By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — Add Otego to the column of local communities that have enacted moratoriums or bans stopping shale gas drilling operations within their borders.
On Wednesday night, the Otego Town Board voted 4-1 in support of a one-year moratorium on drilling for natural gas and related activities. The only dissenter was board member Dave Sheldon.
According to those in attendance, Otego Town Supervisor Joseph Hurlburt — among the four who approved the moratorium — stressed that it was not a ban, and indicated he would not favor a ban under any circumstances.
Stuart Anderson, an anti-drilling activist who advocated for the moratorium, said the move will give the town Planning Board enough time to update the town’s comprehensive plan as it moves to amend the zoning law.
He said drilling foes are “very happy” with the board’s vote.
“The Otego moratorium will hopefully provide some level of protection against drilling while the Planning Board completes its work,” Anderson said. But he added that more organizing still needs to be done.
“This isn’t the heavy lifting,” he said. “The heavy lifting is going to be getting the comprehensive plan and the zoning law properly amended.”
The board had been under pressure by one drilling company, Lenape Resources Inc., to spurn the call for the moratorium. The company recently filed a lawsuit against the Livingston County town of Avon, challenging a similar moratorium it adopted.
A lawyer retained by Lenape penned a strongly worded letter to Otego officials last month, warning the town could face a costly court battle if it moved to inhibit drilling.
“The cost of taking Lenape’s oil and gas development rights ... could be tens of millions of dollars,” the lawyer, Michael P. Joy, wrote.
Otego resident Dick Downey, a pro-drilling activist who heads the Unatego Area Landowners Association, said in an email that the vote will “probably” result in gas companies offering less money to Otego property owners for royalties from gas leases and sign-on bonuses.
He added: “It opens Otego to a possible lawsuit by Lenape Resources, a driller with 26 leases in Otego. ... Whatever the merits of the case, if brought to court, the case must be defended. That costs money.”