Urbana: Just say ‘no’ to drilling

Mary Perham
The Urbana Town Board meets to discuss a ban on hydrofracking.

The Town of Urbana could have a ban on gas drilling in place by March.

Urbana Town Supervisor John Webster said the board will consult with attorneys and review a draft moratorium presented Tuesday night by opponents of hydrofracking, the drilling process that uses massive quantities of chemically treated high-pressure water to release natural gas.

If the board agrees to consider the moratorium, the resolution would be reviewed by Steuben County and returned to the town with recommendations. The town could then hold a public hearing and enact the ban, according to Mark Schlechter, an attorney and spokesman for the hydrofracking opponents.

The moratorium would give the town time to review its current gas drilling regulations and pass new ones if needed.

Schlechter told board members his group believes federal and state environmental regulations don’t provide enough protection for the environment and people.

Schlechter said the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft environmental study is “woefully inadequate” and does not contain an independent economic study and address public health concerns. The study also ignores concerns raised by current drilling in Pennsylvania, information on the effect of drilling on property-related issues or other businesses, he said.

The public comment period on the study closed last week. It will likely take the DEC several months to review and present the results.

The impact of drilling in the Keuka Lake area – which relies on tourism, recreation and its scenic beauty for revenues – could be dramatic, Schlechter said.

The Town of Urbana is one of several municipalities now considering a ban on drilling. The towns of Wayne and Pulteney are looking at a moratorium and hydrofracking opponents are looking for support in other Keuka Lake towns. The Town of Jerusalem in Yates County also is considering a ban.

The towns of Dryden and Middlefield imposed moratoriums on drilling last fall, and are facing lawsuits.

The key legal question may be whether the issue is prohibiting drilling – or upholding a town’s right to regulate land use, Schlechter said.

Webster said the board’s initial decision on a moratorium could be made in February.