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Local News

March 2, 2011

Three towns seek fracking restrictions

The towns that ring Cooperstown's reservoir, Otsego Lake -- Middlefield, Otsego and Springfield -- are moving to ban or restrict natural gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The towns of Otsego and Springfield will each hold meetings on the subject at 7 tonight.

Otsego officials will meet at the town hall in Fly Creek to gauge public sentiment on whether drilling and "fracking" should be restricted or banned, Supervisor Meg Kiernan said Tuesday.

"We want to know what people think and what they want the town board to do," she said.

Council member Anne Geddes-Atwell said residents will have three minutes each to speak and are asked to respect others in the room.

Kiernan noted that last fall several Middlefield residents who oppose drilling and fracking approached their town board after seismic tests were conducted there. In the months since then, Middlefield officials tentatively have decided to rely on zoning laws to restrict drilling and fracking -- the process of injecting wells with millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals to stimulate production of shale gas.

Middlefield has scheduled a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday* to consider changes to its master plan and zoning regulations -- efforts to tighten the rules.

Otsego has decided to act proactively, gauging public opinion and possibly acting on it, before the rigs and crews arrive, Kiernan said.

She said that after the town board hears from residents, including those in the village of Cooperstown, it will decide what to do next.

"We'll need to have three of five board members agree," Kiernan said Tuesday. "Our zoning law is quite good and what we could do is redefine mineral extraction, because right now, it's just for gravel and sand."

If natural gas drilling and hydrofracking were added as banned activities, a change to the zoning law would be consistent with the town's master plan, she said.

"That's a possibility, or we could go so far as to make a law, as other towns are considering, or we could pass a moratorium until we have a chance to study it more," she said. "It all depends on what three of five on the board decide."

Kiernan said she has discussed the town's legal options with Cooperstown lawyer Michelle Kennedy, who also has approached the Otsego County Board of Representatives. Kennedy has said municipalities can do much more than was assumed months ago to ban or restrict drilling and fracking.

Kennedy will not be at tonight's meeting in Fly Creek. However, she will be at the Community Center in Springfield Center, where the Springfield town board will meet.

"This will be a workshop session," Springfield town Supervisor Bill Elsey said Tuesday. "The public is invited, but I'm not going to ask for any input because we will working on a draft of a local law."

This measure will ban drilling and fracking, not restrict it, Elsey said, noting that Springfield does not have a zoning ordinance to amend.

"My hope is to finalize the wording on the law and have it ready for a public hearing in April (11)," he said. "We're going to have a consultant (Nan Stoltenberg) and two attorneys (Kennedy and town attorney David Merzig) there."

Sustainable Otsego moderator Adrian Kuzminski said that worries about drilling and fracking increase as reports such as those in the New York Times this week focus attention on wastewater.

In a story published Sunday, the Times reported that wells "can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself."

*Editor's note: This story was revised at 10:30 a.m. March 2 to correct the date of the hearing.

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