RSS

Category Archives: catskills

Bethel, NY’s Hydraulic Fracturing Ban; Public Comments


(Breathing Is Political left the Bethel Town Board’s March 15, 2012 Hearing on Town Law No. 1 of 2012 about twenty minutes before its finish. At that point, thirty members of the public had spoken in favor of the proposed law which would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a high-impact activity in the Town and four members had spoken against the law and in favor of permitting H-VHF activities. According to Larysa Dyrszka, supporters of the legislative ban collected more than 500 petition signatures and at least 100 letters.  

Unfortunately,  the Town of Bethel’s website appears to be “down,”  but  the proposed legislation is scheduled for a vote at one of the April  Town Board meetings which regularly occur on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 7:30 pm.  If interested,  the Town’s phone number is:   845-583-4350.)

**********************

On March 15, 2012, the Bethel, NY Town Board heard from the public concerning the Town’s proposed Local Law No. 1 of 2012. (For more information, “findings of fact,” and an explanation of the proposed legislation, please see Appendix A and the Town of Bethel’s Land Use Analysis: Hazardous or Natural Gas and/or Petroleum Acivities and Industrial Uses.)

In introductory remarks, Bethel Town Attorney Robert McEwan described the proposed legislative changes as “explicitly prohibiting certain uses Town-wide” and as “amending Zoning Board procedures.”

According to a February 28, 2012 River Reporter article, Mr. McEwan said, “…that the amendment would not only ban gas drilling, but also a number of processes related to gas drilling, as well as high impact uses.” In the same article, Attorney McEwan clarified that, “High-impact uses are the kinds of industries that put out large amounts of pollution….” (BIP Note: The North American Industry Classification System mentioned in the article categorizes industries and assigns them “classification numbers” which can be researched here. The NAICS “is frequently used for various administrative, regulatory, contracting, taxation, and other-non statistical purposes.”

The provisions of Bethel’s Local Law No. 1 of 2012 most-addressed by speakers at the Hearing are these:

  • (6) Land Use Control. This Local Law is intended to act as and is hereby declared to exercise the permissive “incidental control” by the Town of its police power applied to the area of land use planning and the physical use of land and property within the Town, including the physical externalities associated with certain land uses, such as negative impacts on air and water quality, roadways and traffic congestion and other deleterious impacts on a community. This Law is not intended to regulate the operational processes of any business. This Local Law is a law of general applicability and is intended to promote the interests of the community as a whole; and
  • Sections 345-38 which explicitly prohibit injection wells, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration activities; natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production waste disposal/storage facilities, natural gas processing facilities, underground injection, high-impact uses and other specified activities.

PUBLIC COMMENTS CONCERNING BETHEL TOWN LAW NO. 1 OF 2012:

Although approximately forty people spoke at the the Hearing, Breathing Is Political offers these excerpted remarks as representative of the statements made:

Margarita Gleyzer referred to the fact that some who support H-VHF have called opponents of the process “fear-mongers.” In response, Ms. Gleyzerr  said, “Fear is an innate quality that keeps us from harm. We are not guaranteed jobs from fracking but we are guaranteed damage to our resources. Fracking is not a small town issue; it’s an international concern.”

Jeffrey Allison referred to many claims made by natural gas extraction companies as “myths:”

  • “We’re told there’s 100 years of shale gas in the Marcellus. At best there’s eleven.” (BIP Note: According to the US Geologic Survey, “The Marcellus Shale contains 84 trillion cubic feet of… technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of…technically recoverable natural gas liquids…” Using US Energy Information Administration data, the U.S. consumed 24.37 trillion cubic feet in 2011. Accordingly, even if all the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale was actually recovered and not shipped to Norway, Japan, etc., we would gain only an additional 3-5 year supply.)


  • “We’re told that H-VHF will bring thousands of jobs but 77% of jobs are filled by out-of-state workers.” (BIP Note: The Center for Economic and Policy Research begs to differ with industry claims of job creation in Pennsylvania drilling areas: “What the data tell us is that fracking has created very few jobs. In fact, employment in five northeast Pennsylvania counties…with high drilling activity declined by 2.7 percent.” (Even accounting for the recession, CEPR calculates a total of “around 1,350 jobs — [which] includes both direct jobs in the gas industry, indirect jobs in the supply chain and induced jobs from spending by workers and landowners.


  • “We’re told that natural gas is cleaner than coal but scientists disagree.” (BIP note: A study issued out of Cornell University reports that gas extraction’s carbon footprint is likely larger than that of coal production.)

Richard Gebel and many other speakers spoke to the natural beauty of Bethel that might be laid waste by high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Physicians such as Larysa Dyrszka, James Lomax and Hal Teitelbaum spoke to the human health impacts of H-VHF.  One of their shared concerns is that New York State’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement largely ignores those human health impacts. They talked about the dangers of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) and their impacts on water, soil, our foodshed – our human ecology. (BIP Note: Gas Drilling Tech Notes — with which BIP is affiliated — has an extensive library of scientific articles concerning H-VHF, the waste and radioactive materials produced by the industry’s processes and their impacts on natural and human environments.)

Eric London, a physician and researcher remarked that to begin fracking without a health impacts study would be unethical and he commended the Town Board for its efforts to protect the residents of Bethel.

Jennifer Young, a Bethel farmer, thanked the Town Board for taking a proactive stance. “The National Farmer’s Union has called for a moratorium. I raise free-range eggs and I depend on the quality of our land and water resources. We must support our farmers. We’ve seen an 18 percent decline in farms where gas extraction occurs.” (BIP Note: Apparently, Ms. Young was referring to a 2007-10 study conducted by Dr. Timothy Kelsey at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Science. In his conclusions, Dr. Kelsey states, “Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”)

Kate Kennedy, a local business owner and resident in the Town of Delaware said, “We need our creamery. We need our slaughterhouse. We are poised to be the New York City foodshed. Fracking will endanger that.”

Laura Berger responded to frequent industry claims that New York State’s regulatory structure and oversight are the “toughest” by citing to The Environmental Working Group’s assertions that New York State is ill-equipped to oversee H-VHF and quoted, “New York has just 14 inspectors to oversee 13,000 existing natural gas and oil wells.”

Ronald Turner said, “This is a big moment for the Catskills. It might be the biggest since our towns were flooded to create the reservoirs. Fracking is not conducive to the qualities that draw people here.” He asked what would happen as the underground infrastructure that’s necessary for H-VHF begins to decay. “Who will monitor that decaying infrastructure,” he asked.

Of the speakers who asked the Bethel Town Board to delay passage of legislation that would ban H-VHF within the Town’s borders, Bill desRosiers of Energy In Depth‘s Marcellus affiliate — the public relations arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — was the first to speak and urged the Town Board and Hearing attendees to visit the website, “Frac Focus.” “You can track every well drilled,” he said. “You can find GPS locations and view the chemicals used.” (BIP Note: As Jill Weiner remarked  in her subsequent rebuttal of Mr. desRosiers’ statements, release of chemical-usage information is voluntary, not mandatory.  Further, the Frac Focus site states, “Because the make-up of each fracturing fluid varies to meet the specific needs of each area…” there is still no way of knowing which chemicals were used at a specific site. Additionally, only non-proprietary chemicals are listed at Frac Focus.)

Mr. desRosiers also referred to the March 15, 2012 press release from the Environmental Protection Agency detailing its findings to date on water samples from Dimock, PA. “EPA’s testing in Dimock failed to show elevated levels of contamination,” he claimed. (BIP Note: A reading of the actual press release shows that contamination was discovered, that the testing is incomplete and that “EPA will continue to provide water” to three of the homes which are currently receiving such deliveries. Relatedly, Water Defense has asked several serious questions concerning EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock situation which has diverged significantly from investigations conducted by other EPA regional offices. Following EPA’s March 15th announcement, Dimock-resident Scott Ely drew water from his well and collected it in a plastic jug on March 16, 2012.  Thanks to Michael Lebron for this timely photo.)

In conclusion, Mr. desRosiers asked the Town Board to delay its approval of its proposed Town Law 1-2012, “Appeals will be filed in the Dryden and Middlefield cases. I urge you to await the results of the appeals process.” (BIP Note: Mr. desRosiers reference is to two recent New York State Court decisions which upheld the right of local jurisdictions to restrict certain activities within their boundaries.)

Sondra Bauernfeind, the former Chair of the Sullivan County Conservative Party, opined that “Zoning reduces property rights” and reiterated Mr. desRosiers’ request that the Town Board delay approval of the proposed law until “higher courts weigh-in” on the Dryden and Middlefield decisions. Further, Ms. Bauernfeind suggested that laws which prohibit a landowner’s exploitation of his/her property’s resources amount to a taking. “Delaware County wants $81 billion from NYC for property takings.(BIP note: Several courts have dealt with this issue of “takings” (or “Inverse Condemnation” as it’s known in the law) and many legal scholars have concluded that such claims will be struck down in the courts. An introduction to the topic can be found in BIP’s article, “Gas Drilling: Inverse Condemnation: Private vs. Public Interests.”

Harold Russell, a former Bethel Town Board member and opponent of the proposed Town Law pointed to foreclosures in Sullivan County and the dearth of employment for young people in our communities. “Use your heads not your politics!” he finished. (BIP Note: For more on property values, mortgages and natural gas extraction, please see “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages.”)

******************

In addition to the many Town of Bethel residents who spoke, residents from the Towns of Delaware, Lumberland, Cochecton and Callicoon were also in attendance, due, presumably, to the potential for natural gas exploration, extraction and processing activities being conducted in their Towns.

If you live in a Town where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is being considered, be aware that the process in Bethel has taken, to date, approximately fifteen months.  One resident close to Bethel’s process suggested,  “It makes sense for Towns just looking into zoning protections to consider a moratorium first.  With that in place, they can begin to address potential zoning changes.”

For more information on moratorium efforts, The Community Environmental Defense Council –  David and Helen Slottje —  is the  non-profit public interest law firm based in Ithaca, New York that worked — for free —  with  Bethel and many other Towns in New York. 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Pennslvania,   “is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life.  Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DEC Holds Drilling Hearing at Sullivan County Community College


The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held one of only four  state-wide Hearings on  drilling and hydraulic fracturing at Sullivan County Community College on October 28, 2009.

The vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd was opposed to drilling in New York State.

Few or none  of the opponents drew a distinction between drilling in a watershed or anywhere else.

Most or all  asked for additional  time so the public can read and  comment knowledgeably on the DEC’s  800+ page  “Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Drilling in New York State.” (DSGEIS)

They asked that  several  more public hearings be scheduled throughout the state because some had driven three or more hours to attend last night. (Note:  When I left at 11:00 PM, the meeting was still going on.)

Several local highway superintendents described their local roads as  “substandard”  and worried about the damage that will be wreaked by the enormous volume of truck traffic  necessary to drilling.  Uniformly,  they asked that the DEC inform local municipalities when each drilling application is made so that Road Use Agreements can be drafted in a timely fashion and so that control of local road use will reside with the towns.

Town Supervisors reiterated what the Superintendents said and went further.  Jim Scheutzow (Town of Delaware) said,  “We need the gas companies to step up.  We  don’t have the resources to  take care of the  roads.”

Jim Greier (Town of Fremont) laid out the specifics,  “We have  1391 people,   84  miles of town roads,  16.8 miles of county road, one gas station, two bars and no extra funds  for repairing roads that are damaged by extra heavy trucks.”

One Building Inspector, citing to the lack of local  prerogatives,  raised a point that’s bothered drilling opponents from the beginning,  “No drilling company’s come to me for a permit.”

Perhaps the greatest applause was saved for Luiz Aragon, Sullivan County’s Planning Commissioner and Maria Grimaldi, a tireless advocate for  a sustainable local ecology and economy.

“Despite DEC’s efforts,” said Mr. Aragon,  “many citizens remain concerned by  DSGEIS on many issues.  I respectfully request that the cumulative impacts and socioeconomic concerns be fully-addressed.”  He included, amongst others,  the impacts on municipal infrastructure,  standards of notification,  safety to muncipalities, protection of aquifers and  the overall health and welfare of our communities.

They were not empty words.  Referencing the Sullivan County Legislature, Mr. Aragon called attention to  the potential for drilling in flood plains and called the body of legislation salient to environmental protection, “inconsistent.”   After listing  several recent accidents and incidents of contamination by the drilling industry,   the County Planning Commissioner called for bans on open pit  storage and drilling in all flood plain zones.  He urged the DEC to add a requirement  that the contents and composition of frac fluids be posted at  drilling  sites and with emergency responders.  “Our County remains concerned that municipalities must be permitted to issue  local laws without fear of lawsuits.  The cumulative impacts of  pipelines and compressors will be huge.   It is unclear that mitigation can be effected if contamination of ground water occurs.”

When Maria Grimaldi said,   “The DEC’s  DSGEIS  seems to be enabling an industry that is not compatible with  protecting our environment,”  the crowd roared approval.  Her follow through was received even more noisily, “I’m concerned about conflicts of interest between state  governments  and  the gas drilling industry. Where did the information come from for the DSGEIS and  who was consulted?  We should require that no  high level   public servants can work for the gas companies  for four years after leaving public service…. How  will we be  protected by accidents that inevitably happen?  There have been  failures in eight  states with human error being the  leading cause  of systemic failures.”

On and on, opponents  stepped to the podium.  They asked for a clear delineation of  responsibility  for oversight of drilling practices and  enforcement of  regulations,  “What will happen when there’s an accident?  Who will respond?  How will the rights of  residents who didn’t sign leases be protected when their wells are contaminated?  How can we test our wells  [when they're contaminated] if we aren’t allowed to see a list of the chemicals the industry used?  How can we  prove liability and recoup  our lost property values?”

Some worried that DEC regulations do not prevent the drilling industry from drawing down our groundwater supplies but the umbrella concern remains this,  the DEC’s  Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement admits that it does not review the cumulative  environmental and socio-economic impacts of drilling.

Most opponents demanded  a halt to drilling,  calling it  a dangerous activity while citing to groundwater, human, flora, fauna and soil poisonings from Pavilion, Wyoming to Dimock, Pennsylvania.    One speaker referred to The  Precautionary Principle,  “Let the industry prove, within the context of  the wholesale destruction of an entire ecosystem [Dunkard Creek], that their technology is  safe.”

Members of the audience who want us  to “Drill, Baby, Drill”  included representatives of  IOGA-NY (Independent Oil and Gas Association lobbying group),  Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners’ Association), Chesapeake Energy and David Jones (Owner, Kittatinny Canoes).

The Chesapeake representative stated, “Banning drilling anywhere would be inappropriate.”

The IOGA-NY  industrial spokesperson objected to  the DEC’s  DSGEIS,  “It  goes   too far and puts   us at an  economic disadvantage  compared to PA.   Many companies will walk away from exploiting the   Marcellus Shale   if the DEC continues to  move so slowly.”

Mr. Van Swoel claimed that,  “Ten percent of Sullivan County Land is under lease” and then quoted Newt Gingrich, “We should let the industry drill down.”

Opinion:

Last night  was  my third public meeting on the subject of drilling  and I salute those who’ve attended regularly for the past two years.  I don’t know how you do it.

Breathing is dedicated to an open forum;  not because I’m particularly nice, but because I believe  our world is on numerous brinks and  I’d like to help steady rather than destabilize it.

Last night I had to face the truth: I’m divided against myself.   The  lies and drivel that were uttered last evening by “Drill Now!” proponents   left me quivering.  My stomach was so roiled by  contained outrage that  vomiting was an imminent worry.

I wanted to listen politely.  I wanted to hear their words  in silence.  I wanted to find any points of agreement because I want to save our land and spend my days  building a sustainable local community.

Instead, drilling proponents made baseless assertions about safe practices and   denied that accidents have occurred or that lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by fracking poisons. They lied about the types of chemicals used and turned aside questions about  industry liability when contamination inevitably occurs.

As already covered by Breathing, nobody seriously believes the drilling industry will “walk away” from the brilliantly lucrative prospect of the Marcellus Shale.

IOGA-NY’s insistence  that the  DEC’s Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Driling goes too far is inconsistent with the DEC’s own recognition that the DSGEIS ignores the cumulative impacts of drilling on our entire ecology.

Nobody in a position of policy-making (including the drilling companies) have answered  the real questions:

  • Why did it take Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection nearly three weeks to close down Cabot-Halliburton when the Dunkard Creek ecosystem was destroyed?
  • Who funded the Penn State study that touted the economic benefits of drilling in Pennsylvania?
  • Who will oversee drilling and fracking?
  • Who will enforce the already flimsy regulations?
  • How will people know what’s contaminated their water if  they aren’t allowed to know the nature and composition of drilling chemicals being used?
  • Who will clean up the mess when  inevitable accidents happen?
  • Who will make the residents of Fort Worth, TX,  Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY and New York State  whole for the loss of their water and property values?
  • What will we drink or use to grow our food when the water’s destroyed or requires  remedial interventions that nobody has been able to describe because they simply don’t exist?

Wes Gillingham of the Catskill Mountainkeeper has been to nearly all the meetings.  He’s knowledgeable about the issues and the land.  I echo his words from last night,  “I’ve tried to be patient.  I’ve tried to weigh all sides.”

But here’s my truth:  “Civility” does not require me to be silent in a packed hall when industrial interests are shoving the rape of my world down my throat.  “Civility” does not require me to listen politely to greedy lies.  Nor does “civility” require that I acquiesce sweetly to an  industrial oligarchy.

More importantly,  Justice requires  that the money lenders  be “driven from the Temple.”

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The View Outside My Window: E.L. Fairchild


(“The View Outside My Window”  is a new feature at  Breathing Is Political.  As our lives in the Delaware River Basin meet the inexorable  forces of  the economy, health issues, resource degradation, etc. I’ve asked people whose perspectives are outside our ordinary to tell us what they see.  Today,  Breathing is  pleased  to present the view outside E. L. Fairchild’s window.  Don’t forget to view    Ms. Fairchild’s  work request at  CottageWorks’ Swaps, Barters & Freebies page as well as  the reference posted on her behalf at  the Refer-A-Worker page. )

***********

I’m not what one might call a ‘News Person.’ I don’t like hearing about the horrible ways people treat each other – it makes me sad about being human. I am aware of the important things and will listen in when the news is on where I happen to be, but I prefer it most in comic forms – The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and mostly Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR. Therefore, when it comes to The Recession, my experiences are strictly personal.

What exactly is a recession? Dictionary.com defines it as: Economics. a period of an economic contraction, sometimes limited in scope or duration. To me it means everyone else is panicking about the cost of living. Living costs. That’s a truth I’ve come to accept and I don’t let it bother me. Why worry if it doesn’t get you anything but worry lines? I know that I am blessed with an abundance of friends and family that are willing to help me when I’m down, but even without such a support network in place, I’ve found that by being nice and offering to help in exchange, there are more than enough people in the world that will extend a helping hand. Moreover, it seems to have doubled or tripled in the current ‘economic crisis.’

The Recession seems to be making a positive impact in the world as far as I am concerned. People are buying less in a society that has thus far been consumer driven. People are becoming more aware of ‘living Green,’ even if it’s just because of the money they save. Because gas prices keep going up, alternative fuels and smaller cars are surfacing, also something that will help the planet. Therefore, I think The Recession has been a good thing for Mother Nature.

I am a live-in nanny and have been for the past 3 years. In my spare time, I like to travel and experience the world, and for a Gypsy like me The Recession has been kind in many ways. The cost of airfare keeps going down. Although the ‘checked bag fees’ are new and quite annoying, most of the time I travel with a carry-on sized backpack, so it doesn’t affect me. It’s also inspiring others to do the same, thus the need for so many things is fading away. Simplicity is the order of the day.

Currently, I am looking for a place to live and a new job. According to the News and the gossip around the world, it’s not a good time for such things. In my experience, I’m finding the opposite. Many people are looking to rent rooms in houses or apartments in order to cut back on expenses. Car-pooling (another wonderfully Green thing) is more and more accessible with web sites like ZimRide.com. Jobs are most definitely there to be had, you may just need to dig a little deeper than you did before. I’ve found that communities are banding together to help each other out. Things like the Upper Delaware Community Network, a local group ‘bulletin board’ of sorts, are being started via the internet and are wonderful tools to advertise someone looking for help or looking for work. Craigslist.com is another tool that I’ve found invaluable in helping to sell unwanted ‘stuff’ and find someone else’s unwanted ‘stuff.’ One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

One of the few complaints I do have about The Recession is the cost of healthy and organic food. When money is tight, it can be so hard to eat well. The tasty organic plums that are grown locally are now $3.50/lb. The organic milk is sometimes double the price of non-organic milk. When I have less than $40 to feed myself for the week it’s hard justify the cost. And, in the back of my mind I know that I could fill my belly at McDonalds for about $5 (I wouldn’t, but I know I could). Luckily for me I don’t have the bills that most people do (such as rent, car payments and insurance), so I can justify the cost of my organic food, but I see how it is such a problem for so many.

Another issue that is on the tip of everyone’s tongues seems to be healthcare. Fortunately, I was injured in the Army (during Basic Combat Training, so I only served a total of 7 months) and now have free healthcare thru the VA. This issue doesn’t affect me, but it does affect my family, many of whom are self-employed. *Disclaimer* This is something I really don’t have a clue about. When I was in Ireland recently, I was discussing medical coverage with some friends. Every one of them was on ‘the dole’ (our welfare) but everyone had a medical card and free or almost free health care. “Ireland takes care of its people so the people will take care of Ireland,” one person told me. So, why is it so much harder for America? When so many countries have such a system in place, why is coming up with one for the USA so controversial? I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m sure there is any number of excuses out there, but like they told us in grade school, No Excuses – No Exceptions!

That is The Recession as seen through the eyes of a self-proclaimed Gypsy. It is not a complete picture in many ways, but broad enough I think. It gives me hope. I believe everything happens for a reason, and as far as I can tell, The Recession may just save our existence on this planet. So I encourage you all to Cut Back, Live Simply, Buy Locally, and Think Green. And when a Wanderer crosses your path, extend a hand – you may just get more than you give!

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Chesapeake Energy & Penn State’s Robert Watson: Who Are Those Guys?


Pursued  by a well-financed posse,   Butch Cassidy  and The Sundance Kid wondered again and again,  “Who are those guys?”   Their  wild west world –  a place they understood and  felt safe in –  had become more memory than fact.    Even at the very end, when Butch and The Kid  faced certain death at the hands of  hundreds of  Federales Mexicanos,  they and the audience believed  the old ways would survive side-by-side with the  industrial revolution. Because we didn’t understand industry’s insatiable  hungers  in 1908, we still ask in 2009,  “Who are those guys?”

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY:  Its own words and omissions.

Most readers of this column know that Chesapeake Appalachia is a natural gas drilling company that wants to hydraulically fracture and drill the Marcellus Shale. The Marcellus encompasses nearly 44 million acres and  underlies a third of Ohio, bits of Maryland and Virginia, all but a thin wedge of West Virginia,  most of Pennsylvania and stretches under and beyond the Delaware River  into New York State.

Pro-water advocates point to reports that hydraulic fracturing and waste water disposal have resulted in contaminated ground water, ruined private wells, sick residents, explosions and poisoned livestock.  “The Delaware River [Watershed] supplies water to 15 million people, including New York City and Philadelphia,” so Damascus Citizens for Sustainability and other conservation groups are pressing the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to produce  Environmental Impact Statements and a comprehensive review of drilling’s cumulative impacts before any gas drilling applications are considered or approved.

But behind the scenes,  what does Chesapeake tell its investors (or omit from the telling)?

First,  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Aubrey McClendon,  began his 2008 Annual Report to Shareholders with one of  Charles Dickens’ most famous quotes,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  One wonders that any CEO would willingly adopt a Dickensian mantle given the author’s depictions of hatchet-faced money-grubbers, but that’s Mr. McClendon’s look-out.

Chesapeake’s CEO tells his investors that, “As  of December 31, 2008, [Chesapeake] owned interests in approximately 41,200 producing natural gas and oil wells; and had 12.051 trillion cubic feet equivalent of proved reserves…[In 2008], Revenues rose 49% from $7.8 billion to $11.6 billion….”

(I’m  befuddled that he omitted mentioning his own annual compensation of $116.89 million which ranks him third amongst American CEOs even though his performance earned him a less stellar  rating of 66 out 175. Also omitted was the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s “six-party lawsuit” demanding that Chesapeake rescind the $75-million bonus it awarded McClendon.  I’m sure the omission was an oversight and so I’ve included it here.)

Also absent from his letter is the Class Action suit lodged against Chesapeake by investors for making “materially false and misleading statements” during a recent public stock offering.

And he skips any  reference to the Court’s judgment that found Chesapeake had defrauded royalty owners in Texas out of $134 million in payments by under-reporting the amount of  gas Chesapeake extracted from its lessor’s wells.

The  20 cows that dropped dead in Caddo Parish, Louisiana near a Chesapeake well also escaped Mr. McClendon’s notice.

Nor did I find any allusion to  the recent Texas Supreme Court case which saved the drilling industry’s collective butt by saying company wells could drain  gas from adjacent properties without fault because “subsurface trespass by frac”  can’t be proved and therefore is not a ’cause of action’ in Texas courts.  “Frac treatments may commence at the surface, but the real work occurs unseen in the depths of the well and rock formations, and only theory and hypothesis can be advanced in support of an alleged underground trespass.”   (How, then, does the industry prove  that frac treatments are safe when they’re carried out “unseen in the depths…?”)

In 2008, Chesapeake forecasted that their Marcellus Shale leasing campaign would be finished by 2010 with “approximately two million acres of leasehold in the play.”

Consistently, Chesapeake and other gas companies have said  that moving forward at all possible speed with natural gas exploitation (without levying “deterrent” taxes or conducting  scientific studies) is required by our national interest.  On the other hand, in his letter to investors,  Mr. McClendon states, “Because of lower natural gas prices in the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009, we have substantially reduced our drilling activities in the Barnett [Shale] from 43 rigs in August 2008 to around 20 today. We intend to maintain this lower pace of drilling until natural gas prices recover to more attractive levels.”

Apparently, the national interest is only provocative if it dovetails with Chesapeake’s ability to rake in maximum profits.

As long as we’re  singing paeans to the National Interest,  let’s see what Mr.  McClendon has to say about sharing our national wealth with other multi-national corporations:  “A key to Chesapeake’s Fayetteville success,” he attests,  “was entering into a joint venture with [British Petroleum] in September 2008. In this joint venture, we sold 25% of our assets in the Fayetteville to BP for $1.9 billion in cash and future drilling carries.…Earlier in 2008, we had also sold to BP all of our Woodford assets in the Arkoma Basin for $1.7 billion.”

As to the amount of our  National Interest and Wealth that Chesapeake’s sharing  with Norway’s StatoilHydro,** Mr. McClendon announced proudly,  “After acquiring 1.8 million net acres, Chesapeake began looking for its third shale joint venture partner. This search culminated in a $3.375 billion transaction with StatoilHydro, one of the most innovative, well-respected and largest of the European international energy companies. This transaction, in which we sold a 32.5% interest in our Marcellus assets, was completed in November 2008. StatoilHydro had been seeking an entry point into a big U.S. shale play and had independently arrived at the conclusion that the Marcellus was the best shale play in which to invest….Today, Chesapeake is drilling with 10 rigs in the Marcellus. We plan to end 2009 with at least 20 rigs drilling and project 30 rigs drilling by year-end 2010 and 40 rigs drilling by year-end 2011… In addition, we also are engaged with StatoilHydro in searching for additional shale gas plays around the world in a 50/50 partnership.”

In a more innocuous statement, Mr. McClendon offers this prognostication, “I also see our company continuing as an industry leader in innovation and technology, underpinned by a work force and asset base second to none.”  In part, he is alluding to Chesapeake’s “Energy in Training” intern program [which] maximizes [Chesapeake's] college recruiting efforts and encourages students to enter the [drilling] industry while still learning.”

Which leads me to wonder about the validity of  Pennsylvania State University’s  (PSU)  July 2009 study, “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play,” co-authored, among others, by Timothy Considine (University of Wyoming, whose state is home to  the Mowry Shale in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin) and Robert Watson (Pennsylvania State University,  whose state is home to the Marcellus Shale.)

Those coincidences alone are enough to ask  “Who are those guys?” but what really piqued my interest was that the study cites no funding sources and  sings hosannas for a projected economic boom in Pennsylvania without addressing the costs of environmental degradation.  (Costs that are already emerging in Fort Worth, TX,  Dimock, PA,  Hickory, PA and the state of Wyoming.)

The copy of the study I’ve linked  to is located at PA Marcellus — a consortium of drilling companies.  The Study’s authors  (1)  oppose legislation that will force drilling companies to reveal the toxins used in drilling and frakking; and  (2)  suggest that levying a production tax on the industry will burden Pennsylvania with lost revenues because,  the authors predict,  such State actions will deter companies from drilling in Pennsylvania and lead to slowed exploitation of the Marcellus Shale.

At last count, more than sixty organizations have  already opposed the Study’s assertion that a tax would impede exploitation of the Marcellus Shale.  In fact, opponents say, drilling companies are salivating at the prospect of drilling into the Marcellus’ rich heart.

Anyone — including drilling company employees — who tracks down the entities who funded this propaganda in a prestigious American university will win a gift from  CottageWorks.

In the meantime, who is Robert Watson, one of the study’s two lead authors?  He is the Director of Penn State University’s Consortium for Petroleum and Natural Gas.  Penn State’s website describes The Consortium thusly,  “The Consortium is industry driven and focused on identifying, expanding, and creating new value-added markets for petroleum and natural gas-based products. Research is also being done to identify and develop new technologies to increase the efficiency and/or productivity of petroleum and natural gas exploration, production, and refining.”

Perhaps he knows who funded his study. The PSU website lists his email address as:  bob@pnge.psu.edu and his phone number as  814-865-0531.

So who are these guys?  They’re the people who pay Congress to enact drilling-friendly legislation with provisions like the Halliburton Loophole.  They’re the people who help establish drilling-friendly curricula in publicly-funded universities.  They’re the people who benefit to the tune of billions of dollars when publicly-funded universities write studies supportive of their private industry.

More important,  who are the People of Pennsylvania whose lives are, according to PSU, improved by Penn State’s cosy relationship with the natural gas drilling industry?

They’re the people whose children will pay at least $12,538  to attend and live on PSU’s  University Park Campus this next academic year. (It’s not clear that the University’s tuition calculator incorporates a proposed 3.7% tuition hike.)

They’re the people whose unemployment rate climbed to 8.3% in June 2009.  (The average income of the bottom 90% of Pennsylvania taxpayers actually declined by 4% from 2001 to 2005.)

They’re the people who “..lost nearly 202,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing…”

They’re the people who are being conned into a poker game where drilling companies hold all the chips (jobs) and make all the rules.

Disclaimer:  As a New York State resident who’s  lived three decades in or near  the Delaware River Basin, these observations about PSU have been spurred by this particular study.  I have no doubt that  similar instances of Corporate Cronyism exist at the State University of New York.

Coming soon: Discussion of gas drilling leases recently signed in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

********************

*There is great debate about when and where the “real” Butch and Sundance died.

** Of their lucrative deal with Chesapeake,  Statoil Hydro says at their website, “The holding covers 1.8 million acres in the Appalachian region of the north-eastern USA. The acquisition is part of a strategic agreement between the two companies to jointly explore unconventional gas opportunities worldwide.  The agreement covers more than 32,000 leases in the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio. Chesapeake plans to continue acquiring leases in the Marcellus shale play. StatoilHydro has the right to a 32.5% participation in any such additional leasehold. With this transaction StatoilHydro has acquired future, recoverable equity resources in the order of 2.5-3.0 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). StatoilHydro’s equity production from the Marcellus shale gas play is expected to increase to at least 50,000 boe per day in 2012 and at least 200,000 boe per day after 2020. Both companies believe that the development programme could support the drilling of 13,500 to 17,000 horizontal wells over the next 20 years.”

Powered by ScribeFire.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Opinion: Defend Local Food AND Water


On July 19, 2009, Eileen Cear posted a comment to Breathing Is Political which I’ve excerpted here:

“What about the poor people living here for generations. We NYC people(I’m actually on Long island), but own property in the watershed, take such advantage of this area, and take away all future developement for people [who] have been here first. Remember what we all did to the Indians. We need to do something for upstate, not only take-and direct ALL future activites in the name of being our Playground.”

In re-reading my response to her comment, I have to say that I blew  by Ms. Cear’s very real concerns about the future of farmers and long-time property holders in the Delaware River Basin.

On July 11, 2009, I’d written,  “If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the [natural gas] drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.”

Perhaps the following ideas for a more unified community plan will encourage others to add more pieces.  Without a plan, I fear  our region will end up divided against itself:

1.   Listen to local producers and work cooperatively with them to build the Buy Local movement in our communities;
2.   Create a Delaware River Basin Buy Fresh Network or  similar  cooperative union of local producers and local consumers;

3.   Create a local coalition of  producers, retailers/wholesalers, lenders, consumers and government entities to:

Support distribution of local goods through local outlets.

Support retail and wholesale markets whose inventory is comprised of         60-75% local goods.  Encourage them to build cooperative purchasing         models that can reduce the cost of goods;

Support  politicians and candidates who work with local producers,               retailers,  wholesalers, lenders and local consumers to make local                   distribution economically viable and to promote the cooperative
distribution of local goods to local outlets;

Support local banks with a track record of lending to local producers            for capital improvements and expansion which result in greater                   production and availability of local goods;

Support new tax structures that encourage local production,                   distribution and sales of local products.

Encourage local schools and restaurants to buy/serve locally-produced         foods.

The day we stand beside the Delaware River to pour in our cups of water and to celebrate our roles as caretakers,  we must also pledge to join our farmers in creating vibrant, dependable markets for their goods. Our communities are actively harmed when we buy fruits, veggies, grains, dairy and meat products that originate a thousand miles from our tables. Without local control of our community resources, it’s difficult to understand how our communities will survive.

*   *   *   *
Here are more links with good information for those of us who are  as committed to preserving our local food resources as we are to rescuing our River and water:

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)
Transition US
Go Green NOLA
Food Routes

There are also a bunch of local  “Green Beings”  and Community Resource links here.

Locally, Sullivan Transition is meeting Monday, July 27, 2009 from 6 to 8 PM at Cornell Cooperative Extension. The group is dedicated to planning “…our LOCAL future in regard to food, green building and energy, education/awareness raising, local currency and economy, transportation, water and other resources…” Please see the CottageWorks Community Calendar for contact information and additional details.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Opinion: DRBC Postpones Debacle. What’s A Conservationist to Do?


I say to you  as I’ve said  regularly  to my long-suffering  children,  if you never listen to another word I say,  listen to me now:

The Delaware River Basin is threatened by the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing.  If you love the  river and its environs,  now is the time to act.  There won’t  be another moment.  In years to come, when  your water is spoiled and your land is worthless,  this is the moment you will remember and you  will ask yourself,  “What was so important that I didn’t protect the River Valley when I had the chance?”

The Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC) is under pressure from  the natural gas drilling industry, politicians, property holders and farmers dying on the vine.  The Commission’s decision to extend the public comment period on Chesapeake’s application was a gift to Conservationists but also provides drilling proponents with  additional time to concentrate their forces.

What can conservationists  do with the two months we’ve been given?

First rule of organizing:  identify your resources  and bring them to bear.  I’ll start with mine and those sent in by others. You add your own. (Three rules govern  community brainstorming:   think big,  fluidly  and don’t turn your nose up at any idea. It might not stand on its own but with others to bolster it,  the fabric becomes more whole.)

RESOURCES I see  that can be brought to bear in saving the Delaware River Basin:

The indescribable beauty of the area, the  thousands of people who started visiting as children and who now bring their grandchildren,  Robert Kennedy, Jr.,  Alan and Sandra Gerry, Jimmy Carter (flyfishing, flyfishing, flyfishing),  River and Mountainkeepers, WJFF,  The River Reporter, Sullivan Transition, Pete Seeger, The Sloop Clearwater, Upper Delaware Networkers,  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Wayne and Sullivan Peace Groups, Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development,  the many new groups springing up the length of the Delaware Basin in its defense, Thich Nhat Hanh,  the internet and its viral capacity, our kids,  Josh Fox, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, Maurice Hinchey, Hello Honesdale!, private lands where people can camp when they come for the day, Lawrence Rockefeller, Dan Rather, Amanda Burden, Charlie Rose, the New York City Council,  Wayne County Audobon Society, citizen journalists and commentators like Leni Santoro (Catskill Chronicle), Breathing is Political and Zest of Orange…

Of course, once we have our resources “on board,”  we have to give them something to do.

Imagine a   Delaware River Basin  Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.  Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly,  doesn’t it?  Remember  when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt?  The British Empire laughed.  They smirked.  They made fun of the “little brown man”  (as the newsreels described the Mahatma).  But then, the images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes  and  in that moment,  the sun began to set on the British Empire.

On the Conservation Day I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  –  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,  when orbiting  satellites can see it,  a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.   Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.

And if “too few people show up?”

I’m reminded of the political candidate who suggested during the last election cycle that certain members of Congress  should be investigated for Un-American activities.  Within 24 hours, the viral capacity of the internet had dumped $1 million dollars into her opponent’s campaign coffers.  (The poor man was absolutely flummoxed by  the unexpected bounty!)  We have the rest of July and all of August to organize  before Labor Day (if that’s the weekend we choose).   We have nothing to lose by thinking as large and inclusively as we can.   By the end of September,  the DRBC will most likely have made its decision on Chesapeake’s application to begin their surface water  withdrawals.  (For a detailed explanation of what the withdrawals will look like, please see James Barth’s lucid explanation in the “comments”  section following my last post, “Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River.”)

CottageWorks and Breathing Is Political will each donate $200 for the purpose of promoting the Day of Conservation. Whatever consortium of groups is willing to help organize the event, the money is theirs.

Finally,  I want to address the issue of language.  We who protect are often in defensive mode. Whether we stand in defense of the Constitution or our world’s ecology,   our position is often a response to a perceived threat.  In consequence,  we’re portrayed as the “antis”:  anti-war, anti-frakking, anti-nuclear, anti-business, anti-farmers.  I no longer submit to that characterization.  I am not “an anti-frakker.”  Besides being a nasty assortment of consonants,  I’m  not “anti-” anything.  I am a Conservationist.  I am  a walking, talking, thinking, loving,  nurse, construction worker, paralegal, writer and former farmworker.  And I’m pro-water, baby!

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

Powered by ScribeFire.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply


(James Barth’s commentary in response to the New York Times article, Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears was recommended for its “thoughtfulness” by The NY Times’ editorial staff.  It is re-printed here by permission of the author and with appreciation by Breathing Is Political.  Also, please follow these links for the earthquake threat in New York State, FEMA’s Earthquake Hazard Map and Water Under Attack, a new documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox)

*   *   *   *

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years. They will not be drilling to release geothermal energy, but what we call “natural gas”.  The Marcellus shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and extends into the Catskills and Southern Tier of NY State, is the prime target of the gas and oil industry. Other shale layers may be targeted, and indeed even sandstone layers, like the Oriskany, which Chesapeake is currently drilling into in Wayne County, PA.

These wells will be drilled up to a depth of 9,000 feet (or greater), and then they will turn horizontal for another 3,000 to 5,000 feet in length before being hydraulically fractured through our pristine aquifers using proprietary toxic chemicals that the companies, like Halliburton and Schlumberger, manufacture and sell. These companies and these toxic solutions are exempted from the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air and Right to Know Acts (among others) by the absurd amendments that were included in the July 29, 2005 Energy Act that was passed by Congress.

Not only do we fear correctly for the health of our drinking water systems from this drilling, but now, as it is explained in this article, we have to fear the potential seismic ramifications of these projects. These potential seismic activities further undermine any credible claims by the oil and gas industry that such drilling will never endanger our drinking water. Whether such earthquakes will topple buildings or not, they certainly will undermine any pathetic cement bonding and sealing that this industry claims will keep the production gas, and poisonous cocktails from migrating upwards into our aquifers.

I’m very grateful that the Times published this article. I’m also mystified  as to why it is about drilling for geothermal energy in California, when the Times has not yet published one article that explores the potential devastating implications to the health and environment of our immediate New York City area  that such horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing poses! This threat has been loud and developing over the past one and a half years in our region. It is well past time for the NY Times to directly take on this issue, and for the more than fifteen million area residents who depend on this water for life, to become aware of it.

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,383 other followers

%d bloggers like this: