After a panel discussion regarding hydraulic fracturing was held at James Prendergast Library on Thursday, area residents are calling for round 2.
James Prendergast Library has scheduled a number of "critical discussions" for the winter season, and the first was held on Thursday. The first discussion in the series focused on the process commonly known as fracking, and what Chautauqua County residents stand to benefit from utilizing the current practice of hydraulically fracturing Marcellus Shale.
The panel was led by Doug Champ, chairman of the Chautauqua County Energy Expo. He organized a panel that included County Executive Greg Edwards; Bill Boria, water resource specialist with the Chautauqua County Department of Health; David Flynn, partner at Phillips Lytle, who concentrates in environmental law and energy; and Mike Hogan, owner of Hogan Energy Consulting.
Area residents gather at James Prendergast Library on Thursday to participate in a panel discussion regarding gas well fracking.
P-J photos by Dusten Rader
According to Champ, the purpose of the discussion was to foster a conversation between the community and those directly involved with gas well fracking.
"Don't get me wrong, don't think I'm coming here to talk about fracking as a windfall because I'm not," said Champ. "I was trying to nurture energy education for people to point these questions out and to put energy providers on the spot because that's the way that things get better."
Champ continued by expressing his concern for the challenge of providing energy to a country that depends on having access to it 24 hours a day.
"Right now renewable energy, which is basically classified as solar, wind or biomass, is on the back burner because the price of natural gas is so low." said Champ. "But, you can't use those resources effectively well and depend on them 24/7. You could as an individual user by having a home with solar, wind turbines or an augmentation of these, but as a collective basis we're not there yet for it to be tapped in. That's because the grid isn't easily conducive of accepting that type of renewable energy without having other forms of energy to support it on the main scale. So, theoretically I think it's good, but, it won't happen in my lifetime."
However, what Champ believes will happen in his lifetime, he said, is that an increased production of natural gas will effectively remove coal from the production of electric.
"They are going to have to substitute that with natural gas," said Champ. "As those big markets come online, the use is going to change the cost of what people pay for btus or kilowatts. Right now there may be a glut of it (natural gas), but as these major utilities start going off site with coal and substitute the fuel source with gas, then that's going to have a dramatic impact over time."
According to Boria, the impact of increasing natural gas production through means of horizontal drilling methods is not something that can be easily quantified. During Boria's presentation he spoke about the 150 complaints from area residents he had logged since 1982. Of those 150 complaints, only about 24 of them were found to be the result of gas well fracking. The complainants described a change in the quality of their drinking water. Through studying each case Boria found the two main issues to be water that was either contaminated with methane gas or was saturated with a high level of salt. Boria's findings indicated that what are commonly referred to as "mud pits," lined ditches that store waste, were likely the culprit causing the high level of salt found in the drinking water. The issue of methane gas contaminating drinking water was found to be the result of a leak in the structure of the well. These issues, among many others including the use of highly toxic chemicals, are reasons that the industry is under strict regulations that call for safe methods of waste management.
Yet, even though the practice of hydraulic fracking has been in use in Chautauqua County since 1960s, and the county has the highest number, more than 5,000, of vertical gas wells in the state of New York, many of the area residents who attended the discussion expressed concerns for further use of the technology through means of horizontal drilling. Those concerns fueled a flurry of comments from the audience about the bias presented to them during the discussion. During the Q-and-A aspect of the discussion, a number of residents called for a round 2 of discussion.
"I think any time you can bring people together with open minds and an interest in learning more, it's a win no matter what the conversation is," said Edwards. "... I think that the more we can engage the Chautauqua County community in discussions such as this, the more we are going to learn from one another, the better we are going to understand each other and as a result we'll have better outcomes. I'm thrilled that the James Prendergast Library did this, it shows one of its real values to the community by hosting this event. I'd be glad to have further conversations about this and many other topics. I understand some of the concerns because there was a certain percentage of the folks who for their own individual reasons, resources or experiences are opposed to any drilling. ... There are reasons for caution, and there are reasons for concern, and that's why you need people commenting from both directions, and the audience did that tonight."
Several members of the community, including Joseph Heath, Esq., and Michael Bosetti, have organized their own public forum to discuss issues concerning gas well fracking. The forum aims to help those who may be considering signing a gas lease make their decision, and it will also touch on how to terminate a lease. The forum will be located at the Little Valley Memorial Library, 110 Rock City St. in Little Valley on Monday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m. For more information call 507-2077.
For more information on the Critical Discussion series visit prendergastlibrary.org or call 484-7135, ext. 225.