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Frustration over hydrofracking
MIDDLEFIELD -- As the debate to drill for natural gas in New York continues, landowners are growing increasingly frustrated that the state has not decided whether hydrofracking is legal. It has been in Pennsylvania for about five years.
The peaceful pastures of Otsego County become the battleground over the right to frack for gas. Jennifer Huntington filed suit against her town for banning her from doing it.
"The land would basically be the same," Huntington said. "They would use a small area, a couple acres, to do a drilling pad and drill, and then that would be recovered and I could farm around it."
300 acres lie on this farm, and they could be drilled with low-volume wells. Late last week, appeals court judges ruled that the town is the judge and can ban drilling.
When asked if she would stop farming if she had Marcellus Shale gas wells, Huntington said, "absolutely not. People ask what would you do with the money? Invest in our land, our employees, our cattle, our equipment."
Huntington had a lease on her land for five years but it was not renewed. The company had claimed there was too much uncertainty and misinformation about fracking in the area.
The methodology of hydrofracking is one of the most fracturing issues. Water and chemicals break up Marcellus Shale to release gas. But, a company called "Gasfrac," based in Canada, employs another method. Gelled propane would break up rock. The company has made a case that its method is more environmentally friendly than the conventional method, saying the propane comes back out of the ground. The concerns with "traditional" fracking: where water is taken from to break up rock, how much of it and the chemicals remain in the ground.
"You're using a higher-priced product than water to do the fracking, but you get a lot of it back, so there may be a return to help offset that," said Assemblyman Cliff Crouch (R-Guilford).
Crouch has watched many in his Southern Tier district cry out for gas development whole New York lingered on making a decision and some contemplated propane fracking.
When asked if the state would need to begin new health studies and draw new regulations for an alternative method, Crouch said, "there may have to be some additional regulations to allow that. I question whether there should be health studies. I think there's enough of it done in Canada so we could look at some of the they've had to deal with up there, if there are any."
Drilling opponents say any fracking is still fracking, even if propane is what's used.
"No matter how you do it, there's so much toxicity in the shale itself," said Julia Walsh of Frack Action.
Frack Action takes the position that there's no sense in using an explosive agent to release gas in the Marcellus Shale, which its data suggests is 70 times more radioactive than other shale plays.
"Our rural compared to the rest of the country is the most metropolitan, so we're talking about really putting people's lives in danger, and the land, for generations to come," Walsh said.
Huntington said drilling supporters would be open to an alternative. "I think the industry is changing daily," she said. "They're coming up with new ideas all the time."
Huntington may only use those ideas if power if Middlefield town government changes hands and the ban is dropped. New York State has not decided if anyone can drill.
Gasfrac declined an interview request. The company has said it was successful in harnessing gas from the ground 1,000 times with the propane method. The technology is still rather new, first used in Canada in 2008. The company is beginning to explore shale plays in Texas.