By Fred Stabbert III
CALLICOON High atop a hill overlooking the Delaware River valley, farmer Bill Graby is at ease, baling hay on a neighbor’s field as he looks out across the river to Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania… where Natural Gas drilling has been booming for nearly five years and where the gas industry is responsible for adding more than 30,000 jobs, $11 billion to the annual economy and $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenues.
Graby hopes some day New York will join the list of 38 other states where gas drilling is going on.
But Graby, who along with Long Eddy resident Noel van Swol, head the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Assn., knows it is still an uphill battle to get natural gas exploration in New York.
“Everything depends on Albany,” Graby said. “They have been the fly in the ointment of gas drilling in the state.
“They would rather that Pa. made money,” he said.
Van Swol believes Pa., where the State Department of Environmental Protection is in “control of everything,” has worked well.
“Natural gas is located under everyone,” he said. “You need uniform regulations throughout the state so you don’t end up with a checkerboard approach.”
Graby said, “Business is thriving in Pa. There is a very low unemployment rate, and they are employing New York workers [in the natural gas industry].
“If you want a job, go to Pa.,” he added.
Van Swol said the DEC has to approve the regulations before any drilling can begin.
Lisa King, a DEC press secretary, said, “The DEC has studied high-volume hydraulic fracturing for the past four years as we develop a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for the activity.
“The draft SGEIS identifies all of the potential impacts to the environment associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing and proposes mitigation measures to address those impacts.
“Developing the draft SGEIS has been a thorough, scientific and thoughtful process over the past four years. If high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, it will do so with the strictest standards in the nation,” she said.
“Once we review the comments, we will make any necessary changes to the documents,” she added. “We expect the final documents to be released this year.
“If the final documents determine high-volume hydraulic fracturing could move forward in New York, we could begin to review permit applications after the final SGEIS and findings statement are released.”
So far, four Sullivan County townships have banned natural gas exploration and two have come out in favor of natural gas.
The towns which currently prohibit hydrofracking are Highland, Tusten, Lumberland and Bethel.
The towns which support it are Delaware and Fremont.
“Regarding… local resolutions, the scope of the preemption must be left to the courts,” King said.
Looking for more local support
Both Graby and van Swol believe that many residents support gas drilling and that was evident during last November’s election.
van Swol said, “The real mandate on the town level is for gas drilling and the voters were smart enough to figure that out.”
He points to the town board elections in Fremont, Delaware, Callicoon and Cochecton, where no anti-drilling candidates were elected.
To reinforce its point, the Sullivan Delaware Property Owners Assn. put up a billboard on Route 17 near Ferndale to promote natural gas drilling.
The group also points to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address where he gave his full support to natural gas exploration and implementation.
“They (our local elected officials) must be renegade Democrats,” van Swol said. “They are bucking the vision of President Obama who wants to promote natural gas drilling.”
Newly-elected Sullivan County Legislator Cindy Kurpil Gieger, however, believes she was elected for her anti-gas drilling stance.
Legislator Gieger countered, “I feel the No. 1 issue for the people is that we make sure health studies are done before we inject chemicals into the ground.”
Frankly, she cannot understand why the DEC has not completed the health study already.
“I don’t think we are ready at this point,” she continued. “We should survey the people. Let the people have a chance.”
Gieger said the Legislature passed a moratorium until the Health Impact Statement was done and also a ban on frack waste brine being spread on county roads.
“It all comes down to health issues,” she said. “No gas drilling should supersede health and safety of our residents.”
Both Van Swol and Graby believe the legislature is against progress.
“If you are not doing something every day to move forward, you are moving backward,” Graby said.
Until the New York State DEC releases its guidelines, the natural gas debate will continue on both sides as the pro and anti-movements try to get their agendas heard.