Sunday, January 17, 2010

Concerned citizens + 24 hours + internet access = crowded town hall meeting

(photo of the Pulteney Town Board meeting by David Walczak)
On Tuesday, January 12 not many people in the Finger Lakes region knew that Chesapeake Appalachia LLC had submitted an application to convert a natural gas well into a disposal well for gas drilling wastewater. But 24 hours later the news had been sent to list-serves across the region and by the time the Pulteney town supervisor gaveled the town meeting to order on Wednesday, 60 people had managed to cram into the meeting room and another 20 or so packed the vestibule just outside.

At issue: Conversion of the Bergstrasser 1 natural gas well into a disposal well. The Bergstrasser well, drilled in 1997 to tap gas trapped within the Trenton-Black River formation, is located just northeast of the intersection of Armstrong Road and County Route 78 in the town of Pulteney – less than one mile west, and uphill, from Keuka Lake. The area is home to a number of vineyards and wineries, and is not only part of the wine trail but a tourist attraction.

Chesapeake sent an Environmental Assessment form to NY Department of Environmental Conservation on October 2, around the same time they filed an application for a UIC (Underground Injection Control) well permit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to reports from those who attended the Pulteney Town Board meeting last Wednesday, January 13, Town Supervisor Bill Weber made it clear that the town had only learned of the proposal some two weeks ago the DEC asked him to let the DEC be the lead agency on the SEQRA review of the project. Without consulting the rest of the town board, Weber gave DEC the nod to take over as lead agency. His reasoning: the town board would have reached the same decision. 

Weber also said that the town has no involvement with the project – the town will only be involved when Chesapeake applies for a special use permit, and that had not been done yet. He assured people that the town Planning Board will schedule public hearings. Weber also mentioned that because he has leases with Chesapeake he will recuse himself from any decision-making processes on the application.

What Weber neglected to say was that he had been corresponding with ALL Consulting, who was completing the environmental assessments for Chesapeake. On September 23, Weber sent Steve Dutnell of ALL Consulting an e-mail letter noting that this was bound to be a hot topic and warning Dutnell to “get all your EPA and NYS DEC permits in place” before approaching the town for the necessary special permits.

Turning old Trenton-Black River wells into disposal wells may just be the trend of the future. Last year Fortuna received a permit from DEC to test the Mallula well in Van Etten, to see if it would be suitable for use as an injection well. Public outrage has kept the injectivity tests from happening, though the permit to conduct the testing may be renewed every 6 months over the next four years.

As more wells are drilled in the region – especially if the number of Marcellus wells is anywhere near the thousands anticipated – wastewater disposal will become an increasingly critical issue. While dumping salt water down old gas wells looks like a good solution to the DEC and the EPA, it looks like a lousy solution to residents who worry about contamination of their drinking water wells.


  1. I think it is politically important and scientifically correct to refer to the stuff that comes back out of the hydrofracked wells as "toxic waste water", because it is. Adopting the industry's slick cover names is not in our best interests.

  2. Yeah, bad idea. Here we have all these abandoned wells and they've lost track of them. They are a pathway for waste water to find its way into our water table.

  3. Thanks for this report on the meeting. I heard about the meeting early morning on the 12th and immediately faxed a letter of protest to Bill Weber. (I would be glad to send you a copy of this letter, if you send a request to my email: I am a board member of the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association and our President Phil Cianciotto, also faxed a letter from the association. I understand that Bill Weber did not acknowledge receiving these letters at the meeting. In short....well injection of wastes is a bad idea. I have experience with nuclear wastes which were handled this way and it is creating major problems now....decades after it was done

  4. If Mr. Weber sent email to Steve Dutnell of ALL Consulting in his capacity as a public official, we might be able to acquire the complete text of all email exchanges with a Freedom of Information Act request, even if he used his private email account.

    Great work, Sue, keep shining light in dark places!