Speedup of permit process debated
By Tom Wilber
Press & Sun-Bulletin
A hotly contested bill that will help determine the future of gas drilling in the Southern Tier is expected to go to the floor of the state Assembly sometime between today and Monday.
On one side are regulators and economic proponents who say existing rules are ineffective for permitting horizontal drilling designed to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation.
On the other side are those who say the bill would fast-track natural gas development at the expense of the environment.
Landowners are split on the issue.
Representatives of the Chenango County Farm Bureau claim the bill would threaten property owners' mineral rights. Others, including the New York State Farm Bureau, say it will encourage competition, leading to more lucrative lease offers.
Marcellus wells can still be permitted with current regulations, but they require a variance. That means additional paperwork, public comments and public hearings.
The current bill, A-10526, would standardize the process so regulators could spend more time monitoring environmental issues and less time working through red tape, said Assemblyman William Parment, D- North Harmony, the bill's author. Additionally, a more uniform approach would assure property owners owed royalties are not skipped over or missed, he said.
Bradd Vickers, president of the Chenango County Farm Bureau, fears the bill gives energy companies an opportunity to encroach on land they have not leased.
"The big question is, are we taking a big step backward?" he said.
Environmental groups, including the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Catskill Mountainkeeper, oppose the bill on different grounds. They say more time is needed to allow local governments, citizens and advocacy groups to develop safeguards to protect the environment and infrastructure.
Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Bingham-ton, co-sponsored a version of the bill that passed in the Senate last week by a vote of 45-16. To see the bill, go to assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A10526.