Gas-Drilling Threatens Economy As We Know It, Chamber Declares
By JIM KEVLIN : COOPERSTOWN
Natural-gas drilling poses “a direct and material threat” to Otsego County’s business community, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce has declared.
And in issuing its statement Monday, Feb. 14, it also released a list of almost 300 entities, including almost 200 Upstate businesses, many local, that have joined the chamber in declaring their opposition.
“Industrial-scale hydrofracking in the region will irreparably damage the essential qualities that make the Cooperstown area an excellent place to live, raise families, farm and work,” the statement reads.
“It puts at risk much of the local economy, ranging from hotel and tourism to restaurant and retail businesses, most of which are driven by the hundreds of thousands of tourists who choose to visit the region every year.”
Tourism-related businesses dominate the list – restaurants, lodging, attractions (from Alex & Ika to Sharon Springs’ American Hotel to Sam Smith’s Boatyard) – but it also includes several medical societies, including Otsego’s, and professionals.
The largest entity may be Brewery Ommegang, which also recruited the New York State Breweries Association the cause; 65 breweries also signed on individually.
“The issue for us is very simple: It’s about water,” said Ommegang President/CEO Simon Thorpe, who is also a Cooperstown Chamber director. “If you want to have great beer, you have to have great water.”
Meanwhile, the Oneonta-based Otsego County Chamber is in the midst of its own process of assessing the issue, according to chamber President Rob Robinson.
Thorpe and Larry Bennett, Ommegang’s public relations director, appeared before that chamber’s Business Action Committee Jan. 27, as did Orville Cole, principal in Gastem Inc. of Montreal. Gastem has drilled a vertical well on Crumhorn Mountain and is doing exploratory drilling in the Beaver Meadow section of Middlefield.
While the county chamber endorsed a county-manager form of government “many, many moons ago,” it has focused primarily on statewide economic-development issues, Robinson said.
The Business Action Committee, chaired by Steve Sinniger of the Otsego County Farm Bureau, is meeting again Thursday, Feb. 24, but Robinson said deliberations are in the “preliminary stages.”
The result, Robinson said, could be to “endorse, not endorse, or leave it alone.”
In an interview at Ommegang, Thorpe said, “Even a potential threat (to water) for us is significant, as it is, I think, for a lot of businesses, but also a lot of people.”
The brewery came to object to natural-gas drilling – the intrusive horizontal hydrofracking method in particular – only after “exhaustive” study of the impact on the environment, roads and infrastructure, and water quality, he said.
Thorpe presented the finding to Duvel Moortgat’s board of directors in Belgium, and received an immediate endorsement.
Pointing to a map on a dividing wall, Bennett showed how the leases in the Beaver Meadow area, just north of the brewery, have multiplied in the past two years.
The aquifer the brewery draws on extends north, under Beaver Meadow, and 10 miles hence, under Otsego Lake, he said.
This is the first such action by the Cooperstown chamber’s directors since endorsing Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s proposed Bonnaroo-like, three-day music festival in the Town of Springfield, according to chamber Executive Director Susan O’Handley, who attended the briefing.
Her directors endorsed a draft anti-fracking statement in December, then distributed it to members and asked for feedback; more than 80 percent supported the statement, O’Handley said.