Fracking forum set for Friday in Andes

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By Pauline Liu
In response to requests from several residents, the Town of Andes will hold what Supervisor Marty Donnelly calls “a natural gas drilling forum” on Friday, August 19 at 7 p.m. at Andes Central School.
For those who wish to be heard, there will be a sign-up sheet at the school. Each speaker will be given up to three minutes to either express their views or ask questions.

Supervisor Donnelly announced plans for the forum at last Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled Andes Town Board meeting, which was attended by a standing room only crowd of more than 30 people.

Vocal opponents
Many of those who packed the small meeting room were residents opposed to natural gas drilling. The board approved the plan to hold the forum by a vote of 3-0. Town Councilman Ritchie Gabriel abstained. He explained that he would not be able to attend. Town Councilman Shayne Moshier was absent from the meeting.

Hydraulic fracturing, which is also known as horizontal drilling or “fracking,” is a controversial method of drilling for natural gas that injects chemically treated water under high pressure into bedrock through drilled wells. The process cracks the Marcellus Shale, located deep underground, and releases natural gas. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials released a report last month, which recommended opening most of the state to drilling, with the exception of state land, wildlife preserves, aquifers and the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. With the release of the report, a 60-day public comment period is now underway.   

Supervisor Donnelly agreed to schedule the forum at the urging of residents who attended last month’s town board meeting. Town resident Larry Breakstone was the first to call for a town-wide meeting on the issue. Even though most of Andes is in the New York City Watershed, he feels the town needs to plan ahead in case the moratorium on drilling in this region is some day lifted. 
“I’m happy to get the meeting, but that’s just the beginning,” said Breakstone.

Guest speaker
Bill Kappel of the U.S. Geological Survey will be the keynote speaker at the forum. Kappel, whose office is located in Ithaca, has been a hydrologist with the U.S.G.S. for 32 years. The News contacted him via e-mail to discuss his presentation. He explained that some might be surprised to learn that he doesn’t take sides.

“Mr. Donnelly from Andes had made the request a few weeks ago after speaking to some folks at Cornell University,” wrote Kappel.   “The presentation I will be giving does not advocate for any side.  I will be presenting information on the Marcellus, how they drill and hydrofrack, the concepts of flowback and formation water, disposal options for these waters, the pipelines that are needed, and a quick discussion of Article 23 of New York’s Environmental Conservation Law. The information provided can be used by the individuals to frame their position, but again, I and the USGS do not have a position on hydrofracking.”

At last Tuesday’s meeting, town resident Bob Lidsky of Dingle Hill called on town officials to ban fracking in Andes by using the broad powers of home rule, which the state has given to local governments. He read a statement to the town board.

“It isn’t just about protecting the water, it’s about protecting a way of life by banning fracking as a form of heavy industrialization as many towns in our region have already done,” said Lidsky. “The town has the right to protect its citizens from harm and protect their property values. Home rule gives us the right to zone.”

Coincidentally, town officials will soon consider whether to pass an anti-fracking zoning law. Supervisor Donnelly announced that Marge Merzig of the Delhi based company, Keough Consulting, is drafting a law regarding fracking “for our town board to look at, question, or give your opinions on.” Merzig told the News that the proposed legislation won’t be ready until sometime after Friday’s forum.

At least two residents who attended the meeting were visibly upset about the scheduling of the forum. Suzanne Gladstone and Breakstone’s wife, Karen Levy, expressed concerns that there won’t be enough time to notify Andes’ second home residents. State records show that 75 percent of town’s parcels are owned by non-residents.

“Marty had said it would be done in a timely fashion and it would be publicized, but how is the community going to find this out?” asked Levy. “We’re going to call people,” said Gladstone. ”Maybe we can put up flyers. I think if people don’t attend, they should submit something in writing.”  
Zoe Randall of Andes took to Facebook last Thursday and posted on the AndesNew York  group page, “For those in Delaware County, NY— please join us for a town forum on fracking on August 19 at 7 p.m. at Andes Central School. Help us push for a town-wide ban on heavy industry!”