(Randallsville, Lebanon, NY – Sept. 2012) Lebanon Town Board members were the recipients of about 61 signatures on petitions requesting a moratorium on natural gas development and [hydraulic fracturing] at their monthly town board meeting Aug. 13. Board members also had a dialogue with members of the Amish community about complaints the highway superintendent has received regarding road impacts by steel wheels and manure on town roads.
Residents Dan Saulsgiver of Lebanon Center Road and James McDowell of Bradley Brook Road submitted petitions signed by local residents calling on a petition for a moratorium. Saulsgiver said he was completing a task a senior resident of the town had done but was reluctant to submit in person, while McDowell submitted petitions calling for a moratorium against hydrofracking for one year, citing the need for the town to have time to study impacts and evaluate what is the best course for the town.
The petitions read, “We call on you to put the people first and protect our health, environment, communities and future by supporting a one-year moratorium (a halt) on shale oil and gas extraction with the Town of Lebanon and contained the signatures of 52 Lebanon residents from Lebanon Center Road, Lebanon Hill Road, Soule Road, Bradley Brook Road, Billings Hill Road, Reservoir Road, Byrd Road, Lebanon Road, Geer Road, River Road, and Chamberlain Hill Road.”
The petitions entitled “Petition for a Moratorium Against Hydrofracking” and stated: “As a resident of Lebanon, NY and one of the undersigned, I call on the Lebanon Town Board to enact a one year moratorium against High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in order to better review the impacts of this procedure. Currently, there is substantial evidence gathered by scientists and industry professionals as well as lay people in townships across the United States of fundamental, and in some cases, irreversible negative impacts to soil, food, water, and air, degradation of municipal infrastructure including unique stresses put on roads, bridges, housing, police and emergency services, depreciated property values and cancellation of mortgages by lending institutions, and of earthquakes due to HVHF. A moratorium would provide a finite period of time to evaluate all relevant evidence, before drilling begins, to determine if HVHF is safe for our township.”
The petition was signed by residents from Reservoir Road, River Road, South Lebanon Road, Rodman Road, Lebanon Road, Bastain Road, Bradley Brook and Billings Hill roads.
McDowell said he had circulated petitions throughout the township and turned in about a dozen at the meeting but to date, Supervisor Jim Goldstein reports that the town board has received a total of 25 of these petitions in person or by mail.
Goldstein said the total number of residents signing petitions in favor of a one-year moratorium on natural gas development in the township now totals 77.
Residents speaking up at the meeting in favor of the moratorium and asking the town board to be more proactive and prevention-oriented were McDowell, Saulsgiver, Susie Gustafson of Soule Road and Brian Musician and Amy Yahna of Alambria Farms and Musician Road.
Those questioning the impact of a moratorium included Matt Powrie of Lebanon Road and Gary Will of River Road. Powrie said the DEC has studied the issue for four years and put together new regulations in the SGEIS that would be sufficient to regulate the industry.
Will questioned if a moratorium would create problems for town residents with leases due to expire by allowing natural gas companies to invoke force majeure, a clause that would allow them to extend their leases for the period of the moratorium.
Town officials also discussed the situation in the town of Avon where Lenape Resources closed down gas wells due to a moratorium despite the town grandfathering the existing gas wells and infrastructure in their moratorium.
Goldstein said he favored directing town attorney Steve Jones to begin working on a local law for a one-year moratorium given that the principal developer in the township. He said Norse Energy, now Emkey Resources, has suspended all operations for more than a year and is in debt. Goldstein said he thought it would give the town the time needed to design a road use law, complete its comprehensive plan which will be assessing public opinion on a number of issues, and would also allow the comprehensive planning committee time to evaluate, consider and recommend any land use law changes.
According to Goldstein, it would also give the town time to see how the permitting of HVHF wells works out in the Southern Tier, noting his sources in Albany have told him that regulations are expected to be approved and permits issued before Labor Day, and the town would be better off being conservative, despite assurances that there will be no immediate development of Utica Shale where HVHF would be employed.
Goldstein said the town would intend to grandfather all existing wells and infrastructure. He said the county road use law the town intends to use as a template has not been finalized, and he is unsure of when that will occur.
Other town board members did not favor moving in that direction at this time, citing legal concerns and preferring to get more information and consider options after future discussions. In an informal poll taken a week later, Goldstein reports that town board members are three to two in opposing the pursuit of a moratorium at this time. Concerns cited include a potential negative impact on farmers who rely on natural gas income and tax revenue receipt.
Town officials were also relying on information that drilling in the town using high-volume hydraulic fracturing seemed years away. Goldstein cited concerns that the SGEIS will be finalized soon and did not want to leave the town open to potential surprises. Consensus was to move forward on a road use law.
Submitted by James Goldstein, supervisor, town of Lebanon.