Pulteney, N.Y. - As resistance to a proposed Chesapeake Energy toxic wastewater disposal facility near Keuka Lake grows, Pulteney Town Supervisor Bill Weber is vowing to do everything in his power to stop the project.
Weber has asked the town’s attorney to investigate the possibility of imposing a moratorium on such projects, and the Pulteney Town Board will discuss the matter at its next meeting on Wednesday.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this, and I have confidence that the town of Pulteney will find a way to stop it,” Weber said.
Chesapeake Energy has applied to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to build a facility in Pulteney to dispose of wastewater from its Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations.
The DEC will be the lead agency for the review. The project will also require a special use permit from the town of Pulteney.
The planned Chesapeake facility will include six bays to unload trucks carrying wastewater, six temporary storage tanks, and equipment to inject the wastewater into a 6,000-foot-deep depleted gas well, according to EPA documents. The documents indicate that Chesapeake would inject an average of approximately 180,000 gallons per day into the well over 10 years.
The well is located near the intersection of Armstrong Road and County Route 78, less than a mile from Keuka Lake.
Injection wells are a method used by gas drilling companies to dispose of the waterwater created by high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – which is a process used to tap the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.
There is a shortage of treatment plants able to handle the waste in the Northeast, and injection wells provide “the most cost effective and environmentally sound option” for disposing of the wastewater, Chesapeake wrote in its EPA application.
However, the project is facing opposition from a network of concerned residents and environmental activists who fear heavy truck traffic on rural roads along the Keuka Lake wine trail, as well as the possibility that the wastewater could cause soil or water contamination by migrating through underground cracks or fissures.
The Leader contacted a top regional official from Chesapeake Energy on Thursday, seeking further details and asking the company to address the concerns. The official promised to speak with corporate officials and respond, but The Leader hadn’t heard back as of Friday evening.
Jeff Andrysick, [leader of a citizen group, Pulteney Pure Waters] ... believes the wastewater poses a threat to Keuka Lake, and that the rural roads can’t handle the truck traffic. Also, he said, the roads are bustling with vacationers in the summer, enjoying cottages on the lake and visiting nearby wineries such as Dr. Frank’s, Bully Hill and Heron Hill.
Any kind of industrial or pollution issues would threaten the wine industry, he added.
Andrysick said he didn’t want to see the bedrock underneath Pulteney turned into a “gigantic plumbing experiment.”
“Pulteney’s wonderful way of life shouldn’t be sacrificed to an outside predatory corporation. They don’t live here and won’t have to live with the results,” he said.
Weber, the town supervisor, called the situation a “perfect storm” that is threatening to “tear the town apart.”
He criticized some of the project opponents for acting irrationally. He says he’s been the target of a great deal of hostility because he was slow to notify the public of Chesapeake’s interest, and because of his perceived support for the project.
Weber said he never was in favor of the project, but had to consider it objectively.
In the beginning, he admitted, he didn’t even realize the scope of the project. Then he studied Chesapeake’s EPA application, consulted others, educated himself on related issues, and has come to the conclusion that the facility is a very bad idea. The main issue, in his mind, is truck traffic.
He isn’t sure yet about the threat to water supplies.
“I’m not a geologist to be able to tell you what the real threat is. Do I want it there? No, of course I don’t. Do I think it’ll destroy Keuka Lake? I don’t know,” he said. “But what really bothers me is the fact that somebody is trying to come into Pulteney and do something that the people don’t want.”
The town has time, he said, because the federal and state review process will likely take a year or longer. Implementing a moratorium may be a tricky issue, Weber said, because of the state’s conservation law regarding natural gas exploration.
“You can’t just zone (energy companies) out of existence,” he said. “Previous court cases have shown that.”
Weber is also concerned that if the EPA and DEC give approval to Chesapeake, but town officials refuse to give the company a permit, the town will wind up in a lengthy court battle.
“If this huge company is going to spend that much money on a project, and some little town in upstate New York says, ‘No, we don’t want you here,’ they’re gonna say, ‘We have every right to be here, get out of our way.’”