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Henrietta Post
  • Guest essay: Drilling plan puts Finger Lakes at risk

  • The proposed widespread use of hydrofracturing and horizontal drilling for natural gas poses unacceptable risks to the future well-being of this region and its residents.

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  • The Finger Lakes are the lifeblood of central and western New York. They provide clean drinking water, magnificent vistas, outstanding habitat for fish and wildlife, and unparalleled recreational opportunities. They also serve as an integral part of a flourishing wine industry and support agriculture and tourism sectors that generate more than $3 billion annually.
    Here in the Finger Lakes, we clearly must accelerate our efforts to grow a more robust and sustainable economy based on the region’s rich natural resources, strong academic institutions, diversified agricultural economy, thriving tourism sector and the inherent strengths of our populace.
    However, given the current technology and practices, we believe the proposed widespread use of hydrofracturing and horizontal drilling for natural gas poses unacceptable risks to the future well-being of this region and its residents. The lure of near-term economic gain is substantially outweighed by the potential for long-term harm to the region’s land and water resources, as well as its economic competitiveness.
    Despite the development of a lengthy environmental impact statement, New York State has failed to adequately address critical concerns regarding shale gas exploitation that are vital to the future of our region:
    • Through its proposed regulatory framework, the state provides a higher level of protection for the watersheds that supply drinking water to New York City and Syracuse than it does to the Finger Lakes watersheds, despite the fact that each of the Finger Lakes serves as a public drinking water supply. Experts are concerned that conventional water treatment techniques currently applied on water from the Finger Lakes will not remove all harmful components found in the fracking fluids that are used today;
    • In the draft impact statement, the state fails to address the huge cumulative environmental impact of a process that is expected to involve construction of thousands of gas wells, thousands of miles of access roads and pipelines, and other associated infrastructure;
    • The state also fails to address potential adverse impacts upon the region’s agriculture and tourism industries. A study incorporated into the impact statement simply states that the implementation of widespread gas drilling “could have a negative impact on some industries such as tourism and agriculture” and yet fails to provide any detailed analysis of potential impacts.
    • The state’s draft impact statement fails to address threats to the region’s most significant land resources — sites recognized as priorities for conservation in New York’s Open Space Plan, which is a public policy document based on nearly 30 years of input from community leaders, public officials and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
    Until these issues are adequately addressed by New York and the natural gas industry, we are opposed to the use of hydrofracturing and horizontal drilling within the watersheds of the Finger Lakes.
    Page 2 of 2 - For more than 20 years, the Finger Lakes Land Trust has worked cooperatively with landowners, local communities and New York State to conserve nearly 13,000 acres of the region’s most cherished open lands. The Land Trust is not typically involved in public advocacy. In this case, however, we feel compelled to speak out as the risks posed to the future of our region are simply too great.
    We strongly encourage the state to fully address the concerns addressed above before allowing the use of hydrofracturing and horizontal gas drilling, and to work with the federal government and the natural gas industry to develop extraction techniques that are compatible with conservation of the region’s natural resources and its natural resource-based economies.
    Andrew Zepp is executive director and W. Stuart Schweizer is president of the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
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