Pictured from left are natural gas information exchange panel members Supervisor Roger D. Bradstreet (D – Nelson), chairman of the Madison County Natural Gas Development Working Group; Supervisor Darrin P. Ball (R – Lincoln), Madison County Farm Bureau President Darrell Griff; Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District Manager Steve Lorraine; EmKey Resources Representative Steve Keyes; Cazenovia Town Highway Superintendent Tim Hunt; Director of Environmental Studies for Barnes-Williams Environmental Services, LLC, Robert Williams; and Lebanon property owners John and Patty Grossman and Lyle Warren. The group fielded questions about natural gas issues from an audience of about 70 at Madison Central School May 30.
By Martha E. Conway
(Town of Madison, NY – June 2012) Natural gas extraction activities can cause inconvenience but, if properly overseen, can benefit individuals and municipalities. The Madison County Natural Gas Development Working Group hosted an information exchange May 30 at Madison Central School; keynote speaker was Robert Williams, Director of Environmental Studies at Barnes-Williams Environmental Services, LLC, in Binghamton.
Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John M. Becker (R,C,I – Sullivan) kicked off the two-plus-hour-long session, reminding attendees the most important protection they can get is the legal advice of an attorney with extensive experience in the field of mineral and natural resource extraction leases.
“Natural gas can be a positive economic resource for our county and our citizens,” Becker said. “I urge property owners to listen to the experiences of others shared here today. Whether land owners are exploring natural gas resources on their property individually or as part of a coalition, most individual landowners generally should have their own attorneys with experience on this issue to advocate for them. The Madison County Natural Gas Development Working Group is a resource for our residents on all aspects of natural gas development.”
Working Group Chairman Roger D. Bradstreet (D – Nelson) explained the group’s work over the past two years, a process that began with a listening tour of the southern portion of the county where natural gas extraction activity had already left its mark and where residents had the greatest numbers of immediate concerns. From those concerns, a list of topics was developed on which group members have been educating themselves by bringing in local and state experts in various facets of natural and mineral resource extraction activity.
Bradstreet said the group’s research and reports to Becker and the Board of Supervisors has led to the development of a solicitation ordinance that could be adapted and adopted by local municipalities, cooperative efforts with the Department of Health, Board of Health and Board of Supervisors Public Health Committee in developing a water quality assurance resolution and extensive work on a road use agreement to protect local investment in infrastructure.
Bradstreet apologized for the absence of group member Dr. Bruce Selleck of Colgate University, a geologist with extensive knowledge of Madison County’s particular makeup. Bradstreet provided an overview of some of Selleck’s data and findings before turning the program over to Williams. He said that in Madison County, the natural gas is targeted from the Utica Shale as it has been reported to the Working Group that the Marcellus shale becomes too shallow around Cortland County.
“The Utica ‘fairway,’ on the other hand, extends beyond Route 20, so southern and middle sections of Madison County are potential locations for drilling in the future,” Bradstreet said, adding that the combination of current natural gas prices and pending approval of the final environmental impact analysis from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, recent activity has slowed.
Williams, who has more than 40 years’ experience in environmental assessment, permitting, licensing and impact, said the natural gas industry got underway in New York state in 1821. He gave an overview of the well site development, well casing and drilling processes before turning to the subject of ad valorem taxes and how they have helped his home community.
According to Williams, property owners are against a state severance tax, which he said is tantamount to loading that money onto a truck and taken out of town. Ad valorem tax is calculated by assessing each well unit as an economic unit, and the developer pays.
The Office of Real Property Services is responsible for establishing the economic unit and training assessors to value it appropriately, Williams said. He provided a sample of the potential benefits derived from a one-square-mile economic unit, adding that the importance and value of landowners’ coalitions cannot be overstated.
The town of Conklin has implemented a noise ordinance and other controls to mitigate negative impacts in the community; overall, he said, the industry has benefited the community.
Tim Hunt, highway superintendent for the town of Cazenovia, talked about road impacts. He said highway departments are given a limited amount of money, with which they try to anticipate future road and equipment needs while addressing the immediate demands of road and equipment repairs.
The Madison County Public Works Committee has been working on a draft road use agreement that can be adopted and shored up by local municipalities. The document is intended to help document and provide means for reparations for damages to infrastructure created by heavier-than-normal traffic.
The road use agreement would define traffic that requires road bonds and the establishment of haul routes that would impose the least threat to public safety and travel the most weight-appropriate roads.
John and Patty Grossman of Lebanon related the story of drilling near their property. John Grossman said they were subjected to lights and noise “24/7,” sharply increased traffic and diesel fumes.
“It has been an economic boon to the area,” John Grossman said, adding that the long-term effects and potential future bust impacts need further study. “We would have preferred not to have had the experience.”
Patty Grossman agreed.
“But bringing the benefits to local landowners was worth a month or so of discomfort,” she said.
Patty Grossman said she worries about multiple well pads where drilling activity goes on for three years.
“This property was owned by an out-of-state person who was not subjected to any of the negative impacts,” Patty Grossman said. “I think they use it for a hunting camp.”
Lyle Warren, also of Lebanon, said he has two wells – both vertical – on his property and owns wells in six different spacing units. In 1997, his was one of the first three wells drilled in Madison County. One of Warren’s wells was drilled conventionally, the other was hydraulically fractured, he said.
Warren said he also has about two miles of transmission lines running through his property.
According to Warren, the gas companies and leases have changed hands several times, but the only aggravation his family suffered beyond a week of round-the-clock noise and lights was a period of slow payments for a few months. He said that was rectified by a stern call to the gas company.
Bradstreet said he Madison County Natural Gas Development Working Group was formed in 2010 and charged with the mission of providing a sense of order to the process where safety and environment are paramount, while also weighing the economic impact; to provide contact for Madison County residents where they can register concerns and to serve as a central communications point for residents and gas companies.
The group is comprised of Bradstreet; DeRuyter Supervisor Daniel Degear (vice chairman); Lincoln Supervisor Darrin P. Ball; Dr. Bruce Selleck, Dean of Faculty and Harold Orville Whitnall Professor of Geology at Colgate University; Dr. Christopher Nyberg, Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Morrisville State College; Geoffrey Snyder, Director of Madison County Public Health’s Environmental Division; Madison County Planning Department Director Scott Ingmire; Madison County Farm Bureau President Darrell Griff; Steve Keyes of EmKey Resources; Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District Manager Steve Lorraine and this writer.
Ball, a member of the Oneida City Fire Department, also serves as consultant emergency responder.
“It’s critical that local governments examine the benefits to landowners, revenues that can be drawn from bringing new industries into our county, and balance that with protecting our local infrastructure, roads and water,” Bradstreet said, adding that the source of water withdrawal for high-volume hydraulic fracturing is of great concern for him. “Our Natural Gas Working Group has engaged many experts on this topic to bring Madison County residents the most accurate, balanced information possible on natural gas development in our County.”
Bradstreet said he hoped the session was just the first of an ongoing conversation between the committee and the community.
For more information about the group, including its mission, resolutions passed by the Board of Supervisors, SGEIS comments, frequently asked questions, maps, leases, well sites, gas fairways and more, visit madisoncounty.ny.gov/ngw.php.
Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway. She serves as secretary to the Madison County Natural Gas Development Working Group.