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Guest Column

August 21, 2010

Local column: An alternative to signing with 'Land Man'

Recently I read a commentary by Marti Stayton concerning gas drilling. I had the pleasure of meeting Marti five years ago when she assisted me in my unsuccessful quest for political office. Marti is extremely bright, articulate and an outstanding legislator.

Yet I "respectfully disagree" with some of the analogies used in her commentary about gas drilling.

However, the purpose of this journalistic prose is to focus on where we do agree, which is the success of the DEC in monitoring gas drilling and the options I feel that remain for landowners who have not signed with the "Land Man."

As Marti states, there are thousands of vertical wells that have been safely drilled and monitored throughout New York state. The issuing of permits and the supervision of the drilling and maintenance of these wells all fall under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

For the past several years, the DEC has allocated tens of thousands of man-hours to develop procedures and policies that would ensure the newest technology of drilling would be environmentally safe.

The state Senate recently passed a bill that will restrict specific drilling until May 2011, which will provide the DEC additional time to finalize its report. I agree with this, provided we accept the DEC findings, for I know of no other group or agency that has the experience and education in gas drilling in New York state.

I consider myself an "environmental pragmatists," which "recognizes the economic and energy benefits of drilling, but want to be assured the technology is environmentally safe."

I purchased my land more than 40 years ago and still enjoy every opportunity I have to walk around it. I'm so concerned about keeping it environmentally safe for the wild life there that every few years I have a conservationist walk my property with me advising what I should plant or change for the betterment of the wildlife.

It was even suggested that I harvest some trees that are over 100 years old, but I still cannot come to cutting down these statuesque beauties.

I, too, like some of my neighbors, was offered a contract by the "Land Man." However, unlike some of my neighbors I did not sign, for I felt the lease was one sided and did not do enough to protect my land. However, because several of my neighbors did sign, the gas companies can extract gas from under my land, without my permission, under "compulsory integration." I did not want this to happen, and I began searching for an alternative.

My search brought me to the Central New York Landowner's Coalition (www.cnylandcoalition.org). This group was established by a group of farmers whose sole purpose was to protect their land so that their future generations can continue to work and live off the land.

They, along with their attorneys, developed a 30-plus-page lease contract that is environmentally sound and focuses great attention on the hot topics of drilling, such as the protection of our water and landscape with the least amount of surface disturbance possible.

The mission statement of the organization is "education, negotiation and conservation." These three words are the core values that continue to direct the coalition for the betterment of the landowners and all who live in our beautiful region of central New York.

Today, this coalition has grown to more than 3,000 members representing nearly 200,000 acres throughout our region. More than 35,000 acres of the coalition rests in Otsego County, with the towns of Pittsfield, Edmeston and Morris being the county's largest landholdings.

This fall, we will have local meetings in these towns outlining the geology of the region, our environmentally sound lease and any developments we have had in negotiations with gas companies. Shortly thereafter, we will have regional meetings in other towns and counties.

Another excellent coalition in Otsego County that I'm familiar with is the "Unatego Coalition," formed by Dick Downey. Both the CNY and Unatego coalitions share the same goals and values, which has allowed us to partner on numerous projects to the benefit of area landowners. Understanding that gas drilling is here and will continue to be here as long as there is gas underneath us, it only makes sense for landowners to link up with one of these excellent coalitions to be sure their best interests are represented and their land is protected.

I consider my self an educated and informed individual, and believe that the DEC is the agency that has the history and ability to safely regulate gas drilling in New York state. Let's let them do their job, and all agree to "respectfully disagree" with one another.

Russ Bachman is a member of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council steering committee.

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