Schoharie County

Town considers hydrofracking moratorium

Another Schoharie County town may take steps to prevent natural gas drilling operations within its b

Another Schoharie County town may take steps to prevent natural gas drilling operations within its borders.

The Town of Seward has set a public hearing Monday to consider a moratorium on natural gas and petroleum exploration, which would prohibit hydrofracking for one year, said Supervisor J. Carl Barbic, D-Seward. That would give the Seward Planning Board time to study land use regulations and come up with recommendations.

“We want to come up with some changes in our zoning codes in case fracking does come in. The things that we feel we can protect we ought to make sure they’re protected,” Barbic said.

The discovery of vast amounts of natural gas buried in the Marcellus Shale formation has sparked controversy over the hydrofracturing, or fracking, process. It involves pumping pressurized water mixed with chemicals underground to release the gas.

Concerns expressed by residents include damage to roads from truck traffic, reduced property values and the risk of contaminating streams and groundwater, among other issues. The state is drafting regulations that will govern the process, which is not taking place in New York yet. Meanwhile, several Schoharie County towns are changing laws in hopes of preventing these projects.

The town of Sharon, which saw the greatest number of gas drilling leases signed several years ago when Schoharie County’s portion of the Marcellus Shale was being eyed, has completed modifying its zoning code to ban fracking altogether.

Richmondville and Schoharie are also considering laws regarding the process, and the town of Summit passed a road preservation law that prohibits the type of heavy machinery travel believed necessary for hydrofracturing operations.

The town of Schoharie enacted a moratorium earlier this year to revise land use regulations to prevent hydrofracking and that work is nearly complete, said Supervisor Gene Milone, D-Schoharie.

Milone, a staunch opponent of fracking, is calling on the county to regulate what’s done with fracking wastewater. He said he believes there are pools and containers of this material sitting around in other states where hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale is already taking place.

“These states are looking for other states or counties to take this water for purification purposes. What I’m saying is I want the Health Department to come up with a policy that states it is not going to be permissible in this county,” Milone said.

criticism of county

The county is facing criticism from the local government watchdog Center for Sustainable Rural Communities for lacking a stance countywide on hydrofracturing.

Center board member Bob Nied in an email this week said counties can’t legally pass countywide bans on fracking, but they can make bold statements.

Nied said the county should be assisting towns in their efforts to strengthen laws.

“The County Board of Supervisors should also take a clear and unambiguous position opposing hydrofracking out of an abundance of caution and a desire to protect the health, safety, quality of life and property value of the residents,” he said.

The county does have a road preservation law under consideration, but Nied said these laws are too difficult to enforce to be considered a panacea.

Supervisor Harold Vroman, R-Summit, said the town’s Zoning Board is also working on zoning law as it pertains to heavy industrial work.

Vroman said he’s not overly confident Schoharie County is still being targeted by drillers as a source for gas.

“I don’t think Schoharie County has got a lot of good shale to be fracked. That’s only my opinion. I think it’s going to be more in the Southern Tier to start,” Vroman said.

The Town of Seward’s public hearing on the moratorium is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Town Barn at 795 Lowe Road.

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