Orchard Park Town Board members said they plan to sponsor a forum on the controversial natural gas mining technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.
Councilwoman Nan Ackerman said she would help set up speakers for the event, but if the board takes a vote on the issue she will abstain.
Her husband, Philip C. Ackerman, is the former chairman, president and chief executive officer of National Fuel and serves on its board of directors.
Nan Ackerman's relationship to National Fuel was questioned by resident Tom Miller, who is opposed to hydro-fracking.
Nan Ackerman said her relationship with the gas utility is a valid concern, and she always intended to abstain if the issue came to a vote.
"I am only utilizing my relationship with National Fuel to provide people we can access information from," she said. "You can choose to believe or not believe whatever it is they say, and that's why I encouraged us to have a balanced dialogue by having the DEC and people who are outside the industry studying it thoroughly."
Town officials said they hope to have a representative from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and an outside expert attend the forum to answer residents' questions.
Natural gas has been found in the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends into New York State, and it can be extracted using hydrofracking. But the process leaves behind water contaminated with chemicals, said resident Sheila Miller.
She disputed the claims of drilling companies that hydrofracking is safe for the environment. She said that the Marcellus Shale in Orchard Park is 2,000 feet below the ground and that the chemicals used in the process could seriously harm the groundwater.
Late last year, National Fuel, which drills in Pennsylvania, said it had "no plans to pursue Marcellus Shale drilling in New York State."
Town officials said the forum probably would be scheduled in May.