The following is a guest commentary by Stuart Anderson.
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:
- You’ve got to participate (otherwise, just shut up and take what you get)
- You’ve got to be very persistent
- You’ve got to rally supporters and actively recruit
- 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
- 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
- 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.