Niagara Gazette

Opinion

May 7, 2011

Start drilling lawmakers about hydrofracking

NIAGARA FALLS — A key issue that state lawmakers will soon face — probably by mid-summer — is hydrofracking, the  controversial process of drilling for natural gas.

That process is basically injecting high-pressure water, sand and some chemical additives into wells. The force of that blast is designed to separate the rock fissures so the gas may flow freely from the drilled bore.

At present, the most valuable source in this region is the Marcellus shale that lies some 7,000 feet beneath more than 20 counties in New York state. One of the richest deposits is in northern Pennsylvania.

The issue has even sparked a front-page article in the Western New York Catholic, the monthly newspaper for the eight-county Buffalo Diocese, under a headline, “Hydrofracking Goes Against Church Teaching.”

In the newspaper article, reporter Kathleen Johnson notes the diocese opposes the process because it is feared that serious health effects could lead to infertility, thyroid disorders and child and adult cancers because of the exposure to chemicals.

Viki Ingersoll, energy manager for the diocese, said: “I’m opposed to it unless someone can supply compelling evidence that this is our only alternative and that it will be done in a way that doesn’t cause any environmental impact.”

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who has been generally supportive of the proposal, is hesitant to endorse the idea at least until the state Department of Conservation releases its latest findings. The DEC has been further studying the situation in the wake of some strong opposition.

Maziarz, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, said he visited hydrofracking operations in Tioga County in Pennsylvania, and was virtually stunned by the impact on employment. “It has created thousands of jobs,” Maziarz said.

In coffee shops and roadside diners, he heard numerous truckers admit they were making lots of money because of the crews drilling through the Marcellus shale to recover the gas deposits.

“The job creation is fine but we must also be sure that whatever we do (in the drilling process) that it’s done in an environmentally safe way,” the senator added.

Meanwhile, the bloggers are out in full force, many of them citing the long-term cost to the environment, the risk of toxic run-off, chemicals washing into streams and rivers, harm to the fishermen, boaters and swimmers. One writer contends that if hydrofracking is permitted, it would mean raping thousands of acres in Allegheny State Park, a jewel in the statewide parks system.

 Amidst all the tumult and shouting over the need to explore alternate energy sources, it will be interesting to see how the state lawmakers address this issue.

A vote is likely by mid-July so you still have time to convey your thoughts to the lawmakers in Albany.

•••

ACROSS THE BORDER: Brian Merrett, chief executive officer of the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, said Friday the region of Niagara has applied for a federal grant to have Niagara declared “The Cultural Capital of Canada — 2012.”

The competition has apparently narrowed to Calgary and Niagara as the finalists. “If that happens, we’ll have an opportunity to receive a substantial amount of funds from the federal government,” Merrett said, “And our opening ceremony (for the War of 1812 commemoration) is part of that application.”

Merrett said he was confident the Niagara region would be selected for that special funding.

    •••

HOOF NOTE: Overheard at the OTB parlor: The ticket-selling clerk pleading for an answer, “Lady, you have to tell me. Do you want to bet this horse for win, place or show?

“Yes,” the first-time bettor replied.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

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