Half of Cortland County under drilling leases

N early half the land mass of Cortland County is under a lease for gas exploration and drilling.

The Cortland County Planning Department has come out with a map showing that 48 percent of all the land in the county been leased to gas companies. County Planning Director Dan Dineen told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "it was quite surprising. We anticipated 15 to 20 percent, not half the County."

Dineen said it raises concerns because most of the land is rural farmland or forests with roads that are not equipped to handle "repetitive movement of heavy equipment. It's going to create significant road damage."

Jim Weiss of the Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County, says "the map shows the extent the gas industry has penetrated Cortland County often with false pretenses. People are thinking gas drilling is much less dangerous than it really is."

Weiss is concerned the gas industry will use a process called hydrofracking to extract the gas. Environmentalists say the process is potentially dangerous because it involves injecting chemicals deep underground. They claim it could ruin groundwater and aquifers. The gas industry however says the environment can be protected.

Kathleen McGinn is among the hundreds of landowners who have leased their lands for gas development. McGinn says industry representatives were "very informative. They explained the processes they planned to go through." McGinn says hydrofracking " needs to be researched" with "strict supervision, but I think it can be done safely."

McGinn also sees a need to relieve the nation's dependence on foreign energy supplies. "This is here. I think we can do it safely. If we don't, I don't know what we'll do. No one seems to want wind farms, no one wants nuclear, I don't know where else to go."

Both the State and Federal governments are investigating the potential benefits and dangers of hydrofracking. On Monday, the EPA will hold a hearing in Binghamton on the process.