Passing Over : Things of Fear; Things of Celebration

Dear Readers:  Though  I  adhere to no recognized or  singular faith,  I do  love  stories.  Give me a well-written epic about  families, communities, struggle  and transformation, and I’ll soak it in rather than eat, sleep or bathe.  And spring — glorious, tricky,  laughing-up-its-sleeve-spring — is rife  with stories.  The  rituals and traditions of our spring  celebrations turn our hearts to hope,  sunshine, birth, awakenings and all the goodness that sheds the worn, tired and fearsome dark. For many of us, more than New Year’s, the Vernal Equinox signals the time when we re-examine our principles,  our desires and the investments of our energy.

Who can see the first  impertinent Crocus and not  raise arms in an expansive, giddy embrace?  Who, in that moment,  doesn’t hope to become a  more generous, celebratory human, reveling in the gifts of   Earth, Water,  Seeds and Life?

It seems to me this year, that  winter’s weight has been  harder to shift; and that this year, shifting it is more important than ever.  I am  more frazzled by  the things  that threaten — less swelled by  the things that green and warm.  I think I’m not alone and so,  because living in dread is enervating,  I offer this antidote in hopes that gloom  will pass over your heads and homes.


My  email inbox has been filled with reminders that a new season of   art shows,  library programs and pancake breakfasts is upon us.   Classes are sprouting  in the fine arts of herb-growing, veggie-planting and yoga- practicing.  From Pennsylvania  to Poughkeepsie,   grants were written during the winter and their seeds are flowering:  funds have been found for Honesdale’s  Music in the Park Festival and last evening  — despite the threat of snow — Callicoon’s own  Cafe Devine sponsored a cross-river gathering of small businesses.  The Town of Delaware is making plans for its clean-up and new Renaissance projects are gearing up  for sprucing up.  (Despite my own lackluster mood, I  clapped when I heard the Callicoon Creek Park folks are  meeting on March 31 at 5:00 PM to begin planning for the summer.  Hope to see you there!)

How can I grumble like  a curmudgeon when I can fill my summer belly with an astonishing array of  Willow Wisp Organic Farm fresh veggies from June 4th until November 20th?  (I have to shake my doldrums and sign up by  April 16th because,  even though I remain unconvinced about the wholesome value of veggies in my diet,  proprietors Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk  look very sturdy and I know they eat the stuff even through the winter.  Take a gander at the  family picture at their website.  Health oozes off these people!)

The Catskill Art SocietyThe DVAA (Savor the Arts!),  The Barryville Area Arts Association, The Nutshell Arts Center and all their member artists, filmmakers, potters, fiber artists and photographers are shaking out the winter kinks with a cornucopia of events that breathe life into our better selves.

And farm markets!  I cannot tell you how gladdened I am as the River flows past my window that the Callicoon Creek Park, Liberty’s Darbee Lane,  Jeffersonville’s  “West Village,”  Roscoe’s  field and tens of other locales will soon fill  with the luscious reds, greens, lavenders, purples and russets of  locally-grown food,  crusty breads and  my favorite, gooey confections.

Happily, my phone and inbox are also coming alive with offers of  yard work,  spring cleaning and other  work that will  pay my rent and help me enjoy our fecund River Basin.

Speaking of fecund (such a fertile, ripe word!)… Josh Fox (Gasland) will be interviewed tonight (3/26) at 8:30 pm  on Now on PBS. (If,  like myself, you’ve canceled your TV service,  check Now’s online videos to watch it at your convenience.)

If that isn’t enough to convince the outside world of the creative wealth born and bred in these here mountains and river valley, Opus Jazz  (edited by Zac Stuart-Pontier) is premiering on PBS’ Great Performances.

For those of you who have not heard about these two  Delaware River Basin filmmakers,   they  are OUR sons  who, thanks to  sweat, hard-work, and creative genius,  finally  met  this past January  when Gasland and  Catfish (edited by Zac) showed — to critical acclaim —  at The Sundance Film Festival.

One last quick note about the importance  of  our region’s  performers and artists:  Janet Burgan,  local  songwriter and performer, who has been sharing her voice and words  with us for years at one freebie benefit concert after another,  will be performing at a Cindy Sheehan appearance on April 9, 2010 at 7:00 PM in Endicott, NY.   The event,  “Words and Music for Peace” is sponsored by Tioga Peace & Justice and will be held at The  First United Methodist Church on  McKinley Ave. “Cindy will speak,  Janet  will sing, and Expressive Drumming will perform a song written just for this occasion.”


I know I’ve missed a ton of events, organizations, farmers and small businesses in this first Spring Humors article.  Unfortunately,  gas drilling is on our doorsteps.  It has already begun its taking;  and like all of us, I’ve had to make hard choices.  I’d much rather be  adding all our creative and life-affirming events to the CottageWorks Calendar, but  instead, am  learning and sharing all I can about what fracking will mean to  our community.  It’s  the dread  that darkens this spring  and in years to come, when my grandchildren ask,   “Where were you, Grandma,  when the Basin  resisted?”  I can only afford to give them one answer,  “Standing beside my community and  sitting at my computer.”

However,  I will  try to write a column like this at least once a month.  Please continue to send announcements about your  not-for-profit organizations and community-vested businesses and I will continue to  spotlight them in a “celebratory article.”

Best hopes of the River Basin on all our heads,


Sullivan County Business Challenges Workers’ Right to Organize

On March 3, 2010,  The National Labor Relations Board’s  (NLRB)  Buffalo, NY office issued a press release stating  it was “…seeking a federal court order to force an egg processor, Deb-El Food Products, to rehire seven fired union supporters and begin contract negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.”*

This is big news for Sullivan County, NY where few workers know what the “NLRB” is and even fewer have asked the independent federal agency to ensure a Collective Bargaining vote is conducted fairly and equitably in their workplace.

In 1935, the U.S. Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169) which established the National Labor Relations Board. (NLRB)   In deciding  its action  was necessary,  Congress said,  among many other things,    “The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

In sum, the National Labor Relations Board was established to serve two primary functions:

  • to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices, whether committed by labor organizations or employers, and;
  • to establish whether or not certain groups of employees desire labor organization representation for collective-bargaining purposes, and if so, which union.

In the current  Deb-El case,  the  NLRB investigated the company’s actions and found   it had  illegally interfered with its employees’  right to debate and establish a Collective Bargaining Unit.

More, Deb-El employees have alleged  the company, in its efforts to block a union vote, committed violent and inhumane  acts such as:

  • beating  an employee with a tire iron;
  • forcing an employee  to eat broken egg material off the floor; and
  • denying   employees  access to bathroom facilities

On Monday, March 22, 2010,   several Hudson Valley advocacy groups held a press conference at the Sullivan County Government Center in   support of  employees at Deb-El who risked much to join  UFCW Local 342.

Milan Bhatt, Executive Director of The Workers Rights Law Center, which advocates for low wage workers and is based in Kingston,  NY,  welcomed the press and public and stated,  “…the Center stood in strong support of  the right of Deb-El workers to bargain collectively.”

The Rural and Migrant Ministry,  which  has a broad and inclusive mission of  service to rural families, youth and workers, was represented by  Ruth Faircloth who said,  “One million people of faith feel that our men and women in food production have the right to be treated decently.  Our Ministry is deeply disturbed by testimony and reports… that Deb-El  punished its  workers for attempting to organize.  We support the NLRB in its efforts to right these wrongs.  Workers cannot organize in an atmosphere of violence.”

Eric Monroe of the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission and the NAACP reaffirmed  “the right of any worker to earn a decent wage”  as did Eileen Weil,  another member of the Commission who spoke on behalf of Sullivan Peace & Justice.

An NLRB Hearing convened right after the press conference  to consider,  according to the gathered organizations,  “…reinstatement of  [terminated]  workers,  awards of back pay and  a bargaining order requiring Deb-El to recognize UFCW Local 342 as the representative of workers.  On December 30th 2009, the Regional Director for the NLRB’s Region 3 Office in Buffalo ruled in favor of the workers and issued an extensive complaint outlining Deb El Foods’ misconduct.”

Despite NLRB having already ruled in favor of the workers,  this current hearing and subsequent appeals by Deb-El could extend for months.**

Workers who have questions concerning workplace practices,  rights to organize and other issues that impact the heart of families and their communities, are encouraged to contact any of the organizations linked in this article.


* In explaining its action,  The NLRB stated, “The petition filed today in federal district court argues that action is urgently needed.  ‘Unless injunctive relief is immediately obtained, it is anticipated that Respondent will continue its unlawful conduct…with the result that employees will continue to be deprived of their fundamental right to organize for purposes of collective bargaining.’  A majority of the Thompsonville facility’s workers signed cards in mid-May seeking a union election. In the weeks before the late June election date, according to the petition, the employer’s agents allegedly engaged in a sustained effort to discourage union support, threatening employees with dismissal and loss of benefits, telling them a union vote would be futile, and asking employees to sign an anti-union petition. One employee was allegedly asked to take a cell phone picture of his ballot. Seven union supporters were fired. In the end, 18 employees cast ballots for the union and 21 voted against it. In response to charges filed by the union ((3-CA-27215) and after a thorough investigation, the region found that the alleged pre-election misconduct made a legitimate vote impossible, even if rerun. Accordingly, the Region is asking that the injunctive relief require that the Respondent bargain with the Union. The petition for injunctive relief was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

** As a nurse-paralegal who has worked on employment  discrimination and retaliation complaints filed in The  Southern District of New York, I have also represented the Plaintiffs  (workers) in their attendant disability and unemployment claims.  One thing is always true in such cases:  time is on the side of the employer.  Companies  have the resources to sustain months and even years of hearings, decisions, appeals and trials.  Without community supports,  the same can never be said for  employees — even after, as in the Deb-El case,   hearings have resulted in findings favorable to those workers.


Sullivan County’s unemployment rate rose to 10.3% in January 2010. Some workforce development  estimates have placed that  figure  nearer to  20% when it includes  unemployed and under-employed workers no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.   The overall rate in NY State is 9.4%.  Of  New York’s 62 counties, Sullivan’s unemployment rate is ranked amongst  the highest  at 43. Bronx County is ranked at the bottom  with a rate of  14.1%.

Historically, as too many unemployed workers compete for too few jobs,  wages have been driven downward and  working conditions have worsened. As wages have fallen,  so has the ability of workers to support local economies.  As Congress opined in establishing the National Labor Relations Act and Board,  collective bargaining is essential to ensuring against  ensuing economic depressions  — like our current one.

Sullivan County Chair Asks Residents to Support Drilling Forums

The Sullivan County  Legislature unanimously banned  hydro-fracking on County property and “memorialized the  United States Senate and House of Representatives to amend appropriate federal laws to protect the environment and the public from risks associated with hydro-fracking.”


(During the public comment period, all but one speaker addressed the  drilling items.)

To start, Alice Diehl said,  “There have been six  generations on Diehl farms.  Our children and grandchildren want to farm.  One  of my grandsons is buying equipment.  He has his herd started.  I feel compelled because of him to come here today and let you know how we feel about  our farming  future. Gas drilling is a really bad idea.  It might bring revenue but there are other ways.  Once our aquifers are breached, that’s the end.  We can’t farm with toxic  water  and we don’t want to move.  You people are responsible for the health and well-being of  our residents.”

John  Kavaller,  a local real estate agent and long-time businessperson in Sullivan County, described himself as  a reluctant speaker.  “You really are arbiters for the pubic good and you have a lot of things on  your  plate. Businesspeople  have  substantial interest in gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and you  have to  consider  the possible benefits and the  cons.  I would echo a previous speaker:  we need you to hold public forums throughout Sullivan County where we can hear from our public officials, our emergency responders and they can hear from residents. That’s what  we’re about in this county.   I was part of the bureaucracy  in New York State.  I have some idea how things work.  The budget determines  what happens.   Albany determines the budget.   I believe the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC]  wants to  properly handle  drilling and hydro-fracking, but  I have substantial  concerns that the DEC,  because of budget constraints,  will be able to handle  the situation. Once the  water’s contaminated,  we can’t get  it  back.”

Larysa Dyrszka, a member of Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED)  strongly supported both resolutions. A retired  pediatrician, Dr. Dyrszka,  expressed profound concerns  about chemicals used in  hydraulic fracturing  as well as  contamination from  compressor  stations. (Compressors are part of the extraction and gas preparation process.)  She said, “Both will have a deleterious  affect on the health of our  community.  We need more  information and  better science.  The Federal  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced it  will conduct  a  comprehensive study to investigate  potential impacts of gas drilling on water quality and public  health.  In addition to the resolutions before you today, I’d ask you to  consider a moratorium in Sullivan County on hydro-fracking until  this EPA  study is completed.  I   also agree  that we need you to make sure more science and  information is  presented to the  public.  We will be more than happy to help you  set that up.”

Ayla Maloney, a local potter and proprietor of Honey Hill Pottery in the Town of Delaware, said,  “I’m asking you to consider a moratorium in Sullivan County and it should be open-ended.  Big corporations  have invested a lot of  money in drilling and the political process.  Our recreation, our scenery, our peace of mind…the entire landscape will be changed forever.  They want to put  10,000 wells in our area.  If that happens, it will turn  our area into a hideous wasteland.  I’m very upset.  I’m considering leaving and  I love it here.  I’m counting on you guys   to stand up for us.”

Victoria Lesser  recalled her early years in the Sullivan County area. “My childhood memories of this place are amazing. I  came back and  bought The North Branch Inn and restored it to its original 1860s  state.  I’ve been thinking  for days  what I want to say.  I  saw an  enormous  sign proclaiming,  ‘Business.  Pleasure.  Life,’ and another that called the Sullivan County Catskills, ‘Mountains of opportunities.’   The question now is,  ‘For whom?’   How can it be that everything I’ve invested would be considered worthless if drilling comes here. And  who are the people who are  thinking of   leasing their lands?   So many farmers.   The sad thing is we’ve allowed our farmers to struggle.  People who are spending $5 for a gallon of milk in  New York City   haven’t got a clue that our farmers are  trying to exist on  1970’s  milk prices.  As we  pledged allegiance to our flag, I thought of the public relations of gas drillers that drilling will improve our local economy.  What’s  really  going to happen to the economy of  Sullivan County?  They bring in their own  workers that stay by the well head. They won’t be eating french toast at my  inn that’s made with  brioche I get from another local business and serve with Diehl farm  maple syrup.  And what about the public relations about our national security?  Foreign companies are investing in the Marcellus Shale.”

Ms. Lesser began reading  from a Philadelphia Inquirer article she’d brought with her:  “A Japanese  company,  Mitsui,  is investing   $1.4 billion  in the Marcellus Shale. They’ve agreed to buy a 32.5 percent stake in the … natural  gas operations of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation…. We…anticipate drilling more than 4,500 wells over the coming year…. The U.S. will be a major gas market in years ahead….” Ms. Lesser  waved her sheet,  “Not only are they buying  our resources,  but so have [Norway’s] StatoilhydroBritain’s  BP and companies in Italy.  How can we sleep at night if we allow this to happen?  You have to make sure  we remain a mountain of opportunity  for people who actually live here and love this place.  Many people  who are  signing leases  don’t even live here.  One guy who recently leased lives in Port Jefferson or some place.  People making big money are living  in Japan and people vested here  won’t be able to leave because  our lives will be  worthless.”

After the measures passed,  a few Legislators responded to the public with comments of their own.

Leni Binder said, “We’ve been holding fora.  We’re not new to this.  New York  is a  home rule state.   We don’t have the  right to tell a town  not to  allow drilling in  a town if the state tells them they can.*  I urge you to go to the State and Federal levels.   All of us endorse a  study in this county.”

Legislator, Jodi Goodman reminded the audience of a forum that was held in Liberty, NY.  “Eight hundred people nearly filled it.  But we have to think, there’s  also the home owner who’s  for  drilling. Many farmers came forward who said you have no right to tell me how poor I must be — how much I must struggle.   It’s a  very difficult subject.  We have to control  trucks coming through our county and the  amount of hazardous  materials coming through.”

David Sager, who has been at most of the drilling meetings held in the County said,  “I  brought forward the  legislation to help struggling  farmers but people need to separate the arguments.  This is not about farming.  This is not about agriculture.  This is about industrialization and the environment.”

Chairman of the  Legislature,  Jonathan Rouis, reiterated a sentiment he expressed in his State of the County address,  “The Board of Legislators can and will be  the lead educator  on the issue.  The most important thing we can do is  to develop  these fora and make sure they’re well-attended.  If you’re interested in helping us do that,  stop by the Planning office and give your name.  Keep informed and help us  spread the word.”

(NB:  Anyone who believes Sullivan County residents should hear from and ask questions of our County Commissioners and emergency responders should call   845-794-3000 and ask for the Planning Department.  Leave your name and phone number so you can help the Legislature  create informational fora in your community.)


*Despite Ms. Binder’s remarks, there’s some hope for advocates of  increased local controls  as a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suggests. (Because the decision was reached by an Appellate court, it might carry weight as precedent in New York.):

  • 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 “traditional 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.


In Sullivan, as well as in other New York State towns and counties, legislators should  harness the public’s growing outrage that local control of community resources is being stymied by Albany and Washington.

The New York State Associations of Towns and Counties are lobbying tools that can be used coherently and concertedly  against what many view as Albany’s “over-reaching.”

For more information about protecting localities, please download a copy of  “Legal and Practical Guide to Protecting Your Citizens and the Environment in the Face of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling”  prepared by Kimberlea Rea Shaw at the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Natural Gas Development Resource Center.   (The Center has  numerous other  resources  and suggestions  such as water testing which many believe should be  paid for  by gas extraction companies before drilling begins.)

Delaware Town Board Meeting : March 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the Resolution read:

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

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

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

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

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

The Resolution was tabled without discussion.

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

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


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

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

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

Sullivan County Considers Drilling Resolutions. Barth Letter Postscript

Kudos to  the Sullivan County Legislature’s  Public Works Committee  for bringing drilling  before the  full  Board of Legislators!  The members of the Committee are David Sager (Chair),  Elwin Wood, Jonathan Rouis, Jodi Goodman, Leni Binder, Alan Sorensen and Frank Armstrong.

The Committee has  given us an opportunity to congratulate its members and to  ask  the County Board to:

  • hold public fora with  commissioners  and emergency responders for the benefit of  county residents;
  • anything else you believe  will help protect Sullivan County residents as we move forward.

If you wish to speak,  it’s suggested you get there  by 1:30.    Meeting begins at 2:00 PM

The Sullivan County Democrat’s full story on the  Committee’s resolutions can be read here and is excerpted below:

MONTICELLO — Legislators on the Public Works Committee unanimously agreed Thursday to ban gas drilling involving hydrofracking on all county-owned properties.
Citing environmental, water quality, traffic and property impact concerns, the resolution says no such drilling will be allowed “until such time as the potential long-term, cumulative and indirect environmental and public health impacts are adequately addressed and appropriate mitigation measures are identified.”
An accompanying resolution was also approved on Thursday, urging Congress to “amend pertinent federal laws to adequately safeguard the environment and the public from any environmental and health risks associated with hydrofracking.”
Both resolutions will go before the full Legislature this Thursday for official approval. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.


It was brought to my attention that the link to The River Reporter’s letters section which I included in my Hodgepodge :  Sullivan County Leases;  David Jones article is not working.

In a follow-up to  the “Hodgepodge” article,  Mr. James Barth, who authored  the letter concerning Mr. David Jones’ land transactions, wrote a comment at Breathing which provides background for the publication of his letter.

Those interested in reading his letter for a fuller understanding can find it here or  here.

Breathing recommends that regular readers of this column subscribe to the comment section’s  RSS feed in order to participate in its  “community forum” potential.  For instance,  one resident (“Deemer”)  has suggested local action in a comment this morning and is looking for feedback and possible support.

Dr. Ronald E. Bishop Comments to NYS DEC

As promised,  here is  Dr. Ronald Bishop’s response to the  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS).  Many thanks to Un-Natural Gas for making sure Dr. Bishop’s comments (and so many other things)  are on  Breathing’s radar!  A quick read  will give readers an understanding why so many are worried that  the future of  the  de facto moratorium on gas drilling and hydro-fracking in our State may rest on the dSGEIS.  For those  interested in reading more,  please see the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the dSGEIS.


Dr. Ronald E. Bishop
Cooperstown, NY

December 30, 2009

Attention:  dSGEIS Comments
Bureau of Oil and Gas Regulation
NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources
625 Broadway, Third Floor
Albany, NY  12233-6500

To Whom It May Concern,

Please accept my comments regarding the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program:  Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Reservoirs.

Section 2.2 Public Need and Benefit

I note that economic benefits data are limited to a 5-year time frame and are nearly entirely speculative.  A more appropriate time frame would be 50 or more years, including the period after which natural gas reserves (and related revenues) have been exhausted.  Refusal to estimate (or even acknowledge) the “bust” phase that follows any projected industrial “boom” constitutes a failure to thoroughly assess the overall economic impact of this industry statewide.
In this context, it is noteworthy that gas wells in the Barnett Shales, projected to produce for 30 to 50 years, have exhibited catastrophic production decline (in spite of repeated hydraulic fracturing) after 4 to 5 years of operation (1), with overall productive life spans of only 7 to 10 years.  This suggests that technologies for recovery of gas from shales are immature; therefore, widespread application of the current state of the art runs counter to NYSDEC’s mandate to efficiently exploit the state’s natural gas reserves.  A thorough assessment of public benefit (also reflected in Section 4.4.3 Potential for Gas Production and Section 5.16.3 Production Rate) must address this issue.

Section 2.4.6 History of Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing in Water Supply Areas

The statement, “No documented instances of groundwater contamination are recorded in the NYSDEC files from previous horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing projects in New York.”  is scandalous.  These kinds of projects represent a tiny minority of gas wells developed in New York, and so in no way reflect NYSDEC’s history of regulating this industry.  Numerous instances of soil and groundwater contamination caused by the gas industry were recently documented by Toxics Targeting, Inc., primarily using sources available to (or maintained by) NYSDEC (2).  Equally spurious was the statement, “The reported Chautauqua County incidents, the majority of which occurred in the 1980’s…, could not be substantiated…”  Many of these incidents occurred in the period from 2000 to the present, and were substantiated not only by the Chautauqua County Department of Health, but also by the US Geological Survey.  My own poll of New York county health officials pointed to other incidents where gas drilling appeared to impact water supplies in Allegany, Chemung, Genesee and Steuben Counties (3).  In light of such evidence, this section of the SGEIS should be stricken and replaced with a realistic assessment of gas industry culpability for collateral damage.

Section SGEIS Applicability – Definition of High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

This section minimizes the pervasive issue of scale which, more than any other factor, underlies the need for updated regulations.  Compared to the GEIS’ “typical” volume of 80,000 gallons of fluids used per well, the average horizontally-drilled hydraulic fracturing project will involve over 4,000,000 gallons, 50-fold greater volume than was considered in the GEIS.  I submit that this difference is not merely “significant”; it is enormous.  For example, in spite of technological advances that permit effective additive concentrations one-tenth of those employed 10 years ago, the net result is still more than a five-fold increase in tonnage per gas well.  The accompanying increased risk in transfer-related mishaps (arguably one of the greatest potential hazards of the industry) is, in my view, severely underestimated throughout the dSGEIS.  This is particularly acute where multi-well projects are under development.

Section 5.4.3 Composition of Fracturing Fluids

This section contains gravely serious deficiencies.  First, it is inappropriate for NYSDEC to accept any less than full disclosure from energy companies regarding the chemicals they intend to use in natural gas extraction projects.  Products that are not completely described should not be permitted to be used in New York.
The catalog of health concerns noted by NYSDOH for each chemical category leaves much to be desired.  Ecological impacts of the various chemicals are entirely omitted, and some important human health effects are missed as well.
For example, one of the bromine-based biocides, 22-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide (DBNPA) has been shown to be extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.  In fact, DBNPA is damaging or lethal to trout, bay oysters, Mysid shrimp and Daphnia magna (so-called “water fleas”) at concentrations below its chemical detection limit (4).  The dSGEIS segment on health effects from microbicides was summarized thus:  “Toxicity information is limited for several of the microbicidal chemicals.”  This level of scientific scrutiny is dangerously inadequate for an agency charged with promoting public and environmental safety.
Worse yet, some information provided in this section is misleading.  For example, acetylenic alcohols, including propargyl alcohol, are inappropriately grouped with simple alcohols and glycols.  This group is summarized in the dSGEIS thus: “Exposure to high levels of some alcohols (e.g. ethanol, methanol) affect (sic) the central nervous system.”  Consider the toxicity of propargyl alcohol (5):  this chemical (inhaled or absorbed through the skin) induces a range of ailments that include multi-organ failure.  A sensitizer, it elicits increasing responses to decreasing exposures, and symptoms can recur months or years after all exposure has ceased.  Propargyl alcohol is widely used as a corrosion inhibitor; therefore, no discussion of health effects is adequate that fails to warn potential exposure victims about this additive.
A major question is completely omitted in this section.  No one understands, and no one at NYSDEC proposes to investigate pre-existing organisms in deep rock structures, including target formations.  What archaea, bacteria and algae currently live in these strata?  What is their value to society via biological, pharmaceutical or medical research?  How are they affected by the drastic changes imposed on their ecosystems by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing?  NYSDEC should inventory, protect and develop these natural resources.
Finally, after describing (albeit incompletely) probable health effects from carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, and potentially lethal compounds planned for use at rates of hundreds or thousands of pounds per project, this section ends with the statement, “As mentioned earlier, the 1992 GEIS addressed hydraulic fracturing in Chapter 9, and NYSDOH’s review did not identify any potential exposure situations associated with horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing that are qualitatively different from those addressed in the GEIS.”  I submit that size matters here; a massive difference in scale requires an adjustment in regulatory approach in the same sense as different care is needed for a tiger than for a house cat.
Based on the deficiencies of this section alone, I would recommend withdrawal of this draft supplement to the GEIS for oil, gas and solution mining.

Section Subsurface Mobility of Fracturing Fluids

This section and the associated Appendix 11 register a glaringly flawed assumption:  that fracturing fluids are being pumped into dry rock formations.  Analysis of flowback fluids clearly indicate (dSGEIS Table 5-8 and Section that rock strata including target formations are filled with salts-saturated water, i.e. brine.  The ability of deep rock formations to accommodate additional non-compressible fluids may well depend on their ability to direct them into faults, abandoned wells or other, more porous strata.  This consideration, along with accounting for repeat hydraulic fracturing, should guide a fresh attempt to model the subterranean flow of fluids introduced at high pressures for natural gas extraction processes.

Section 5.12 Flowback Water Treatment, Recycling and Reuse

This section contains some of the most optimistic operational projections in the entire dSGEIS.  Several of the modular technologies mentioned in this section are annotated, “Modular … units have been used in the Barnett Shale.”  This might be better phrased, “… have been tested in the Barnett Shale”, because none of them are in widespread use anywhere in the US.  I suggest a more realistic set of assumptions that anticipate that 10% of flowback fluids will be reused / recycled, and the rest will require transport to distant disposal sites.

Section 5.13 Waste Disposal; 5.16.6 Brine Disposal; 5.16.7 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in Marcellus Production Brine

Gas well flowback fluid is currently classified as “industrial waste” under state code (Article 27, Title 9, Paragraph 371.1. (e) (2) (v)).  However, 18 of the 69 compounds (dSGEIS Tables 5-8, 5-9, 6-1 and 6-2), as well as radionuclides (dSGEIS Appendix 13) reported in flowback fluids are listed in New York as hazardous substances.  Therefore, the NYSDEC commissioner should, by his authority under Article 27, Title 9, Paragraph 371.2 (b) (2), reclassify gas well flowback fluids as hazardous waste.
Permits for high-volume gas well development projects should not be issued unless and until intrastate infrastructure designed specifically for treating their hazardous wastes is built and functioning.

Chapter 6 Potential Environmental Impacts

Conspicuously absent from mention here are the potential impacts of residual infrastructure that remains in the ground when gas extraction activities are completed.  No complete inventory, let alone hazard assessment of abandoned oil and gas wells in New York has been assembled to date, and no long-term follow-up assessments related to proposed development are suggested in this dSGEIS.  This constitutes  a major failure in operational planning.

Section 6.1.1 Water Withdrawals

Large parts of the Southern Tier of New York situated over developable shale gas deposits lie outside regions regulated by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission or New York City’s West of Hudson Watershed.  NYSDEC makes no provision for monitoring or limiting water withdrawals in these areas.  This constitutes a major failure in operational planning.

Section 6.1.6 Waste Transport

Manifesting of gas drilling wastes (hazardous by nature if not by state law) should be required for transport by Part 364-permitted haulers.  Description of these loads as “general industrial waste” poses unacceptable risks for emergency responders to roadway incidents.

Section 6.5 Air Quality

This elegantly researched section suffers from a failure to aggregate emissions from a number (several to several hundred) of vicinal gas wells.  Such aggregation is currently being investigated in Dish, Texas (6, 7).  Preliminary results suggest that hazardous levels of benzene, ozone and other pollutants that accumulate in an intensively drilled area can measurably influence the health of people who live there.  NYSDEC scientists would do well to study these data and consider ways to develop commensurate analytical scope in New York.

Section 6.7 Centralized Flowback Water Surface Impoundments

Central impoundments for flowback fluids should not be permitted.  Along with maintenance of pit liners and connecting conduits, maintenance of headspace should be expected to be problematic.  New York has virtually no capacity for treating these fluids (dSGEIS, (Section 5.13 Waste Disposal), and facilities in Pennsylvania are maximally utilized.  With nowhere to go, flowback in New York will build to critical (and greater) mass.  If not contained in rigid containers, this fluid will overflow into surrounding properties.  This would be particularly troublesome during periods of heavy rain or snow.

Section 6.8 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Marcellus Shale

This section appropriately mentions the frequent occurrence of radiondclides in flowback fluids, but omits any mention of state and federal regulatory incongruities that usually complicate disposal of mixed hazard (chemical and radiological) waste.  This is particularly salient in evaluating future applications by energy companies for beneficial use determinations to permit spreading of flowback fluids on roads (Appendix 12).  I recommend consideration of these complications before any such applications are accepted.

Section 6.9 Visual Impacts

Others may consider the photos of actual wellsites in New York reassuring; I do not.  Even before scale-up to an unprecedented level of intensity, this kind of development in my region of the state should be expected to exert a significant negative impact on hunting, fishing, local recreation and tourism.  Regarding mitigation measures, I submit that “hope and wait until the worst is over” is not a viable strategy.

Chapter 7 Mitigation Measures

Throughout this section, suggestions that NYSDEC personnel should have the opportunity to supervise various critical steps in the development process (eg. surface casing cementing) should be replaced with mandates that agency personnel shall be present for any such operations.  Similarly, language proposing that mitigation steps “may” or “should” be taken should be replaced with “shall be taken”.

Section Sufficiency of As-Built Wellbore Construction; Appendices 8, 9 & 10

Existing regulations regarding the mixing and placement of concrete are incoherent.  Particularly egregious is the requirement that poured and pumped concrete should be left undisturbed in a casing until a compressive strength of 500 pounds per square inch is achieved.  The chemistry of concrete curing is minimally defined as the hydration of calcium silicate.  The rate at which this process occurs depends heavily on several factors that include temperature, water concentration, and the presence of modifying chemicals.  All these factors are in flux with any gas well project:  (1) Temperature varies from as low as 23 deg. F at the surface to as high as 150 deg. F in the target formation – and neither extreme is ideal for curing.  (2) Water and brines are ubiquitous in New York subterranean rock strata, and can either add to or subtract from water available for curing depending on the layer depth.  (3) Commonly added fluidizers and plasticizers all tend to impede curing, but their responses to varying temperatures and water concentrations are not well characterized.
Taken together, these issues make meaningful determination of the time at which concrete throughout a well casing has reached any particular compressive strength practically incalculable.  Further, shock resistance (related to channel or crack formation) is better correlated with tensile than compressive strength.  I submit that the relative success in sealing New York gas well projects to date has been the result of many lucky guesses.  This is not a basis for sound regulation.   I strongly recommend instituting a standard period of time for waiting on concrete to cure, with the specific standard to be set by rigorous investigation of the salient parameters.
A concrete bond log should be required for every surface casing.  Further, specific site conditions under which intermediate casings must be installed should be formulated.

Section 7.1.11 Protecting the Quality of New York City’s Drinking Water Supply

I take umbrage at the notion that my or any other New Yorker’s water supply is less worth protecting than that of New York City.  Even so, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, in its final impact assessment (8), makes clear that the best of proposed regulations are anticipated to expose New York City’s drinking water supply to substantial risk of serious damage.  Since this is the case, then acceptably safe development of gas from New York’s shales is probably not possible.  My recommended response to this realization is that NYSDEC abort any attempt to update gas development regulations and institute a state-wide ban on high-intensity gas development.

Section 7.1.12 Setbacks

This section is incoherent, lacking clarity about how interacting factors (e.g. occupied dwellings, public buildings, and various water supplies) should be interpreted in terms of setback requirements.
There is no mention of setbacks from abandoned oil or gas wells; this is a major omission.

Section 7.5 Protecting Air Quality

Frankly, major industrialization of a region is incompatible with protecting air quality.  If the goal is maintenance of air quality that is characteristic of New York’s Southern Tier today, then the mitigation measures discussed (not mandated) are doomed to failure.

Section 7.11 Mitigating Road Use Impacts

NYSDEC offers practically no assistance in this endeavor.  Municipalities should receive assistance with posting and appropriate bonding of roadways, and a centralized trust fund should be established to protect private taxpayers from having to pay for roads ruined by energy corporations and their subcontractors.  This section contains no discussion of privatization of gas revenues accompanied by socialization of the risks and costs of collateral damage, let alone any mitigation of this scenario.

Section 7.12 Mitigating Community Character Impacts

This section contains no description of existing community character with which future attributes might be compared.  Major potential impacts omitted from this section include: influences of permanent industrialization, changes in the types and numbers of cottage industries now typical of New York’s Southern Tier, and influences of the “bust” phase of a boom / bust economic cycle.  I recommend that NYSDEC conduct a rigorous examination of existing community character as prelude to an expanded discussion of impacts mitigation.

Section 7.13 Mitigating Cumulative Impacts

There is no meaningful discussion of cumulative impacts in this section, let alone any attempt to describe mitigation measures.  This constitutes one of the greatest failures of operational planning in this dSGEIS.

Chapter 9 Alternative Actions

Option 9-1, Prohibition of Development, is ruled against by NYSDEC on the basis that it would violate state law, which requires development of natural resources.  I submit that, in light of the overwhelming value of resources that would be damaged or destroyed by intensive gas extraction from New York’s shales, it is the sole legal and just option.

Appendix 15 Hydraulic Fracturing – 15 Statements from Regulatory Officials

Hydraulic fracturing has, in my view, metamorphosed from a technically challenging array of methods to release trapped gases from rocks into a caricature of all that is feared about the natural gas industry.  Judged soberly, these methods elevate risk from gas extraction processes primarily by requiring the transport, handling and use of exotic chemicals which would otherwise not need to be moved, handled, or disposed of.  In comparison to these elements of risk, the actual steps involved with “fracking” are anticlimactic – though not risk-free.
Attribution of a specific accident to any single risk factor is always fraught with difficulty, even when that factor is known by the weight of evidence to be significant.  For example, the fact that one of the drivers in an auto accident was intoxicated is not de facto evidence that the drunk driver was at fault.  Still, the drunk driver bears some responsibility.
As this issue has developed publicly, I have observed energy company spokespeople caricaturizing “hydrofracturing” as that demon which is feared by the uneducated public, but which investigators can never make culpable – provided it is considered in the narrowest methodological sense and as a sole causative factor.  I am disappointed that NYSDEC has chosen to perpetuate this caricature.
This appendix demonstrates, more than anything, the extent to which a variety of public officials are willing to collude in half-truths.  While a handful of state officials who were queried acknowledged that gas extraction produces unintentional consequences, all whose responses were included here acceded to the premise – without context, of course – that, under the narrow conditions of the question posed, hydraulic fracturing has never polluted any groundwater.
NYSDEC had the opportunity in an appendix like this to perform a valuable service of education to the public, putting issues with hydraulic fracturing into proper context.  I could not be more disappointed that you chose a different path.


Ron Bishop
References Cited:

1.     Arthur Berman, “Lessons from the Barnett Shale suggest caution in other shale plays”,
ASPO International Peak Oil Conference, August 10, 2009.

2.     Walter Hang, “Drilling Spills Profiles”, Toxics Targeting, Inc. 2009

3.     Ron Bishop, “Experiences with Natural Gas Extraction:  Interviews with Health Officials
in New York’s Counties”, private communication 2009.  (Attached)

4.     EPA, “Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide
(DNPA)”, September 1994.

5.     BPPB Consortium, “Propargyl Alcohol U.S. EPA HPV Challenge Program Revised
Submission”, July 2003.

6.     Jack Z. Smith, “Texas expediting environmental complaints on natural gas operations in
Barnett Shale”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 23, 2009.

7.     Wilma Subra, “Results of Health Survey of Current and Former DISH/Clark, Texas
Residents”, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, December 2009.

8.     New York City Department of Environmental Protection, “Impact Assessment of Natural
Gas Production in the New York City Water Supply Watershed: Final Impact Assessment
Report”, December 22, 2009.

Gas Drilling : New York State Moratorium

I’ve noticed a recurrence in visits from people who are reaching Breathing Is Political because they’re searching for information about a “moratorium in New York State.”

To clarify,  New York is functioning under a  de facto moratorium until the State is satisfied with  the Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) on drilling/hydraulic fracturing.  If and when that statement is accepted as the definitive guideline for drilling oversight and enforcement in NYS,  it is generally accepted or feared  that the  “moratorium” will come to an end and drilling in NYS will commence.

An excellent response has been written to the dSGEIS by Dr. Ron Bishop and I’m hoping to have his permission to publish it at Breathing by tomorrow or the next day.

Slaying Goliath Can Be As Easy As Deciding

(Follow up to Breathing’s  “Gas Drilling :  Sullivan County’s Hazards Mitigation Plan.” You have until  March 31, 2010  to download,  complete and return your Sullivan County Hazards Mitigation Questionnaire!)

Occasionally,  it’s  borne in on me  that breathing really  is political —  that   my  private values and public choices require  a decision;  that those decisions are not entirely separate from yours;  and  that corporate policies are not distinct from their impact on my neighbor down the road.

Tuesday  March 9, 2010.

Time Warner Cable informs me that my most recent payment was misapplied and that  they are unable to correct their mistake until next month’s billing cycle.

I  tell them to discontinue my television service and miraculously, they find a way to apply the credit immediately.

I tell them I’m fed up with  having to threaten them in order to ensure good customer service and reiterate that I want my television service canceled.

They reply  that I will have to drop off their cable box at some “convenient location”  and I suggest they come and get it.

They agree but  say  they will continue to bill me for television service until they can retrieve the box at some future date.   I say,  “Bill away.  Bill to your heart’s content.  Not only will I not pay for  TV service beyond the date I  requested cancellation,  but I am forwarding  our correspondence to the Better Business Bureau.”

It’s a day of miracles:  they promise to  back-date my  credit to the date of my cancellation request.

Benefits:  $50 saved per month and more time for reading, writing and sitting on the river bank.

Dare  I admit,  that  like  David,  I am looking for other Goliaths to slay?

Wednesday March 10, 2010. Verizon Wireless informs me via email that my new bill is available for payment.

Coincidentally, a promotion from CREDO Mobile has  arrived  in my mailbox. It promises  that CREDO will not  support war, torture or deforestation.  Chortling with glee,  I plunge through page after page at their website.  If I  sign up for their service, they promise  to support  Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, The Center for Independent Media, Earthjustice, Physicians for a National Health Program and Code Pink, for  Pete’s sake. (There’s  a ton of others but those were the first to dazzle my cynical eye.)

“Steady on,”  I tell myself.    My heart has been through the socially-conscious corporate grinder before.  I take a break.  I make some toast (homemade) and tuna (dolphin-safe).  I stare down at the River and  decide that whether or not CREDO’s service area blankets the nation as widely as Verizon’s, I’m tired of  complaining while walking hand-in-hand with a corporate marauder.

In a state of  near-spiritual transport,  I dial CREDO and tell the  helpful woman on the other end that “I am dawning with the day!”   Not only does she understand (or say she does) but she’s heard of  “hydraulic fracturing” and wishes us  well in our efforts to re-establish control of our local resources.

And joy of joys, CREDO will reimburse me up to $200.00  for incurring  Verizon’s onerous  “early contract withdrawal” penalty. (Savings:  approximately $25.00 monthly.)

(I’ll report back after using CREDO’s  service for a month but by way of disclosure,  for each person  who enrolls with CREDO Mobile  and  mentions my name and cell phone number, CREDO will send me a check for $100. That’s not  peculiar to me.  It’s  CREDO’s  standard operating procedure.  Apparently, CREDO is not only a responsible corporate “person,” but they’re  savvy, too.)

Thursday March 11, 2010 (afternoon hours.) As I unpack groceries, there’s a frantic pounding on my  front door.  “My friend’s sick,”  gasps my neighbor.  “She needs  insulin but she’s got no insurance  and she can’t afford to buy the medicine.”

Apparently,  my neighbor’s friend  had been to a hospital a few days before and was informed that  her blood glucose (sugar)  level was at  500.   She was treated with insulin and sent home.

Under the best of circumstances, insulin-dependent  diabetics with  health insurance  perform daily monitoring of  their blood glucose levels.  Generally, normal levels range from 80 to 120.  An individual’s levels will vary  depending on food intake, exercise, stress and other factors. When more than diet, exercise  and/or oral medications are required to maintain those healthy levels, insulin is prescribed.  When high blood sugar remains untreated, dire consequences often result.  Immediate (acute)  concerns involve loss of consciousness and possible death.  In the long-term,  amputations and blindness are just two common consequences.

Under any circumstances,  a blood level of 500 is a matter of sharp concern,  even for long-time diabetics who can  run high as a matter of course.  In this case,  our “patient”  had no idea what her blood glucose might be.  It  had been a couple of  days since her hospital treatment and she had no money for monitoring equipment or her prescribed-insulin.

Without delay, she was taken  to the Callicoon Hospital emergency room which is a few miles down the road from us.  Despite her lack of money and  insurance, I knew  she’d be  treated gently and professionally by the staff at our small, rural care center. More, I  was confident they’d take a full health history and do what excellent  nurses and doctors do regardless of  insurance company  strictures:   search with her for ways to overcome her lack of insurance and money.  That’s what we do here in the Valley:  we care for each other.

As  Louise Penny  writes in A Fatal Grace,

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering,

There’s a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

And because, breathing really is political.

Hodgepodge: Sullivan County Leases, David Jones

IN SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY:    According to an article on the front page of the  March 9, 2010  Sullivan County Democrat, “On March 2, the Sullivan County Clerk’s Office filed four new gas leases in western Sullivan County…  Industry insiders have acknowledged that leasing slowed down while everyone awaits New York State’s finalization of new gas drilling rules.  Those rules are expected to go into effect later this year, and with Sullivan County sitting on what has been identified as a deep and potentially plentiful source of Marcellus Shale natural gas, industry interest has reappeared. ”

According to the article, of the four recently-signed leases,  two  are for mineral rights in the Town of Delaware,  one is in  the Town of Cochecton and one is in the Town of Fremont.

This  Thursday  (March 18, 2010)  the Sullivan County Legislature will meet in  full at  2:00 PM in the Government Center at 100 North Street in Monticello, NY.   In accord with  Breathing’s March 5, 2010 article about Sullivan County’s current efforts to update its  Hazards Mitigation Plan,   the  March 18th  meeting is open to the public and would be one venue in which to ask that the Legislature conduct public meetings  where  residents can hear from and ask questions of  Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and our  emergency responders.  The linked article  contains other suggestions that might be made to the Sullivan County Legislature.

The Delaware Town Board is meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday March 17th) at 7:00 PM  in Hortonville.


On March 11, 2010,  The River Reporter published  a  letter to the editor from James Barth in which he alleged that David Jones, drilling and hydraulic fracturing proponent and  a member of  Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association, “… either alone, or with partners, has purchased,  just since the natural gas boom talk started, the following acreage: In June of 2008, Jones Partners LP purchased 185 acres in Berlin Township for $1,000,000. In August of 2008, David C. Jones purchased 68.99 acres in Damascus Township for $438,500. In May of 2009, Ruth M. and David C. Jones purchased two plots of land in Preston Township that totaled 181.75 acres at a cost of $825,000.  Therefore, in the 12-month period between June of 2008 and June of 2009, Mr. Jones and partners seem to have paid $2,263,500 for 435.75 acres of land. During this period, Mr. Jones has been a vocal proponent of high volume, slick water hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale.”  (Mr. Barth cites to “tax assessment public records.”  By following the link and searching for “Jones” and “Jones Partners,”  you will find the records referenced by Mr. Barth.)

After reading Mr. Barth’s letter,  Breathing phoned  Mr. Jones and  asked  whether or not  he’d made  the 2008-2009 land purchases  and if so,  where he’d gotten  the necessary funding ($2,263,499).

Mr. Jones —  who has been unfailingly civil and generous with his time  in our conversations —  provided answers off-the-record but would not address his real estate purchases  publicly.

He did have opinions concerning news that the Wayne Highlands School District is considering leasing its gas rights to HessNewfield.  “It’s a great idea to lease school property.  The wells have to be far enough from  a school in case of an accident — because you never know — a minimum of 500 feet from any structure.  Our  local and school taxes are too high.”

At the  March 9, 2010  Wayne Highlands Board of Education  meeting, members of the public expressed concerns over siting gas wells on school property.  Some referenced a recent talk in Callicoon by Mayor Tillman in which he vehemently opposed drilling in school yards and also explained why children should not be exposed  to  air and water toxins which  might  result  from such drilling.

On the question of whether or not Pennsylvania should levy a severance  tax on gas extraction  (as has been done in all other extraction states  except New York and Pennsylvania)  Mr. Jones was unequivocal, “No.  We already tax royalties paid to lessors.  There are other ways to raise state revenues.  For one thing, we could lease public lands.”

A February 12, 2010  press release from  PA State Representative John Siptroth roundly criticized expanding gas leases on PA’s  State  lands.  In part,  Siptroth’s press release reads, “‘The local recreation industry would suffer great loss, as would hunting and fishing activities….  The few local jobs created by the gas industry are not worth losing hundreds more jobs that depend on Pike County’s pristine environment.’  Siptroth has co-sponsored House Bill 2235, which would put a five-year moratorium on leasing additional state forest land for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.  The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act would give the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sole discretion after the moratorium ends Dec. 31, 2015 to determine if state forests can withstand additional natural gas exploration.”

In his January 28, 2010 letter  to Governor Rendell,  Representative Siptroth writes, “Today more than one-third of the entire State Forest — over 700,000 acres — is either already under lease or acreage on which the mineral rights are not owned by the state.  At least 100 wells are slated to be drilled in the State Forest in the coming year, and it’s expected that we could have as many as 1,500 well pads with 5,000-6,000 wells drilled over the next decade on the State Forest land that was leased in just the last 18 months.”

David Jones also believes  it would be appropriate for the Town of Damascus to  change its zoning regulations to permit gas extraction in its Rural Residential District.  “It will benefit residents.  It’s what  the majority of people want.”

As to the ability of  Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to regulate and oversee gas extraction,  Mr. Jones stated,  “We need more  DEP  inspectors  but I believe that’s being taken care of.  There’s a new field office in Scranton.”

Mr. Jones is referencing announcements made in January and February by Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell and DEP Secretary John  Hanger which stated, in part,   “DEP will hire 68 permitting and inspection staff, including 10 for the new Scranton office, in response to expectations that the industry will apply for 5,200 new Marcellus Shale drilling permits in 2010—nearly three times the number of permits issued during 2009.”

According to DEP’s own records, there are significant discrepancies between the numbers of  wells permitted during 2009 (6,240 vs.  2,543)  and the number drilled since 2005  (19, 165 vs. 18,796).  Also according to DEP’s records,  there were 9,848 well inspections during 2009 which revealed  3,361 violations and  resulted in 678 enforcements.  (Numbers are culled from DEP’s 2009 Year End Report and its  2009  Year End Workload Report.  Other numbers are available at the 2010 Permit and Rig Activity Report.   The reports can be found at:

Mr. Jones was willing to be quoted also  about protecting  the Delaware River and its environs from  a proposed power line which would traverse three National Parks.  According to The National Park Service (NPS) : “We would like to inform you of a new planning effort at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and PSE&G, have proposed to upgrade and expand a power transmission line from Susquehanna (Berwick, Pennsylvania)  to Roseland, New Jersey (the S-R Line)…that currently crosses the three Parks….”   (The National Park Service’s Scoping Newsletter on  PPL-PSEG’s  proposed power line upgrade and expansion is  here.)

Although three plans —  Projects A, B and C — have been debated during the past few years,  the National Park Service gave the nod to Plan B in 2009. (All three of the planned routes are mapped here with brief descriptions of the areas proposed for transection.  Another good breakdown is offered by The Times Tribune with links to NPS  maps.)

However, NPS  has re-opened  discussions recently  on the  three possible routes and that  has Mr. Jones concerned.  “Plan A is the worst of the three,”  he said.  “The Park Service will have to buy land,  clear land and  put a tower on an island that floods.  It’s going to cost.  The environmental impacts will be greater than from Plan B.  We’ve got  an endangered cactus species where  Route A would go.  Not many people know that.   There’s a crystal-clear native trout stream. The line will go over one of my campgrounds.  Nobody will want to camp there.  The Delaware Water Gap is the gateway to  the Delaware River recreational area.  It’s  going to look great  with power lines draped across it,” he said sarcastically.  “New Jersey needs power but it doesn’t want the lines.  It’s a waste of energy to run them so far from where the population need is.”

Mr. Jones suggested  that,  “[The power lines] should go where the people are — where more people will be using the power.  But they’ll fight that.”


*For more on Chesapeake, please read Breathing’s article,  “Chesapeake Energy and Penn State’s Robert Watson :  Who Are Those Guys?