PAINTED POST | Trains carrying a million gallons of water a day for gas drilling in Pennsylvania are running out of Painted Post again, but opponents have taken their case to the state’s highest court.
The trains have been running from a filling station at the old foundry site in Painted Post for more than a month, said Painted Post Mayor Roz Crozier. The operation had been halted for a year due to an ongoing legal fight.
A lawsuit was filed in June 2012 - shortly after the project was approved - by environmental groups Sierra Club, People for a Healthy Environment and Coalition to Protect New York, along with five local residents. They were concerned about the impact of the water withdrawals on the Corning aquifer, and of the trains running through the village.
A state Supreme Court judge ruled in March 2013 that the village’s state-required environmental review was not done properly, and voided both the water sale agreement and the lease deal for the property upon which the water loading station was built.
The village and Shell appealed in May 2013 to the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department, located in Rochester. A panel of judges ruled in April that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing, and overturned the previous ruling.
That cleared the way for Painted Post to resume selling water to SWEPI LP, a Shell Oil subsidiary, for shale gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania. The water is drawn from village wells at a loading station built in 2012 at the old foundry site, loaded onto tankers and shipped on the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad.
Under a five-year water sale agreement, Painted Post can sell up to one million gallons of water per day. The deal guarantees the village $3.2 million, and could be worth around $4 million annually if the maximum is sold.
Crozier says he plans to use the proceeds from the water sales - up to $4 million per year - as the matching share on state grants to upgrade the village’s aging water and sewer systems, while simultaneously upgrading streets after the pipes beneath are replaced.
However, opponents recently filed the documents asking for the state’s highest court - the Court of Appeals in Albany - to hear the case, said Rachel Treichler, a Hammondsport attorney and Sierra Club member who is assisting with the lawsuit.
Attorneys for SWEPI LP and the village filed their response last week.
Now, both sides must wait for the Court of Appeals - which is very selective - to decide if it will hear the case.
“The Court of Appeals takes about seven percent of the cases that are appealed to it, so in that respect, our odds are not very good,” Treichler said. “But we think the issues that this case presents are very significant.”
Opponents argue the Corning aquifer is a vital resource for a large area, not just Painted Post, and fear that long-term bulk withdrawals could deplete the aquifer and affect water quality. They say the water should be used locally and not shipped out of state for drilling operations.
The Town of Erwin has been selling water for drilling for years.
The withdrawals are regulated by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and can be shut down during a drought.