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New York Shale Drillers Face New Threat: Preservation League

Exploration and production companies looking for ways to develop vast natural gas reserves deep within upstate New York's Southern Tier have faced an "unwelcome" mat in recent years, with a state-imposed drilling moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), as well as many town council-imposed outright drilling bans. However, producers now face what may be an even bigger threat: the Preservation League of New York State.

Late Thursday the league named the "historic and cultural resources" in the Marcellus and Utica shale gas regions to its "Seven to Save" list of New York's "most threatened" historic resources.

The league, which has a 40-year history of protecting the Empire State's historic buildings, communities and cultural landscapes, said it has become "increasingly concerned about the negative impacts that high-volume natural gas hydraulic fracturing could have on historic buildings, communities and landscapes" across the state.

"The development and servicing of the industrial infrastructure required by this process poses a significant threat to historic structures, cultural resources and heritage tourism in these areas," said President Jay DiLorenzo. "After careful research and lengthy discussion, the league's board of trustees voted...to adopt a position statement on fracking outlining the league's concerns."

The "Seven to Save" since 1999, the league said, has mobilized communities "to take action when historic resources are threatened. A Seven to Save designation from the league delivers invaluable technical assistance, fosters increased media coverage and public awareness, and opens the door to grant assistance for endangered properties."

Including the Marcellus and Utica regions on the list allows the league to work with advocates to protect the area's "built and natural environment," it said.

"With this program, we provide targeted support to seven of New York's most important and endangered historic resources," said Tania Werbizky, the league's regional director for technical and grant programs for the Southern Tier and western New York. "Whether sites are threatened by insensitive, ineffective or insufficient public policies, general neglect, or, in some cases, outright demolition, we have a proven record of working with community advocates to save a number of significant properties."

Daniel Mackay, who directs public policy for the Preservation League, said the organization provided comments to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on its revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) regarding fracking, which is expected to be finalized some time this year.

"Following careful analysis of the SGEIS, it is our contention that DEC's current environmental study includes serious flaws and omissions relating to the impact of high-volume natural gas fracking, drilling and related operations upon historic and cultural resources," Mackay said. "Failure to consider these consequences puts these resources at serious risk of damage, diminishment and possible loss."

In its comments to DEC about fracking the Preservation League urged state officials to require a survey of historic and cultural resources as a condition of granting a drilling permit. Once resources are identified, buffer zones should be created to protect those resources, the league urged.

Ellen Pope, who is executive director of conservation group Otsego 2000, said the "overwhelmingly rural New York regions underlain by the Marcellus and Utica shales contain some of the richest historic and cultural resources relating to New York's 18th and 19th century westward expansion, with much of the historic agricultural land use patterns and cultural landscapes still intact.

"High-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, if allowed to proceed as laid out in the SGEIS, would have a tremendous, largely irreversible impact on rural New York's cultural and historic assets..."

The Preservation League has made two statewide designations to its list of "threatened resources" in the past: historic wood windows in 2006; and New York's cultural and scenic resources as "threatened" by commercial wind farms in 2003.

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