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Milo residents voice gas drilling concerns

    PENN YAN–Milo Supervisor Leslie Church told audience members the discussion should be informative and not an argument. However, that did not keep residents from voicing concerns on gas drilling towards Ben Haith, a representative from the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York. Haith made a presentation to the town on hydrofracking during the regular meeting on Monday, April 16. Some 20 residents attended the meeting.
IOGA of New York, which is headquartered in Hamburg, represents oil and gas professionals to state citizens and lawmakers. Organization membership is open to operators, engineers, consultants, producers, landowners, and allied businesses and individuals. Haith is the regional manager for Palmerton Group which is an IOGA member. Located in Syracuse, Palmerton Group provides consulting services to various energy companies. Haith’s work in the organization is geared towards decommissioning energy operations in New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Those functions include oil and gas wells, pipelines and storage facilities.
    According to Haith, one common misconception regarding hydraulic fracturing relates to the amount of chemicals used in the process. He explained such substances really have a minimal role in natural gas production. Haith said the majority of natural gas fluids are made up of water and roughly 2.5 million gallons would be used for each well that gets drilled. He added the amount of gas that could be produced from wells in the Marcellus Shale would be able to heat 750 million homes.
    Haith did acknowledge the possibility of accidents occurring from drilling. “Humans are involved so there could be mistakes,” he pointed out. One potential health hazard Haith made note of was methane gas getting mixed in drinking water. He also discussed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The spill, which did not subside for three months, came after an explosion occurred as a result of drilling in the British Petroleum-operated Macondo Prospect oil field. Yet, while he expressed awareness of the risks at stake, Haith stated stricter regulations in New York lessen the likelihood of such errors arising if fracking takes place in the state. One policy he mentioned was the rule against storing drilling fluids in pits.
    Although Haith expressed confidence about fracking being safe in New York, he still faced resistance on the matter from those in audience. One area of concern was the amount of water used for each drilled well. After Haith noted he could see “maybe 1,000” wells in the state being drilled by 2016 if fracking gets permitted, Steve Clendenin responded with “2.5 million (gallons) times 1,000? That’s a lot of water.” Haith explained the 2.5 million gallons would only make up a small portion of a typical body of water. However, Carol Clendenin informed him about water being a valuable asset in the Finger Lakes region. “It’s a precious resource,” she stated. “Many other parts of the country would be happy to have our water supply.” Steve Clendenin added that a vast amount of people rely on the Finger Lakes for water supply. He used Seneca Lake as an example and told Haith “you know, close to 100,000 people use Seneca (Lake) for water.”
    Carol Clendenin also expressed concern about whether natural gas would even be distributed in New York, or the United States. She indicated if prices get too low, gas and oil companies might look to sell in other countries. “They (gas and oil companies) are in the business for the money,” she warned. Haith explained to her such a scenario is unlikely since transporting the gas would be an added cost for organizations. Village of Penn Yan Trustee Richard Stewart asked about the amount of jobs that would be formed in-state as a result of fracking. Haith said employees would initially be brought in from out of state to do drilling since people with more experience would be needed to begin the process. The jobs would then become “more local once business gets in gear.”
    Ruth Davis inquired about the amount of radiation that would be caused from hydrofracking. While he did not deny there would be radioactivity, Haith stated it would be a minimal amount. “It’s not to say there is not radioactivity, but the levels are so low,” he spoke. “I could get more radiation walking in the sun.” Another question which a resident directed towards Haith was why Finger Lakes watersheds could not receive the same protection as those in New York City and Syracuse where drilling is prohibited. Haith stressed the reason such rules apply in those two cities is due to the water being unfiltered and that it has nothing to do with hydrofracking.
    One question from the board came from Councilperson Gene Spanneut who asked about what would be done to fix any “wear and tear” on roads that could occur when gas companies come in for drilling. Haith said gas organizations would be financially responsible for any such repairs. With regards to the chances of drilling taking place in Milo, he noted the odds were “slimmer” compared to other areas in the Finger Lakes region.
    Church informed Haith that Milo does have a year-long moratorium in place on fracking that would go into effect if and when gas companies are permitted to begin drilling. However, she did touch on the importance of learning more on the issue to develop more of an understanding of how the town can be affected. “I think there is still time for us to learn and find out how Milo could be impacted,” Church said.
    In other business:
    The board approved to hold a public hearing on amending the town’s steep slope law during the next regular on Monday, May 21 at 7 p.m. Changes to the law were approved last month by the Yates County Planning Board and now require a final vote from the town board.
    Abstract vouchers of $124,623.43 were approved by the board.
    The next regular meeting will be Monday, May 21 at 7 p.m. at the Milo town hall.


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