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Town of Chautauqua votes down fracking moratorium

February 20, 2014
By Connie O’Connor - Correspondent , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Following two full hours of listening to speakers passionate about the question of whether or not the Town of Chautauqua should pass a proposed one-year moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to produce natural gas, the Town Board voted down the measure, with only Tom Carlson voting in favor of the moratorium. Despite the very cold weather and a light snow, it was standing-room-only well before the start of the meeting as supporters for both sides of the question packed the room. Speakers were nearly equally divided between those against the moratorium, who generally felt that any limit on drilling in the area could result in the loss of good jobs and diminished economic opportunity for land-holders and business interests, while those in support of the measure cited environmental issues and potential health concerns resulting from the drilling process and from the large amounts of contaminated waste water generated by the process. They also cited potential economic losses from any negative effects on the lake or on area roads and farmlands.

Among those speaking against the moratorium was Dave White of Mayville who claimed that oil and gas drilling has been done safely in the Town for more than 40 years. He pointed out that some elements of fracking are not entirely new to New York State and that many of the techniques are used in vertical drilling. He also felt that since no permits could in any case be issued prior to 2015, that the one year moratorium would serve no purpose. David Ward felt that the moratorium as written would restrict current functioning gas wells. He stated that the gas industry represents a substantial part of the economy of the Town and that its residents and the industry should not be limited.

Among those speaking in favor of the moratorium were Diane Miller who described herself as a "refugee from Ohio," who left her home of more than 40 years after fracking had begun nearby. She claims that residents of the area near the fracking site developed cancer as well as other health issues.

Donald Dowling, a town of Chautauqua resident and business owner, said that the economic benefits of the fracking process were both overstated and short-lived. He said that fracking exhausts wells very quickly about 34 to 44% of total capacity is produced in the first year of drilling. He summed up by saying that the process resulted in limited profits for some, while leading to long lasting negative environmental effects for many.

Darren Cooper, a member of the Seneca nation, began his remarks in support of the moratorium speaking in the Onondawaga language. He spoke eloquently of our obligation to protect and perpetuate the mother Earth who provides for us all. He said "I am not going to fill my pocket if it will hurt our Mother."

When all those who wished to speak had done so, Supervisor Don Emhardt called the question. The motion on the moratorium was made by Ken Burnett. Voting in favor of the measure was Tom Carlson, but Burnett, David Ward and Supervisor Emhardt voted no, and the measure was defeated.

Asked why he did not support the moratorium measure, Supervisor Emhardt said that after spending many hours of due diligence, doing extensive reading on the subject and talking to state officials and the DEC, he felt that the one-year moratorium would have no effect. Emhardt believes that under the existing permitting process it would be roughly five years before any drilling could be done. He feels further that existing regulations are stringent enough to protect the Town's people and the water supply. If fracking were to be allowed, he would insist on bonding against any damage to local roads or water.

In other business, the Town awarded the contract for work on the Chautauqua Heights Water District tower to Utility Services Company, a Georgia-based firm that operates nationally and whose bid was much lower than its competitors. The work is needed to remove THM, or trihalomethane from water held in the tower. This chemical is left when water is stored after chlorine has been used as a disinfectant. Standards for THM levels have been made more stringent and the tower must be modified for the water district to remain in compliance with the new standards.



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