by Jeremy Moule
A few weeks ago, the Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft of its management plan for Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. At the time, I wrote an article about the plan and pointed out that it did not, in plain language, rule out gas drilling on the lands. I also wrote that the plan suggested DEC officials would rule it out.
This week, the Democrat and Chronicle did its own story on the plan, as have local television stations. They, too, point out that the plan's wording isn't terribly definitive when it comes to gas and oil drilling, and that the uncertainty has anti-drilling activists worried.
Yesterday, I followed up with the DEC and requested further clarification on the issue. Emily DeSantis, spokesperson for the state DEC, sent a reply that included this statement:
The state purchased the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest to protect the City of Rochester’s drinking water and to preserve and protect the land from development. The draft SGEIS [for high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica Shales] and regulations would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing surface drilling on state lands and it is unlikely any other drilling would occur on the lands in Hemlock-Canadice State Forest given its many unique characteristics. Based on these factors, the state has no intention of allowing any sort of drilling in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest.
The state has a clear and well-established process for evaluating and reaching decisions about all activities on state land, including leasing and drilling operations. The UMP [unit management plan] process, to be fair to all interested members of the public, typically waits to make definitive statements about planned uses of a state forest until all comments on the draft plan are received, evaluated, and responded to.
DEC is required to follow a process to determine which lands could be up for lease nomination, [and] that includes evaluating the geology and topography of the area. The Hemlock-Canadice State Forest includes steep slopes, the lakes that serve as the city's water supply, state and federally regulated wetlands, and recreation opportunities. In addition, in some locations around the lakes, state lands do not extend beyond a reasonable setback from the shore, disqualifying those areas from drilling activity. For all of these reasons, the state has no intention of allowing any sort of drilling in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest.