More than 65 people crowded into village hall Tuesday to discuss the potential leasing of village-owned lands, including Poland Municipal Forest, to oil- and natural-gas drilling companies.
A representative from Chesapeake Energy was scheduled to meet with council behind closed doors but did not show. Mayor Tim Sicafuse said if he had, the presentation would not have taken place in private.
“That does not warrant executive session,” Sicafuse said, adding that village government is “transparent.”
Council did not take any action Tuesday relating to the drilling.
The mayor and council heard from residents of the village and surrounding areas, many urging caution about leasing land to companies that plan to drill hydrofracking wells.
Fracking is a process in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals is blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to extract natural gas and oil. The brine waste product from that process then is disposed of in injection wells. Horizontal fracking is the process used to extract the natural resources from the Marcellus and Utica shales.
David Sabine, who lives in Poland Township near the entrance to the Indian Trail forest, said council should wait until the state completes its review of oil and natural-gas industry regulations. He said the risks of fracking include spillage and contaminated ground water and well water.
“Hold off until the state law has regulations to ensure protection,” he said. “When in doubt, it’s your duty to wait.”
Valerie Dearing, a member of the Poland Forest Foundation and organizer of the neighborhood group Sisters Against Subterranean Sludge (SASS), said when it comes to spillage, “a little goes a long way.”
She also pointed out that oil and gas companies often do not have to comply with federal standards. For example, injection wells are exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. That exemption is commonly called the “Halliburton Loophole.”
Bob Lenga, Forest Foundation president, said the foundation recommends creating an ad hoc committee to study how drilling could affect the village from scientific, legal and financial perspectives.
Councilman Robert Limmer contended that leasing mineral rights in the 265-acre Poland Municipal Forest would violate the deed because the forest “is only to be used for park purposes.” Ralph Mentzer, a longtime village volunteer, added to that, saying the original deed requires the forest be preserved in a natural state.
The village already has been approached by Western Land Services and Sulmona Energy LLC. The mayor has said any potential lease would have to include a “laundry list” of protections, such as no surface wells or heavy trucks in the forest.