(Town of Lebanon) Lebanon town officials presided over a two-hour public meeting on a proposed new natural gas 16- to 24-inch high pressure pipeline proposed by Emkey Resources Inc., as part of its monthly town board meeting Nov. 12.
The proposed pipeline is contingent upon approval by the state Department of Environmental Conservation permitting of high-volume hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells in Marcellus and Utica shale formations, according to Emkey representative Steven Keyes, who engaged in a question-and-answer discussion with town board members, town officials and a standing-room-only group of Lebanon and area residents.
In other actions, town board members:
* Authorized a bond anticipation note for the new 624 John Deere Payloader with trade-in that has been delivered after a review of the lease purchase agreement by the town attorney, which had some new requirements and conditions, which indicated the town would be better off going with a BAN rather than the lease purchase agreement financially.
* Approved a $2.50-per-hour increase for town highway employees as part of fully implementing a one-person plow program that Highway Superintendent Alex Hodge has been experimenting with for more than a year. Hodge said that all the trucks are equipped for this purpose, and the cost savings should be substantial, given the average hourly rate of seasonal wingmen runs between $8.50 and $10.30 per hour currently.
He said he would only use wingmen during extremely harsh storms where visibility was an issue, and the policy only pays the increased rate when a sole plow operator is engaged in ice and snow removal. Town highway employees requested the rate increase of $2.50 that is identical to what Madison County highway workers receive, and town board members discussed a $2 increase that was recommended by Hodge.
The majority favored the $2.50 increase for the 2012-13 winter season with a review after that time to assess savings vs. costs.
* Appointed Brian Fitts as the new town assessor to participate in the Coordinated Assessment Program with Eaton and Georgetown at the rate of $9 per parcel, which is what former Assessor David Gray, who retired, was receiving.
The appointment was made after an interview and check of references and is only for the remainder of the assessor term, which expires Sept. 30, 2013. Town board members asserted that they will re-evaluate Fitts in the summer and insure the other towns comply with the local law governing CAPs in any future appointments.
* Approved fund transfers to balance out the 2012 budget.
* Approved the 2013 town budget, which will show a very small decrease in the town property tax rate and tax levy for 2013 and complies with the state-imposed tax cap of 2-percent increases. The town board also approved some procedural changes in how the budget document is structured at the request of the Office of the State Comptroller’s regional office, which asked for sales tax revenues and restricted funds to be coded differently.
* Voted to canvass for the code enforcement officer position for 2013.
* Discussed status of state inquiries into Town Justice John Bartlett, who has not provided any payment checks to the town for fines or fees collected since May and who has not filed any justice reports in three months. The OSC has indicated plans to audit Bartlett and the Office of Court Administration plans to meet with him, as well.
The pipeline would link up three counties, Madison, Chenango and Broome, and deliver natural gas to the Dominion and Millennium pipelines that supply natural gas to the state and throughout the region. Keyes did not rule out the natural gas also being used for exports in liquefied forms to other countries and confirmed that Emkey is considering development of Utica Shale using high-volume hydrofracking including current lease holdings in Lebanon.
While Marcellus Shale is considered too immature and shallow to develop in Lebanon and Madison County, according to Dr. Bruce Selleck, professor of geology at Colgate University, who presented on shale formations at a Sept. 10 town board meeting, Keyes was very specific that Emkey obtained all the former holdings of Norse Energy, Inc., in northern Chenango County and Madison County north of the town of Preston. It is intended to pursue development of Utica Shale and existing shale formations in the region with an emphasis on Utica Shale, which is anticipated to be in Lebanon and moving east through Brookfield and Oneida County.
Town residents and local officials posed questions regarding oversight, impact, timelines and past drilling practices of Norse Energy, Inc., with which Keyes was previously operations manager before becoming employed by Emkey. Keyes said that Emkey was operated by Ovin Risberg, former CEO of Norse, and that he also agreed that Norse had been too ambitious with its drilling in Lebanon and Chenango County and had run into problems due to natural gas prices dropping.
He said Emkey intended to develop resources on existing leased properties and wells, and to pursue development of this pipeline if the SGEIS before the DEC and Cuomo is approved. The pipeline would include the location of and siting of a second compressor station somewhere along the route, as well as the construction of the 16- to 24-inch-steel line along the existing right of way.
Keyes confirmed that Emkey has all the secured leases and intends to put this pipeline in along the route previously approved by the state Public Service Commission for expansion by Norse Energy, Inc., in 2009.
Keyes said that Emkey has not yet submitted the plan to the PSC but wanted to give local governments the heads up on what is planned.
William Donnelly, a member of the Eaton Town Board, asked how the pipeline could be developed since Eaton has adopted a moratorium on all natural gas development, including new pipelines. Keyes said he was unsure and that this would have to be resolved in the state courts but also indicated that lawsuits could potentially occur if town boards pass laws that delay or prevent drilling and impact the financial holdings of natural gas development companies if the state DEC authorizes permitting of HVHF through the SGEIS.
Keyes also said Norse had done pretesting of many water wells near gas development for decades, despite it not being a requirement, but some residents present questioned the veracity of that statement, noting that there was no pre-testing done of their water wells prior to drilling. Supervisor Jim Goldstein said that he was aware of a Norse policy implemented around 2008 that used A&P Water Testing for natural gas development locally that did pre-testing for water wells within a certain distance of a drilling operation, but said that Norse officials stated at a public meeting in Earlville over the Vosburg Road well-drilling operation that such practices had begun in 2008 and that it was their policy to do no post-testing.
Goldstein said the question of the impact of natural gas drilling on area water wells is unknown because there is no current state regulation that requires pre- and post-testing on a regular basis of all water wells near natural gas development or natural gas wells, so it is an unknown. He also said that the decision by the federal government in 2005 to exempt the natural gas and oil industry from certain provisions of the Clean Air and Water Act permits natural gas development companies to use the argument of proprietary interest to not have to disclose the types of chemicals and concentrations in any of their drilling solutions, which have been used in the past in Lebanon and other towns.
Keyes did confirm that Norse and the industry have been using ‘fracking’ techniques for years, but they have been restricted to low-volume fracking, drilling operations that use up to 80,000 gallons of water. He said that high-volume hydrofracking can use five million gallons and requires new special permits but is what has been used in other states.
He said that concerns and costs related to the impact of trucks on local roads has led to more development of piping in water from approved sources and even creating water storage lagoons near properties intended for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. He confirmed waste from drilling is still being trucked to a treatment facility in Pennsylvania and bemoaned the fact that there is no such facility developed or approved in New York state for processing HVHF waste.
Some audience participants raised questions about the environmental impacts of HVHF drilling and specifically the radioactivity of some of the waste that comes out of the well after fracking is complete. The presence of radon in area shale is well-known and has produced problems in some homes – the Madison County public health department recommends radon testing kits for all homes, particularly in the southern end of the county where the most radon in homes has been identified.
Keyes told the town board he would keep them updated as changes or timelines develop or occur. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that the public comment on the SGEIS regulations has been extended and any permits are delayed pending a new Health Impact Assessment of HVHF, which is expected to be completed in the spring.
The Lebanon Town Board will meet again Monday, Dec. 10, at the town office in the hamlet. The public is invited. Items on the agenda include considering a road use law in the township and updating the town personnel manual to reflect recent policy changes.
Submitted by James Goldstein, supervisor, town of Lebanon.