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Gas drilling, storage taken up in Watkins Glen

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Emma Jacobs
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WSKG
Experts brought lessons from Pennsylvania to Watkins Glen.

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Residents of Watkins Glen aren't sure what gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has in store for their corner of the Finger Lakes.

Speaking Wednesday night, Penn State's Tim Kelsey said the most uncertain and challenging times in the drilling process will come early in New York -- like they have in Pennsylvania.

As it happens, he says that those times are also exactly when communities need to start planning if they're going to benefit from drilling in the long run.

"The timing is big up front, but then it scales back dramatically," said Kelsey. "And you've got to be planning for when it scales back so you don't get caught."

Kelsey, along with Cornell's Susan Christopherson, presented on the economic - not the environmental - impacts of drilling to a crowd of several hundred. The attendees were packed into the ballroom of a hotel at the southern tip of Seneca Lake.

"It seems as time goes by that the level of public angst and concern about shale has been increasing over time," noted Tim Kelsey, who has been working on gas drilling for the past three years.

The Watkins Glen chamber of Commerce teamed up with Cornell's Cooperative Extension to host the event. It was part of a two-day energy summit.

Chamber President Rebekah LaMoreaux said her organization wanted to provide more information for the area, which is at the edge of the shale formation. But LaMoreaux says the area has already been affected by drilling underway elsewhere.

"We're seeing a lot of economic impacts in this county even from the drilling that's happening in Pennsylvania, in terms of people coming and staying in the hotels who are actually working in Pennsylvania [and] increased people in our restaurants," LaMoreaux said.

More changes could come soon. Inergy, a company that stores and transports fuel, bought Schuyler County's US Salt in August of 2008 so that it could use the huge caverns produced during salt mining to store natural gas. The firm's local arm is called Finger Lakes LPG Storage.

As those plans have come closer to fruition, the group Gas Free Seneca announced plans to hold a public forum in mid-April. Inergy was in town last week and shared plans to hold a forum of its own, scheduled for the day before.

Drilling in the Marcellus Shale is currently on hold until state regulations are ironed out. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to release a new draft of those regulations this summer.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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