By Martha E. Conway
(Sullivan – Aug. 2012) The Sullivan Town Council heard from residents at a public hearing on natural gas activities Aug. 1. The usual suspects – many of whom travel from town to town expressing the activist message – were in attendance, this time counterpointed by a contingent of local farmers not so eager to shut down potential drilling activity.
Also present were the majority of membership of the town’s planning board and zoning board of appeals.
Here’s how testimony on a moratorium went:
For a Moratorium
Fred West of Deerfield Road expressed concern for property values and environmental impacts from chemical additives from hydraulic fracturing. Cheryl Cary of Kimberly Drive said the 2005 U.S. Energy Bill exempted the industry by changing the definition of pollutants. She enumerated some of the additives used in the hydraulic fracturing process and urged Sullivan Town Council members to err on the side of safety.
Cary and others expressed incredulity that some watersheds are afforded better protections than others and questioned the logic.
“It’s hard to believe what the gas industry does, and no amount of sacrifice satisfies them,” Cary said.
Cary said compulsory integration should be illegal, with spacing laws pulling unwilling property owners in.
“You will get royalties, but no money for the right to the property under your feet,” Cary said.
In addition to risking the water supply, Cary expressed concern for radioactive waste and the water that will be withdrawn and never deemed safe to be returned to the water cycle.
“They’re here now,” Cary said. “Trucks and cars with out-of-state plates.”
Paul LeBlanc of Robinson road said he has been watching hydraulic fracturing for years.
“It’s at our door now,” LeBlanc said, explaining he has protested the activity, petitioned against it and bumper-stickered his car stating his position. “What kind of life do we want to make for our children and grandchildren?”
LeBlanc painted a vision of well field and above-ground pipelines as far as the eye could see, as well as “roads pounded to dust.”
LeBlanc also explained that the process is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation, “and the water is gone forever in this. How do we want our resources used? Soon, all the rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers will contain these chemicals. Why isn’t the board telling us about the imminent dangers?”
Lisa Lewis of Lakeport Road said her parents live adjacent to a gravel bed that used a pond to wash its products. When the business tapped into a spring that fed her parents’ well, their water pressure dropped significantly.
“They are going to use all our fresh water,” Lisa Lewis said. “Our life today is compromised and tomorrow is a question.”
Tyler Lewis, also of Lakeport Road, presented council members with a petition of 78 signatures against natural gas exploration and extraction. Tyler Lewis has been a frequent speaker of late at town board meetings on the subject and repeated his ongoing concerns about water contamination and other impacts. He said he preferred the town to skip enacting a moratorium and go straight to a ban.
Jeannette Taggert of Creek Road said she supports her community and has worked researching and fighting ‘hydrofracking’ in other communities.
Terry Eckert of the Oneida Lake area said she owns 32 acres on Chittenango Creek. She said she likes to boat and fish and hopes to retire there and hopes to have her grandchildren enjoy the area, also.
“I’ve traveled out west and seen the devastation,” Eckert said. “I’m completely opposed to hydrofracking.”
Kate Bilowski of the village said she came largely out of curiosity. She said she teaches in the field of alternative energy, and the county has myriad alternative energy resources it should be pursuing, citing efforts at Morrisville State College and the Fenner Wind Farm.
“There are so many great things here,” Bilowski said. “We could be on the cutting edge.”
Against a Moratorium
“The soil, water – environment – are my livelihood,” said Steve Durfee of Tuscarora Road, explaining that it would not be in his best interests to support anything he thought would negatively affect those things. “The fact of the matter is we need more energy. I’m sure we all left our air-conditioned homes to be here.”
Steve Durfee, a livestock farmer, said he believes natural gas activity can be conducted safety if properly regulated.
“We all drove down here,” said Ken Katzenstein, also a farmer. “I think it’s a bit hypocritical that we support Corporate America at the gas pumps, but if you pull your car into the garage and close the door, it’ll kill you.”
Katzenstein said regulation was pivotal.
“Do it wrong, and you can have a nightmare,” Katzenstein said. “We need to ask if there are companies out there that can do it right and seek them out. We need more energy; are we going to keep relying on other countries?”
Ben Durfee of Tuscarora Road identified himself as a farmer and an engineer. He said the Marcellus shale formation follows Route 20, and the Utica shale is less dense.
“Everyone is more interested in Marcellus,” Ben Durfee said, adding that his studies indicate it will be another 15 to 20 years before anyone taps into the Utica. “A moratorium is premature. I don’t think they’re going to be drilling here anytime soon. I recommend you look at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s findings because they are looking at the problems of all the other states. They have already addressed a lot of the problems [other states have faced].”
Louis DeMario said he also is a farmer and commended the activists for their work and what they’ve done.
“I would love to have done what you did here, and you’ve done such a nice job,” DeMario said, explaining he would have liked to have been more formally prepared.
“At one time, we were considered the Empire State,” DeMario said. “We’ve lost that handle because we don’t produce anything anymore.”
DeMario said he understood Tyler Lewis’s request that the town council protect the town and its residents, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that a small number of people are asking for a ban or a moratorium when the town is not at threat.
“A lot of Cheryl’s [Cary] statements are obsolete,” DeMario said, adding that he hadn’t heard anything mentioned about reverse osmosis. “We all want to conserve our water supply. We all want to preserve our environment. But every type of energy produced creates a risk. If you are worried about the water supply, ask these guys to legislate water production and monitoring of wells. We don’t need a moratorium, a ban … just legislation protecting our town.
Lawrence Wilcox, a Fyler Road farmer whose produce graces the shelves of area grocery stores, such as Tops Market in Chittenango, said he has heard a lot of chatter against hydraulic fracturing.
“Nothing man’s tried to do has been accomplished without accidents,” Wilcox said, citing space exploration and nuclear energy development.
Wilcox said he didn’t feel informed enough to make a decision and has been approached by land agents; he said he’s not ready to sign on, but feels the country needs more energy.
Mike Keville of Seneca Street in the village said from his research there is nothing in Sullivan to be ‘hydrofracked’ for.
“My concern is more into considering whether hydraulic fracturing can take place now and look down the road to when the technology changes and they can tap into shallower or other formations,” Keville said. “In 10 to 15 years, it would be nice to have a plan in place to deal with it.”
Keville also said he doesn’t like the fact that contiguous municipalities may provide a means of taking the resources from Sullivan without any remuneration because of differing legislation in the municipalities.
The public hearing adjourned at 7:43 p.m. Asked when the town would take action on the crowd’s concerns, Supervisor John M. Becker said he didn’t know.
The next meeting of the Sullivan Town Council is Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 9 a.m., and is a joint meeting with the town of Lenox.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.