DEC pitches gas/oil land lease proposal

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — DEC’s plan to lease 21,000 acres of state land for gas
and oil exploration could generate several million dollars in
revenue.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that none of it, unlike past sales in 1999 and
2003, would be going into the state’s Conservation Fund. Instead,
it would all go to into the general fund, since no Wildlife
Management Unit land is involved in the recent proposal.

The DEC plan — unveiled last month and the subject of public
hearings June 27-29 as New York Outdoor News went to press —
hasn’t attracted widespread comment thus far. But DEC Director of
the Division of Mineral Resources Brad Field says what comments
that have come in via phone calls and e-mails have focused on the
3,300-acre Bear Swamp State Forest, a tract eyed for the oil and
gas exploration.

“We’ve been getting some concern about the Bear Swamp area,”
Field said. “It’s an important area to the local community, and I
think right now they don’t understand that this (lease) could be
compatible with the area.”

The Bear Swamp State Forest is part of the 21,000 acres of state
reforestation and multiple use lands targeted by DEC in Broome,
Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Tioga
counties for gas and oil exploration and development.

Public meetings to outline the proposal and to gather input from
the public were set to be held June 27-28 in Cortland and June
28-29 in Elmira. In addition, those with specific questions may
call Charles Gilchrist at (518) 402-8056.

Written comments can also be submitted via the DEC Web site at:
dmnog@gw.dec.state.ny.us
through July 29.

In addition to the Bear Swamp area opposition, a group in Vestal
(Broome County) calling itself Concerned Citizens of Tracy Creek
has also formed to oppose the plan.

That group, said Ted Liburdi of Vestal, has drafted a petition
and is communicating with the Vestal town board on the matter.

“Nobody knew about it at all; the town supervisor wasn’t aware
of it,” Liburdi said. “We’re anxious to see just what is going to
happen.”

Liburdi said the group was planning on attending at least one of
the public meetings on the proposal.

The Southern Tier counties of New York have long been targeted
for natural gas exploration, and natural gas reserves are being
developed in the Trenton-Black River formation in central New York
and the Southern Tier. While private property is often eyed for
natural gas, public lands, too, have been utilized.

Field said prior lease sales in 1999 and 2003 generated $7.6
million in bonus bids, as well as some royalty revenues. The 1999
program netted $3.1 million for the state and 2003 sales generated
another $4.5 million.

During those sales, monies went to both the state’s Conservation
Fund and the general fund. But since no Wildlife Management Unit
land is involved in the current proposal, all revenues would be
funneled into the state’s general fund this time around.

Field says he’s “not sure” that will soften support for the
plan.

“What we want to emphasize is the temporary nature of the major
disruption — the drilling rig,” Field said. “After that, it’s a
very minor disruption.”

Field added that in areas where drilling activity will occur,
they’ll avoid work in and around hunting seasons.

“Our experience to date, in the 1999 and 2003 leases, is that of
the 40,000 total acres involved, only 28 acres was used for (for
drilling purposes),” he added.

Leases are awarded in a sealed, competitive bid process to the
highest responsible bidder. Bids are submitted on a per acre basis
for individual parcels.

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