Delaware supervisors plan vote vs. gas drilling ban

By Matthew J. Perry
The Delaware County Board of Supervisors will vote today on a resolution that calls for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) not to single out the county for stricter regulations concerning natural gas drilling. Resolution 191, which was filed by Middletown Supervisor Len Utter on October 2, is a lengthy document that will be forwarded, if passed, to many state officials, from the governor down to members of New York City’s council.
The resolution argues that natural gas drilling presents a unique opportunity to enrich local communities while addressing national demands for energy and the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
“Delaware County Board of Supervisors are committed to developing alternatives that will allow the communities, as a whole, to benefit from the natural gas reserves and provide a source of revenue and energy that will create more employment with living wages and health insurance,” the resolution states.
Recent calls for moratoriums or bans on gas drilling within New York City’s watershed have sparked controversy and anger upstate, particularly among residents who see these positions not as attempts to protect the environment and public health but as the latest attempt by outside influences to control the region’s resources.
Department of Enviro-nmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Emily Lloyd has criticized the DEC for being lax in overseeing new drilling techniques, and the DEP has called for a one-mile perimeter around all city reservoirs that would be free of drilling. Tom Gennaro, of the NYC Council, has called for a ban throughout the city’s watershed system.
The board’s resolution states that such bans “[would] discriminate against private landowners in the watershed[,] depriving them of long-term future income and will deprive the local municipalities of the potential real property tax benefits from the mining of the natural gas.” It goes on to cite Environmental Conservation Law 23, which addresses the DEC’s mandate to enable the extraction and use of the state’s natural resources, including gas. A ban would be a violation of that mandate, the resolution argues, and would require that the state “provide funding to landowners in the watershed to mitigate lost income opportunities that a DEC ban would cause.”
When the board was addressed by DEC representatives in August, its collective mood was clearly one of support for natural gas drilling and confidence in DEC’s ability to prevent any serious harm to the city’s watershed or any other aquifers. This attitude is reflected in the pending resolution, which states that “there is no scientific basis to regulate natural gas mining within Delaware County in a manner different or more stringent than elsewhere in New York State.”
Opponents of gas drilling would not disagree with that claim, but would use it as an argument for stronger regulations on gas drilling everywhere. “What drilling would do to the city’s watershed is no different than what it would do to any other water source,” says Wes Gillingham, project director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, which has called for a moratorium on drilling, not a ban. “This is a human health issue, not an environmental issue.”
Gillingham states that through public hearings and review of the DEC’s General Environmental Impact Statement, it is necessary for all communities above the Marcellus Shale to come together and be aware of the threats presented by gas drilling as well as the benefits. The task set by Catskill Mountainkeeper and other groups, at present, is to slow down the review process and install necessary protections, rather than resist drilling outright.
“I totally understand their position,” Gillingham said of the board. “Delaware County especially, for many years, has dealt with New York City imposing their needs on them.”