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Bethel, NY’s Hydraulic Fracturing Ban; Public Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Tillman, Janyszeski : Dimock and Callicoon


First,  who is   Mayor Calvin Tillman from DISH, Texas and why should any of  us  care that he spent  last week in a whirlwind tour of  New York and Pennsylvania communities?

Three years ago,  Calvin Tillman  was elected  Mayor of DISH,  Texas, which  is located in the heart of the  Barnett Shale about 25 miles north of Fort Worth.

DISH  occupies no more  than 2 square miles,  is home to about 180 residents and its  annual operating budget  is a mere $70,000.  (For reference,  The  Incorporated Village of  Liberty, NY  covers 2.39 square miles,  is home to 3,975  residents and has an annual GENERAL  budget of $3,798,804.00.)

According to  Mayor  Tillman’s  presentation (which Breathing heard in both  Dimock, PA and  Callicoon, NY)   DISH is also home to  “eleven natural gas compressors as well as  an associated treating facility, four natural gas metering stations, around eighteen natural gas wells within its corporate limits,  fifty plus wells just outside  its corporate limits”  and is where  “eleven high pressure natural gas pipelines converge.” (Please find aerial views  here.)

The Mayor  and his  residents became increasingly alarmed by   the noise  generated at the compressor site.  “One compressor creates noise at 85-90 decibels…and DISH has 11.”   (According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association,  “Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially dangerous.”)  Although Tillman was eventually able to  obtain noise abatement  around the compressors,  a foul stench –  apparently emanating from the same site –  continued to  permeate the town  and   “all the trees along the compressor site were dead or dying.”

After  complaining about  the odor for several years,  “The person who finally came to look said  he couldn’t determine the source of the odor.”

Eventually,  five corporate operators performed a joint air study  and  concluded,  “no natural gas leaks were found that would be detectable to the human nose.”

The stench worsened  and as a result,   DISH  spent approximately 15% of its annual budget to commission an independent air study  which  “assessed thirty-one  citizens and former citizens of the town….  The laboratory results confirmed the presence of multiple recognized and suspected human carcinogens in the fugitive air emissions present on several locations tested in the Town of DISH….  61% of  health effects reported [by study participants] are known health effects of the chemicals detected in the DISH air study.   These health affects include: difficulty in breathing, brain disorders, chronic eye irritation, dizziness, frequent nausea, increased fatigue, muscle aches, severe headaches, sinus problems, throat irritation, and allergies.”

In his presentations, Tillman added,  “All the commissioned tests were taken on private property within 100 feet of homes and children.”

According to the Occupational  Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),  “The maximum time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit is 1 part of benzene vapor per million parts of air (1 ppm) for an 8-hour workday and the maximum short-term exposure limit (STEL) is 5 ppm for any 15-minute period.”

WFAA – TV lends credence to  Mayor Tillman’s concerns about air quality,  “So imagine the reaction of scientists looking at an air sample from a Targa Resources compressor station outside Decatur, west of DISH in Denton County. The sample revealed a level of 1,100 parts per billion of benzene.”  (Note:  1,100  ppb  =  1.1 ppm)

As  the Mayor pointed out,   recommended levels are based on a healthy 35 year old man’s exposure  over an eight hour period, five days a week.  Exposures are not based on the effects of exposure on pregnant women or children.   “Why  aren’t they based on pregnant women and children?” he asked rhetorically.  “Because they shouldn’t be exposed at all,”  he said.

(DISH  residents  are exposed  24/7.   Readers interested in learning more about the  DISH air study are encouraged to visit the Mayor’s site where the results have been published  and he  answers those  who have attempted, unsuccessfully, to debunk its results.  During his presentation, Mayor Tillman affirmed  that since the results of   the DISH air quality tests have been published,  “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) validated  the DISH air study in an internal memo.  They’re going to install a permanent  air monitoring unit in DISH.  If they’d  debunked our study,  they wouldn’t  have spent the money for that.”   The  TCEQ monitor will record air quality in DISH in real time and anyone  will be able to follow the results on the internet.  If you’re interested in hearing from DISH residents who have suffered debilitating health effects,    Split Estate,  presents  their stories. )

Although  concerns in DISH, Texas  are somewhat different from those raised  by drilling in  Dimock, PA or  the   Marcellus Shale in New York and the Delaware River Basin,  local residents   believed  those of us living in the Delaware River Basin would benefit from hearing about the “DISH experience.”   Mayor Tillman agreed  and  accepted invitations  to meet with some of our local communities.

Unlike most elected officials,  Tillman receives no compensation for his mayoral duties and he  refuses any compensation, reimbursement or sponsorship for his informational tours.

On Friday February 19, Mayor Tillman met in a closed-door session  in Narrowsburg, NY  with local policy makers and elected officials.  Neither the press nor the public attended and  beyond rumors that 20 or so attendees conferenced with the Mayor,  we have no information as to who attended or the scope of their conversations.

During  the afternoon of the 19th,  Tillman, accompanied by members of the press and private citizens, helped delivered 17 cases of fresh water to  Dimock, PA resident,  Pat Farnelli  for use by her and other familes  whose water has  been rendered useless by a toxic soup of  contaminants such as methane, dissolved solids, heavy metals, minerals, barium and strontium.  Approximately 18  Dimock families –  the number continues to grow — have filed suit against   Cabot Oil and Gas (Fiorentino et al. v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. et al., No. 09-2284, complaint filed M.D. Pa. Nov. 19, 2009)  for the degradation of their water supplies.  Although the drilling company has provided drinking water to some residents,  Farnelli says  her family doesn’t  qualify  for deliveries.  “There are  six or seven  gas wells  within about 700 feet of my house.  The  last time  we checked,  the methane saturation  of our water  was about 12%.  The DEP  [Department of Environmental Protection] said they won’t make Cabot  deliver water to us until our saturation is higher — maybe 30% or so — that’s what I’ve heard.  Between 30-50% is  when  the methane starts rumbling before the wells explode.  Four or more of my neighbors have had their wells explode.  Not just Norma’s.  But the  methane concentration  in our well  isn’t that high,  yet.”

When Breathing asked Ms. Farnelli if she had anything in writing from either  Cabot  or Pennsylvania’s  Department of Environmental Protection  (DEP)  explaining the 30% ceiling,  she said, “No.  It’s just what we’re told.”

In response to a question from Mayor Tillman,  Ms. Farnelli  explained  that when her children “drank water from the family well,  they’d get a terrible stomach ache and throw up.  They’d just double over.    Used to be, they’d drink water at the school, and they’d be fine but  whenever they drank our home  water,  they’d get sick.   And now,  the water at the school’s turned off, too.”   (A drill pad was erected on the Elk Lake School grounds after The Susquehanna River Basin granted  approval in July 2009.   See Docket #37.)

(Later  in the evening,    Breathing was in the Elk Lake School for a discussion of gas drilling sponsored by  The League of Women Voters.   The school’s water fountains were turned off.  Students  and staff are confined to drinking from bottled water dispensers  although water continued to flow to  lavatory sinks and toilets.    According to several attendees, students and parents were informed by  the Elk Lake School District that  installation of bottled water  was a precaution against the spread of  “the H1N1 virus.”  (Link to article written prior to the start of drilling.)  According to a December 9, 2009 article at  The Independent Weekender,  drinking fountains were shut down after the pump system “malfunctioned”  on October 15, 2009.  The  District Superintendent said the shutdown had nothing to do with drilling or hydraulic fracturing at the school site.   Further,  he stated  the water has been tested, found safe  and repairs would be completed over the Christmas break.  Instead, according to officials,  fountains were turned off  to prevent spread of  the H1N1 virus.)*

During Mayor Tillman’s presentations at both the Elk Lake School auditorium and The Delaware Community Center in Callicoon,  he was adamant that certain areas should be off limits to well drilling pads.  “You do not have to site them on school yards. You make this hazard a risk when you put it  in school yards and in peoples’ front yards.”

Locally,  the Wayne Highlands School District has been approached  by Hess about a potential leasing of school properties for drilling.

When  Farnelli was asked about her own health,  she admitted she’s undergone testing for lupus.   “The doctor ordered some blood tests for  metals,  but I haven’t had them done.  We don’t have health insurance.  Even though I’m on disability and my husband’s  cook job  barely pays the bills,  we don’t qualify for assistance and we sure can’t afford health care.”

“I feel like we were naive for signing the leases,” Farnelli continued.   “We sure aren’t prospering.  I wish we’d never signed.  The landman told us they probably  wouldn’t drill; that there’d  be little or no lasting damage or impact;  that there’d  be a commotion for two or three weeks, and then there’d be a little thing like a fireplug on a square of concrete in the hayfield left.  He said it was almost like winning the lottery and that’s how they were still talking Thrusday night at Elk Lake at the royalty owners’ meeting…about winning the gas well lottery.  They said the sign-on  bonus was the most anyone would pay  –  $25 per acre  –  and that it was like free money.  They made it sound  patriotic and  clean and green –  like getting America off of foreign oil dependency.   When   Norma’s  [Fiorentino] well blew up on New Year’s Day…we’ve been kicking ourselves.   The  Carter’s  well vent exploded  6 or 7 times.  Now,  I worry about my kids.”

“We were told everyone would get a  methane tester  for our basements but Cabot said the equipment wasn’t  necessary.  The  DEP showed up here with a Cabot representative and they were pretty jovial when they didn’t  find  methane in the basement.  Then they said they’d  found some  at our  well head and that they needed me to vent  it  because they’d found it in the water.   My husband wasn’t home and I didn’t know what I had to do.  They  didn’t explain anything and they said they couldn’t do it for me.  I asked for help a couple of times but they said I needed a big wrench.  Two days went by and  all they’d say was my house could  blow up.”

At this point in the story,  Mayor Tillman asked Ms. Farnelli for  the name of her DEP contact and said he planned to contact  him.

Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon (below)  about the state of our  local roads.

On February 20th,  the Mayor was back in Sullivan County at the Delaware Community Center in Callicoon, NY where he was joined by Nancy Janyszeski,  Chair of the  Board of Supervisors of Nockamixon Township and Pennsylvania Chair of the Lower Wild and Scenic Delaware River.  They were  greeted by a standing-room only crowd that was a  mix of drilling advocates,  lessors and opponents of gas drilling.

After  explaining the results of air quality tests conducted by DISH (see above)  Tillman addressed  issues of hydraulic fracturing and  recommended several precautionary measures.   “I saw in Dimock that drill pads  are situated next to homes.   In Texas, local authorities are allowed to permit a well  which I was shocked to hear local ordinances can’t do here.   It needs to come back to the local level. In theory,  Chespaeake could buy and tear down this building and put in a well and there’s nothing your local governments  could do about that. They might buy a city block like in Fort Worth  and put a pad site. What’s good for Albany might not be good for here. Urge your local officials to get the local control back to the local level.”

Supervisor Janyszeski  echoed the Mayor’s concern about local control.  Nockamixon has used zoning  to  hold the drills at bay until  protections of its water and land are in place.  “We’ve  always  understood the benefits of drilling, but we need to make sure it’s safe.  We’re in  Special Protection Waters.  We have a Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.  The proposed drilling site in Nockamixon is on an Exceptional Value Stream.

“Hundreds  of leases were signed  before we even knew they were in town,”  Janyszeski said.  “The gas people say  they don’t need local permits.

“The  drilling will be for a short-term  and our communities will be left with the clean up   but the gas companies  come in and  say, ‘We  don’t need a permit  from local governments.  If you or I want to put an addition on our house, we need a permit.  Why don’t then need one?”

At which point, most of the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

Janyszeski then discussed an  amicus brief filed by,  among others,   Nockamixon Township, The Delaware Riverkeeper and Damascus Citizens in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania concerning the ability of local governments to control  gas drilling within their borders.

According to the  Court’s ruling,  “Municipalities have a unique authority and responsibility in the regulatory framework which must be maintained; they ‘give consideration to the character of the municipality, the needs of the citizens and the suitabilities and special nature of particular parts of the municipality.’”   In the end,  the court’s  decision permits a local regulatory body to enact “traditonal zoning regulations that identify which uses are permitted in different areas of the locality,  even if such regulations preclude oil and gas drilling in certain zones….”    However,  the decision also restricted the scope of  local jurisdiction,  “We do not, for instance, suggest that the municipality could permit drilling in a particular district but then make that permission subject to conditions addressed to features of well operations regulated by the [Pennsylvania Oil and Gas] Act.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)  Essentially, when it comes to actual drilling practices and operations,  the  Court  upheld that Pennsylvania State law will carry more force than local regulations.

In response to the ruling,  Nockamixon Township has  amended old zoning ordinances in order to restrict  gas and drilling operations  to “light industrial and quarry zones.”   Also,  the Town has strictly enforced  weight limits on all its bridges.

“It means  companies  have  more hurdles to jump,”  said Janyszeski.

Tillman  reiterated  the importance of local involvement,  “Your local authorities  have to insist  drilling companies use  green completions.  Flaring isn’t necessary.  They don’t have to store  the drilling waste in pits. Make sure  there’s a system for vapor recovery on condensate tanks and other emission sources.  They can use  zero emission dehydrators and pneumatic valves.  The companies say it costs too much but green completions actually save product which makes the companies more money.”

In amplification  of Tillman’s  statement that,  “Companies will tell you the fracking fluid’s safe.  It  contains over 250 chemicals and over 90% of them have negative health effects,”  Ms. Janyszeski  suggested other localities conduct baseline water testing as was done in Nockamixon Township.  “We used  Wild and Scenic  River funding to perform our first round of testing.  Now  we know how our water is.  We tested streams near proposed sites  and ten wells and  discovered we have TCE in a couple wells.  As a  result of the successful testing, we got another $25,000  from The Wild and Scenic River funds for a second round.  I’d add, since hearing what  Mayor Tillman’s done with air testing in DISH,  that’s also something our local governments should be looking at.”

(Linda Babicz,  moderator of the program,  interjected that  our local  Multi-Municipal Taskforce is  working to ensure,  through permits,  that drilling companies will be responsible  for testing before any gas  wells are drilled or worked on.  In addition,  she offered,  “We don’t have Home Rule  in New York State.  That’s why our local governments  don’t have the right to demand permits.”**

As to assertions made by drilling proponents that  gas drilling will be  an economic boon for local municipalities,  Mayor Tillman addressed the issue of  declining tax revenues in DISH.  “During my tenure as Mayor,  I’ve doubled the size of the town to 2 square miles.  The [underground] minerals  are  just an extension of the  property for taxation purposes.  The average well loses about 50% of  its mineral value after the first year of production. The only way to maintain the value,  is  to drill more and more….   and the cost of natural gas goes down……  a lot of cities in Texas and in the Barnett shale  are in trouble. They’re having to raise taxes and lay off people. I liken this to heoin. It’s like an addictive drug  and a lot of  [Texas] cities got addicted to it.”

“There are other  ways to think about it,”  the Mayor continued.  “We used to get 60%  of our tax revenues from minerals.  We’ve probably spent that much to clean up. If you don’t  have minerals on your property  and you don’t  get ‘mailbox money,’   it probably isn’t worth  it.  And even those who get the mailbox money,  they’ll probably say it isn’t worth it.  The former mayor [of Dish]  sold mineral rights.  He’s  one of my supporters now.   [The companies]  have  kicked in money for parks, but if you weigh the costs and benefits,  I just don’t think there’s been  an overall benefit.”

When he was asked about the kinds of jobs  the gas industry’s created in Texas, Tillman  said,  “Most drilling rig crews are transient.  They’ll come  for two weeks and then they’ll go somewhere else.  They live on the  pad site — seven days on and seven days off.”

When asked about  the health impacts of drilling on drilling  workers,  Tillman responded,  “There’s probably  stuff that doesn’t get reported.  There have been  some accidents where  workers got asphyxiated and died. There’ve been  explosions on sites and people have  died.  There are signs,  ‘No Open Flames’  near wells because of  the methane.  I called OSHA   for the workers but they’re  only considered temporary employees so they don’t go through OSHA.”

One  audience member asked  Mayor Tillman  to address the impact  of  hydraulic fracturing on organic farms.  “The only other air study done besides ours [outside of litigation]  was at an organic goat farm in Fort Worth.  The company was flaring a well. [The study] detected the same toxins  as ours did.  She  has to constantly test her pastures.  I assume you’d have to do that at your own expense until you win a long court battle.”

(According to  The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA) and an article in The Post Standard,  “The number of organic farms in New York has tripled since 2006″  while the market for organic goods has  expanded 20%  over the last ten years.  According to The United States Department of Agriculture’s  2008  Survey of Organic Growth,  “Nationally,  New York ranks fourth in the number of organic farms behind California, Wisconsin, and Washington.  Total area devoted to organic production in New York totaled 168,428 acres. Value of sales of organically produced commodities in the state totaled $105.1 million, ranking seventh nationally and accounting for 3.3 percent of total U.S. organic sales.”)

At the end of his prepared remarks,  Mayor Tillman recommended several actions that should be taken by  local and state governments:

Develop ordinances related to oil and gas exploration prior to permitting any wells.
Local Ordinances should require road use agreements
Local ordinances should require green completions
Understand that there are places that should be off limits for drilling.
Wells should not be located in school playgrounds, and pipeline should not be run through front yards

Impose a severance tax

Require the latest emission lowering technology, including vapor recovery, and zero emissions dehydration, and pneumatic valves

Work together in groups when signing leases
Do not be the mole, working against your neighbors

Of the severance tax enacted by the State of Texas, he said,  “Here’s what I wish your legislators would consider.  We don’t have a state income tax in Texas.  We have the severance tax on the gas companies.  It’s good for a lot of reasons.   The tax is paid by volume on the gas so if you’re leasing,  you’ve got a measurement of how much your wells are producing.  It’ll tell you how much gas is coming out of the ground and how much money you should be getting.”   (In a previous Breathing article, I referenced a court judgment that found   Chesapeake had defrauded royalty owners in Texas out of $134 million in payments by under-reporting the amount of  gas Chesapeake extracted from its lessor’s wells.)

Tillman continued to tout the benefits of enacting a severance tax,  “Do you have enough inspectors in  New York?   A severance tax could pay for that, too.”
Then, looking out over the audience,  he asked,  “How are the roads holding out around here?”  When the audience groaned and laughed, he said,  “A severance tax can fix that.”

But the final recommendation which drew a standing ovation from the crowd was this,   “Do not issue another permit until these things are accomplished!”

******

*The article does not specify what agency tested the water.  I am planning to make contact with the  school in order to obtain more clarity.  If I succeed,  I will certainly report back here.

**Actually,  there is a weak version of  Home Rule in New York State that permits localities to narrowly  regulate within their own borders so  long as the State of New York approves.  When Sullivan County attempted to use it relative to a  Room  Tax  on our hospitality industry, we discovered that  the process is arduous,  complicated and is ruled by “windows of opportunity.”

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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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