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Gas drilling debate continues in village

January 12, 2012
By Richard Sberna , Town Crier

Poland Village Council debated negotiating with energy companies for natural gas exploration rights at its meeting Jan. 3.

Council members again heard from Damian DeGenova, whose Youngstown-based company, Sulmona Energy LLC, wishes to broker a lease deal involving land owned by the village, including Poland Municipal Forest, for gas development.

DeGenova told council that he would negotiate for a non-development lease, which would specify no drilling, trucking, storage or gas pipelines in the 265-acre woods itself. Instead, horizontal drilling techniques would allow for hydraulic fracturing into the Utica Shale 7,000 feet below the woods from a drill site outside of Poland Village. He said that land off Western Reserve Road in Springfield Township is currently being considered.

DeGenova said Sulmona currently has nearly 10,000 acres of land around Poland with which they hope to negotiate for lease and royalty agreements with energy companies, and that including the acreage in and around the woods would increase the potential for a better deal. He also recommended going forward with negotiations by month's end, before a softening of the market happens.

"We can't go bargain for you until we have your authority to do so," he said.

Council President Joe Mazur asked village Solicitor Anthony D'Apolito if he had formulated an opinion on whether to approve Sulmona's proposal. D'Apolito urged caution, saying that the unknown factors still outnumber the known. He said the Dec. 31 earthquake punctuated the point, calling it "an eye-opener."

DeGenova pointed out that the 4.0 tremor was likely caused by the D&L injection well in Youngstown, which is different from the fracturing well that is being considered in Poland.

Injection wells are a means of disposal for the waste water and chemicals, sometimes called brine, that result from fracking operations. By contrast, fracking shoots water, chemicals and sand down a well at very high pressure, fracturing the layers of rock below and releasing the natural gas contained within. That waste brine is then taken off-site to be dumped in an injection well.

Randy Jones, who lives next to the woods on Walker Mill Road, relayed his experiences with the natural gas drilling that has occurred on his property since 1988. He told council of what he called the "known surprises," such as the multiple minor fractures and leaks that have occurred over the last 23 years. "This is what happens when you have piping and natural forces," he said. Then there are the "unknown surprises", such as the new concerns about earthquakes, which no one had contemplated when he signed his agreement.

Council also heard from Robert Zedaker, chairman of the Poland Municipal Forest Board, who talked about manifold needs of the woods. Zedaker said that while the forest board has obvious concerns about environmental impact, he also stated that their annual budget has been cut to nearly impossible levels, and that the money from lease and royalty fees could be put to use in maintaining the forest. When councilman Bill Dunnavant asked of the board's opinion, Zedaker said, "We're not opposed to drilling; we are opposed to drilling in the woods."

D'Apolito said that while the potential windfall is wonderful, council should keep in mind what makes Poland Village a great place to live, and the potential risk of irreparable harm that may come from rushing in too quickly. Instead, he urged caution and to watch what happens with other communities that have moved forward.

Councilman Bob Limmer was concerned with both the potential environmental impact and the liability that council may face if something goes wrong. He said that council's knowledge and discussion of potential risks before a theoretical future accident would make council legally culpable for any environmental or property damages that may occur. In the face of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, he said the village would have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

Limmer also commented that, with council's recent attempts to pass a storm water district to protect the creek and other water sources in Poland, it would be unwise to now pursue a course that would appear to be against that interest.

D'Apolito commented that as a governmental body, the village has greater legal immunity than a private citizen or company. While that's important, he said council members should concentrate more on their responsibilities as the caretakers of Poland Village.

DeGenova said he understands council's concerns, but assured them that any pollution that may occur would be at the well site outside of Poland. He also stated that council members should make their decision soon, as he believes that prices offered by the energy companies will begin to slide by winter's end.

DeGenova struck a tone a inevitability. "My opinion is, people are going to drill around Poland Village, they're going to drill around this whole area. The money is out there, it's going to happen, so you might as well take advantage of it."

Dunnavant concurred, mentioned that the Struthers and Campbell have already signed leases.

"It is all around us, and we can't hide from that," he said.

In other news:

* Jan. 3 marked the first meeting back for former Councilman Marc Cossette, who replaces the outgoing Al Lind. He was warmly welcomed back by council members.

* Lori Kumler of Cortland Avenue addressed council regarding a crossing signal at Water Street and U.S. 224 that has been non-functional for two years. Police chief and road commissioner Russell Beatty assured Kumler that the light will be fixed soon.

* Council re-elected Joe Mazur as council president and ratified an agreement with Poland Gardeners for the extension of water and electrical lines out to Centennial Garden for its upkeep. Poland Gardeners will pay for materials, and the village road crew will install it.



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