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Forum slams hydrofracking process

PENN YAN—Some 400 residents attended the latest forum on hydrofracking for natural gas, Tuesday, March 15, in Penn Yan.
The focus was on natural gas drilling and its potential harmful effects on agriculture.  The meeting was chaired by Yates County organic farmer Klaas Martens and sponsored by The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes.  The forum started off with Steve Coffman giving an overview of what hydrofracking is.
“It’s not the old kind of gas well,” said Coffman, after explaining he has been looking into hydrofracking for three years.  “Marcellus Shale is something different.  The gas is locked in very tight shale; it must be blown apart to release it.”
Ellen Harrison, lease holder and founder of, spoke about the impacts of a gas well.  She said once a gas company has drilled for one type of gas, it is likely to drill for others (like Utica Shale).  She explained it is beneficial for the company because the equipment and infrastructure is already in place.  In addition, the gas company already has a lease with the landowner.  She said the companies usually include the right to renew in the lease.
Concerning mortgages and homeowner’s insurance, Harrison said most insurance doesn’t cover industrial activity, which includes drilling.  She added the impact on property values and taxes is mixed.
Harrison said all of the stipulations for where a gas company can build and how many acres it uses is all within the lease.  She advised that property owners get everything in writing, never verbally, and have each page signed.  She said that when it comes to taking legal action, some residents have to pay for the gas company’s lawyer.  Such specifics would be in the lease.
As a leaseholder, Harrison said she felt ashamed for signing a lease and called it a “drastic mistake.”
New York City attorney Leslie Lewis talked about her experience representing Pennsylvania clients against gas companies in the last two years.  She said many clients faced similar experiences including:
• Land men offering a lot of money and saying to sign the lease because the gas company will drill anyway.
• Water contamination.
• Exposure to combustible gases.
• Fear of future illnesses.
Lewis told residents at the forum to have an attorney look over any lease before signing.
Pennsylvania farmers affected by gas drilling also spoke.  First was beef cattle farmer Terry Greenwood.  He said a company came to his property to drill based on a lease signed in 1921.  He explained in 2008, after the company drilled for one year, his water was contaminated.  Greenwood said the company gave him a water source, which has now become his financial responsibility.
He added the contaminated water leaked into his cattle’s water source.  After that, Greenwood said calves died, were born blind, or had cleft palettes.
“I don’t care what it takes, but keep (gas companies) out of here,” he said at the end of his segment, which received much applause.
Ron Gulla was the other farmer who spoke.  He said when a gas company approached him to sign a lease, it was for vertical drilling.  However, Gulla explained the company ended up doing horizontal drilling instead.  He told the people at the forum to stick together, to not let gas companies pit neighbor against neighbor.
“I will take you to people whose lives have been turned upside down,” he said.


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