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December 19, 2013

Fracking moratoriums continue in Otsego

By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Most Otsego County residents are now living in communities that have enacted bans or moratorium against gas drilling.

Last week, the town of Butternuts approved a ban on shale gas drilling and storage, with a 3-2 vote of the town board, Butternuts Town Supervisor Charles Eckelmann said.

By another 3-2 vote earlier in the week, the town of Hartwick approved an eight-month moratorium against all heavy industry, including gas drilling.

The towns that have already banned gas drilling include Middlefield, Cherry Valley, Milford, New Lisbon, Otsego, Plainfield, Roseboom and Springfield. Moratoriums against drilling have been enacted by the town of Otego and the town of Oneonta. In addition, fracking has been banned by the the city of Oneonta and the village of Cooperstown.

That adds up to 12 of the county’s 24 towns moving to keep out drilling — either permanently or temporarily — with the only city and most populous village in the county following suit.

Pro-drilling Worcester Town Board Member Dave Parker conceded that in the debate over natural gas extraction, his side is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Otsego County residents.

“Let them revel in their symbolic victories,” Parker said. “They use the methods and tactics of activists, while we try to use logic and common sense.”

Eckelmann, who backed the ban enacted in Butternuts this week, said there is no question from his vantage point that opponents of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for gas have the momentum as state government leaders wrestle with the question of whether it should issue drilling permits to the energy industry.

“We didn’t enact our ban on a whim,” he said. “All the evidence indicates that the people who don’t want it far outnumber the people who do want it. It’s the will of the people.”

Towns that remain open to drilling include Worcester, Burlington, Unadilla, Edmeston, Decatur, Maryland, Laurens, Pittsfield, Richfield, Westford and Exeter.

Richfield Town Supervisor Fran Enjem said he would like to enact a moratorium against heavy industry in his town, but has been unable to generate sufficient support from fellow board members. It would behoove the town, he said, to have such a moratorium in place while it works on developing a comprehensive plan.

As for whether he fears the drilling industry would seek to explore for shale gas in Richfield, Enjem said, “I don’t think we have enough shale for it.”

Ellen Pope, the director of Otsego 2000, an organization that opposes gas drilling, said she’s encouraging more communities to join those that have moved forward with bans and moratoriums.

“Having more towns approve bans is a positive development,” she said. “But we can’t rest on our laurels. For the towns that haven’t done anything, those populations are still vulnerable. We can’t rest until we have this banned on a much broader basis.”

Whether New York municipalities are even empowered to enact such bans is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between the gas industry and drilling foes. The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, is expected to settle the question in 2014, with the ban on heavy industry enacted by Middlefield in 2011 central to that case.

Parker said his town council in Worcester is focused on issues more important and relevant to the townspeople than the gas drilling debate, such as the condition of the town barn.

“We’re a good decade away from having any drilling in New York,” said Parker. “The drilling rigs that came into Pennsylvania are heading west. Why waste your time on issues that are purely symbolic?”