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Delaware Town Board Meeting : March 17, 2010


The Town of Delaware and Verizon have reached an agreement for the corporation’s property assessment.  Although the  the agreement reflects a significant reduction in the company’s assessment,  the Town’s Assessors were able to reach an agreement which applies the change to the forthcoming 2010 roll and  therefore, won’t  entail the Town paying a refund to Verizon.

$750,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds  (CDBG) and  $500,000 in Main Street Grant (MSG)  funds are available  in Sullivan County  through  New York State’s Office of Community Renewal (OCR).

According to CDBG Program guidelines, “The CDBG Program provides smaller communities with the opportunity to make local decisions concerning community development without duly increasing the local tax burden of their citizens.”

New York Main Street (NYMS) provides funding “to assist New York State communities with their main street/downtown revitalization efforts” [and] “will provide grants to stimulate reinvestment in mixed-use (commercial/civic and residential) ‘main street’ buildings or districts in order to address issues of code compliance, energy conservation, accessibility, and to provide affordable housing and job opportunities.”  NYMS program guidelines  can be found here.

According to Kara McElroy,  the Town of Delaware’s  Grants Coordinator,  the Town will meet all deadlines for applications and was pleased to report that  Callicoon is also eligible for additional funds through New York’s  “streetscape enhancement” program.

The Town will be looking more closely  at “access grant”  guidelines in order to determine whether or not  it qualifies for funding which would  make high-speed internet access available to more Town residents.

Members of the Town Board will be  attending  The Delaware Valley Job Corps’ open house for public officials on  March 31, 2010.

A resolution will be prepared to enable the Town to establish a $25,000 reserve fund for purchases of  “necessary highway equipment”  which, according to Supervisor James Scheutzow,  “Will help the Town  to avoid interest payments on borrowed money.”

Councilman Harold Roeder, who is also the Town’s  representative to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC),  reported that there’s been quite a flap about the UDC’s recent letter to the Delaware River Basin  Commission (DRBC).  (A link to the letter is  at the UDC site under “Latest News.”)  The letter was written in response to DRBC’s  review of Stone Energy Corporation’s proposed surface water withdrawal from the West Branch of the Lackawaxen River in Pleasant Township, Wayne County, PA.  The proposed  withdrawal site on The Lackawaxen River —  recently named  “Pennsylvania’s River of the Year” by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources  —  is located within the drainage area of Special Protection Waters.

The application for water withdrawal, if  permitted, would allow the  stream to be drawn down to a pass-by flow rate of 5.9 cubic feet per second (cfs).  According to the DRBC,  the site’s  “current  proportional average daily flow…is 23.7 cfs.”  (By way of comparing stream sizes,  the DRBC  is considering  a minimum  pass-by flow rate of 235 cfs at the Cutrone well site on the West Branch of the Delaware River.)

Mr. Roeder prefaced his comments about the UDC letter  with a brief explanation of  the Council’s  role.  “UDC is an advisory board.  We’ve got no policing or enforcement powers.  We’re partnered with the Federal Government to protect the Delaware River.  Our  priorities  are to protect property rights and the  environment in the Upper Delaware River corridor.”

“The DRBC,”  he continued,  “is reviewing  a request by a drilling company to withdraw a maximum of 700,000 gallons a day to service its gas drilling well and that’s what our letter addressed.”

About the letter, he said, “The UDC strayed off the ranch.  We didn’t have any business commenting on the application.  We went outside the bounds of the corridor.”

“I represent the Town at the UDC,” he went on.  “I don’t represent myself.  I’m asking  the Town to be clear so I have some guidance about how you want me to represent you.   Pennsylvania landholders are very  upset with the UDC.  I try to be a  peacemaker.  Bring the sides together.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some people quit the Council.  It’s getting bad.”

In response to Mr. Roeder’s request for guidance, the Board decided to continue its  position of neutrality on the issue of gas drilling.

When Breathing suggested that “neutrality” would be a hard position to maintain with so many issues at play and so many different points of view, the Board agreed.

When asked by an audience member what Mr. Roeder thought the  boundaries of the UDC’s responsibility should be,  Mr. Roeder said, “From ridge line to ridge line.  Certainly not the Lackawaxen.”

When asked why the UDC should have  to be  “reactive instead of proactive…for instance  if there’s contamination of the Lackawaxen and that ends up affecting the corridor…,”  Mr. Roeder reiterated that the UDC’s bounds were the river corridor.

Under “new business,”  Supervisor Scheutzow presented a “Resolution urging the New York State Legislature to compel the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the citizens of the State of New York without infringing on property rights.”

The full text of the Resolution read:

  • WHEREAS, the health and well being of the citizens is of paramount concern; and,
  • WHEREAS, property rights are historically sacrosanct; and,
  • WHEREAS, the Gas Industry will do whatever is required to receive their permits; and,
  • WHEREAS,  the  Governor and State Legislature must take steps to protect its citizens;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Delaware does hereby urge state lawmakers to compel the Department of Environmental Conservation to include in their regulations for the Gas Industry the following:

  • Use a closed-loop system for hydrofracturing
  • Do not permit the flaring of wells
  • No open pits for waste
  • Vapor recovery systems for compressor stations
  • Zero emission dehydrators
  • Pneumatic valves to be used at all times
  • Air and Water Quality standards
  • Well setbacks from homes
  • Green completions
  • Latest technology to be used at all times
  • Pass a Severance Tax
  • Inspections done by locally trained and qualified inspectors

(NB:  Most of these specifications were enumerated by Mayor Tillman during his presentation at the Callicoon Community Center shortly before he received  a standing ovation.)

In response to the Resolution, Mr. Roeder stated, “I won’t vote for that.  Go ahead and have a discussion if you want, but I won’t vote for it.”

The Resolution was tabled without discussion.

A correction was made to the Minutes of the 2-17-10  Board Meeting to reflect  that the Farmland Protection Plan will be incorporated into the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Town of Delaware Town Board meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM.  The next one is scheduled for  April 21, 2010.

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As a matter of interest,  Sullivan County’s 2020 Toolbox : Water Resource Management Guide —   the purpose of which is  to “maintain water quality and quantity across Sullivan County to meet the needs of the population and the environment,” —  enunciates challenges, an interesting perspective on local control of water resources and a foundational statement for local responsibility:

  • “Challenges  :  One way to balance water usage needs, future growth, and development impacts is through a regional plan. A regional comprehensive analysis of water resources and the demands can examine the potential for communities to maintain resources and provide guidance toward achieving sustainability.  Sullivan County can play an important role in providing that comprehensive analysis.  The ultimate responsibility for maintaining water resources will continue to lie with municipalities.
  • Towns and Villages have the responsibility to control the way growth and development occurs. As development increases into the future, municipal governments will be under increasing pressure to balance that growth with water resource issues. They will also have to confront the need for more information about those issues.
  • A water resource management plan for Sullivan County will need to address five critical areas: Water Quantity and Quality, Drinking Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment, Aesthetics and Recreation,Stormwater and Floodplain Management, and Ecosystem Needs. Cross-cutting all of these categories are significant needs for (1) more data and (2) for more education and training.”

As part of its  intermediate goals for Water Resource Management,  the 2020 Toolbox says the County will, among other things,  provide curriculum guidance to Townships,  “emphasize the connection between non-point source pollution and development…, provide forums and workshops to discuss tools and methods that both protect natural resources and provide for quality development such as Best Management Practices.”  And, “encourage towns to update their  comprehensive  plans and zoning ordinances to encourage the use of such tools.”

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Gas Drilling : Inverse Condemnation : Private vs. Public Interests


EDITORIAL

Imagine a Neandrathal  stumbling upon a luscious piece of trail-kill 30,000 years ago  and debating  whether to share it with his hungry tribe or  eat it  himself.

Would survival of the fittest have trumped  his community’s needs?  Or would he have recognized  that food (like water) was  a Neandrathal utility — a resource essential to  the tribe’s survival  —  its consumption regulated with the common weal in mind?   Would Neandrathal society have  concocted some system of head thumps to ensure  that  fortunate ones shared with the hungry many?

Long-enshrined in our societal  understanding of survival  are two fundamental concepts that we treat with varying importance depending on the situation.

  • “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  (Our community prospers when it  fosters and defends  the rights and strengths of  its members.)
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you  — ask what you can do for your country.”   (The strength of our  community  depends on the responsible generosity of its members.)

Some of the wildest and most contentious cases in Supreme Court history have attempted to resolve conflicts between  individual rights and  the community’s expectation that its larger, more inclusive  interests will predominate.

In  the earliest days of our Republic, Eminent Domain was  recognized as a  tool  inherent to the Federal Government’s mandate to “defend and protect.”   For  the  “public good,”  soldiers were billeted in Colonial homes during the Revolution  but  seizure of  private lands for permanent use  was  onerous to most early Americans and the “public use” restriction in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause was strictly interpreted as a  protection against such seizures.

As  our population grew  and technology created a more mobile citizenry,  public works demanded more land for  roads, bridges and railroads.  In more recent years and in response to a landscape crammed full of skyscrapers, derricks, residential and shopping mall sprawl,  eminent domain has been used to protect open space for public enjoyment.   (The “public good” in this instance being protected  from the narrower interests of a few developers.)

Of particular interest to us in the Delaware River Basin is the  legal concept of  “inverse condemnation” which we hear with increasing frequency from  property holders demanding  they be compensated  when  regulations prohibit gas drilling on their properties.  According to a Fifth Amendment Annotation,** “While [the Fifth Amendment]  established that government may take private property, with compensation, to promote the public interest, that interest also may be served by regulation of property use….‘The distinguishing characteristic between eminent domain and the police power is that the former involves the taking of property because of its need for the public use while [police power] involves the regulation of such property to prevent the use thereof in a manner that is detrimental to the public interest.’ 251 But regulation may deprive an owner of most or all beneficial use of his property and may destroy the values of the property for the purposes to which it is suited. 252 The older cases flatly denied the possibility of compensation for this diminution of property values, 253 but the Court in 1922 established as a general principle that ‘if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.”’ 254

Later, in a 2002 case,  (Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency)  The U.S. Supreme Court found that, “Moratoria on all development in Lake Tahoe Basin area for a period totaling 32 months, imposed by a regional planning agency while formulating a land use plan for the area, were not per se takings of property requiring compensation under the Takings Clause.”

In a seemingly oblique but related development,  corporations attained “personhood”  when The U. S. Supreme Court stated in  Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith (1889) “…corporations are persons within the meaning of the [Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment]….    We admit also… that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the constitution and laws which guaranty [sic] to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.”   (Bold added for emphasis.)

As the trend toward  condemnation of privately held lands has become more usual,  eminent domain actions have increasingly benefited “corporate  persons” in the guise of  public interests.  This trend  occasioned public outrage in 2005,  when The Court ruled in   Kelo v. New London that  privately-held  property could be  seized by a government  and handed over to  a private corporation  for the public benefit —  while said corporation stood to reap a boatload of  profits.

I would never deny just compensation to landholders whose property is seized for the public good but as I write this,  Congress has just launched  an investigation into  gas drilling practices  and their  potential harm to the environment.   Perhaps we should await its findings before deciding that those practices are either legal or in the public interest, as NYS Senator Bonacic has contended.

In that context, NYS  Senator John  Bonacic, the Northern Wayne Property  Owners’ Association (NWPOA) and energy corporations  have  begun a campaign of hostage-taking.  In an  “Alice-Down-The-Rabbit-Hole” logical warp,  they have demanded that millions of people who depend on water from the Delaware River Basin and New York City Watershed pay  landholders NOT to risk  that water supply with a toxic soup of corporate fracking fluids.

“Bizarre-o!”  as my friend Amanda might say.  Or more elegantly,  I refer you to  Cliff Westfall’s analogy of a few days ago, “What if I decided to burn down the woods on my land, claiming it was the cheapest way to clear a field, with no concern for preventing its spread to my neighbor’s house?  Of course the government could regulate that. The bottom line is this: the government may prevent you from doing things on your property when those actions would harm public welfare.”   In further explanation of Mr. Westfall’s comparison,  please understand that  fracturing fluids  used in gas drilling are injected underground,  may travel as much as 6,000 feet and their  direction is neither predictable nor controllable…like a forest fire.

It is inconceivable  that Senator Bonacic and the NWPOA  truly believe that in our current economic crisis any governmental entity (or body of taxpayers) has the means to pay the ransom.  The national unemployment rate is blowing up in our faces.  Tax revenues are plummeting.  Small businesses are dying.  Our infrastructure is crumbling and our children are moving back home and forsaking dreams of college.  In the event NWPOA or some other organization of  lessors prevails in  a lawsuit demanding compensation for the value of their  mineral rights,  every taxpayer, student and worker who does not  benefit from gas royalties will lose.  And the sure winners?  Drilling companies who stand in the background ready to reap the  profits.

Given the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision which found in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission —  a la George Orwell’s  Animal Farm —  that some “persons”  and their lobbyists  “are more equal than others,” we should not doubt the risk faced by our water and our Republic.

And given the evolutionary demise of Neandrathal,  I can’t help but wonder if  he decided to eat the whole thing all by himself.

Urge the Delaware River Basin Commission and the US Congress  to  enact moratoria  on drilling. It’s for the “public good”  because,  as more and more people are beginning to remember,  “We cannot drink gas  nor grow our food with it.”

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*   “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

**In general, compensation must be paid when a restriction on the use of property is so extensive that it is tantamount to confiscation of the property.

In the Mahon case, Justice Holmes for the Court, over Justice Brandeis’ vigorous dissent, held unconstitutional a state statute prohibiting subsurface mining in regions where it presented a danger of subsidence for homeowners. The homeowners had purchased by deeds which reserved to the coal companies ownership of subsurface mining rights and which held the companies harmless for damage caused by subsurface mining operations. The statute thus gave the homeowners more than they had been able to obtain through contracting, and at the same time deprived the coal companies of the entire value of their subsurface estates. The Court observed that ”[f]or practical purposes, the right to coal consists in the right to mine,” and that the statute, by making it ”commercially impracticable to mine certain coal,” had essentially ”the same effect for constitutional purposes as appropriating or destroying it.” 255 The regulation, therefore, in precluding the companies from exercising any mining rights whatever, went ”too far.” 256 However, when presented 65 years later with a very similar restriction on coal mining, the Court upheld it in Keystone Bituminous Coal Ass’n v. DeBenedictis. 257 Unlike its precursor, the Court explained, the newer law ”does not merely involve a balancing of the private economic interests of coal companies against the private interests of the surface owners.” 258 Instead, the state had identified ”important public interests” (e.g., conservation, protection of water supplies, preservation of land values for taxation) and had broadened the law to apply regardless of whether the surface and mineral estates were in separate ownership. A second factor distinguishing Keystone from Mahon, the Court explained, was the absence of proof that the new subsidence law made it ”commercially impracticable” for the coal companies to continue mining. 259 The Court rejected efforts to define separate segments of property for taking purposes–either the coal in place under protected structures, or the ”support estate” recognized under Pennsylvania law. 260 Economic impact is measured by reference to the property as a whole; consideration of the coal placed off limits to mining as merely part of a larger estate and not as a separate estate undermined the commercial impracticability argument.

In a case examining a Moratorium imposed on development in the Lake Tahoe area, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that a moratorium on development is not necessarily a taking, and that regulatory takings cases must be decided on a case-by-case basis rather than on categorical rules, Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302, 122 S. Ct. 1465, 152 L. Ed. 2d 517 (U.S., Apr 23, 2002) (NO. 00-1167).  …the Court held that because the regulation was temporary, it could not constitute a categorical taking.”

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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DRBC Hearing On Stone Energy Draws Nearly Unanimous Opposition


I apologize for the delay in posting these notes on the February 24, 2010   Delaware River Basin Commission’s  (DRBC)  Public Hearing  at which two applications by Stone Energy were considered.  (Like most of you, we’ve been trying to find our driveway and a couple of  buried vehicles.)  For a better understanding of the comments reported here,  please  View Draft Dockets D-2009-013-1and D-2009-018-1.


All but five  speakers who addressed  Stone Energy’s  applications opposed  them.  Virtually all those opponents asked the Commission to impose a moratorium on gas drilling until the cumulative impacts of  the industry’s activities could be studied.

Small business owners testified that they were hesitant to build or expand enterprises in the Delaware River Basin for fear of  the adverse economic impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Susan Blenkensap  stated,   “My neighbor is  a  lifelong  resident. She had  a real estate agency  for   30 years.  She closed her doors because she couldn’t, in conscience,  sell property  to   people   when the land is under threat of drilling.”

Ryan Wood-Beauchamp  was concerned about property values.  “What if we can’t sell our homes?  And what about the  FHA [Federal Housing Administration]?”  (It was an allusion to FHA rules which state,   “No existing home may be located closer than  300 feet from an active or planned drilling site.  If an operating well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”)

Jessica Corrigan owns an outdoor experience business.   “Our house burnt down,” she said.   “We don’t know what to do.   Should we rebuild  under this threat?

One landowner who has joined the Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association  — an organization  that supports drilling and  claims to represent  80,000 leased acres — says he has not leased and lies awake at night hoping that drilling does not come to his area.

Al Benner is  contemplating developing an organic  farm but he’s “hesitant to do it. People aren’t thinking about the long term impact on our quality of  life.  We have  hundreds of summer camps.     That revenue will be wiped out  if reports surface about  benzene and toluene  in the  water up here. Drilling  could decimate this region for generations.”

Like many other speakers, Greg Schwartz, an organic vegetable farmer in the Upper Basin insisted the Commission  quantify  all  the  potential  drilling operations  in  the Basin.  “If  you don’t make a decision about the cumulative impacts,  you will abrogate your legal   responsibility  to the  Basin and that would be actionable.  I am an organic vegetable farmer.   I   rely on  biologically healthy soil.  I’m afraid  drilling will destroy  my business.  I urge  you to resist  today’s political pressure.”   (Breathing has presented information on  the  growth of organic farms nationally and in New York State.)

Bernard Handler  addressed Stone Energy’s documented  illegal activities in the Basin,  “Stone Energy has already violated the rules of the DRBC by drilling in The Basin without permission.  They were also non-responsive to the Commission’s requests to respond, ignoring letters, etc.  Now they come with hat in hand and we are  supposed to believe they are the good guys.  They have already set up a drill pad,  drilled 8350 feet,  transported toxic water out of  The Basin and buried drill cuttings underground without following the DRBC’s guidelines.”

A DRBC press release on 6/9/08 “announced that [the DRBC]  has informed Stone Energy Corporation that it will need to apply for and receive approval from the Commission before it can extract natural gas in Wayne County, Pennsylvania…”

The letter was an official statement from the DRBC that Stone Energy  had violated DRBC regulations by commencing drilling without  obtaining DRBC’s  approval.

DRBC’s own Docket No. D-D-2009-18-1 says  that Stone Energy drilled   the vertical well  on a date uncertain “between  May 9, 2008 and June 2, 2008.”   Because he DRBC’s knowledge of many of the well’s specifications is not first-hand, the Commission has been forced to rely  on  Stone Energy’s application which “indicates it  was constructed in accordance with PADEP  [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection] Chapter  78 Subchapter D regulations.”  There is nothing in the Docket describing the diligence or  scope of  PADEP’s oversight of Stone Energy’s construction of the well,  the company’s  subsequent withdrawal and transport of   toxic water,  nor its burying of its drill cuttings.

Because drill cuttings are recognized as a source of toxins, The Pennsylvania Legal Code describes the  required  disposal procedure.

It is also important to note that as a matter of law,  the DRBC’s  rules supersede Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the Docket,  on  June 6, 2008,  “the DRBC  requested that an Application for  the M1 Well Site be submitted to the Commission for review and approval.”

Four months later (December 2008) after  “Stone drilled and cased the M1 well without Commission approval,   a settlement agreement between Stone and the Commission required Stone to submit an application to the DRBC for  review and approval of the well and to  pay a fine as specified in the settlement agreement.”  According to The Upper Delaware Council’s meeting minutes from March 5, 2009,  Stone Energy paid a fine of $70,000. The well was capped before gas was extracted.  (See faulty well casings cited in Ohio house explosion.)

Finally, two months later (February 13, 2009)  “Stone submitted an application to the Commission for approval of the  existing M1 Well”  and this past Wednesday,  Mr. Handler’s outrage that the DRBC would consider granting two applications by Stone Energy was echoed over and over again by  Hearing attendees.  “After all,  how can the DRBC even consider approving  an application from a corporation which has already treated the Commission, its rules, The Basin and its environmental health with such disdain.  To even hold a hearing on the application makes the DRBC complicit in  rendering itself  ethically and, perhaps, legally irrelevant,”  said one speaker.

One man who lives within a few miles of the existing well  was overcome by emotion and was unable to complete his statement which began,   “It’s upsetting to me  how   our community’s being divided,  neighbors against neighbors.    It’s about the companies being  given leeway to run roughshod  over everybody.    I’m  not angry at my neighbors for leasing  their land. We’re all having a  tough time.  But if  you’re going to lease the land, at least accept there’s some dangers here.  I see people shaking their  heads  about proven   damage that’s happened.  At least  accept that if you lease  you’re  taking a  risk.  I’m pissed.  Taxpayers fund these corporations.”

Marian Schweighofer, founder of the Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association and an  advocate of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing,  supported approval of  Stone Energy’s applications.    Holding up a map of Wayne County,  she announced that her membership represents 80,000 leased acres.   She addressed  the issue of  “inverse condemnation”  which prevents  landholders from leasing their  mineral rights but does not provide them with compensation for the resultant loss of revenues and reduction in the value of their properties.   In fact, her  sentiments  have been echoed  by New York State Senator John Bonacic,  in response to New York City’s demand for a moratorium on drilling in the New York City Watershed, “Let them buy the development rights,” he says. “For those landowners who want to sell their gas rights, let the City pay the same market rate to keep the land undeveloped. We buy agricultural development rights for tracts of land we want to preserve. Let those who oppose the lawful exploration and extraction of gas in the Catskills (do the same).”

Opponents of  compensation believe Bonacic’s idea  is an open-ended scheme with a wide range of unintended consequences. For instance,  Cliff Westfall asks in a reply to Ms. Schweighofer, “What if I decided to burn down the woods on my land, claiming it was the cheapest way to clear a field, with no concern for preventing its spread to my neighbor’s house?  Of course the government could regulate that. The bottom line is this: the government may prevent you from doing things on your property when those actions would harm public welfare.”

Fracturing fluids injected underground may travel as much as 6,000 feet.  Their  direction is neither predictable nor controllable.

Although the Fifth Amendment  of the Constitution ensures against ” private property [being]  taken for public use, without just compensation,”  courts have generally supported the  common good over the pecuniary benefit of a few.  In  Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City,  The U.S. Supreme Court held, among other things, that  “In a wide variety of contexts, the government may execute laws or programs that adversely affect recognized economic values without its action constituting a ‘taking,’ and, in instances such as zoning laws where a state tribunal has reasonably concluded that ‘the health, safety, morals, or general welfare’ would be promoted by prohibiting particular contemplated uses of land, this Court has upheld land use regulations that destroyed or adversely affected real property interests.”  *
Sandra Folzer owns a 50 acre farm in  Tioga County and   was offered  250 thousand dollars to sign  a lease.  She refused.  “Water  is more important than gas.  I can’t drink  gas.   My neighbor  is  pushing me to sign  but fracking is not  tried  and true.  Fracking   the  shale has only been happening  since 2005.  New Mexico  has to tank in all its own water.  Aquifers are being depleted in Florida.   Mexico City is sinking because too much water is being taken from its aquifers.  Israel  buys its water from Turkey.    Remember  the Alamo?  It’s  dried up.”
One speaker said,  “Everyone talks about their rights.  They don’t talk about their responsibilities, though.”

A bus load of  residents  traveled  three hours to comment at the hearing and were adamant that the DRBC schedule additional hearings   in the Lower Delaware River Basin. “Philadelphia gets all its water from The Basin,”  was a common refrain.

Tanyette Colon  said she is a mother first and foremost.  “Norway  and  Italy are in  Pennsylvania  subsidizing  fracking efforts  but they won’t allow  it  in their own countries.  If this application is granted,  it  will  send a message to  gas companies  that it’s okay to  illegally   drill wells  because they’ll  get a slap on the hand  but ultimately get their way.   Residents  of Pennsylvania  don’t deserve it.”

Several speakers addressed  the environmental impacts of Stone Energy’s applications  on The Lackawaxen River  which  was named  “Pennsylvania’s River of the Year” by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Joe Zenes carried a picture of the proposed withdrawal site and, while waiting for the Hearing to begin,  worried what Stone Energy’s proposed minimum  5.9  cubic foot per second (cfs)  stream flow  would do to the stream.  “It’ll disappear,”  he grunted.  “It’ll be a trickle.”

David Jones who owns and operates Kittatinny Canoes,  supported Stone Energy’s  plans and suggested allowing  greater  withdrawals when the Lackawaxen is running higher. “Store it when there’s more volume.  This project is the start of something.  The world, the  country, our   area  needs this   industy.   This is our future.  It will save our area.  It’ll protect it from development.   Let’s not forget about  private property.  It’s  our right to harvest it.     Lengthy studies are a delay tactic.    Let’s  study  every single industry that takes  water from the basin.  Why just gas drilling?  I  depend on this water for my livelihood.  New York City  wastes  100  million  gallons  of water   regularly.    This withdrawal  represents   an olympic size   swimming  pool.   Dockets are approved all the time.  This   is discrimination.”

Bruce Ferguson responded to Mr. Jones’ claims  that  lengthy studies are the reason for delays.  “The [gas]  industry  is slowing down the process.  Let   studies go forward  so we can   move forward.   The  [Fracturing and Awareness of Chemicals Act]   would   restore  protections we lost in 2005.  It’s a very modest piece of legislation and it’s being fought tooth  and nail  by an  industry that simultaneously claims   fracking is  perfectly safe.”

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*Practically speaking and considering New York State’s 8.8% unemployment rate (10.4% in New York City) should taxpayers be  forced to underwrite landholder compensation for mineral rights  just as Congress launches  an investigation into  gas drilling practices  and their  potential harm to the environment?

(Inverse Condemnation is not a simple issue and Breathing would very much appreciate Ms. Schweighofer amplifying her point of view in an article  that will be published  in its entirety.  Likewise,   Mr. David Jones  and I spoke for a quarter hour or more during a break in the Hearing  and I’ve asked him to submit an article which I will publish as  written.  I think we would all benefit from their contributions to this forum. I would also like to express my appreciation to Mr. Jones for his attendance at The Light Up The Delaware River Party.  Most attendees were decidedly against drilling in The Basin and  he should be congratulated for joining us.  Kudos,  Mr. Jones!)

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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New Gas Drilling Production: A Theater Near You


To  read  Breathing’s review of  the sometimes-bawdy, always entertaining,   “Corporate Relations:  Gas Does Marcellus”  please click here.

The choice is yours:  pay the admission price for a  tired old movie with a cast of raggedy characters  (be prepared to swallow long and hard)  OR  pop on  over to “Ban Natural Gas Drilling In New York State”  and sign the petition.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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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.”

 

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Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County


According to a press release from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY),  “The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York together    with the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Partnership)**  will host a public information session to address the environmental, scientific and economic aspects of natural gas exploration.”

At their blog, Marcellus Facts,  the IOGA-NY’s  agenda is described in significantly different terms,    “You can review media coverage, our Homegrown Energy booklet and other materials that highlight the many benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale.”  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 start time, Bernie’s parking lot was full and cars lined the side of the road.

The meeting opened  with  remarks  by IOGA-NY’s  reps who boasted degrees in hydrology, geology and jurisprudence.  They were, with the exception of the attorney,  folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.

The audience settled in to view,  “Homegrown Energy,”  IOGA-NY’s  self-described  “educational”  film  which provided a  cartoon-style description of  the drilling and hydraulic fracturing  process.

One audience member asked why IOGA-NY  had shown us a cartoon rather than a video of actual fracking operations.  “We’re not children,”  she added.  A while later, the sentiment was amplified by someone else,  “Why cartoons?  Why don’t you show us how the drilling and fracking look in Fort Worth and Dimock?”

The cartoon film  illustrated each stage of the drilling/hydraulic fracturing  process.  At one point,  it assured us that the cement casings (barriers) that are constructed to retain the toxic  fracturing fluids and gas are  safe and reliable.  (However,  after a house exploded in East Lake, Ohio, “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report [2] (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing [3].)

The cartoon attempted to allay fears concerning the toxic  ingredients found in hydraulic fracturing fluid (“mud” — which is injected through the well bore under enormous pressures  in order to fracture the shale bed and extract the natural gas contained there.)  According to the educational film,   the “mud” contains a soup of  additives necessary to the process which are commonly  found in antibacterial hand washes and dish liquid.

(For information concerning some of  the human health concerns surrounding  hydraulic fracturing, please click here for an article at the National Institutes of Health.)

The film did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hydraulic fracturing toxins which includes diesel fuel  “…sometimes a component of gelled fluids. Diesel fuel contains constituents of potential concern regulated under SDWA – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (i.e., BTEX compounds). The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to USDWs because BTEX compounds in diesel fuel exceed the MCL at the point-of-injection (i.e. the subsurface location where fracturing fluids are initially injected).”

Industry reps at the Rock Hill meeting  denied that  “mud”  used at their wells will  contain  toluene even though “Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes are naturally present in many hydrocarbon deposits, and may be present in drilling and fracking chemicals.”) Indeed, the  EPA’s 2004 report also states that not all of its listed toxins are present at all fracking operations.   This inconsistency and the  fact that   “The 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded hydraulic fracturing from [Safe Drinking Water Act]  jurisdiction,”  are why   Representatives Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey among a  few others have introduced  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which amends the  Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to DeGette,  “The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

In response, one of  IOGA-NY’s representatives quipped,  “Since we were never covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act,  you can’t  say we were exempted.”

Mr. Noel Van Swol, a property owner in Sullivan County who’s apparently affiliated with the  Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association was in attendance at the Rock Hill meeting.   When asked by Breathing if he would support the “FRAC Act,” and a severance tax on the gas industry  he was unequivocal,  “There’s no need for it.  The Frac Act is just  another instance of Maurice Hinchey trying to get publicity for an unnecessary law and we don’t want a severance tax.  We want the industry here,  not drilling someplace else.”

(Please see this list of organizations which asked Governor Rendell to  support a severance tax.   Considering the massive natural gas potential of the Marcellus Shale,  few people believe the gas industry will  abandon it  to avoid paying a modest tax.)

In fact, one Wayne County  resident who’s recently signed a lease,  contacted  Breathing to suggest we join  forces to  support the Frac Act and a severance tax on the gas industry.  In an email, she wrote, “I hope that both sides can drop the vitriolic language and concentrate on working together to get clear local, state, and federal oversight of the drilling process including a severance tax so that even those people who do not dirctly benefit from the drilling will see some kind of community financial remuneration for the burdens we will see put upon our communities by the drilling. I also feel very strongly that the 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act that fracking enjoys must be removed by Congress.”***

Most of the audience’s questions had to do with reports of noise and water pollution resulting from the drilling and  fracturing processes.  Maria Grimaldi described her trip through a gas drilling  area in New Mexico.  “It was awful.  I couldn’t get out of there  fast enough.”

Industry representatives reminded the audience that  any construction site  is noisy.   A  drilling proponent said,  “Look around you, folks.   We need the jobs and the money these drilling companies are going to bring.   I can put up with a month of ‘boom, boom boom.'”

Some residents living near Texas’  Barnett Shale disagree.

When the IOGA-NY geologist was questioned about reports that hydraulic fracturing had stimulated earthquakes,  the geologist claimed to have never heard such allegations.  Further, he denied knowing anything  about New York State’s history of earthquakes.

Another concern audience members expressed had to do with storage of the fracking fluid once it’s been extracted from the ground.  Citing Sullivan County’s history of flash floods, one  person asked how the  toxic frak fluid would be stored and who would oversee its disposal.  Industry representatives said that they would review individual situations but  tended to think  “we’ll store it in tanks because of the flooding.”

At one point in the evening.  IOGA-NY  was  asked specifically about incidents of toxic contamination in  Pavilion, Wyoming,  Dimock, Pennsylvania,  dead cows in Louisiana and tap water catching fire.  At first,  the Industry reps   dismissed those worries but backed off slightly when a recent EPA report and ProPublica story  about Wyoming were mentioned.  In part, the article states, “‘It [contamination] starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,'” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region.”)

When one of the Industry representatives asked where people were getting  their information, several audience members shouted out,  “Water Under Attack!  Josh Fox’ movie.”  There were also suggestions that members of  The Partnership and IOGA-NY  watch the film.  In response, one of the Industry presenters said,  “I’ll talk to [Mr. Fox].  I’ll talk to anyone.  Give him my card.” ****

In another back-and-forth having to do with water contamination,  IOGA-NY  reps told the audience that New York State’s  Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the strictest and best environmental enforcement agencies in the fifty states.  In consequence, he added,  New York residents won’t experience the same kinds of  problems encountered by residents elsewhere.  When Breathing asked if  strict oversight would be required in New York to keep  us safe from the Industry,  the response was, “Gas drilling is  an industry.  Industrial accidents happen.”   In a follow up question,    Breathing asked how many DEC oversight and enforcement personnel would be required to keep  our environment safe from the Industry.

I got the same answer  from  IOGA-NY as was offered by  the  Delaware River Basin Commission on July 15, 2009.   No answer.

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

**When the  meeting adjourned,  Breathing  Is Political and a friend of Light Up The Delaware River  had an opportunity to discuss the evening’s event  and hydraulic fracturing with Mr. Tim  McCausland, President and CEO of the Partnership.  I first asked Mr. McCausland   to clarify  his organization’s relationship with IOGA-NY.   “I wouldn’t call it a ‘relationship,'” he answered.  “They approached us.  Offering sessions like this is part of what The Partnership does.”

This morning,  Mr. McCausland sent  me The Partnership’s  recently-released position statement on gas drilling which reads, “The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development believes strongly, that if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities  — and while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce:  (a)  a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”

(Breathing encourages you to share  your views of the Partnership’s position in our comment section.  I will happily forward  them to Mr. McCausland.)

***Breathing endorses  this  suggestion wholeheartedly by offering  the letter-writer a column here.   While the rest of us stumble  in the dark looking for a way to bridge the divide between “pro-drillers”  (a misnomer)  and  “anti-frackers,”  (please!)   she offers  a way to cooperate  for the good of us all.

****A request with which Breathing complied immediately.



 

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Planning A Party On A Shoestring


(I was going to write a Light Up The Delaware River Party wrap-up today but seeing as how photos and stories are still coming in,   I’ll wait  a  few days.)

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to  provide you with  a short primer on  “How to organize a 330-mile party in under  five weeks for less than $1,000″  so,   gather round.

(Oh good!  Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)

1.   The first thing you need when trying to organize a community is a good idea.  It should be easily explained and understood and it should include a component of fun.  (Your idea for  filling the shale bed with toxic chemicals and consequently polluting the land and water is easily enough understood and explained but honestly,  the “fun” piece is  missing.)  For instance, my idea for Lighting Up The Delaware River Party came from Gandhi leading  the Indian people to the sea to make salt.  He wanted them to reclaim their resources and the strength  that comes from working shoulder-to-shoulder in an act of solidarity. So we started with that idea and added puppets, songs, movies, dance, poetry, a canoe regatta, campfires,  kayaking.  It was a blast!

What’s the genesis of your idea?  This is important!  When I asked one of your spokespeople outside the July 15, 2009 DRBC hearing if he’d be willing to put your toxic chemicals in an impermeable container and then place them  in his child’s  glass of  water,  he said, “No!”  without hesitation.  It’s just not a good way  to garner trust and support.  And more important,  it’s just not fun.

2.  You have to meet people where they live. Seriously,  the way you’re going about selling fracking fluids and contaminated wells needs some honing.  It’s no good sitting in a meeting room hoping we’ll  find you.  (Many of us are hanging on by a thread and what with working 2 or 3 jobs,  we don’t have a lot of  time or energy  for your little soirees.)

And for sure,  it doesn’t help your case  to simply deny there’s a problem.  Granted, most of us who’ve been  living in  The Basin or rural New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and Ohio  for decades or centuries don’t have a lot of financial  resources but we’re not stupid  for Pete’s sake.  We can read a local newspaper!  We know about Dimock, PA,  Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio…  It doesn’t help your cause if people  think you’re hiding  a bunch of garbage in a closet.  So in your interest, I  urge you to  come clean.

3.  The best way to promote an idea in a tight-knit community is to  be vested in that community and to have a ton of good-hearted friends:  join the local fire company;  become a well-known agitator whom people trust whether or not they  like you and help bolster your local resources —  rivers, land, schools,  local production & distribution of food and goods.   The list is long and varied so step right up.  Here are a couple  PR beauts you could jump on in a split instant:

  • Vest yourself in the community.  I know it’s not a tact you’re familiar with so it bears some explanation.  For instance,  you can volunteer to help farmers get the hay in during the season.  You can deliver cups of coffee to our  volunteer  firemen who work long hours all day and then roll out of bed when the fire alarm peals.  If that sounds like overkill, at least  provide jobs for local people.  They’ll remember you fondly, I promise!
  • Support the  Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 so all the nervous Nellies out there feel appeased and safe.  If history’s a clue, you probably won’t have to  fix any of the problems you create but at least you’ll look responsible.
  • Stop funding Congress.  It makes you look bad and detracts from the wonderful product you’re promoting.  (People end up thinking you couldn’t sell gas drilling to a tribe of orangutans without having most of them in your pocket.  You can see how unwholesome it makes you appear.)
  • Pay the damned severance tax you convinced Pennsylvania Governer Rendell to pull.  Are you nuts?  (I’m asking as one organizer to another so don’t get in a huff.)  The tax will cost you barely anything in the billion dollar scheme of things and it’s great publicity.  Pay the tax and look like a regular guy.  You can’t buy that kind of good press.
  • The next time you convince a major  American university like Penn State to write a bogus “economic impact study” for you, at least fess up that you funded it.  (Again, we’re not stupid and it makes you and your university stooges look sleazy.  Sorry.  I can’t help you if we can’t be forthright with each other.)
  • If you aren’t vested in the community and you can’t distinguish Sullivan County from Wayne or Orange,  or if  we look like  numbers on a geologic plat map to you, here’s a great idea:   recruit a local organization to front for you.    (I’ve gotta’ tell ya’,  this is a really important piece and the whole Sullivan County Partnership  thing?  You blew it.  True or not,  most of us don’t think they could find the teats on a hog.   (Let’s try this:   give  me a call  and we’ll see if we can’t find you someone less…forgettable.)

Another big help is to know your local media and be trusted by them.  I’ve got to hand it to you on that point.  The work you’ve done with the media in Wayne County, PA  has been inspirational!  Almost as impressive as the national silence on some of the  “ooops”  factors you’ve precipitated in Dimock, Fort Worth and elsewhere.

And that’s where I think we can collaborate.   I’ll introduce you to the crackerjack local media who’ve remained beyond your reach and you can get me 10 minutes  on Lou Dobbs.

Deal?

 

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Nockamixon Township Peforms Baseline Water Tests


(Breathing Is Political extends its appreciation to The Intelligencer and Amanda Cregan for  allowing  me to re-print the following article which first appeared  August 18, 2009. The “Cabot property” referenced in the article is the one Leni Santoro and I visited during our River Road Trip.  A photo is viewable here.  Please note that the berm around the frack pool did not appear to be  more than three feet high and the  return fence (running perpendicular to the road) was no higher than  2-3 feet. Because so few people we met during our journey were cognizant of   drilling and hydraulic fracturing or the threat  they pose to our  aquifers and land,  I wanted  people here in the Upper Delaware Basin to know what some of   our sister communities  are doing  to protect themselves.)

By: AMANDA CREGAN Bucks County Courier Times
Scientists are beginning to sample wells and water sources in the township. It will serve as proof if the water is poisoned by gas drilling.

If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.

Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers.

With a $25,000 grant, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee, a group of governmental representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, voted in September to do the testing as a protective measure.

Delayed all summer by frequent rainstorms, scientists have completed testing water wells at nine homes and the Upper Bucks Regional EMS headquarters.

Now they’re roving the township, gathering 20 samples from creeks and streams. Overall, water data will stretch over a 300-square-mile region.

“We’re testing for a whole suite of chemical parameters,” said James P. Shallenberger, senior project manager for Princeton Hydro. “Right now, the objective is just to establish some base lines and sense what the water is like. If there is any drilling done, there will most likely be some follow up work closer to those drill sites.”

If the water was to become contaminated, the Lower Delaware River management committee argues, this baseline, pre-drilling data could be used to make the case that drilling was the cause.

“The baseline testing is extremely important. Because all the discussion we’ve had about accountability and liability, the onus is on us to show the integrity and clarity of our water and have documentation on it,” said the committee’s Pennsylvania chairwoman Nancy Janyszeski, who also serves as Nockamixon’s supervisor chairwoman.

Scientists are focusing their water testing on both sides of the former Cabot Industries property, she said.

The Cabot property on Beaver Run Road, just of Route 611 near Revere, is the only site in the gas drilling permit application stages at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The 102-acre property was home to a specialty metals production operation. The site underwent a federal environmental cleanup in the early 1990s.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Cabot site a clean bill of health.

The Lower Delaware River management committee is worried that one misstep at a drilling site in Nockamixon could spell disaster for its neighbors.

Township homeowners rely on private water wells and septic systems, and many are already grappling with a diminishing groundwater supply.

Natural gas is extracted thousands of feet below the surface via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The process uses vast amounts of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, injected into the ground under high pressure to create fractures in the rock and allow the oil or gas to be more easily withdrawn.

Like already-affected municipalities across the country, Nockamixon officials want the gas company to disclose what chemicals are being used, but it’s considered a trade secret and is exempted by federal law.

About 250 homeowners have signed leases with Michigan-based gas drilling company Arbor Resources. Nockamixon supervisors have asked Bucks County Court to overturn a decision by the township’s zoning hearing board, which decided Feb. 9 that township ordinances go too far in restricting drilling and agreed with Arbor officials that the state’s Oil and Gas Act trumps local regulations.

If groundwater is poisoned in the drilling process, the burden of proof will be with the gas company, said Shallenberger.

“The state rules put the burden of proof on the drilling company. If there is a problem or if someone else reports a water quality issue within six months that the drilling occurs, there is a presumption the drilling company is responsible for a change in water quality,” he said.

Although these samplings would serve as a before-and-after picture of Nockamixon water quality, it would bring little relief for homeowners suffering the consequences.

“Water is crucial resource for everyone,” he said.

Princeton Hydro’s water samples will be sent to the laboratory. Results are expected in a month.

August 18, 2009

 

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Drilling, Hydro-Fracking, Journalism & Bias


(This column was sparked by  “elb’s”  comments below and invites either “elb” or  the commentator of his/her choice to respond as a guest columnist. Although  I disagree that the available science urges us to give  drilling and hydraulic fracturing  a chance,  the point of Breathing is to offer a forum for intellectually-honest discussion.  “elb’s”  full comments can be reached by clicking the comment link to the right of this column under  “recent comments.”)

Dear “elb,”

I wish you’d cited to examples when you wrote, “Those thousands in upstate NY who rallied for gas drilling see more benefits than negatives, yet you have not even made the first attempt to understand their point of view or why they reached it.  Instead, you’ve inferred that they’re insane idiots who care nothing for the land, just their wallets.”

I’d be interested to know how my  statement, “People are moved by  threats they perceive  as  intimate and immediate.  Unfortunately  for pro-water advocates,  residents of New York and Pennsylvania face many threats — many of which seem more ‘immediate’  than the potential loss of their drinking water.   How will they pay their mortgages?  How will they pay their student loans?  Where’s their next paycheck coming from?”  infers that drilling proponents are “insane idiots who care nothing  for the land, just their wallets.”

In fact, I’ve written angrily as a  former farm laborer and construction worker that many  landholders have been forced by  economic circumstances to even consider leasing their  gas rights and I’ve  exhorted  Basin communities to take specific steps in defense of our Basin’s economy and local producers.)

When you say, “Yet I hear very little insulting, denigrating comments directed at the ‘other side’  from them, despite a passion equal to yours…,”  does that include your statement,  “Instead, you’ve taken the blindly narcissistic stance that ‘it’s not possible’  that you and your fellow supporters might be guilty — or even capable — of exaggerating risks?”

Does it account for  Mr. Noel  Van Swol calling pro-water advocates “dilettantes”  at the July 15th DRBC Hearing?

Your statement provides no substantiation that I’ve exaggerated my claims  so  there’s little I can say in response.

However, it seems to me that certain facts must be accepted before we proceed:

  • hydraulic fracturing fluid contains toxic chemicals capable of rendering a water supply worthless;
  • the only scientific investigative  study currently in existence is the one recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • polluted water  wells must be reported within six months of  the suspect gas well being drilled and fracked;
  • when screwing anything on the horizontal,  the object will remain stable… until it doesn’t;
  • The Texas Supreme Court recently stated, “The [drilling] design projects the length of the fractures from the well measured three ways…. Estimates of these distances are…at best imprecise. Clues about the direction in which fractures are likely to run horizontally from the well may be derived from seismic and other data, but virtually nothing can be done to control that direction; the fractures will follow Mother Nature’s fault lines in the formation.”
  • no governmental or ad hoc agency has the budget or staff   to oversee any aspect of drilling and fracking:  not the drilling and water withdrawals nor the actual  fracking and disposal of the resultant toxic waste water — a crucial gap that has been  recognized by the Delaware River Basin Commission;

Despite your assessment of my position  (“I see one thing over and over again on this blog — a true lack of an open mind. You’ve made up your mind about gas drilling, despite much evidence ((especially in western NYS and other areas inside and certainly outside the West) that it can live in harmony with the environment and local communities.”))  I am not opposed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing;  I am opposed to slipshod processes.

And most assuredly,  I am opposed to approving an  activity or technology just  because there are locations where it’s operated safely even though  a wealth of circumstantial evidence points to very specific harms elsewhere.   (Not all smokers die of  smoking-related diseases.  Does that mean smoking is harmless?)

To further  explain my objection to shoddy process,  I  opposed  invading Iraq without well-articulated reasons, proof and adherence to Constitutional law.  I was especially opposed to our  policy makers relying  on  Ahmad Chalabi’s vested-interest “clarifications”  since he was angling to  be  Saddam’s  replacement.

A reasonable person would have questioned the value of  Chalabi’s  “evidence” as I  now question the value of  drilling company vested-interest   “evidence” and “assurances.”

More personally,   having been a teenager myself,   when my kids  told me  the party they were attending was safe, I automatically checked with the chaperones.  Loving our children or liking corporations doesn’t absolve us of using  common sense.   If people behaved rationally and  with the “common weal”  firmly in mind,  we’d have no need of laws or oversight  or even newspapers and discussion fora.

Which leads rather nicely to the issue of the  report released by the Environmental Protection Agency concerning  water contamination in  Wyoming about which you say, “Instead, you’ve decried the gas drilling industry’s propaganda (of which there is plenty) in favor of Earthworks’ propaganda: a press release that only hints at the fact that the EPA (1) has not yet determined the cause and source of the contaminated wells, and (2) only THREE of the 11 contaminated wells — out of 39 tested — had a toxin specific to fracking. How does that qualify for sounding a nationwide alarm, let alone the environmental catastrophe you’re constantly trying to whip your readers into a frenzy about?”)

What follows here are

“In interviews with ProPublica and at a public meeting this month in Pavillion’s community hall, officials spoke cautiously about their preliminary findings. They were careful to say they’re investigating a broad array of sources for the contamination, including agricultural activity. They said the contaminant causing the most concern – a compound called 2-butoxyethanol, known as 2-BE  – can be found in some common household cleaners, not just in fracturing fluids.

“But those same EPA officials also said they had found no pesticides – a signature of agricultural contamination – and no indication that any industry or activity besides drilling could be to blame. Other than farming, there is no industry in the immediate area.

“…according to EPA investigation documents, most of the water wells were flushed three times before they were tested in order to rid them of anything that wasn’t flowing through the aquifer itself.

“‘It starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region. The investigation “could certainly have a focusing effect on a lot of folks in the Pavillion area as a nexus between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.'”

(Conclusive, “elb?”  No,  but certainly worthy of  a moratorium until full explanations are available.)

  • a link to an earlier introductory article  and
  • a link to the EPA’s actual report (which I was unable to locate despite searching for over an hour)

We don’t have to argue the content; readers can decide whether or not I am attempting to  “whip [them] into a frenzy”  or whether I’m reasonably  concerned by the consequences  we see in Wyoming, Fort Worth,  Dimock (PA) and elsewhere of  “rushing to judgment”  as we did in Iraq.

Isn’t it rational to wonder why  those with the least are risking the most and  well-heeled energy corporations are poised to make out like bandits yet again?

Is it whipping readers “into a frenzy”  to remind them that corporations aren’t always honest and government  overseers are not always  concerned for the well-being of the “People.” (We have ample evidence of this given the recent economic meltdown and the collusive actions  of the Securities & Exchange Commission, ratings agencies and other financial pirates who  secured obscene profits for a few  while huge numbers of us lost our life savings and homes.)

Is it particularly onerous that I would raise those issues when our very water supply depends on drilling companies caring more for the water and our welfare  than they do their profits?  Is that me falling prey to “Earthworks’ propaganda” or is it a reasonable caution given  the times  in which we live and the fundamental nature of corporations which is to increase profits for their shareholders?

“Unlike the people you reached out to farther down the Delaware Valley, where gas drilling is likely never to come,”  you write, “most landowners in this area have done their homework and — untainted by the desire to hear only the facts that support a pre-set point of view — have come to a different, far less extreme conclusion.”

I’m left to assume  that their “far less extreme conclusion” is to  lease their gas rights…?     How is jumping in with both feet, no matter their reasons,  “far less extreme”  than  my position which I reiterate here for the umpteenth time:

“I want  the DRBC to table all drilling and fracking applications until after an  Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and independent, scientific studies have evaluated  the cumulative impacts of drilling, fracking and waste water disposal on the Delaware River Basin.”

Rather than being  part of a frenzied rush to drill,  I’m trying to  set the brake on  a run-away train.  (Imagine how much better we’d be sitting if   caution and science had informed  President Bush’s Iraq War strategy before he launched  “Shock and Awe.”)

You also state, “We are all actively working to avoid the kind of environmental holocaust you relish describing, even though the fact remains that no catastrophe on the scale you fear here has ever been seen in the U.S.”

I’m sure that your  reasoning will provide  comfort  to the residents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island which were, I’m sure you’ll agree,   ground breaking events in their own right.

(I would appreciate you forwarding to me copies of   gas leases  which “avoid the kind of environmental holocaust”  you believe I “relish describing….”  Or perhaps you could include them in your rebuttal as evidence of  lessors’ efforts to protect our Basin.)

As to your insistence that information printed by ProPublica is propaganda, please consider Mr. Lustgarten’s  credentials  (“Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.”) and the fact that he has chosen to work for ProPublica as a respected news source.

Then, please,  provide evidence of your assertion that ProPublica spews propaganda as well as  examples of  gas industry propaganda.

So you see, I completely agree, whether or not it’s my ” blog to do with as [I]  please,”  readers should demand  that we  provide  well-researched and balanced information for them to chew over in a civil venue.

In return, I ask the same of you and whomever you choose to write your rebuttal which I will be pleased to publish here.

 

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Rally Asks NY State to Rescind Gas Drilling Moratorium


According to  The Daily Star in Oneonta, NY, “A rally Sunday sponsored by supporters of natural-gas drilling in the area attracted hundreds of people to General Clinton Park in Bainbridge, according to organizers.”    An official attendance figure  was not available  “but…organizers parked about 400 cars.”

According to The Star Gazette,    “Dan Fitzsimmons, an organizer, said 871 vehicles parked for the event, many with two or more occupants.”

Uh oh.   Fifth grade angst is stopping my heart.

The  future health of the Delaware River Basin will  probably be  decided in a few short weeks.  The financial futures of our local producers hang in the balance.  The clean drinking water source for 15 million+  people is on the chopping block.  Our  neighbors in Dimock, PA and Pavilion, Wyoming are pleading  with us to wake up — to join hands with them.

But, as an organizer of   “The Light Up The Delaware River Party,”  my fifth grade refrain is,  “Will as many people come to my 9-6-09  party as showed up  at the Landowners’ shindig.”

I’m so pathetic I almost didn’t  publish The Star Gazette’s more flattering crowd assessment of the pro-drilling rally.

So what’s a grassroots  organizer to do?   What variety of factors motivated 1000-2000 people to rally for drilling and hydro fracking in  New York State when the EPA just reported, “… that initial investigations found 11 of 39 tested drinking water wells [Pavilion, Wyoming] were contaminated. Among the contaminants are toxics used in oil and gas production.”?

I’m flummoxed beyond words.  As Leni Santoro and I hand-delivered  Light Up The Delaware River Party invitations throughout the Delaware River Basin, we encountered two scenarios  over and over again:   (1)  most people in the Basin had not heard of gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing; and (2)  every single person  who heard about it from us for the first time was outraged and dumbstruck that drilling and hydro fracking are being seriously considered in The Basin.

People are moved by  threats they perceive  as  intimate and immediate.  Unfortunately  for pro-water advocates,  residents of New York and Pennsylvania face many threats — many of which seem more “immediate”  than the potential loss of their drinking water.   How will they pay their mortgages?  How will they pay their student loans?  Where’s their next paycheck coming from?

A while back, I wrote,  “Faced with famine, dwindling resources and invaders who carried contagious diseases, the inhabitants of  “Easter Island”  (Rapa Nui)  turned on one another and plundered the lands of those who were killed.   Their cultural totems were destroyed by civil wars and the people were reduced and enslaved….  In times of threat, we all reach for familiar comforts, tending to  turn our backs to the storm and cast worried glances at strangers.  So I ask myself, have our fears so crippled us that we can’t learn  the lessons of history?”

If gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing come to The Delaware River Basin as they have to Fort Worth, Texas,  Pavilion, Wyoming and  Dimock, Pennsylvania,  what power will we have   to stop them in New York State?  New York City has registered its  opposition to any threat against its water supply, but what  about those of us who live in the Upper Basin?   The same economic forces at work in Pennsylvania (the loss of 220,000 + industrial  jobs in five years and the destruction of small local  farms)  will  carry the  “Drill, baby, drill” anthem across  the Delaware River and into New York State.

Where will we plant our feet to stop them?

“The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has scheduled a public hearing on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 to take testimony on its proposed revisions to the draft docket for the application by Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC.  The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. at PPL’s Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center in Hawley, Pa. The revised draft docket will be available for public review about 10 business days prior to the September 23 hearing. As before, there will also be an opportunity to submit comments in writing.  The earliest occasion on which the commission may act on the docket is at its next public meeting, scheduled for October 22, 2009.”

The 9-6-09  “Light Up The Delaware River Party”  is  one of  the  last chances you’ll have to be heard before the DRBC  decides an issue that will impact your lives for as long as you live in The Basin.  For those of us who remain, the future looks bleak.

Don’t pretend it isn’t happening.  It is.

Don’t  think sanity will prevail without your  voice.  It won’t.

Don’t think  pro-water advocates are exaggerating  the threat from drilling and hydro fracking.  It isn’t possible.

Don’t miss this chance to celebrate the works of the river and its people.  There won’t be many others.

Don’t leave  gas drilling policies  in the hands of drilling companies as the residents of  Wyoming and Texas and Dimock  did or you’ll be  left with the same  contaminated waters and worthless land as is their portion.

Stand up now.  Demand  that the DRBC  require an Environmental Impact  Statement and scientific studies of the cumulative impact of drilling and hydraulic fracturing on The Delaware River Basin.  Require a detailed explanation of which agencies will oversee contaminated waste water disposal.

Light up your portion of the  Delaware River.  Find out how to plan an event in your area.  Tell us what you’re planning and  invite others.  (Post your events at the “party location”  page even if it’s a “closed” family event.   The DRBC needs to know we’re alive and active.)  Don’t forget to email  photos of your event to  ljbucar@earthlink.net or  leni5s@yahoo.com.  They’ll be posted  on a map of The Basin and presented as a collage to the DRBC.

Come to the table before it’s barren.

 

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