In response to growing interest in natural gas exploration, Democratic candidate for state Senate Don Barber is calling for a moratorium on gas drilling and leasing in the region.
“A gold rush for land leases in our region is on, but comprehensive protections aren’t in place,” Barber said in a campaign statement.
“The [state Department of Environmental Conservation] and the Legislature have to step up and address the concerns of residents who are worried about what will happen to their water and their land,” he said.
At the same time, Barber is not opposed to seeking natural gas on local lands, according to spokesman Michael Blaine.
“Don is for developing this resource, but he wants to have an open discussion about the best way,” Blaine said Monday.
Barber, a town supervisor and farmer in Tomkins County, is seeking the 51st Senatorial District seat held for nearly 22 years by Sen. James L. Seward, an Oneonta area Republican.
In a Monday statement, Seward called Barber’s moratorium suggestion “irresponsible.”
“It’s too bad Mr. Barber opposes farmers and property owners earning a few extra dollars to help pay their bills by leasing their properties,” Seward said.
Seward agreed, however, that the state “should help property owners be informed and careful about signing leases.”
Seward has yet to formally launch a re-election campaign. He said recently he is waiting until the legislative session ends this month before announcing his plans.
Barber said the state needs to require gas drilling companies to post a bond to compensate landowners in case water wells are affected. Barber said the DEC and the Legislature should also protect residents from complicated contracts.
“You have these behemoth corporations bringing signing bonuses as they negotiate with financially pressed homeowners,” Barber said. “That’s just not fair. The only ones who have the clout to deal with the broader environmental issues are the DEC and the Legislature,” Barber said.
“We need a moratorium so all the environmental and financial issues of gas leasing and gas drilling can be worked out by the only level of government big enough to take on this issue — the state of New York,” Barber said.
How a moratorium on drilling permits or mineral rights leases between property owners and exploration companies could be accomplished was unclear Monday.
The DEC’s Division of Mineral Resources administers regulations and permits for oil and gas drilling in the state but is not allowed to get directly involved with leasing decisions, according to DEC spokeswoman Lori O’Connell.
“Mineral resources staff can help people understand the terminology and the language, but we don’t recommend whether people should sign them or not, it’s not within our legal mandate.”
State law also exempts drilling rights from local controls such as zoning restrictions, according to Schoharie County Planning Director Alicia Terry.
Terry, as well as officials from the New York Farm Bureau, the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce and the educational community, are planning a second informational meeting in mid-July to help inform property owners about natural gas exploration.
During the May meeting in Cobleskill, Scott Lee, a local manager for Indiana-based Mid-Central Land & Exploration Inc., said the company had already leased about 2,200 acres with six landowners in Schoharie County for rights to suspected natural gas deposits.
So far, no applications for drilling permits have been submitted to DEC from Schoharie or Delaware counties, O’Connell said Monday.
Three applications were submitted from the Cherry Valley area of Otsego County in May, she said. “But they were sent back because they were incomplete,” O’Connell said.
At a May 29 meeting at the State University in Cobleskill, representatives of DEC, a coalition of Southern Tier landowners and a gas leasing company outlined the complicated negotiation and exploration process before about 300 local residents.
Officials urged landowners to consult experienced attorneys before signing any contracts for mineral rights or royalty payments. Both the Farm Bureau and DEC also post information on their Web sites.