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Fracking Heros

The following is a guest commentary by Stuart Anderson.

FRACKING HEROS

We have all been through a tough learning curve over the past months, and we have conducted successful campaigns to raise awareness and educate the people of Otego about the potential impacts of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in our town.

Far and away the single most influential person in this effort has been Dick Downey.  Dick was among the very first to raise the alarm about the untrustworthiness of drillers.  He made it clear that we cannot trust drillers to treat us with dignity and fairness.

Dick taught us that a driller will do only what is best for his business: he will pay you as little as possible for your mineral rights and get you to sign a lease that completely favors the driller over everyone and everything else.

Dick pointed out that drillers will do anything to tilt the game in their favor.  They will take advantage of the poverty of many landowners.  They will take advantage of our lack of familiarity with their industry.  They will rush us into decisions that we don’t fully understand.

In short, Dick has made it clear to his ULA members and all of us that drillers are not to be trusted.  Thank you, Dick, for bringing the drillers’ conniving ways to our attention.

Dick has also been instrumental in demonstrating the power that we common citizens can gain by banding together.  Without Dick’s unifying force, many Otego citizens would likely have signed the drillers’ standard leases.  Thousands more acres in Otego would now be under lease, and the landmen would continue to pick us off, one by one.  Dick has proven the value of group action.

He has also shown us the methods of grass roots activism, recruiting new supporters, bringing in persuasive speakers, organizing public meetings, and attending the meetings of various local governmental bodies.

All the while, he has kept his troops agitated with an unending flow of breaking news, tidbits from other towns and other states, conjectures on strategies, and vigorous cheerleading.  He has taught us all just how persuasive half of a story can be; he has taught us all to question the motives of speakers and self-proclaimed experts.  He has forced us to realize that the siren call of easy money can make an otherwise sane and rational man believe and profess almost anything.  Dick has taught us to be skeptical.

Of course Dick has not performed these feats alone—he’s had dedicated helpers who have also enlightened the citizens of Otego.  We’ve learned that loud, aggressive barking will get everyone to sit back in their seats and shut up, even if the message is complete nonsense.

We’ve learned that the threat of lawsuits, even with no basis in fact or law, even when based on half-truths, even when refuted and repeated and refuted and repeated ad nauseum—the threat of lawsuits will always get our public officials to pause and consider, to delay and demure, to cower and reverse course.

We’ve also learned some important lessons from our Town Board.  On the topic of gas drilling, they have one refrain: don’t blame me.  They have tiptoed along the line between pro- and anti-gas drilling with astounding skill, first being dragged into conducting a survey, then being dragged into starting a moratorium, now being dragged into actually enacting a moratorium….at every step, they can tell the pro-drillers, “Hey, we did our best to fight for you, but we had to do it…”, and they can tell the anti-drillers, “Hey, we got you what you wanted as fast as we could under the circumstances.”

We’ve seen procedural delays at every step, as if we have all the time in the world….of course the best outcome, for the “don’t blame me” quintet would be an edict from Albany that makes the moratorium moot, and if they can dawdle long enough, they may just get it.  We’ve all learned that some folks can confuse waiting  with governance.

Let me sum up the lessons we’ve learned about participatory democracy in our fracking debate:

  1. You’ve got to participate (otherwise, just shut up and take what you get)
  2. You’ve got to be very persistent
  3. You’ve got to rally supporters and actively recruit
  4. You’ve got to stick your neck out and make yourself heard, even at the risk of alienating friends and neighbors—put a sign on your lawn; sign a petition; come to the Board meetings
  5. You’ve got to make sacrifices—shorten or cut out that vacation; give up your favorite TV show and put in the hours on the phone and the internet every day, networking with like-minded activists and educating yourself
  6. You’ve got to be willing to put everything on the line, because the community that we’ve built and the lives that we’ve planned for our future here will all be taken away from us if we fail.

 

I’m too old, too invested, and too attached to Otego to just take the money and start over someplace else.  I want my grandchildren to spend their summers with me here in our little corner of paradise, and not wonder if I’m risking their health with the water we drink, the produce from our gardens, and the air we all breath.

Thank you, Dick Downey, for making me question what is really important in my life.  I hope I can return the favor someday.

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FRACKING ISSUES IN OTEGO NY

There is a cynical, intentionally misleading letter going around to people in Otego. It was sent by people who wouldn’t mind seeing Otego ruined in order for a very few people to make a fast, unearned buck.

Nothing wrong with a fast, unearned buck, but not if you have to lie to the rest of the town to make it seem like it’s good for them, with no danger of pollution and destroying land values and turning the the town into an industrial sacrifice zone.

The intention of the letter is to manipulate well-meaning people who don’t understand much of the issue, yet. A lot of landowners have been wooed by the lies about “free money.” The letter in question, written by shills for the gas drilling in our area, makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims about how “safe” gas drilling is, and they leave out all the cases of pollution, endocrine decease, greenhouse effects, etc. They conveniently ignore science, and would like you do do the same.

Fortunately, there was one tell-tale truthful statement in the letter – it mentioned that fracking really did effect water quality. (It must have missed their “non-truth-o-meter.”)

You can find out some of the ways that the shills for the gas industry lie at http://otegony.com/spinning-the-truth-about-horizontal-fracturing.

 

Below. you will find a guest post from Stuart Anderson rebutting some of of the gas-propaganda in the above-mentioned letter.

An excellent discussion of tax revenues to local governments is available at:

http://www.tompkins-co.org/detail.aspx?ContentID=1935

The gist of the article seems to be that there is currently a lack of taxation schemes to bring on such revenues, and that they will be slow to develop.  For wells that are drilled but not extracted (temporarily capped while waiting for gas prices to improve) the wait for tax income (and royalties) may be many years.

The impact of gas drilling on property values appears to be a yo-yo effect.  First gas speculators drive up local land values in hopes of making money on gas leases and royalties (this phase has already passed.)  Then prices for small residential properties fall as banks are reluctant to issue mortgages on homes that may be impacted by drilling and fracking.  See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/us/rush-to-drill-for-gas-creates-mortgage-conflicts.html?pagewanted=all  and http://thedailystar.com/localnews/x161015780/Agents-Gas-leases-affecting-land-values

Once the gas is gone, it is hard to imagine that the experience of having been fracked and pipelined will have done anything to enhance the value of area properties.

Comparisons with Chautauqua County in far western NY

(see here: http://andyarthur.org/fodder/energy/whatdoesnatural.html

and here:  http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20100404/NEWS01/4040356/Activist-challenges-DEC-claim-few-gas-drilling-problems

Over 6,000 holes dot the landscape of this scenic county, as the typical drilling area is only 40 acres.  The gas-bearing stone is not easily fracked in horizontal holes, so these wells are all vertical-only, and have required small scale fracking.  Thus the wells of Chautauqua County have been fracked with only a few truckloads of fluids per well, not the hundreds per well that are needed for horizontal fracking.

While 5,000 of these wells are listed as “currently active”, in reality this number is greatly inflated: the gas companies only have to putter a little around each wellsite once each year to renew the “active” status for another year, regardless of how little (if any) gas is being extracted.  They do this to delay the costs of permanently sealing the well if it becomes “inactive.”

Local roads are likely to suffer under the great increase in heavy truck traffic required to move water to and fracking wastes away from the drilling sites.  The DEC has yet to specify what is to be done with the waste.  The following is excerpted from a letter sent to the Otego Town Board after their February meeting:

You heard it from Ms. Westfall’s [the Town attorney, a partner in Coughlin & Gerhart LLP, which advertises on WSKG promoting their gas leasing services] own lips at your February meeting—if Delta has a conflict of interest in a court case between a driller and the Town, they will have to recuse themselves and we [the Town of Otego] will be searching for other representation.  I’d be curious to know just what Delta said about the current condition of our roads.  Do they report the surfaces look generally good but that they are unable to adequately assess the condition of the sub-base in most areas?  When heavy trucks destroy roads, it is the sub-base that gives way, which then allows the surface to break up.  When Delta walks away from us, the drillers will subpoena Delta’s report that says our roads were flawed to begin with, and we will be hung out to dry.

As for the County having, in Ms. Westfall’s words, “thoroughly vetted” Delta’s credentials and abilities, that will not do us any good at all if, when push comes to shove, Delta feels conflicted and decides to no longer represent us.  Her claim to not know who Delta’s other clients “might be” is turning a willful blind eye towards a critical issue.  Who but a gas driller pays an engineering company to do “gas well permit surveys and mapping”?  Delta may very well be deep in the drillers’ pockets and may consider their efforts “on behalf of the Town” as reconnaissance work for the drillers.

Hiring the fox to guard the henhouse is worse than a poor plan; it gives the fox a look at the security system and guarantees his success.  Ms. Westfall should be providing better advice for her fee.

The pro-drillers frequently offer job creation as a benefit to all, even non-landowners, in the region.  While there can be little doubt that a “boom-town” atmosphere can be a short term boon to jobs in gas stations, motels, restaurants, and stores, there can also be little doubt that when the boom is over, those jobs will vanish in short order.  If the Boom also happens to drive away the tourists who flock every year to our regional attractions, then the net may well be a loss of jobs.  As for the “high paying” jobs, those jobs travel with the drilling rigs and the tankers.  Gas wells require extremely little in the way of “high paying” maintenance jobs once everything is plumbed up and running.

Effects on population:   In a report by Christopherson, S. & Righter, N.(2011). How should we think about the consequences of shale gas drilling from Cornell University http://www.greenchoices.cornell.edu/downloads/development/marcellus/Marcellus_SC_NR.pdf

they present this information on pages 24-25 of the report:

a) In 26 counties in the western United States where gas drilling has occurred, 16 of the counties lost population.

b) In Pennsylvania, from 1990-2008 the population in counties where gas was drilled had a 2.5% decrease in population contrasted with a 3.2% increase in population in adjacent counties.

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The NYS Assembly may pass a moratorium on Hydraulic Fracking

This is from the facebook page of Action Otsego, at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=89726813783

Also see their website at: http://www.actionotsego.org/

It’s working! The NYS Assembly may well pass a moratorium

Quick report:

A few days ago the Senate’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Committee passed the 1-year moratorium as proposed by committee chair Sen. Antoine Thompson. That’s certainly better than nothing!

Sen. Thompson has told us that he doesn’t think the Addabbo bill would pass on the floor of the full legislature; he thinks his bill has a better chance. He may be right, but the folks calling our senators have been getting increasingly positive responses! If we keep the pressure up FOR ADDABBO, in other words FOR SCIENCE BEFORE DRILLING, we just might push them into doing the right thing!

Thompson himself told me that if the Addabbo bill is the one that comes to the floor, he will vote for it!

So here are TODAY’s ACTION STEPS from our friends who know Albany:

BOTTOM LINE: WE NEED A MORATORIUM BILL TO PASS

WHAT TO SAY: ASK the Senate leadership to make sure we get a moratorium bill. Explain that you prefer the Englebright/Addabbo bill (Senate 7592A, which links the moratorium to the EPA study), or register your desire to at least see the Thompson bill pass (that’s the one-year moratorium, not tied to the EPA). But, keep pushing, we are almost to the end of the session. Senate majority leadership is the key target.

Simple message in support of the Addabbo bill: Do the science before the drilling!

CALL THESE SENATORS: (I just called them all and it only took a few minutes. All the receptionists were friendly, helpful, and thankful for the support. – Brian)

Sen. Sampson 518-455-2788 or 718-649-7653,

Sen. Malcolm Smith, 518-455-2701. They have started a petition that people can sign to push the Addabbo Bill! PLEASE CALL AND SIGN. It only takes a minute. THEY SAID THAT THEY ARE RECEIVING MANY CALLS! It’s fantastic that they’ve done this!

Sen. Espada 518-455-3395 or 718-652-4329,

Sen. Klein (co-sponsor of Addabbo bill, so thank him!) 518-455-3595 or 718-822-2049

Sen. Addabbo – 518-455-2322

Sen. Hassell-Thompson 518-455-2061 or 718-547-8854

CALL THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE — 518-474-8390 Remember, if one of these bills passes, we have to make sure that Governor Paterson signs it!

Click here for details about Why it is necessary to suport the Englebright/Adabbo bill currently in the NYS legislature (A.10490/S.7592)

In a nutshell: The Englebright/Adabbo bill should be passed to establish a moratorium on conducting unconventional gas drilling in NYS until 120 days after the issuance of a report thereon by the federal EPA.

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Laughing Gas

Thanks to Laurie from the weblog at un-naturalgas.org for turning me on to the great cartoons, illustrations and commentary about New York State by Mark Wilson at EmpireWire.com.

Cartoon courtesy of MARQUIL at EmpireWire.com

Cartoon courtesy of MARQUIL at EmpireWire.com


Cartoon courtesy of MARQUIL at EmpireWire.com

8WHCSN4RDPJT

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Energy Companies Cheat on Royalties

From the NYTimes:
The prize for public service went to the tiny Bristol Herald Courier of southwestern Virginia, circulation 29,000, for revealing that many energy companies failed to pay required royalties on natural gas drilling, and that the royalties that were paid were not reaching the local people who deserved them.
The home page for the 8-part series is at:

Once again – another reason why you shouldn’t trust ‘em as far as you can spit rats.

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PolluterHarmony

Brilliant video about the industry bedding government.

Of course lease-signers like to believe they are “against big government,” and of course they want to close their eyes to the fact that crooked, deregulated government is the only way that predatory natural gas companies can do business as they do.

It’s amazing what you can’t see if you don’t want to.

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Dump the DEC Chumps

This letter is being reproduced from Catskill Citizens for Clean Energy.

Tell Paterson to Remove Grannis!

Under Commissioner Pete Grannis, the NYS DEC has concealed the Department’s shoddy safety record and misled the public about what’s really in fracking fluid.which is found on the home page of the website:  http://catskillcitizens.org/.

Throughout 2008, when the gas industry was actively leasing land for shale gas extraction, the DEC misled the public by refusing to acknowledge that high-volume hydraulic fracturing of horizontal shale gas wells would be significantly different than previous gas drilling operations in New York State. Director Field’s mantra that hydraulic fracturing “has been going on in New York for decades”1 seemed deliberately designed to lull the public into thinking that the Marcellus Shale gas play would resemble the low-volume fracturing operations that we had seen in the past.  Numerous inquiries to the Division of Mineral Resources prompted unsigned responses claiming that nothing new or different would be involved.

Also in 2008, the DEC succeeded in pushing a new well-spacing bill though the state legislature with little debate and scant public scrutiny. Although this “departmental” bill”2 was explicitly designed to facilitate the drilling of gigantic horizontal wells  which threaten to radically alter the landscape of western New York, Commissioner  Grannis  disingenuously characterized it as “a technical program bill [that] had nothing to do with anything related to environmental protections.”3   Instead he claimed it was “designed to protect adjacent landowners”.4

This bill was quickly moved out of Committee and passed late at night, on the last day of the legislative session.  Some lawmakers later complained that they weren’t even aware of the bill’s existence until hours before they were to vote on it. 5   Elected officials in New York City, and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, also felt blindsided by the swift enactment of this law which had enormous implications for the integrity of the city’s watershed.6

At a time when New Yorkers were just becoming aware of the dangers posed by toxic chemicals used in fracking fluid, the DEC misled the public by asserting that “Marcellus shale fracing operations in New York State use fresh water, sand, nitrogen and a diluted soapy solution to fracture the shale. These frac fluids do not contain benzene, toluene or xylene.“7   This May 2008 email from the DEC failed to mention any of the toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids except to say three dangerous chemicals were not used in New York.  Of course we now know that the DEC was not telling the truth – fracking fluids contain dozens of chemicals including benzene, toluene and xylene.8

Perhaps most frustrating of all, New Yorkers have had to listen to Commissioner Grannis and Director Field parrot the industry line that there has not been “one instance of drinking water contamination in over one million frack jobs”.9

All over the country water wells have exploded or been rendered unusable because they have been contaminated by fracking fluid, methane or total dissolved solids due to nearby fracking operations. It’s bad enough to hear industry flacks claim that none of these case count as contamination, but it’s outrageous to hear this absurd claim coming from the very people who should be studying these environmental disasters, and trying to find a way to avoid repeating them in New York.

This manifest indifference to the harm caused by drilling accidents is infuriating.  On at least one occasion, Mr. Field falsely dismissed an accident in Brookfield, New York as one where “a bit got stuck and muddied up a bunch of water wells.”10   This is a false and remarkably insensitive description of an incident in which some water wells were completely destroyed and others were left unusable for months on end.11

1. Director Field speaking at a public meeting in Liberty, New York July 1, 2008.

2. Commissioner Grannis testifying before the New York City Council Commission on Environmental Protection.  September 10, 2008.  Page 44 of the transcript.

3. Ibid.  Page 45 of the transcript.

4. Ibid.  Page 47 of the transcript.

5.  ”This issue came to my attention when a bill regarding well spacing appeared before the Assembly for a vote with very little time to review the issue.”  Testimony of Assembly Member Deborah Glick before the New York City Council Commission on Environmental Protection.  September 10, 2008.  Page 87 of the transcript.

6. See the remarks of Committee on Environmental Protection Chair James Gennaro.  Transcript of hearing, September 10, 2008.

7.   In a email message dated 5/28/2008 2:50:28 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,

dmnog@gw.dec.state.ny.us wrote:   “Industry has used horizontal well drilling in New York since the late 1980s. Hydraulic fracturing has been commonly and safely used in New York State for decades. Marcellus shale fracing operations in New York State use fresh water, sand, nitrogen and a diluted soapy solution to fracture the shale. These frac fluids do not contain benzene, toluene or xylene.”

8. Draft SGEIS pp 5.34-5.66.

9. Director Field speaking at a public meeting in Liberty, New York July 1, 2008.

See also this exchange between Commissioner Grannis and Assemblyman Jim Bacalles before the New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, October 15, 2009

ASSEMBLYMAN JIM BACALLES:  Pete, you mentioned that we have been fracing gas wells for a long time …But are you aware of anywhere where a drinking well or any kind of watershed has been affected by that drilling that’s been going on for 20 years or so?

MR. GRANNIS: We are not Jim. We have no reports of, you know, there are accidental spills that take place on the sites, but we have no reports of water contamination associated with.

Page 79 of transcript

10.  Director Field speaking at a public meeting in Liberty, New York July 1, 2008.

11. The following articles originally appeared in the Syracuse Post:

SOME STILL WAIT FOR THEIR WATER BROOKFIELD SUPERVISOR SAYS MANY PROBLEMS WITH WELLS REMAIN UNSOLVED.  Alaina Potrikus Staff writer

Nearly three months after an accident at a natural gas drilling site caused some backyard water wells to turn into geysers, some North Brookfield residents are still relying on bottled water to meet their daily needs.

Tell Paterson to Remove Grannis!

Under Commissioner Pete Grannis, the NYS DEC has concealed the Department’s shoddy safety record and misled the public about what’s really in fracking fluid.

Note from Brian: I’ve written about the lies about “vertical is the same as horizontal,” and “they’ve been doing this for years,” and “there has never been any contamination.” You’d really have to be as dense as a fence post to still buy that stuff, but still people will believe anything if they are offered “free money” to believe it. It’s like the tooth fairy.

You can read more about it at these posts:

http://otegony.com/they-dont-even-lie-well

http://otegony.com/spinning-the-truth-about-horizontal-fracturing

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According to gas shills, vertical is horizontal (again)

Mayor Calvin Tillman from Dish Texas will speak about the impact of natural gas drilling in his town

Tuesday, Feb. 16th 7 pm
12 Ford Avenue, Oneonta
Hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta Gas Drilling Task Force

Calvin Tillman of Dish, Texas, will speak about the challenges his town faces as gas pipelines and compressors have come to his area. The town of Dish hosts eleven massive natural gas compressors, four metering stations, eleven high-pressure gas lines, and numerous gas wells and gathering lines, which have created extraordinary emission levels and serious health problems in the community.

There has been a massive campaign by less-than-scrupulous people to discredit this man. You can read about it at Drilling Reform for Texas

Why is it that people who are doing the wrong thing have to use false logic to attack the people are trying to prevent them from hurting themselves and others?

Here is an example of a person who either ignorantly or willfully would have you believe that the kind of drilling that is being proposed  NY is the relatively benign kind that has already been done for years :

Besides her attempt to mislead people about that, she also insists that, “Drilling methods have been used in New York and across the country for years with no significant problems.”

Really? As far as horizontal fracking, “…no significant problems” is a subjective. If you are not one of the many people who’s well has been poisoned by spills, who’s air is polluted to the point of 25% of your town having asthma, who’s running faucet can be lighted with a match, or who’s house has been blown up by gas leaks (among many other things) then, sure, there have been no significant problems.

On the other hand, if you care at all about anything other than the possibility of getting some money from an industry with no respect for individuals at the expense of your community, public health and safety, then sure, no problem.

That article starts with, “I have been an environmentalist my whole life.” She is using the wrong tense, it should have read, “I had been an environmentalist my whole life, but now…

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Protect Our Drinking Water in New York State

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Marcellus Shale Pipe Dreams

A region is discovering that the price of the economic boom from natural gas drilling may be irreversible environmental damage and residents’ peace of mind

A telling article by Rona Kobell in the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s “Bay Journal” describes the bitter disappointment of communities who’ve been duped by the illusion of the “Natural Gas Boom.”

Excerpts:

When the natural gas companies descended on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale two years ago, it felt like a Gold Rush. And everyone seemed to be hitting pay dirt…

But now, with nearly 700 Marcellus wells drilled throughout the state, the environmental costs of drilling are becoming clear… It has transformed some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes into industrial zones and brought hardship to some who thought it was their lifeline.

“The regular folk out here will never see the compensation they deserve, and their original water supply is forever gone,” Switzer said. “I’m never going to make any money on this. All I’ve lost is my soul.”

Read the entire “Bay Journal” article here.

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