Opposition may not stall lease plan

By Steve
Piatt

Editor

Albany – DEC officials say they’re not surprised with the
overwhelming opposition to a proposal to lease 21,000 acres of
state land for gas and oil exploration in several Southern Tier
counties.

And, in fact, that doesn’t mean they won’t go ahead with the
plan in some form.

“People had a lot of questions and concerns, and probably almost
everyone who has commented is against the proposal,” said DEC
Division of Mineral Resources Director Brad Field. “The feedback
was generally negative, but for us, it was a great outreach
opportunity, a chance to educate the public as well as hear their
concerns.”

Field likened the procedure – four public meetings were held in
Cortland and Elmira – to 1999 and 2003 proposals which also drew
widespread opposition.

The 2003 plan was approved in full, although DEC modified the
proposal to address the most sensitive areas that prompted the
sharpest criticism.

“Back then, we went with a ‘no surface entry’ lease in a couple
of those areas,” Field said. Essentially, that allows the company
to lease the site and then access it from adjoining private land
via sideways drilling.

“We could do any number of things,” said Field of the DEC’s
decision-making process, which will come sometime after the close
of the public comment period July 29. “We could lease all of the
acreage as proposed, or piecemeal it and declare some areas of high
concern off limits and not part of the project.”

The plan calls for 21,000 acres of “multiple use” and state
reforestation land – no Wildlife Management Unit land is involved
in the project – to be considered for natural gas exploration. The
land is within Broome, Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Schuyler,
Steuben, Tompkins and Tioga counties.

The proposal could generate several million dollars in revenue
for the state, although because no Wildlife Management Unit land is
involved in the plan, none would go to the state’s Conservation
Fund. All the monies will be funneled into the general fund.

Prior lease sales in 1999 and 2003 netted $7.6 million – $4.5
million in 2003 and $3.1 million in 1999.

Comments at the public sessions focused not on dollars, but
disruption. Groups of residents in the areas of the proposal,
notably those near the Bear Swamp State Forest and Tracey Creek in
Broome County, voiced their concerns over traffic, noise, and the
incompatibility of drilling for natural gas in pristine areas.

Field says that any major disruption is temporary, and that
while the proposal involves 21,000 acres, only a sliver of that
would be part of any drilling. Only 28 acres of 40,000 targeted in
the 1999 and 2003 projects was used for drilling, he added.

“We’re glad we had the turnouts that we did at the public
meetings,” Field said. “While the feedback was generally negative,
it was civil. And it gave us an opportunity explain the proposal.
The track record (of gas drillers) is great.”

A total of 17 parcels are involved in the plan.

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