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Ulysses Forum Explores Dangers of High Volume Hydraulic fracturing by Ken ZesersonJulie and Craig Sautner turned on their kitchen tap 18 months ago shortly after a hydrofracking operation was set up a few hundred yards from their home in Dimock, PA. The poisonous brown water that spewed from the spigot changed their lives forever.
Currently embroiled in lawsuits and constant battles with Cabot Oil & Gas which they charge has ruined household water wells up and down the country road they live on, the Sautners implored a Ulysses audience attending a forum on hydrofracking December 8 "Don't let them come to your town. These gas companies are ruthless and will do anything they can to avoid accepting responsibility for what they do to communities."
A crowd 200 people strong assembled at the Trumansburg High School heard the Sautners and 4 other panelists discuss ramifications of hydrofracking in primarily agricultural communities like Ulysses. "I was concerned before I heard all this," said one resident at the end of the meeting. "Now I am terrified...."
She had heard local scientist and world renowned author Sandra Steingraber explain that 40% to 70% water used in the hydrofracking process never sees the light of day again. "When you brush your teeth leaving tap water running, you are not "wasting" water in the sense that it goes into the sewage system and eventually enters a stream, a river, a lake or the ocean, evaporates, turns into rain and and falls to earth to facilitate life once again." But the water frackers poison and then inject into the earth is gone...forever." Steingraber, a biologist who has written extensively about environmental toxins, also expressed grave concerns about the level of carbon emissions and methane leakage which inevitably accompany large-scale industrial hydrofracking operations.
The community also heard ex-Mobil Oil executive Lou Allstadt contend that current regulations governing gas drilling in New York are woefully inadequate. Furthermore even if the regulations were sufficient the DEC has nowhere near enough to staff to monitor gas drilling and/or enforce mitigating activities, said Allstadt.
Town of Caroline Supervisor Don Barber sketched out for the crowd what highly industrial gas drilling operations would look like in Ulysses and beyond. Barber, who heads the Tompkins County Council of Governments, also highlighted the inadequacy of local roads to handle the millions of truck trips a full-scale drilling build-out would warrant.
Helen Slottje, an attorney with the Community Environmental Defense Council, decried the dearth of Federal and State regulations governing gas drilling activities which are, incredibly, immune from oversight by the EPA at the Federal level, and very loosely regulated by the DEC in New York. For example, gas drilling is exempt from the Safe Water Act, the Clean Drinking Water Act and other Federal statutes designed to protect the public from hazards secondary to drilling and pipeline transmission, said Slottje. She also answered audience queries on the ongoing citizens' initiative in Ulysses aimed at asking the Town Board to ban hydrofracking. Although local municipalities in New York are prohibited from regulating the industry, persuasive legal opinion suggests they can ban it by utilizing pre-existing zoning ordinances and/or revising current codes to prohibit heavy industrialization such as that which would accompany hydrofracking operations.
Ulysses would seem to be well-positioned to take such an approach since its Comprehensive Plan clearly stipulates the community treasures its rural agricultural nature and current zoning does indeed not allow for heavy industry within the town. The Dec. 8th event was organized by an amalgam of local grassroots groups, including the Ulysses Gas Drilling Advisory Board, the Coalition to Protect New York, the Committee to Preserve the Fingerlakes, and Concerned Citizens of Ulysses (CCU). Continuing the community dialog on hydrofracking, CCU will also be staging a showing of the nationally acclaimed movie "Gasland" Jan. 5th at the Trumansburg High School starting at 7:00 p.m.
Ken Zeserson is a member of Concerned Citizens of Ulysses.
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