Modified gas lease proposal finalized

Staff report

Albany – A modified – and much-delayed – final plan to lease
natural gas and oil exploration rights on several state-owned
tracts will not include the Bear Swamp State Forest.

That portion of the DEC proposal was met with stiff resistance
at public hearings last year on the plan, and DEC ultimately
removed the 2,094-acre Cayuga County site from the lease.

Several other proposed sites have been restricted to “no surface
entry” under the revised plan, which DEC officials had originally
said would likely be in place in the late summer of 2005.

In all, 19,250 acres in seven counties will be leased for gas
and oil development rights that DEC officials say will occur “in a
manner that is fully protective of the environment and the state’s
natural resources.”

While the proposal could generate several million dollars in
revenue for the state, none would go into the state’s Conservation
Fund since no Wildlife Management Unit land is involved. All monies
– prior lease sales in 1999 and 2003 netted $7.6 million – will go
into the state’s general fund.

Sixteen parcels are included in the 19,250 acres offered for
lease – 15 reforestation areas and one multiple-use area. All of
the tracts are located near land that is currently the focus of an
exploration effort in the previously productive Trenton/Black River
gas formation located partially in New York State.

One area that won’t be part of the proposal is 2,094 acres of
the Bear Swamp State Forest in Cayuga County. Most opposition to
the proposal centered on that tract during a series of public
sessions on the plan, with residents voicing concerns over
potential groundwater problems, since Bear Swamp abuts Skaneateles
Lake, the main drinking water source for the City of Syracuse. They
also expressed concerns over noise, traffic and the incompatibility
of gas drilling in the pristine area.

DEC officials said the comments were “fully considered” in
developing the final plan, which was originally expected to be in
place late last summer.

Four other areas – Oakley Corners in Tioga County, Tracy Creek
in Broome and Tioga counties, Hewitt Forest in Cortland County, and
Jenksville Forest in Tioga County – were approved subject to
limited or no surface entry.

Residents in the Tracy Creek area had also expressed opposition
to the proposal.

Other lands set for lease – additional restrictions could be
imposed during the permitting process, officials said – are Chemung
SRA #1C (Catlin); Chemung SRA #2 (Maple Hill); Cortland SRA #3
(Kennedy); Cortland SRA #9 (Tuller); Cortland #10 (Tuller);
Schuyler SRA #4 (Coon Hollow); Steuben SRA #5 (West Hill); Tioga
SRA #1 (Fairfield); Tioga SRA #3 (Robinson); Tioga SRA #4
(Anderson); Tioga SRA #6 (Ketchumville); and Tompkins SRA #4
(Potato Hill).

DEC Division of Mineral Resources Director Brad Field said
previously only a small fraction of the total acreage will be part
of any drilling activity. Only 28 acres of 40,000 targeted in the
1999 and 2003 projects was used for drilling.

Field also said drilling and other activity would be conducted
outside of hunting seasons.

Leases are awarded in a sealed, competitive bid process.

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