THE MARCELLUS SHALE area is marked in red.
Gas drilling on the agenda, seminar set
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY On Friday, Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Dr. William Pammer gave two legislators and two town supervisors a preview of this Friday’s natural gas drilling seminar.
Pammer, County Manager David Fanslau, legislators Frank Armstrong and Ron Hiatt, Callicoon Supervisor Linda Babicz and Mamakating Supervisor Bob Fiore were the only attendees at this past Friday’s Council of Local Governments meeting in Monticello the last of such meetings until September 19.
Despite the small turnout, Pammer presented an in-depth look at this coming Friday’s “Natural Gas Drilling in the Upper Delaware Region: Issues and Strategies for Property Owners and Municipalities,” slated to begin at 7 p.m. at the Liberty High School auditorium.
The seminar is open to all and will feature half a dozen speakers addressing the natural gas industry, which is poised to become a major local player.
Though he affirmed that Friday’s session will offer the pros and the cons, Pammer is concerned that things are moving too fast.
The state is on the cusp of enacting a horizontal drilling law that will speed up the permitting and approval process (though state legislators argue that it will enhance the environmental safeguards).
And leases are being negotiated all over western Sullivan County, with actual drilling not far behind.
“Fundamentally, I’m not against it,” Pammer said. “Let’s just have more control of it.”
But about all that townships and the county can regulate right now is heavy truck usage of roadways. And even that is limited.
“My understanding is the county can only restrict the weight of vehicles as they impact bridges,” explained Fanslau.
“And the towns will have to be very careful in how they word this,” added Pammer, because other industries utilize heavy trucks (i.e., milk, feed and fuel companies), so such laws cannot be targeted solely at the gas industry.
That’s why the towns of Highland, Tusten, Cochecton, Bethel and Delaware are considering moratoriums on any gas drilling-related permits until such time that they can review the law.
Indeed, information is what’s most needed right now, agreed attendees, and that’s where Pammer hopes this Friday’s session will be helpful.
“Get your facts, get your information before you sign [a lease],” he remarked. “Your property could be tied up for a very long time.”
Catskill Mountainkeeper is co-sponsoring the event with the county because it obtained grant funding to bring in several panelists.
The list is currently as follows:
• Bruce Baizel of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (addressing how to ensure companies live up to their promises and property owners’ needs)
• Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council (talking about environmental issues)
• Peggy Utesch of the Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance (focusing on experiences with drilling in the West)
• Robert Wedlake of the Binghamton law firm of Hinman, Howard and Kattell (addressing legal issues)
• Pammer himself (explaining state and local regulations)
For Pammer and Fanslau, it’s not about stopping the gas industry; it’s about making sure they operate in a legally and environmentally sound manner.
“I don’t think it’s possible to mitigate all the impacts, but I think you can minimize them,” said Pammer, adding that the potential for increased local and state revenue “needs to be balanced with the impacts on health and safety.”
“We’re going to look at it as a balanced approach,” promised Fanslau.