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.”

19 thoughts on “DEC Holds Drilling Hearing at Sullivan County Community College

  1. James Barth

    Ms. Bucar is a good reporter for someone so passionate. She just has a natural talent for writing. Somehow she still remains civil, even when, as she alludes, it is sometimes way past time to remain so.

    Two small observances. One is that Cabot/Halliburton was not connected to Dunkard Creek, which runs (“meanders”) along the border between West Virginia and Pennsylvania towards the Southwest. It is not in Dimock where those approximately 8,400 gallons were spilled, and Cabot was fined a whopping $56,650 ($6.74 per gallon), and it took the PADEP a long time to act.
    On top of that fact, PADEP would not have even known about it if Cabot had not told the Agency.

    The other (very small) thing is that I keep seeing Liz spell Pavillion, Co. with only one “L”. I’m virtually positive it is spelled with two.

  2. lizbucar Post author

    Thank you, as always, for the kind words and corrections, James. I’ve been busily trying to find the citation I used before about the stop-order but without luck. My apologies to Pavillion, Wyoming!

  3. Deemer

    Ms. Bucar, this is an absolutely fantastic article. Your ability to write as an unbiased reporter is to be commended.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to cite your piece in an upcoming radio interview I’m doing this weekend.

    Please email me with the provided email address to let me know if you would prefer that I not cite you.

    With kind regards, D

  4. lizbucar Post author

    Hi, Deemer. It’d be great if you can use Breathing to get the word out. Let us know when and at what call letters so readers interested in listening can. Thank you!

  5. elb

    So what does civility require of any of us? If it is summarily dismissed when disagreement arises — especially intense disagreement — what purpose does civility serve at all?

    I hope Liz’s lack of civility only goes as far as corporate interests and doesn’t extend to those in our local communities who see that the vast majority of drilling areas may not be problem-free but are not environmental wastelands where the entire populace suffers lives of torment. I’ve been to gas drilling locales in western New York, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado, and the industry is a quiet partner in much-needed economic development.

    Are there problems with the gas industry? Absolutely, and they are being addressed by intelligent, caring people both for and against drilling, both in and out of the industry. These are people who can’t afford the holier-than-thou morality I hear on this blog — which smacks of religious dogma — people who instead work on solving problems.

    I’m not interested in the kind of holy war Liz seeks to wage. I will not toss aside civility to my neighbors, friends or otherwise, agreeable with my views or otherwise, in the name of “justice.” I fervently hope my neighbors will do the same.

    I would rather live in a community struggling TOGETHER with the ups and downs of gas drilling than in one where all who disagree with Liz are “driven from the temple.”

  6. lizbucar Post author

    Dear elb,

    First, as a regular reader of this blog, you’re well-aware that I publish all sides without censor.

    Second, you’re aware that I actively encourage and seek that exchange.

    Third, you’ve read my thousands of words about the economic realities of our area and the people who are forced to pay the cost — over and over and over again.

    I am unable to envision a true partnership with corporations and their apologists who distort or obfuscate the toxic reality without regard for the impact on lessors and non-lessors alike; especially since so few area residents will ultimately benefit. (If you cite to jobs, taxes, etc., please provide the cost offsets and proof that locals are hired by drilling operations in large numbers as a matter of historic practice.)

    How does one enter into a partnership with corporations & apologists who refuse to answer the list of questions posed in this article? How does one enter into a partnership with an industry that refuses to stand beside their “partners” (lessors & communities) when contamination occurs? How do we enter into a partnership with a DEC whose site lauds the benefits of drilling but declines to study the cumulative impacts of the activity?

    Would it be a holy war to remind readers that when England stole India’s salt and left the people bereft, the people stood for their sovereign rights? (In the context of my opinion, “The Temple” is our community’s ecology, just in case you were confused.)

    Please excuse an old agnostic for citing to one of the world’s great humanists who, when he was confronted by lies, hypocrisy, greed and exploitation of the weak, went ballistic.

    How shall we “struggle together,” elb? Who are the “intelligent, caring” Drill Now! folks with whom we can cooperate? To what independent scientific studies are they citing? I wish they’d spoken at the DEC Hearing because I would have reached out to them in a heartbeat.

    By what actions do they reveal themselves? For instance, which of the leases that have been signed protect the environment as lessors claim? (Another question you’ve never answered with specifics.)

    By whom and what actions are “problems with the gas industry” being addressed?

    Again and again, I refer you to the list of questions in the article which remain unanswered by you, elb and ask that you please respond to them.

    Without that courtesy, it appears you’re insisting we take all industry claims at face value so that we are ALLOWED to be “partners” in the future of our communities. It’s the old Rovian trick of calling those who insist on accountability “unpatriotic” or some other unsavory thing like “holy warrior” without ever addressing the questions they raise.

    Is that the kind of partnership you envision?
    Because, as a matter of pragmatism, unequal partnerships (where one side has all the resources and the other has all the liability) aren’t usually referred to as “partnerships.” They’re usually known as “coercive,” rarely benefit the weaker signatory and are often voided by courts of law. Liz

  7. Pocono

    What about the social side of gas drilling. I read articles how it takes about 450 workers per well pad and they’re going to put up “man camps” for the influx of workers from across the country (not local help). Who are these “rough necks” filling the bars, hotels and these camps? Aren’t people concerned that there may be sexual predators working right next to schools since they are leasing school properties? People are quick to welcome all these new people into their communities…but really who are they? The company that came and did the thumping last New Years weekend in Pike County came from Texas and workers couldn’t speak any English to even ask them what they were doing…here again nobody knew anything 4 days they haphazardly ran 25 miles of cords and receivers, thumped, picked up and was gone.

    What’s the cumulative effect here…450 men per/well pad times how many wells? Most of these communities have fewer than 2000 people and then just 2 well pads and you’ve increased the population by 50% which will do nothing for the tax base except spread some of their money around to local businesses. On top of that you get these “guys” out hooting and hollering do we have enough police enforcement to take on these new comers? Is it really going to be good for local economies? God this will be like boom towns of the past…and look at what happened to all of them! We’ll have to wait and see I guess!

  8. Pocono

    Another thought from Pa.; if this gas drilling is supposed to be so great for revenue, jobs, boost to local economies then how come Pennsylvania with the 2nd most gas wells in the country took 100 days to pass a budget and still operating at a deficit. We exploited the lumber, the coal and 150 years of gas/oil so far…somebody please tell me where all the profit’s going…? I can give you a hint…who had record profits of BILLIONS of $$$ while we were paying $4.50 per/gal of gas last year?

  9. lizbucar Post author

    Dear Pocono,

    I accept as a given that we will welcome anyone regardless of their native language or national origin. I also accept as a given that there will be a negative impact on our local economy if our local workers remain unemployed and invisible.

    With that in mind, I would greatly appreciate seeing an epidemiologic study of the health impacts of drilling on industry workers. (I mean, regardless of the numbers of jobs provided, should anyone work in such close proximity to fracking toxins? What are the OSHA regs? So many questions; so little time.)

    We must have concern for out-of-state workers who will come here with an expectation of adequate health care services, housing, etc., as you say. It’s tantamount to a host inviting people to a party without providing basic party mainstays — cups, plates, napkins and snacks — and then blaming the unwary guests who attend.

    It’s all part of the same recurring issue: the train’s rushing into the tunnel without any concern for on-coming traffic. Slow down the train. Scope out the tracks ahead.

    Proceed with caution and as if the consequences will be borne by those who’ve precipitated them — NOT by workers struggling to feed their children and pay their bills, regardless of where their permanent residences are.

    Your reminder of the economic history of mining exploitation is excellent and as you say, “Where are all the economic benefits from those activities that were promised, promised, promised?”

  10. James Barth

    How can the man who calls himself “elb” be taken seriously, when he states that the “industry” is 1. quiet, and 2. a partner? Or, when he writes that Liz seeks to wage a “holy war”?

    The gas extraction industry has not made a single effort to improve its process for the benefit of either the human neighbor, or the environment, unless it has been forced to (dragged kicking and screaming). It continues to stand against the F.R.A.C. Act. It continues to allow AT LEAST THREE TRILLION CUBIC FEET per year of methane to escape world wide into the air from pipelines, compressors, and storage tanks. It continues to spread misinformation and lies that people like elb lap up and regurgitate; talking point after talking point.

    It is extremely difficult to remain civil at this stage, and frankly, I don’t give a damn. When it comes to speaking with those who have leased, or wish to lease, in most cases, one would have a more productive discourse with a brick wall. They will only take steps they are compelled to take.

    Our energy should be focused on the various Agencies that have the power to regulate, not those who thought it was, or still think that it is fine for drilling to take place two hundred feet from their neighbor’s house and well, or up and down the forested slopes of the Delaware River, even though in elb’s own words, there are “absolutely” problems with the industry’s process. There have been at least 52 distinct incidents of multiple water well (32, 16 wells etc in single incidents) contamination documented by PADEP alone over the past five years.

    It is time to be be effective, rather than engage in “civil” discourse with people who only speak the language of money.

  11. Pocono

    Dear Liz,
    My point with the “thumping” company was the lack of transparency with no apparent regulations or safeguards. My understanding was; they had permission from PennDot to perform this seismic thumping along Route 6 from Milford to Lake Walenpaupack. This company from Texas showed up on New Years Day, tossed off rolls of what I describe as extension cords for 20 miles along a State Highway through Milford across streets, haphazardly on the sidewalks, without any prior announcements or public notices. I believe this was permitted with only PennDot’s approval and lacked any oversight or supervision by PennDot. Traffic was occasionally disrupted during this 4 day long procedure using only the companies employees for traffic control without any safety or warning signs that seismic testing was going on. Back to my point as I was stopped in traffic, I rolled my window down and curiously asked the gentleman standing in the road blocking traffic while these strange looking trucks thumped their way up the road, what was going on? He made a couple of gestures like he didn’t understand me, smiled and stepped aside to let the traffic go through. The next day the workers walked behind the pickup trucks wrapping these long cords around their shoulders and necks and tossed them in the back of the trucks, again without any regards for the safety of the workers or vehicle traffic along a State Highway.
    This brings me back to the point about local services getting overwhelmed; do we have adequate protection and services for these workers from wherever they come from? Yes drilling operations are a dangerous occupation, this is why they put up signs and fencing to keep people out. Many of these small communities rely on volunteer fire companies and ambulance services that generally lack adequate funding. Are the community hospitals going to be ready to accept an increase in medical emergencies, drilling operations go on 24/7? What about traffic enforcement, adequate police protection for the safety of the workers and the residents of these communities, many of these communities rely on State Police and lack a local police force. Here again I like to stress “cumulative effect” something that gets left out of many of the discussions. The industry is holding job fairs but readily admits that initially the workers will be coming from other areas of the country already employed by the industry. Do you think these workers care about our beautiful rural landscape or the River Valley we all care so much about? Personally I don’t see them investing and raising families here after the rape of the land they will move on, following the rigs to the next location.

  12. lizbucar Post author

    Dear Pocono,

    Thank you for the longer explanation because it provides a much clearer context and addresses one of the points made at the SCCC hearing by our local Town Supervisors and Highway Superintendents: local governmental entities need to know ahead of time what the heck is planned for their communities!

    As a former nurse in one of our very small community hospitals, I echo your concerns, Pocono. I hope policy makers are listening and following the surge of questions being asked about the health impacts and quality of life issues related to the constant noise.

  13. Pocono

    Yes, policy makers need to look at the total picture; this is certainly something the proponents of drilling seem to want to rush into and not have a constructive conversation about, which was echoed by the reply from anonymous! Right now there is absolutely no reason to rush into this except for one reason…industry and a few people have an opportunity to make large sums of money at the cost of so many others. Yes, many people are hurting right now including me and my family, sorry but I don’t see how lining the pockets of Big Industry to feed our addition to fossil fuels is a solution to the problems facing our Nation right now, greed is what got us in this situation in the first place.

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