By the OGJ Editors
WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 2 -- US Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said Thursday they are hopeful the full Senate will soon permanently ban oil and gas exploration and drilling in the 16,000-acre New York Finger Lakes National Forest.
The forest, a parcel of federal land slightly bigger than Manhattan, is located in the central part of the state. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved S. 1846, a bill that imposes a permanent ban, before a month-long recess.
Industry lobbyists expect the proposal to become law. At present there is a one-year ban that Congress passed last year that was included in a spending measure that expires Sept. 30. The House is expected to follow the Senate's lead this year and move to block access for good.
"This site is not Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico. It is a postage stamp sized park, not an endless wilderness with vast oil reserves," Schumer said. "There is nothing to be gained from opening up one of Central New York's main tourist attractions to drilling that will yield at best an almost unnoticeable amount of gas, while despoiling this precious pocket of wilderness and driving people away at a time when they are sorely needed to bolster the area's economy."
Supporters of the plans said the forest, located northwest of Ithaca, NY, between Lakes Cayuga and Seneca, has been a proposed drilling site since 1998.
They cited Pennsylvania-based Fairman Drilling Co. and an unnamed West Virginia firm which offered a joint proposal to lease land for drilling.
But following an environmental review, the US Forest Service last December rejected the lease, although it left open the possibility of future drilling.
Oil companies did not actively oppose the ban, given the limited amount of anticipated reserves. However, lobbyists said the measure is yet another "troubling" example of congressional efforts to limit access to public lands.
Similar proposals have been called for in the Great Lakes region, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and along the east and west coasts.