Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
An historic preservation group is weighing in on hydro fracking for the first time, and they don't like what they say they’ve been learning about the gas drilling process. They say it would change the nature of the landscape from rural to industrial and would detract from heritage tourism in the Marcellus shale region.
Every year, the state’s leading historic preservation group, the Preservation League, lists historic sites that they believe are endangered, known as New York’s Seven To Save. This year, they’ve named the entire Marcellus Shale region, which includes much of the state’s Southern Tier as well as the Finger Lakes region. The group’s Daniel McKay says proposed hydrofracking now being considered by the Cuomo Administration’s environmental department could change the rural and historic character of the region. McKay predicts a broad range of potential negative impacts from “inappropriately” locating a drilling rig and well pad close to an historic structure or property. He says he’s also concerned about a “high volume of truck traffic” and possible over withdrawal of water from aquifers.
McKay says although fracking proponents say the drilling will bring a new industry to underemployed upstate New Yorkers, there already IS a growing industry in many parts of the Marcellus Shale region, heritage tourism. He says that industry could be threatened.
“You potentially gain the boom and bust economy from hydro fracking,” McKay said. “But you’re trading that against the sustainable economy that exists and could be further developed, that comes from heritage resources.”
McKay says his group thought long and hard about whether to weigh in on gas drilling, and conducted a “careful and deliberative” study of potential impacts of hydrofracking , as well as federal and state historic preservation laws . He says Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation needs to take historic resources into account when it finally issues well drilling permits, to determine when the number of wells reaches a tipping point, and then place limits if the concentration of industry will damage a region’s historical character.
McKay says the DEC “dramatically undercounted” the number of historic resources in the Marcellus Shale region, and says the environmental impact statement “lacked any reference to state and federal historic preservation law” aimed at protecting those resources.
Brian McMahon, with the New York State Economic Development Council, a pro business and pro fracking group, believes that heritage tourism and the gas drilling industry can co exist, and he says fracking industry related jobs will pay workers a much higher wage and improve the overall health of the economy.
“Not everybody will always be happy, and that’s the case with any economic activity,” said McMahon, who says people in the Marcellus shale region have been “suffered disproportionately” over the last four and half decades” , and a result, he says, populations have dwindled and jobs have left the state.
“Here’s something that’s not a theory, we know that this will generate economic activity,” McMahon said.
And he disputes the assertion that fracking would create a boom and bust phenomena, saying the gas reserves are “very, very, very significant”.
“The industry will be here for decades,” McMahan, predicts.
The Preservation League has written a lengthy response to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s environmental impact statement, asking that more protections be included for historic sites and regions. The Department has received more than 60,000 public comments, and continues to review them.