Finding peace in the drilling fields

Nothing in recent years has rallied environmental activists in Central New York more than the efforts of gas drilling companies to tap into natural gas trapped for millions of years in the layers of shale below rural counties and lakes.

Drilling companies say the Utica shale play, which reaches all corners of Upstate New York, could be the next big boom in natural gas, rivaling the billion-dollar industry derived from the Marcellus shale in the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania.

Environmentalists warn that allowing modern drilling techniques could leave residents with toxic drinking water and millions of gallons of untreatable wastewater to boot.

Amidst the controversy, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is preparing to release the final draft of its Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement to regulate and safeguard the impending drilling boom.

Gas companies hope the SGEIS will allow them to begin drilling within the year. But if you still can't clearly define or explain the process that is causing the outcry -- or what it really means for Central New Yorkers -- you're not alone.

The upside: The dollar sign

The details of the process are complex, but the motivation is not.

Gas companies stand to profit the most, with a typical well able to produce upwards of $10 million per well, if gas prices stay level.

Which is why some landowners are balking at the $50 per acre some companies are offering as a lease bonus. In Pennsylvania, where Marcellus shale drilling long ago proved its profitability, some landowners are reaping $3,000 to $5,500 per acre to sign over mineral rights.

According to Skaneateles farmer and town Councilor Jim Greenfield, he has friends in Pennsylvania who have leased their land for $5,500 per acre. However, the cost per acre he and some others in the Skaneateles area were offered was much less, approximately $50 per acre.

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