Madison, Chenango counties join forces

Town officials from Madison and Chenango counties met April 2 with a common concern: natural gas well solicitation and drilling and all the associated problems and potential.

The two-hour meeting resulted in the creation of a list of issues the group wanted to attack.

Smyrna Supervisor Jim Bays, who hosted the meeting, said the group needs to send a strong message that the impacts felt by the towns and counties must be minimized. One way that can be done is to fight for a local production tax, something long-advocated for by Supervisor Jim Goldstein of Lebanon.

Goldstein led the group in listing off numerous problems experienced in his town, where the number of well permit applications has doubled over the last year. Topping the list of concerns were the protection of potable water sources, seismic testing impacts and rights-of-way use, well-spacing issues, siting issues, safety and oversight after recent well rig fires, prior notification of drilling, leasing practices, educating the public and state agency heads, possible economic development opportunities, self-reporting of well production rates, compulsory integration rules and other environmental impacts.

But topping that list is a proposal by the state to impose a "severance tax" on gas wells around New York, something members of the group overwhelmingly opposed. Any tax imposed on the wells should directly benefit the communities that are footing the bill for the impacts felt locally during the testing and drilling processes, they said.

"What is going to be the long-term plan for the land after the wells are abandoned 10 to 15 years from now?" asked Lebanon Planning Board Chairman Gary Will. "What is the landowner going to do with it? I can tell you, you can't farm it."

"There is a comprehensive list of things to be done," Bays said, "but the severance tax is something that can mitigate the local impact."

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