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.”


*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!)

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.”

Tillman: Dimock to Callicoon : Please Stay Tuned!

Breathing Is Political’s coverage of  Mayor Tillman’s  visit to our area  and his shared presentation with Nancy Janyszeski will  be posted as a two-part series within the next 48 hours.   I apologize for the delay but  with 25+ pages  of notes,  I want to be sure this “watershed” moment   includes  our trip to Dimock, PA as well as the forum held yesterday in Callicoon.  It will also respond to new developments concerning interest shown by a local school district in siting a drilling operation on its school grounds.

Please stay tuned  and many thanks to  the 300 or so residents who turned out to hear what Mayor Tillman and Supervisor Janyszeski  have to tell us about their own experiences with this urgent issue.   Liz

Callicoon-On-The-Delaware: One Morning

I grew up playing baseball, growing veggies with my grandmother  and riding horses  in Madison, Ohio.  It’s   a small village in the northeast corner of the state  that sits  five  miles from the shores of Lake Erie.  When I was in school, the Cuyahoga River caught fire  regularly  and  “Help me!  I’m dying,” was scrawled in graffiti letters on the side of a Lake Erie  pier.   Anyone who lived along its banks already knew the lake was in jeopardy.   The miles of fish carcasses strewn along the shore were clue enough.

Today, I live in a lovely, well-worn  home overlooking the banks of the Delaware River in the Hamlet of Callicoon, NY.  Whether I drink my morning coffee on my front  porch or at a bedroom window,  the gleam of the river is the first thing I see each day.

I’ve stood on the bridge that connects Pennslvania to New York and watched vacation trailers float  beneath me in a torrent of brown flood.  I’ve watched ice floes pile and pile so high  that I’ve never doubted our  tenancy  rests  in Nature’s hands.

But for  more than the River, I came home to Callicoon for the people and early morning walks down Main Street.

This morning’s first  stop was  The Delaware Valley Free Library,  built in 1913.   As I approached the door with my ever-late book returns,  Bernie, a friend from “the PA side,”  poked his head out  saying,  “Got a minute?  We have to talk.”  His dark  hair hangs well below his stocking cap  and his salt and pepper beard reminds me of my old hippie days.  He’s wandered through the Far East and Buddhist Temples and now, he works as hard as anyone I know to preserve and protect the river and its hamlets.   He wants to be sure we’re  ready for  this Saturday’s  forum on  Gas Drilling and Public Health that we’re helping to coordinate.  It will be held in  Callicoon’s  Delaware Youth Center this coming Saturday.

At the back of the Library is a public room with murder mysteries and computers where locals chat  as often as they read.  As we finalize our last minute plans for the forum,  the owner of Callicoon Van & Taxi Service wanders in with a big “Mornin’, all!”  and settles at one of the internet terminals.  A half hour or so later,  as I pay my fines and check out a selection of  Martha Grimes and Louise Penny mysteries,  an elder whose head almost reaches my shoulder breathes toward my ear,  “Oooo.  Martha Grimes!”   “Yup,”  I nod.  “Richard Jury’s  my one true love,”  and the conversation’s  off  and running until I remember I’ve got three  more stops at least.  She pats the cover of  a book  I’ve just returned.  “The winter’s too long these days,” she sighs, “and I need all the books I can get.”

Headed toward The I.O.U.,  my favorite store in the universe,  I remember I need stamps.  Yes, stamps.  I send birthday  cards that carry  fingerprints and smudged ink because anyone who’s struggled down a birth canal deserves more than misty electrons floating in an ethernet pipeline.

The main lobby of the post office is closed.   Bud,   a long-time resident who migrated up from NYC decades  ago,  shakes his head at me from the driver’s seat of his truck.  “And it’ll stay closed for a full 90 minutes,”  he says.

“Well wouldn’t  Mae Poley and Wilda Priebe have called that  heaven in the old days,”  I say.   (Mae and Wilda were North Branch’s  post mistresses when I first moved to  The Delaware River Basin.  They’d taken over  from their mother  when she retired  and Mae,  her husband Earl  and their daughter Amy still  live in the old building that houses the PO.  When  I was a young  single mom with a baby to raise, the sisters   made sure I had plenty of house cleaning and dairy farm  jobs to feed the little bugger.  Neither of them ever closed the post office for more than  half  an hour and even then,  we all knew where to find them.  More than once,  Mae fed me lunch at her kitchen table.  She thought it’d keep me quiet till she was ready to re-open the window.   I still remember the day Wilda admitted she knew fewer and fewer of the  “new folks”  who were buying the old, empty houses in North Branch.  The Poleys, Priebes  and so many others are  woven into my life here in  The Basin. I’ve  cared for their loved ones  in the Callicoon Hospital,   rattled rafters with them at Democratic Party meetings and cheered all our  kids from Tee Ball to graduation.

“I like your ‘Drilling Isn’t Safe’  button,”  Bud says and I invite him to  the forum on Saturday.  For an hour, we catch up on all the people we know in common  and where they are.

“Ya’ know Barbara and George Hahn?”  I ask.  “Sure!”  he says.  “We were  in school together.”   Barbara was an RN who flew over the original Woodstock Festival in a medical helicopter with Abby Hoffman.  Her husband, George,  had the Jeffersonville Veterinary for decades.  They spent a whole afternoon giving me the skinny on my Jeff postcards.  Although, truth be told, their memories weren’t always…synchronized, George’s  family  hearkened back to the days when our first settlers spent their first winters hunkered down in caves till their houses could be built.  (The old Hahn farmstead was where Apple Pond Farm is today in Callicoon Center.)  Barbara and George moved to Connecticut this winter to be nearer their  kids.  “They lit my days,”  I say, missing them all over again.

Bud says his  daughter  was laid off when the Neversink Public School closed its reading program to save money.  “Can’t  pass a math test if ya’ can’t read,”  he mutters.

My heart was set on a stop at the I.O.U. but I still needed  a few things at Peck’s and as ever, the morning was nearly gone.

Peck’s is more than just a village grocery.  For years, Art and Beth Peck worked day and night growing  their first Narrowsburg store  till  it  became another and another and another.  Just as Beth’s energy fed the  Narrowsburg Library,  the local arts alliance and theater and a small news sheet that eventually became The River Reporter, when they retired, the Pecks ensured their employees were vested in the small chain’s future.  But that’s not why Peck’s is  more than a grocery.  As my friend Marci says, “If I’ve got things to do at home, I don’t dare go to Peck’s.”  Even if you make it down the aisles at a run,  there’s the check out where neighbors share the news of the day.   Among others, this morning,   I ran into Fred Stabbert, III,  publisher  of The Democrat,  Callicoon’s hometown newspaper.   He was in college when I first worked for the paper that was handed down from his grandfather to his father and not so long ago, to him.    Anyone who moves  to Sullivan County  should make it a point to read The Democrat’s  “Down The Decades”  page.  It’s a wonderful compendium of  more than 100 years of Sullivan County  history  — from the “white knights who protected our women”  in, thankfully, bygone  days to our more modern times.  Those pages, in concert with  Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County are a must-read if you’re interested in the foundations of your new home.

Most days, I feel a terrible urgency about painting  a picture the outside world will see and cherish as much as I do.  Our River valley’s  wealth and health depend on each of us.  We are a generous people.  We care for each other — for our   elders  who return home alone after a hospitalization  because their children have left   in search of better jobs;  for our young people  who are learning the old arts from teachers like Bobbie Allees over at the Sullivan West Central School in Lake Huntington.

Our memories are long,  stretching  back to the days when our early families  lived in caves above Callicoon Center and North Branch.  Much of our strength derives from our open arms;  arms that have welcomed organic sustainable agriculture to replace the old dairies.  Fiber artists, novelists, poets  and even Hollywood actors have made  The Basin their home.   And just this winter,  our valley  sent two of our sons to The  Sundance Film Festival where Zac Stuart-Pontier won critical acclaim as an editor for “Catfish”  and Josh Fox’s  “Gasland”    brought home  Sundance’s Special Jury Prize for Documentaries.

Like Appalachia, Texas, Ohio and countless others  before us, our valley faces a threat from outside.

But with each new year,  our farmers, artists, teachers, librarians, nurses  —  old-timers  and newcomers —  carve  a new historic tablet.

Please come to the  Delaware Community Center  February 20th at 4:00 PM.   Learn what gas drilling may mean to the future of our valley.


(Postscript to yesterday’s article.   Bread bakers who read yesterday’s article will be unsurprised to learn that my pumpernickel  loaves  were reluctant to rise.  The yeast knows when the baker’s spoiling for a fight.  I suspect anger makes the air too heavy.)

Social Security…Isn’t

Often,  when my unemployed state threatens my  spirit, I bake bread.  Enormous swelling mounds of sourdough or pumpernickel.  The yeast, the texture, the molasses remind me that wealth depends on the right  ingredients,  a practiced  touch and a will to create something good.  At least,  that’s the hope.

Yesterday —  a damp, gray day  —  as I  wrestled with 15 cups of white flour, 6 cups of wheat  and 10 cups of rye,  an elderly   man knocked on my door.

“Do you own a German Short Hair?” he asked.

“Excuse me?”  I replied, wiping flour down the front of my  pants and sweater.   “A what?”

“A German Short Hair,”  he answered.  “The Town  received a complaint about a German Short Hair dog running loose at  this address.”

He leaned a bit heavily against the door frame and when I opened the door wide, he favored his knees crossing the threshold. After too short a visit,  he realized he’d been given wrong information and turned stiffly,  prepared  to visit the rest of the houses in the neighborhood.

“I don’t envy you your job,”  I apologized.  No matter my own state of affairs, it was an honest statement.

“It’s the bottom of the pits,”  he nodded.  “I’m 75 years old. My  wife and sister are home  with Alzheimer’s.  I take care of them  and this is how I stretch my monthly check.  You play the cards you’re dealt, right?  What else is there to do?”

As I watched him pick his way through the snow — on to the next house — my own knees gave out and   I crouched there on the back stoop, overwhelmed by hatred and impotent fury.

How many more groups can we join on Facebook that demand Congress give up its health care?

How many more petitions can we sign demanding a legitimate jobs bill for America’s workers?

How many more of our families must supplement their meals with dog food?

How many more of our children must graduate high school as functional illiterates?

How many more years must we spend more to incarcerate our youth than to educate them?

How much more will  America’s workers swallow before we  call a national strike?

How many more corporate bailouts will we suffer before we pitch our tents  and outrage on the National Mall?

More frequently than I like to admit, I’m struck dumb and inert by the evil that steals through the halls of Congress.  By  leaders who toss pennies to the working poor and billions to their cronies in crime.

I don’t know what to do.  I and countless others send out resumes day after day.  We circle and circle possible jobs in the paper.  We scroll through endless job search engines.

Each morning we swallow the mounting sense of hopelessness and smile unconvincingly at our children.  They’ve never been through this before.  They take their cues from us.

Tomorrow, I’ll give thanks for the likes of Mayor Tillman in DISH, TexasJosh Fox’ award-winning  Gasland and Joel Tyner in Dutchess County.

Tomorrow,  I’ll  get back to work with Mary and Bernie Handler,  Bruce Ferguson and Victoria Lesser as we prepare for  Mayor Tillman’s visit to Callicoon this Saturday.

Tomorrow,  I’ll  be grateful for the  water  we’re delivering to Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Tomorrow,  I’ll  work to rid myself of futile rage.

Tonight,  I’ll  curl in on myself,  grieving for a nation  that’s lost its way;  that cares little for its elders, its youth and its workers.