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The Empire

Historic Preservation Groups Weighs in on Fracking in New York

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Every year, the state’s leading historic preservation group, the Preservation League, lists historic sites that they believe are endangered, known as New York’s Seven To Save.  This year, they’ve named the entire Marcellus Shale region, which includes much of the state’s Southern Tier as well as the Finger Lakes region.

The group’s Daniel McKay says hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking —  proposals now being considered by the Cuomo administration’s environmental department, could change the rural and  historic character of the region. McKay predicts a broad range of potential negative impacts from “inappropriately” locating a drilling rig and well pad close to an historic structure or property.  He says he’s also concerned about a “high volume of truck traffic” and possible over withdrawal of water from aquifers.

Although fracking proponents say the drilling will bring a new industry to underemployed upstate New Yorkers,  McKay argues there already is a growing industry in many parts of the Marcellus Shale region — heritage tourism. He says that industry could be threatened.

“You potentially gain the boom and bust economy from hydro fracking,” McKay said. “But you’re trading that against the sustainable economy that exists and could be further developed, that comes from heritage resources.”

McKay says his group thought long and hard about whether to weigh in on gas drilling, and conducted a “careful and deliberative” study of potential impacts of fracking, as well as federal and state historic preservation laws.

He says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation needs to take historic resources into account when it finally issues well drilling permits, to determine when the number of wells reaches a tipping point, and then place limits if the concentration of industry will damage a region’s historical character. 

McKay believes the DEC “dramatically undercounted” the number of historic resources in the Marcellus Shale region, and says the environmental impact statement “lacked any reference to state and federal historic preservation law” aimed at protecting those resources.

But Brian McMahon, with the New York State Economic Development Council, a pro-business and pro-fracking group, believes that heritage tourism and the gas drilling industry can co-exist. He says fracking-related jobs will pay workers a much higher wage and improve the overall health of the economy.

“Not everybody will always be happy, and that’s the case with any economic activity,” said McMahon, who says people in the Marcellus shale region have “suffered disproportionately” over the last four and half decades, and a result populations have dwindled and jobs have left the state.

“Here’s something that’s not a theory, we know that this will generate economic activity,” McMahon said. 

He also disputes the assertion that fracking would create a boom and bust phenomena, saying the gas reserves are “very, very, very  significant.”

“The industry will be here for decades,” McMahan, predicts.  

The Preservation League has written a lengthy response to the DEC’s environmental impact statement, asking that more protections be included for historic sites and regions.

The Department has received more than 60,000 public comments, and continues to review them.