Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don’t renew National Fuel’s gas lease in Allegany State Park

By Larry Beahan

National Fuel Gas owns a lease on 9,000 acres of Allegany State Park. It can drill storage wells as it sees fit anywhere in that area. The lease ends in June 2014. Let’s not renew it.

National Fuel has been in Allegany State Park too long. For 50 years, its 12 gas storage wells and the tangle of roads that service them have kept 9,000 acres in the heart of the park from returning to natural forest. Now its website advertises the possibility that it will increase the number of these wells.

Few park visitors know it is there. The park neither prevents nor encourages visitors hiking in this huge area. The National Fuel right of way is an ample gravel road that starts from halfway between ASP-1 and ASP-2 on France Brook Road and winds north toward Red House Lake. Both of these major highways are inside the leased territory and it stretches beyond them to the east and west, even including the 350-year-old old-growth hemlocks in the Big Basin [click map to enlarge].

A barrier across the storage well road prevents driving farther, so your hiking tour begins at the barrier. Go take a look for yourself. See the acre-sized clear-cuts around the 12 storage wells and the roads slicing up the forest. Or tour the wells on your computer via Google Earth. Google shows this road system laid out like a human victim in a crime-scene sketch.

It is an ecological crime. What could be a hundred-year-old intact forest has fallen victim to the fossil fuel industry. A hundred years ago, most of the park was cleared of its trees, crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of logging railroads and pocked with 200 gas and oil wells. Eighty-five percent of the park has been allowed to cover these scars with oaks, maples, beech and ash. National Fuel’s 15 percent of the park remains cluttered and broken.

Perhaps that made sense 100 years ago, but New York State has now recognized the global warming consequences of using gas, oil and coal as energy sources. We are on track to have 30 percent of our energy sourced from wind, sun and water by 2015. Closing those wells moves us in the right direction.

Two years in a row, National Fuel has been criticized for paying executives too much, including $7.5 million to its chief executive, the highest salary in Western New York. Last year, National Fuel Gas made 2 percent more profit than the New York State Public Service Commission, charged with regulating utilities, considered to be fair. The PSC is forcing National Fuel to repay us $7.5 million of this excess profit.

It is time for the people of New York State to reclaim their 9,000 acres of Allegany forest as well. Call the governor or write him a letter. Tell him we want our woods back. Tell him: Do not renew that lease. Tell the governor to tell National Fuel: Go take a hike.

Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group.

Original article, without the map, appeared as an op-ed in The Buffalo News

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