Copake senses whiff of trouble

Fracking expert talks about controversial drilling method spillover into county

COPAKE—Hydrofracking won’t happen in this town because there is no natural gas underneath it.

That’s what Meaghan Culligan told the Town Board during her presentation on hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of drilling for natural gas, commonly called hydrofracking.


Ms. Culligan of Germantown is a graduate student at both the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and Pace University Law School. She was invited by the board to share what she learned about hydrofracking through her research. And when she had finished, several board members said they would also like to hear about the practice from someone representing the gas drilling industry.

The board is seeking information about the practice so it can decide how to proceed when the 18-month-long moratorium it enacted on natural gas mining and its ancillary activities expires next month.

Ms. Culligan explained that the fracking process involves fracturing underground shale deposits in order to release trapped gas. To accomplish that a “cocktail” of water, sand and chemicals is injected into a horizontally drilled shaft that can be 4,500 feet long.
The process involves using “millions of gallons of water” to keep a well open, she said.

None of the desired Marcellus Shale deposits exist in Columbia County, said Ms. Culligan, but the shale is present underground in about half of Albany and Ulster counties, and 100% of Greene and Sullivan counties.

“Neighboring counties could be fracking,” she said, and that could impact Copake.

“Water moves” and the chemically treated water used in fracking has the potential to reach the water table here from a neighboring county, she said. There are also issues related to transportation, storage and disposal of the waste water created in the fracking process.

Ms. Culligan explained that concern focuses not only on the gas that that is forced out of the ground, but also the chemically polluted water that was injected—both of which need to be removed.

One million gallons of water can be used for just one well, and transporting that waste water requires 200 truck trips to haul it away for storage or treatment at some kind of facility.

Another issue is air pollution from the methane released, which enters the atmosphere. Radioactivity is present in the gas as well as the “cocktail of substances” used to force it out, said Ms. Culligan. She said the methane that escapes from the wells can carry carcinogens with it as well as the 632 chemicals used in the cocktail, some of which can affect animal hormones, crops, human kidneys, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems and sensory organs.

The trucks needed to move not only the gas, but the water are powered by diesel engines, which also contribute to air pollution, and the increased truck traffic contributes to road damage, she said.

Ms. Culligan also discussed court challenges to the legality of fracking moratoriums that have been ruled on by appellate courts in cases involving the central New York towns of Dryden and Middlefield. She suggested that an amendment to the zoning law would be “a safer route” to withstand such challenges though she added, “a lot of it will depend on what happens in the Court of Appeals.”

Bob Haight, who chairs the town’s Land Use Review Committee (LURC), wanted to know when the board would hear about fracking from the point of view of someone representing the gas industry.

Ms. Culligan said she had attempted to make a “neutral” presentation, noting that her research was based on “scientific articles.”

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer said the board has been trying to arrange a presentation on fracking for many months, first through the Environmental Committee and now through the Conservation Advisory Committee, which was able to arrange for Ms. Culligan’s presentation.

Councilperson Kelly Miller-Simmons wanted to know how far away a hydrofracking operation must be from an organic farm in order for the farm to maintain its organic status, a question Ms. Culligan could not answer.

In answer to a question Building Inspector Ed Ferratto–“What happens to the hole?” when the gas extraction is finished–Ms. Culligan said, “often it’s just left there.”

Copake resident and real estate agent Lindsay LeBrecht asked the Town Board to “protect the beauty” of Copake, noting, “The land is Copake’s greatest asset.”

Later in the meeting Supervisor Nayer opened a discussion about how the board wants to proceed with the moratorium expiration looming.

He noted there are contamination dangers of fracking due to human error whether it be from an accident involving a truck carrying fracking fluid or gas or “sloppiness” related to not having “dialed in on a failsafe way of injecting and taking it out safely.” On the flip side, he said the benefit of natural gas drilling keeps U.S. dependency on foreign oil down.

Town Attorney Ken Dow said he would review “model code enactments as a starting point” if the board comes to a consensus on pursuing a local law regulating fracking.

Councilperson Jeanne Mettler said the board needs more time to consider the issue and hear another view.

She proposed to have public hearing next month on renewing the fracking moratorium for another three months.

Councilperson David Paciencia said the presentation the board heard was “slanted” and that he needed to hear from an industry expert. He said he was “missing the other half of the information” he needs to make a decision.

Supervisor Nayer said he wasn’t sure if a three-month extension was enough time to gather the information needed.

Ms. Mettler clarified her motion, noting she was not “precluding fracking” but wanted more time to study the issue including storage and transport.

She amended her motion to set a public hearing next month on the possibility of extending the moratorium for six months.

Everyone voted in favor.

A public hearing on the fracking moratorium extension will take place prior to the next board meeting, April 10.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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