Land coalition members from around the state plan to converge on Albany on Wednesday to urge state lawmakers not to vote for a moratorium on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Sustainable groups and others, including the Tompkins, Onondaga and Cortland legislatures, are asking lawmakers for a temporary halt to hydrofracking while the EPA studies its safety.
Several bills addressing drilling and fracking have been working their way through Assembly and Senate committees. Some would create a moratorium; others would give more regulatory power to municipalities to control drilling and fracking activities within their borders.
The measures creating the most stir are the Englebright-Addabbo bills, named for Assemblyman Steven Englebright of Suffolk County and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Queens. These measures call on the state to ban hydrofracking of horizontal wells until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of fracking — the pumping of water, sand and chemicals into gas wells to shatter shale beds deep in the ground.
Coalition members — those who've banded together to negotiate leases with gas drillers — as well as the natural gas industry, oppose these bills. But as word of natural gas accidents from Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Texas creates a stir, the bills have gained momentum.
Richard Downey, a founding member of the Unatego Area Landowners Coalition, said he'll be on the local coalition bus at 8 a.m. Wednesday when it leaves the Oneonta Walmart parking lot.
"These bills could set us back a couple of years," Downey said Monday.
At least 44 local people have signed up to ride the bus to Albany, where Downey said they hoped to meet with state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie. Other landowners will be going to the capital from around the state.
"We want to show that there is support for letting the DEC do its job, to let drilling go forward safely," he said.
Downey said the group also will lobby for bills that would increase the landowners' royalty from 12.5 percent to at least 18.75 percent when a landowner is forced to have his mineral rights exploited though the state's compulsory integration rules.
The bus ride is free. Asked if transportation is being subsidized by IOGA, the Independent Oil & Gas Producers Association of New York State, Downey said: "I don't know, and I don't care. My goal is to have them leave as much of their money here as possible."
The Central New York Landowners' Coalition characterizes Wednesday's lobbying session as pivotal, with a message on its website: "If we do not have a tremendous showing of support for this rally, this very well may be the end of our gas drilling prospects for many years to come." Seward spokesman Jeff Bishop said the state senator does not want to vote on a moratorium bill until the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues new regulations on horizontal drilling and fracking.
"He believes it would be premature to vote on that now," Bishop said.
Lopez and Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Opponents of widespread drilling and fracking have been motivated by reports of well-drilling accidents. At last Wednesday's meeting of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, Nicole Dillingham, executive director of Otsego 2000, compared natural gas drilling to the BP oil-drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two days later, a gas well in Clearfield, Pa., drilled by EOG Enterprises erupted for 16 hours, spewing gas and brine, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported on another accident Monday: "A crew drilling a natural gas well through an abandoned coal mine in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle hit a pocket of methane gas that ignited, triggering an explosion that burned seven workers," state and company officials said Monday.
"The seven workers were taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh and were in fair condition," a hospital spokeswoman reported.
Then Monday evening, the AP reported on a natural gas pipeline explosion in Cleburne, Texas. At least one person was missing and seven were injured after utility workers accidentally hit a gas line, sending a fireball into the air.
Adrian Kuzminski, a member of Sustainable Otsego, was in Albany on Monday lobbying for a moratorium.
"It's been an uphill battle, but these explosions are waking up some people," he said. "The fact is, on many levels, drilling for natural gas is nowhere near as safe as we've been led to believe."