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Committee Advised on Emergency Preparedness Related to Gas Drilling

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Committee Advised on Emergency Preparedness Related to Gas Drilling

Monday, August 2, 2010
The Legislature's Public Safety Committee today was told that pre-planning will be critical to being prepared to address emergencies that could arise, should gas drilling in the Marcellus shale come to Tompkins County.

Ithaca Fire Department Deputy Chief Tom Parsons presented a progress report on research conducted by members of the department's Hazardous Materials Response Team (serving all of Tompkins County), based on information collected through consultation with emergency management colleagues in Pennsylvania where the gas drilling has produced significant changes over the past few years. Much of focus has been on Lycoming County, PA, which Parsons reported has experienced tremendous changes since drilling began just two years ago. Parsons cautioned, "If gas drilling comes to this county, it will have an impact on this community--'no question."

During a recent visit to Lycoming and consultations with representatives of county public safety and drilling companies and visits to drilling sites, the team found the most overwhelming aspect to be "the size and scope of multiple drilling sites and the overall impact on the community" and that "local community planning is vital to successfully managing this overwhelming influence." The team has received documentation of policies, procedures and regulations enacted as part of Lycoming County's planning and observes that that county appears to be having success in managing drilling impacts.

Based on Lycoming's experience, Parsons said one of the greatest impacts here would be on transportation and infrastructure, where a tremendous increase in truck traffic could produce a greater number of truck accidents if adequate pre-planning does not occur. Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff also told the committee he sees transportation issues as the County's greatest potential exposure related to gas drilling. Parsons added that the research shows drilling companies have been cooperative with emergency responders both on pre-planning and emergency incidents. And he assessed the proportion of hydraulic fracturing chemicals used as quantities capable of being managed by most hazardous materials response teams. The gas industry, he said, also has produced positive economic effects in the Lycoming region.

The team advises the Tompkins County Legislature to assemble a Gas Drilling Task Force, modeled after a similar task force established in Lycoming County, which would identify key issues, research facts and information, and review and propose public policy regarding local impacts of gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale in the County, with subcommittees addressing issues related to economic development; planning, zoning, and infrastructure; public policy and legal issues; environment; education; and public safety. Among its recommendations, the group also advises community leaders to consult with their counterparts in Lycoming County regarding the issue and to initiate discussions with gas companies who may potentially be coming to Tompkins County to drill for gas, if drilling within the State is eventually permitted.