DeWitt sets one-year moratorium on drilling process

The DeWitt Town Board unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking, a controversial domestic drilling process for natural gas, at its March 8 meeting. The local law was enacted following a public hearing that attracted an audience of more than 75 people.

Municipalities can not restrict oil and gas exploration, said Supervisor Ed Michalenko, however, they can control and regulate areas that have to do with things such as water consumption and road use. The moratorium will allow the board time to study its options as well as set up informational sessions.

"I think it's important we slow down," said Aaron Fumarola, a SUNY ESF student who spoke up at the hearing. "I just have a hard time believing that rushing to hydrofrack, we're going to trust our fate, our clean drinking water, to the oil and gas industry; that they're really out looking for our best interest."

Don Siegel, a professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University, urged the board, should they wish to adopt a moratorium, to seek data from unbiased sources.

"Spend the time and get the facts of the matter of the science behind it," he said. "[Don't] be overly influenced by adversarial groups who perhaps don't have the information that is available and rely on anecdotal evidence compiled together to weave a story that doesn't truly reflect an industry that has been widely successful in the American West."

Michalenko assured people that concerns about the actual drilling process would be addressed in detail at a public informational meeting the board plans to set up sometime in the near future. He said he would involve guest speakers that would cover the full spectrum.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as hydrofracking, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down and across into horizontally drilled wells as far as 10,000 feet below the earth's surface. The pressurized mixture causes the rock layer to crack, releasing natural gas from the shale, which is then drawn up to the surface through the gas well.

Concerns include potential water contamination and consequential health risks associated with the process.

Environmentalists warn the public that allowing such techniques could leave residents with toxic drinking water and millions of gallons of untreatable wastewater.

There has been a heightened awareness on the pros and cons of hydrofracking since oil companies have taken an interest in the Utica Shale play, which reaches all corners of Upstate New York. Drilling could potentially affect Skaneateles Lake, a pure drinking water source for Central New York.

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