50 protest gas drilling at Otesaga
By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau
March 31, 2009 04:00 am
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COOPERSTOWN _ As the temperature dipped early Monday night, about 50 people lined the sidewalk in front of the Otesaga Hotel to protest a convention of the Society of Petroleum Engineers inside.
People traveled from Binghamton, Andes and all over Otsego County to protest efforts by natural-gas drillers to extract natural gas from Marcellus shale deposits in this area of central New York.
The shale often lies thousands of feet below ground. To loosen up gas trapped inside the rock and make it flow, drillers sometimes fracture rock by injecting it with water and chemicals under enormous pressure.
The process, called ``fracking'' in the trade, can occasionally result in polluted water wells and was the focus of many signs borne by protesters.
"I'm here because I'm worried about our water,'' said Eleanore MacDougall of Cooperstown. Otsego County is rich in clear water and should not sacrifice that for making money off gas, she said.
Cathy Mason of Springfield Center said she was worried about the chemicals that can be mixed with water used in fracking.
``Tons of gallons going into the ground, and they say the list of chemicals they use is proprietary information,'' she said.
Colleen Blacklock of Oneonta noted that New York City is taking steps to protect its water supply from the possible contamination from gas drilling.
``I think everyone's water needs to be protected,'' she said.
Monday's effort was organized by Sustainable Otsego, a group that formed last year to encourage stewardship of natural resources. The group's founder, Adrian Kuzminski, said he was pleased with the turnout and hoped it would open communication with the industrial engineers inside.
Kuzminski and Ron Bishop of Cooperstown were permitted to meet briefly with some of those inside the hotel. When they returned to the sidewalk, Bishop said he had spoken with Bradley Field, director of mineral resources at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
``It was very cordial,'' he said.
Bishop said he believes gas extraction is often done without mishap, but mistakes can be horrendous.
``From what I've seen, I'd say they don't have problems about 98 percent of the time,'' he said. ``But would you fly on an airline that didn't crash 98 percent of time?''
Bob Faller, director of sales at the Otesaga, said reporters would not be allowed to interview the engineers and regulators at the conference.
After about an hour, geologist Al Lacazette, an attendee, met with some of the protesters outside. He said that fears about water contamination could be overblown because gas is buried deep in the ground and does not migrate to aquifers, which are much closer to the surface.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers, a group with more than 88,000 members, is headquartered near Dallas, according to spokeswoman Margaret Watson.
The regulators and engineers attending the conference are not advocates for any particular drilling project, she said, but have gathered to discuss best practices for extracting gas safely. The engineers and regulators are scheduled to be in Cooperstown until late Wednesday afternoon. According to the SPE's website, they will be attend a reception and dinner tonight at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The convention's last session, ``Call to Action _ Achieving Full Scale Development of the Marcellus,'' is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The cost of attending this conference ranged from $1,195 to $1,395, according to the SPE's website.
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