In Upstate NY, Gas Drilling Debate Gets Local

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Anti-fracking sign (Maria Scarvalone/WNYC)

Many people in Sidney, N.Y., were outraged when the town board voted unanimously to provide a 50-year franchise to Leatherstocking Gas Co. for a natural gas pipeline at a meeting last month. Dozens shouted “Postpone the vote!” as they protested the town board’s vote in favor of the franchise. Their fear: that it will open the door to the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a hot topic in upstate New York these days, where the gas drilling debate has moved to the local level. 

Across the region, town boards are debating its merits and some are deciding to use zoning to ban fracking locally. And as the debate heats up, it is pitting neighbor against neighbor: landowners who want gas leases against environmentalists and others who fear fracking.

This drilling technique, of shooting water, sand and chemicals into rock to extract natural gas, requires millions of gallons of chemically treated water when it is used on deep horizontal wells.

In response to fears of water supply contamination and other environmental damage, New York has not allowed high-volume hydraulic fracturing in its enormous Marcellus shale formation up until now. But in September, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation released new draft regulations for this drilling, and may start issuing permits for it next year.

Using ‘Home Rule’ provision, residents push to change laws

Having lost confidence that the state will prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, citizen groups are petitioning their town boards for a ban by using their power to make local land-use laws. Under the state constitution’s “home rule” provision, towns control zoning, and -- in the same way they would zone out junkyards or hotels -- they are changing their laws to zone out heavy industry, including gas.  

Already, more than a dozen New York towns have banned this drilling and more are planning to do so.  Two of the first to do so --- Middlefield and Otsego, in Otsego County -- are home to the village of Cooperstown and its Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It really is local democracy,” said Adrian Kuzminski, a retired college professor and the founder of the environmental group, Sustainable Otsego.  

It’s an area rich in tourism, of second homes and, increasingly, of organic and value-added industry such as beer, wine and cheese -- interests, Kuzminski said, that are incompatible with drilling: “It’s like playing Russian roulette with your water supply. What the gas industry doesn’t want to talk about are the losses that would occur up here.”   

The fear of these losses prompted the Baseball Hall of Fame and other businesses in the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce to issue a statement against fracking in February. One, Ommegang Brewery, has given $40,000 to the anti-fracking cause, concerned that polluted water will ruin its beer.

Landowners in favor of drilling adamantly oppose the town ban movement.

Jennifer Huntington, a third-generation farmer in Middlefield, became the first leaseholder in New York to sue her town because of its ban this September. Having already leased 379 acres of her farm to a gas company, she said she has no intention of damaging the land, but wants to access its gas.  

“We bought it; we want to use it. It’s a right we feel we have,” she said. Also in September, a gas company, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, filed suit against another town, Dryden, N.Y.

The plaintiffs point to state conservation law, which both sides agree clearly gives the state -- not towns -- sole power to regulate the gas industry. But anti-drillers argue that banning industry is not regulating it, and that home rule lets towns decide whether or where they want industry, including gas.

The town bans have also been a thorn in the side of landowner coalitions, who have been waiting for the state to begin issuing gas drilling permits to cut deals with the gas companies.

Dick Downey, the 76-year-old founder of an Otsego County landowner coalition and retired schoolteacher from the Bronx, believes gas drilling would be a boon akin to the Erie Canal for the area, whose economy has been ailing, and predicts more lawsuits to come.

Usually in favor of local control, he said in this case home rule takes away his property rights by preventing him from benefiting from his land’s minerals.  

“If I harm them, I owe them redress,” Downey said, “but just because they think I might harm them, doesn’t give them the right to take my property. They want my property? Pay me,” he said.


Gas drilling enters local politics

Continuing the battle, anti-drillers in the region are running for seats on their town and county boards, attempting to oust those not opposed to fracking.  Their mantra: acres don’t vote; people do.

In Otsego County, more than 30 anti-fracking candidates are on the ballot, including many who have never run for office before.  One candidate, Lisa Moskowitz, running for a seat on the town board of Unadilla, believes some current board members there have already leased their land to gas companies and are not moving fast enough to ban fracking.  

“If in 2011 you don’t know enough, hang your head in shame,” she said.

While anti-drillers fight on the local level for town bans, a so-called “home rule bill”, seeking to clarify that towns do have the authority to zone out the gas industry, is working its way through the New York legislature.  It has passed in the Assembly, but its Senate version is now stalled.

Photos by Maria Scarvalone


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Comments [33]



Feb. 21 2012 12:07 AM
commonsense from NYC

I can not believe all the negativity regarding drilling in our area in Upstate New York.... BTW re: safty issues I have full confidence that the DEC will oversee all health related rules and regulations for our safethy.. This is such a GREAT opportunity for our State and for our COUNTRY... !!! Wake Up and see this Wonder of Nature sitting right under our land.. It will be so positive as it already has ACTIVE drilling in our neighboring Counties.. !! Long time futer benifits in all aspects .

Feb. 09 2012 03:15 PM
Mary from Long Island, NY

I don't even know how to express enough the consequences of gas drilling. You cannot take back the damage to our environment. It's irreversible. The water does not just get clean the next day or the next year. To Dick Downey," To owe them redress.." you cannot take back the contamination your drilling will leave behind to individuals who rely on the water in upstate New York. Even if it's just a risk, are you still willing to take someone's father, mother, or child's life away?

Jan. 09 2012 05:36 PM
drilldrillbaby from Greenwood

Let the lawsuits begin. My town knows better than to try to pull this crap. We'll sue everyone til there is no town left

Dec. 09 2011 03:15 PM

There are lots of people who won't move into the areas of high fracking potential. How does that fact in and of itself impact these area of Upstate NY?
Even if there's only a potential of water and air being affected--is it worth the risk??

Nov. 22 2011 10:13 AM
thatgirl from new york

donn lauer from montana (where drilling is king!): who really owns the minerals underneath a piece of property? when horizontal fracking is done on one person's property, the drill goes far past those geographic "boundaries" of one's property.

if a farmer bought a piece of property on which to grow crops, but first found out that there petrochemicals permeating the soil (which would render it fallow), wouldn't you expect that farmer to yell at the state to get it cleaned up? because he sure as hell isn't going to get anything from the genius who sold him the land.

tell us how you can guarantee that others won't suffer from the stench and poisoning via fracking chemicals, or the noise and pollution of tanker trucks hauling away gas and radioactive fracking water from sites? you can't. until you can, we can't allow it. owning your land doesn't give you the right to do anything you like. but if you'll sign something that says you'll take full responsibility for what happens on your property, and to others as a result of drilling, then perhaps you can do what you like.

Nov. 11 2011 10:12 PM
Jill from PA

A voice from PA.
Just make sure if you allow drilling,
you find out what kind of chemicals they use, because you will be drinking them every day in your water.
You will be bathing in them, and watering your gardens and animals with them . Then they will run a water
pipeline so you don't have to drink and bathe in the water they poisoned with
thier fracking chemicals. No more water wells in rural areas because they
will poison the water table. It happened here, it happens everywhere
they go. They will get that gas out of the ground no matter what they have to do to get it. That's the way it goes.

Nov. 08 2011 08:11 PM
Gahan from Manhattan

"Fracking!" Hah! Scared you! Negative branding brought to you by everyone who who demonizes any energy with CO2 at all costs in favor of Incredibly expensive-governement-subsidized "Green Energy" fantasies.
Truth: This state and country needs all the cheap electric power it can get and Natural gas is the cleanest way to get it.

Drilling happens once, the wells produce for 10 to 15 years.

Nov. 08 2011 05:58 PM
Bonnie West from Canton, NY

Oklahoma is now having earthquakes because of fracking. New York State does not need to bring on earthquakes.

Nov. 08 2011 12:40 PM
Mike from Kanata

Someone said that the companies and CEOs should be responsible for the clean up. How do you clean up a water table? How do you clean up the ocean floor where millions of gallons of oil now reside? How? you can't; all that can be done is the prevention of this insanity. This is what the Occupy movements are all about. Too bad our entire society revolves around bettering yourself financially.

Nov. 07 2011 04:02 PM
mike con from nyc

We can live without gas we can't live without water.

Nov. 07 2011 03:46 PM
Christy Nightingale from buffalo

In the future, clean water will be more valuable than oil. That's because it's becoming increasingly rare. It's sad to see money, greed and short-sightedness putting the good of the community and our future at risk.

Nov. 07 2011 03:39 PM
Donn Lauer from Montana

This is real funny when you have a farmer trying to make some money after all their bad years of earning nothing and somebody who moves to your community and buys a postage stamp tries to prohibit him from getting his minerals out of the ground. Allowing them to make money will do more to keep the same scenic area there for much longer since they will earn some money and not have to sell out to a real estate developer who do destroy communities.So you better get a happy marriage between the gas companies,the local citizens and the land owners and work together on this.

Nov. 07 2011 01:51 PM
Donn Lauer

This is real funny when you have a farmer trying to make some money after all their bad years of earning nothing and somebody who moves to your community and buys a postage stamp tries to prohibit him from getting his minerals out of the ground. Allowing them to make money will do more to keep the same scenic area there for much longer since they will earn some money and not have to sell out to a real estate developer who do destroy communities.So you better get a happy marriage between the gas companies,the local citizens and the land owners and work together on this.

Nov. 07 2011 01:48 PM
Bosley from Long Island

Do not turn a beautiful, clean area with a large reserve of vitally important fresh water into Newark, NJ!

Nov. 07 2011 10:13 AM
Truth in Justice

this is karma for all you land grabbing yankees who murdered the land loving natives for their turf. Face the facts folks, you STOLE the land you live on, now face the reality of the system you support.

The devastation has only begun.

Geronimo and Crazy Horse both foretold of this, now reap what you sew!

Nov. 07 2011 08:08 AM

Did you know T Boone Pickens has become the largest water owner in the US, and is also pushing for the privatization of water? Wonder why . . . . and why now? Hmmmm.

Nov. 07 2011 07:36 AM
chris catskills... from ny

fracking is not attractive. I have just moved here to the catskills, and just moving from arkansas and seeing how they transformed a nice quiet starlight place into noisy light filled nuisance. trucks everywhere. the lights from the drills and noise even more annoying than being in the city. can't see half the sky anymore. they will not get access up here, for if they do, it will ruin the preservation of the catskills... and it must be protected, for if not, we will have lost most of our finest pieces of land...

Nov. 07 2011 05:31 AM
clark rhoades from Mount Vision, NY

If you believe the EPA will prtect us check out :Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 2; Notice
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

[Federal Register: April 2, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 64)]
[Page 17406-17415]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []
1. Try to get the TRI list of the 343 chemicals.
2. It was suposed to be updated every
5 year but that was abandon!
3. 26 Endrocrin disrupters were not included.

Nov. 05 2011 09:17 PM
Jane from Otsego County, NY

These towns passing bans and moratoriums based on bad information signal a society that lacks the independent thought process that leads to innovative thinking. They have had no environmental studies done of their behalf nor do they have the staff that NYSDEC has working on their behalf to make the process safer.. All they have are panicked individuals who listen to the rhetoric that activists are spreading. No's are a dime a dozen and are a cheap and easy answer. America has taken a turn for the worse, when all we can do is say no and not offer viable alternatives.
Bad information is being inbred and gets worse by the telling. Local activist groups do not try and correct the misinformation; they ride it for what is worth. The truth will come out (for both sides) and those who lead and not correct bad misinformation will be as guilty as those spreading the wrong info.
For example the idea that the survey’s results meant anything, is laughable. Many cannot be validated because of the "loaded" and "misleading" questions, the clusters in the distribution of those responding as opposed, the fact that were administered by groups that had ulterior motives... the list goes on...
Natural gas WILL come, even to Cooperstown. Maybe not next year or the year after but it will. I do not see Solar farms or wind farms on the Town's agenda, neither do I see any initiatives geared towards lowering the town's dependency on fossil fuels or coal. The power Cooperstown will be receiving the near future WILL be from natural gas, so they will be supporting the industry in one way or another, just not in their backyards.

Nov. 04 2011 01:16 PM
Larry Bennett from Cooperstown, NY

Hydrofracking upstate NY is the wrong idea, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. With good luck, a small minority may profit and with attendant bad luck, a vast majority may suffer. The gas-industrial-governmental complex is willing to risk everyone's health, well-being, and irreplacable environmental resources, all for the potential of short-term profits. It's greed, greed, greed, and let the rest of the people be damned.

Nov. 04 2011 12:09 PM
James R Dean from Cooperstown, New York

The Village of Cooperstown is a major, national and international tourist destination in the United States. It was through the writings of the world famous novelist James Fenimore Cooper (of the founding family of Cooperstown), almost 200 years ago, that many people around the world first came to know and love the lands and lakes of the Cooperstown area, New York State, and the United States of America. Cooperstown is inextricably interconnected with the overall environmental, economic and agricultural infrastructure of the State of New York.
Otsego Lake, the headwaters of the entire Susquehanna River basin, is the source of drinking water for all those within the Village of Cooperstown and some outside our boundaries. It is a limited, clean, natural resource that requires our highest level of attention and protection. The concerns of the Village of Cooperstown also extend beyond our own water supply and boundaries to all of New York State. Hydrofracking poses potential threats to our pristine, but not unlimited water supply and the quiet, rural, farm friendly, safe and healthy quality of life that we all now enjoy.
The Village of Cooperstown, and the surrounding area, has hundreds of millions of dollars of long term investment at risk of collapse if hydrofracking comes to New York State. The economic devastation to our historic Village and our world class attractions; the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, The Farmers’ Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum, the Glimmerglass Festival, the historic Otesaga Resort Hotel, Bassett Healthcare Network, and Otsego Lake would be incalculable. Our losses would far exceed, by orders of magnitude, the completely unsubstantiated potential gains put forth by the gas drilling industry and its supporters.

Cooperstown does not and cannot exist on its own. We have to look toward, and protect, our long term survival and growth within the State of New York. That is a very formidable task that only becomes more difficult with the addition of gas drilling. No one should assume that tourists will drive three hours or more through heavy truck traffic, closed local businesses, spoiled scenery, fouled air and relentless noise to get to Cooperstown and other regions of New York State for a day or a week, only to have to suffer through the same ordeal on their trip back home.
If the Village of Cooperstown were to become surrounded by gas drilling fields in New York State, we would fall away from our country's list of best places to visit, live, and invest. Many people who now live in and around our Village and in Upstate New York may decide to leave New York State. It would not take much then, for the Village of Cooperstown, and large parts of New York State, to go into a permanent recession. We believe that hydrofracking is incompatible with a bright, new, clean water, high quality of life, tourist friendly, high tech, agricultural, and renewable energy future for Upstate New York.

Nov. 04 2011 11:04 AM
Deirdre from Preston Hollow

Hydro-fracking is literally a rape of the land and the water supply. With dwindling supplies of fresh water on this planet, we would be very short-sighted and stupid to consider destroying the valuable natural resources that New York State is abundant in. Anyone who supports it should make a point of watching "Gasland" asap.

Nov. 03 2011 10:21 PM

You know the oil supply is running out when companies are trying to literal squeeze gas out of rocks!

Nov. 03 2011 08:51 PM
wake_up from nyc

It is so sad when people can willingly ignore the incredible amount of evidence of just how dangerous this practice is, especially in our area (upstate NY) where there is water EVERYWHERE- all in the name of GREED.

And even if there are no spills and no accidents, there is an overwhelming wave of people coming forth to say the pittance they receive from leasing is NOT WORTH the loss of their rural way of life.

If you want industrialization, move to the city- it's all there for you, just move in.

These greedy, heartless people should just wake up to the fact- as drought conditions around the world worsen, if we hold out and don't let them contaminate our water supply, we will own the most expensive real estate in the world. It will make the amounts they 'claim' (lie) we can make off of drilling, a joke. A sad, sad joke.

Don't sell your land out for pennies, when we're sitting on top of a real goldmine- blue gold- WATER the Earth's next most precious commodity- and soon it's most expensive and sought-after.


Nov. 03 2011 01:08 PM

Neighbors and Friends, the gas companies already have signed contracts with China, Japan, India and Norway to sell OUR gas! Local gas for America? it's already on it way overseas, think again and again. Get the research done and STOP being selfish and blind. All of the Delaware and Chesapeake River Basins depend on us stopping hydrofracking on NYS. And we will.

Nov. 03 2011 12:20 PM

This is where libertarianism, private property and private contracts for the few, is in direct opposition to the rights/good of the majority. We're seeing a large increase of law suits from the companies and locals on both sides.
There is a frenzy due to the enormous wealth conjectured by EIA although the science is dodgy because they don't mention the risks. .

But there are at least to my expertise in risk analysis at least two ( I know there are more) very large points of risk.
The casing's fragility which have a risk and the treatment of millions of gallons of contaminated water. It costs money to do mitigate this.

I studied the hydro fracking issue for a number of years and if it is so safe why are the companies loathe to disclose info about the chemicals used (Cheney saw to that) ? The risk to millions of people outweighs the profit for the few. Perhaps, we should place personal and corporate remuneration within the contracts much like Love Canal and Newtown creek.

If the water tables are destroyed, then the companies should be held responsible for damages and cleaning the water. AND the CEO's and people who voted for an benefited go to jail.
( Right, like Robert Fuld and his friends :) )

Nov. 03 2011 10:56 AM
Estelle Tsantes from Brooklyn

The comments above in favor of fracking don't acknowledge the possibility that irreparable damage may be done. Government regulations do not come with funding to see that they are enforced. And we now have those in our federal and local governments who are trying to weaken environmental protections. And once fracking is begun---we know all about that genie and the bottle.

Nov. 03 2011 10:24 AM
Estelle Tsantes from Brooklyn

The comments above in favor of fracking don't acknowledge the possibility that irreparable damage may be done. Government regulations do not come with funding to see that they are enforced. And we now have those in our federal and local governments who are trying to weaken environmental protections. And once fracking is begun---we know all about that genie and the bottle.

Nov. 03 2011 10:24 AM
Mike from Dallas TX

Gas drilling is nothing like a hotel or a junkyard. It's completely invisible, except for a small contraption about 6 feet tall. Telephone lines are far uglier and more dangerous, but we live with them for the greater good of communication. Gas is a means of pouring money into the local economy without sacrificing aesthetics. I live around gas drilling-nothing but good comes from it.

Nov. 03 2011 10:04 AM
Michael from Greenvale

While the EPA has failed us at times, I trust the US EPA more than I trust the Saudi Arabian EPA. While not perfect, still better than getting energy from halfway around the world. The shipping alone and the carbon footprint from the transportation makes New York drilling the responsible alternative.

Nov. 03 2011 09:44 AM
greta from otsego

no one wants dick downeys property. just like under current zoning he cannot build a junkyard or a hotel, he also cannot place a hyperindustrial noxious drill pad on his land serviced by thousands of trucks hauling in and out tons of highly carcinogenic materials. local zoning is the norm out west where they also do not rely on groundwater fed shallow aquifers as is the case in NY.

Nov. 03 2011 08:36 AM
Doug Huzzard from Masonville

New York has taken the time to study & put into place safe regulations on gas drilling. Do not let the misinformation machine deter what our area needs to become economcally sound once again. Suport responsible gas drilling.

Nov. 03 2011 08:19 AM

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