considerations that affect the potential benefits and dangers of high volume hydrofracking in our county. We should all listen carefully and critically to the claims on both sides, recognizing that the gas industry has financial interests while citizens concerned about pollution do not.
Clearly, the issues are complex and deserve further study by the public and our elected officials. The League of Women Voters is planning a panel of gas company officials and environmentalists in June – there will be a later announcement. Meanwhile the League is looking forward to hearing from County Executive Vincent Horrigan about his general agenda at our meeting on May 7, to which the public will be warmly invited.
Minda Rae Amiran is a Fredonia resident and League of Women Voters member.