January 26, 2012

Study Shows Possible Impact of Hydrofracking on Tompkins County

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As hundreds of anti-fracking protestors descended on the New York State Capitol Monday, the Tompkins County Council of Governments released a comprehensive study detailing the potentially transformative effects of hydraulic fracturing on the region.

Art Pearce M.A. ’72, chair of the group that oversaw the production of the report, called the 130-page study an “important reference document,” citing its implications for the long-term plans of different municipalities in Tompkins County.

This week protesters gathered in Albany to urge Governor Cuomo to reject the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on hydraulic fracturing. Many say that the document, which will be used to prohibit fracking in the state of N.Y., fails to adequately meet public health and environmental concerns.

“The current draft fails incredibly inadequate and incomplete, so the pressure is on the DEC and Governor Cuomo to deal with this revised draft,” said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting.

The report addresses many of the potential economic, community and environmental impact that hydrofracking — a controversial practice in which chemicals are injected into the ground at high pressures to extract natural gas —  might have on the County.

Although the report discovered both positive and negative effects, Pearce said the potential negative effects of fracking seemed to outweigh the positive ones.

“Most of the communities that have done comprehensive plans in Tompkins County have identified both their natural and rural agricultural resources as something that they cherish and really want to protect and maintain,” said Ed Marx, Tompkins County’s commissioner of planning and community sustainability and another member of the steering committee. “The environmental consequences of hydrofracking, the report also details harmful long-term economic consequences, such as a boom-and-bust cycle.

“[The report says] that you get some immediate economic benefit and activity [with the start of drilling] and then when the drilling slows down and stops, which it will, then you get a bust cycle which, in fact … leaves you worse off than you were when you started,” Pearce said.

Martha Armstrong, another member of the steering committee and the vice president and director of economic development planning at Tompkins County Area Development, also noted other negative effects of hydrofracking.

With 70 percent of visitors to Ithaca and the surrounding region visiting Cornell or Ithaca College, hydrofracking could potentially affect the tourism industry in Tompkins County, Armstrong said.

“There would certainly be negative impacts on the tourism industry and … because our main economic driver is higher education, and visitor services are important to higher education, there may be concerns if the hotels are filled with itinerant workers, as has happened in Pennsylvania,” Armstrong said.

Marx said that hydrofracking could also pose logistical problems for the region.

“Municipalities have very little capacity to deal with massive land-use changes in their communities and the impacts that can come with it on roads and other services will [make it very hard to] adjust to this activity,” he said.

Pearce noted that the potential benefits of hydrofracking, such as an increase in employment, might be overstated.

“What is pointed out … is that many of the job claims made by gas proponents are really very exaggerated compared to the reality of what’s likely to happen,” Pearce said. “They say there’s been 72,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania in Marcellus [Shale] related industries in Pennsylvania in the past couple of years, but, in fact, when you go to the data, it’s not 72,000 new jobs ­–– it’s 9,840 jobs. That’s a huge misrepresentation of this information.”

Though Marx said he does not believe that hydrofracking is compatible with the long-term comprehensive plan of Tompkins County and those of other municipalities within the County, he acknowledged that there could be a time for hydrofracking in the future if the technology evolved to a certain point.

“At this point, with all we know now, I think we’d say we don’t think it’s right for this community,” he said. “However, there may be technological improvements that can be made to the process that would make it less damaging and we’re certainly hoping for that possibility.”

Original Author: David Fischer