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Dan Hust | Democrat

County Legislator David Sager, left, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy’s Bruce Ferguson were two speakers at Thursday’s press conference in Monticello. Sager is running against NYS Senator John Bonacic, and a key difference is their take on gas drilling.

Sager, Bonacic react to proposed state moratorium on gas drilling

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 13, 2010 — The gas drilling debate took an unexpected turn last week when the NYS Senate voted overwhelmingly to create a moratorium until May of next year.
The Assembly (including local Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther) and Governor David Paterson are expected to follow suit in September.
Locally, there was also surprise that Republican NYS Senator John Bonacic voted for the moratorium, which up to that point had found more of an advocate in Sullivan County Legislator David Sager, a Democrat who is challenging Bonacic for his seat this November.
“Democrats and Republicans agreed the legislation which was adopted was common sense, balanced all state interests, and from my perspective was similar to the six-month moratorium I have always wanted to let localities have the authority to implement,” Bonacic told the Democrat this week.
“... It is also consistent with how long the DEC [Dept. of Environmental Conservation] told me they would likely need anyway to issue any new fracking permits.”
While commending the Senate for its action, Sager was not as pleased.
“While the passing of this moratorium is an important first step in dealing with the massive industrialization of our landscape, watersheds and water table, as it stands now, the Thompson Bill is an important but modest and largely a symbolic gesture that may have delayed the actual issuance of permits by only a few months,” he remarked at a press conference on Thursday in the Government Center in Monticello. “It actually does little to provide anything other than a temporary halt of drilling not likely to start until May 15, 2011 anyway. I stand before you today to say loudly and clearly that this is simply not close to being enough.”
Highlighting the health risks he feels drilling poses to the area, Sager did not take Bonacic to task directly, instead focusing on the DEC.
“The DEC Division of Mineral Resources has consistently proven that it lacks the initiative to objectively make honest scientific inquiry on this issue, and it is simply shocking that the most recent GEIS [Generic Environmental Impact Statement] does not address the substantial cumulative impacts posed by a dangerous, under-regulated activity that can never and will never, ever, be confused with anything having to do with agriculture,” he told the applauding crowd.
“As I said before – and make no mistake about this – fracking is industrial mining, and the examples of the way this activity decimates the landscape, infrastructure and water is staggering.”
Sager also contended that the DEC is understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with the demands the drilling industry will bring, finding support at the conference from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED), two local environmental groups which gave public statements.
Sager continued his call to ban any drilling until a federal study on its health and environmental effects is completed, estimated to occur in 2012.
“To say that we are going to pause until May 15 of next year is a nice breath to take,” he said. “However, it is more important to enact meaningful legislation that addresses the many concerns relating to this untested and badly, poorly regulated technology.… Neither I nor anyone else I know wants to be part of a massive industrial experiment, a guinea pig.… I ask you to join me in demanding that our elected officials in Albany show the same concern and sense of urgency.”
Bonacic, although similarly not attacking Sager directly, seemed to disagree.
“I also applaud both Democrats and Republicans for rejecting the approach pushed by some to stop new permits until the federal government completes another study on this,” he stated. “Even the most ardent environmentalist in the Senate – Democratic Environmental Conservation Chairman Antoine Thompson – acknowledged that linking our state policy to federal policy would be a mistake.
“It was, after all, Washington, D.C. politicians who allowed NYRI to be created,” he said, referencing an abandoned plan to route major powerlines through the Delaware River valley, “and who bungled the BP oil spill cleanup. Letting these same people tell us how to mine the highly explosive gas under our homes would not be in our best interest.
“... Neither the anti-drilling side nor the pro-drilling side are completely happy with the legislation which passed – and that probably means it is the right thing to do, if both extremes of this argument are critics,” Bonacic concluded. “What we have done though, by passing this legislation, is put a relief valve in place to ensure that the DEC does have the time they need, so our local landowners can enter into the best contracts for gas rights, and so that big industry cannot rig the process by trying to force the DEC’s hand.”

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