Jun 04, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Just as there’s an inherent risk in changing a light bulb, there’s an inherent risk in hydrofracking, said veteran hydrogeologist Bill Kappel to guests at the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Officials meeting Monday May 26.
“Even with the most stringent guidelines, you’re going to see accidents,” Kappel said. ” But you never hear about the hundreds of other Marcellus wells that had to be drilled in Pennsylvania that they haven’t gotten wrong.”
So the question to ask, Kappel continued, is how much are we willing to risk?
The meeting, hosted by the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, brought in officials from the towns of Spafford, Scott, Sempronious and Niles along with the village and town of Skaneateles. Prior to Kappel’s presentation, updates were given by Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program Manager Mark Burger and Andy Zepp, executive director for the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
Zepp reported on a recent study conducted by the Land Trust “that was based on about a year, year and a half of outreach to folks in the southern half of the watershed.”
Mark Whitmore of the Land Trust surveyed landowners, local officials and other stakeholders on the resources of the southern end of Skaneateles Lake, and the results confirmed their theory.
“Every person involved understands that we have something special,” Zepp said. “Not just locally, but regionally and nationally. I heard more than one person say if the country was settled from west to east, the south end of the lake would probably be a national park.”
Zepp said they also knew the southern end has not experienced a lot of development pressure.
“It hasn’t happened, but there’s a perception that it’s coming over the hill,” he said.
Skaneateles Lake sits atop a bed of Marcellus Shale. According to a May 2009 United States Geological Survey fact sheet by Kappel and David Soeder, in November 2008, the Chesapeake Energy Corporation estimated that more than 363 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas could be extracted from the Marcellus Shale. Considering the United States uses 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, the appeal of drilling for Marcellus Shale is hard to ignore.
The USGS spelled out concerns related to Marcellus Shale gas production: “Supplying water for well construction without impacting local water resources; avoiding degradation of small watersheds and streams as substantial amounts of heavy equipment and supplies are moved around on rural roads; and determining the proper methods for the safe disposal of the large quantities of potentially contaminated fluids recovered from the wells.”
Kappel’s presentation offered information, from Article 23 in the environmental conservation law, indicating the lake’s protection is not directly in the hands of local law.
“Read together,” Kappel said, pointing to a projected slide, “New York’s oil, gas and solution monitoring laws specifically supercede all local laws and ordinances.”
Kappel continued, “What this law says is that you can’t regulate out, you can’t zone out your municipality. The only thing you can do is regulate the use of the roads and tax the gas that comes out of the ground.”
Kappel urged that regulation of gas drilling can be achieved locally.
One way is to assess local roads and monitor gas companies traveling on them. Kappel said documenting any damage caused to roads gives local governments a case for regulation.
“But be prepared for a fight,” he said.
Limiting access to roads would require a joint effort.
“You can do that, but you have to work together with your surrounding municipalities,” he said.
To close his presentation, Kappel addressed recent reports of the Department of Environmental Conservation tightening up regulations of drilling in the Skaneateles Lake and Catskill watersheds.
By tightening regulations, the law simply requires gas companies to produce an environment impact statement as part of the approval process.
“If you read the headlines and didn’t read the article, you were mislead,” he said.
Ned Campbell is an intern with the Skaneateles Press.