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.”
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.”