Natural Gas Leases/Hydraulic Fracturing: One Property Owner’s View

Thank you, “[Delaware] River Valley Resident” for grappling with the question, “What does stewardship of our lands and communities demand of us?” Although I disagree that “[gas] drilling [and hydraulic fracturing] are inevitable” or that their dangers and impacts can be mitigated, your question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join us. Indeed, if drilling spreads inexorably, then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will respond with suggestions helpful to landowners who’ve been cut off like islands in the midst of leased properties. Thank you, Breathing Is Political, Liz Bucar)


(Dear  Readers and “River Valley Resident”:  In an effort  to provide a  community forum where divergent and frequently  noisy  views can be aired,  Breathing has  solicited articles from property owners who are considering signing   natural gas leases or who, after months of  deliberation, have completed the signing. There have been difficulties  and  I had to decide whether or not to publish an anonymous post.  In the end, I decided  a wide-ranging discussion of  the issues facing our communities is more critical  than identifying our author who fears for her job if her name is released.  I hope her obvious concern for the land and our cultures is sufficient to set minds at ease.  She’s known to me.  She’s not a figment.  She’s not greedy and she’s not oblivious to the dangers posed by drilling —  and cited to regularly  by Breathing.  Hers  is an important voice that sheds light — whether or not you agree with her conclusions.

For months,  the author researched, examined  and agonized.  Breathing is grateful that she chose  to speak in this forum despite her misgivings. Unhappily  — given the high passions on both sides of the discussion  —  being a kind of bridge in the middle can invite  vilification and  distrust from  those standing on the  opposite shores. Thank you,  “River Valley Resident”  for  grappling   with the question,  “What does stewardship of   our lands and communities demand of us?”   Although I disagree that “drilling is inevitable” or that its dangers and impacts can be mitigated,  your  question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join  us.  Indeed, if drilling  spreads  inexorably,  then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will  respond with suggestions  helpful to landowners  who’ve been cut off   like islands in the midst of leased properties.   Thank you,   Liz)

*    *    *   *    *

I have spent months exploring the ramifications of drilling in the area. Unfortunately, I believe it is extremely likely to occur, so I have been trying to learn the dynamics of horizontal drilling and its potential to contaminate the aquifer. I have read numerous articles and finally found what I believe is a good representation of the process. The gas companies appear to make an extremely strong effort to isolate the aquifer from the fracking fluids. Please see this website for visualization:

http://www.geoart.com/index.php?id=1

Perhaps this is all hype by the gas companies, but if they do in fact follow this process it seems that the aquifer is isolated by steel piping encased in cement. Perhaps aquifer contamination is more likely related to the holding ponds where the backflow is stored as it is forced from the well; which brings up an interesting possibility. One. of the drilling companies, (which is one of Hess’s designated subcontractors for this area) is utilizing a patent pending process called “Ozonix”. It apparently removes all organic chemicals, particles, etc. from the flow back as well as nearly all the brine through reverse osmosis. This process can be read about at the following web site:
http://www.wallstreetresources.net/pdf/fc/TFM.pdf

On a more personal level I have found myself in a situation where the majority of the landowners in my immediate area (across the road and next door) have signed leases. Personally, I do not want to see gas drilling in this area, but am somewhat resigned to the power that the Gas corporations wield and feel that it would be amazing if the gas development does not take place. As a result, I have chosen to try to protect my property. I joined [Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association]  NWPOA a few years ago, because I felt it gave me a chance to do that and also because this group planned to work toward the most environmentally sound lease possible. I have also been a member of the UD Community for several years, and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive information from the divergent viewpoints. As more information came out from both sources I became more and more confused. This caused me to undertake my own research into the fracking process and its potential for adverse environmental effects. Simultaneous to this, NWPOA came up with a lease agreement with Hess. I have not as yet signed that document. However, I did begin researching the drill company that would be working for Hess in my area. It is a company called Newfield and they are using the “Ozonix” process mentioned above in some of their other shale developments. My thought was to attempt to encourage Hess to have Newfield employ that technology here, as it appears to strongly mitigate a lot of the potentially detrimental effects of the frac process. Additionally, it allows the water to be reused at multiple sites, thus greatly reducing the amount of water needed from the Delaware or other sources, as well as reducing the truck traffic on the roads. Perhaps, I have been taken in by good PR, but I also believe it is in the Gas companies’ best interests to develop these wells as efficiently as possible. If they are drilling and allowing the gas to somehow escape into the aquifer then that is gas they can’t bring to market which spells a loss for them. I have been an environmentalist for well over 40 years and if I had a magic wand, I would surely make this all go away, although I do completely understand the local farmers’ support of this issue. I guess the bottom line for me is that I believe the gas development will occur and that the best approach is to do all within our power to make it happen in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This means supporting companies like Newfield and trying to have them employ the frac recycling process called “Ozonix”. It also means supporting legislation in Congress such as the “Frac Act” which requires companies to divulge their “formulas” for the fracking mud. The Clean Water Restoration Act also needs support to return some of the strength sapped from it, by our previous administration. Will I sign a lease with Hess…I honestly have not been able to decide as yet. I fear drilling around me, and with no lease, if there were any problems, I would be up against the Gas Company on my own. The lease ensures that they will mitigate any water contamination issues, or provide bottled water if necessary. Granted this is not a great solution, but it is probably better than trying to deal with it unassisted.

I know that there are many people like myself who are conflicted over this issue, and struggling with making the right decision. I could never refer to myself as “pro-drilling”. Perhaps, a more appropriate classification is “pro-preservation”. I would like to see this area remain as much like it is right now as possible. This may be a false hope, but I honestly believe that trying to influence the gas companies to use the very best practices possible here, is a more achievable goal than stopping the entire process. I would greatly appreciate comments, as I have been struggling with making a decision for a long time. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that I have not inadvertently insulted anyone’s viewpoint. I am merely trying to illustrate what a lot of people are feeling.

October 7, 2009. Since writing the above comments, I have had numerous discussions with Gas Company representatives about exactly what signing a lease would mean. My first thought was to obtain a conservation easement or deed restriction on my property so that the only gas related activity that could take place would have to be subsurface. I was informed that they were not accepting properties with conservation easement unless they were large commercial properties where portions of the surface land are critical to continuing their businesses whatever they may be. I then discussed the amount of acreage I have with the gas company, its geography and location and they told me that it was highly unlikely that they would place a drill pad on a piece of property the size of mine, nor would they likely place a road there. However, they could not guarantee this. So, to sign I would have to accept the remote possibility of surface activity. This gave me a lot to think about. But, perhaps more important than that is what the gas companies do with the individual leases they own. As most people know there are at least 3 major players in the area: Chesapeake, Cabot and Hess. Although you may sign with any of these companies, it does not mean that they will be the company developing your land. In order to create a drilling unit, they need about 640 contiguous acres. In some cases, they may have this from large farms or adjoining properties that have signed. But they may also have an area they would like to develop where the mineral rights have been leased to different companies. The gas companies now trade leases to obtain the acreage they need for development. It’s just like Monopoly where you need all the cards in a block to build houses. So, Hess’s drilling company, Newfield, with the innovative and environmentally sensitive technology may have nothing to do with the development of gas on the land of Hess lease holder. The terms of the lease remain the same as far as per acre compensation, royalties, and environmental mitigation, if needed. But, you could sign with Hess and Newfield, and end up with Cabot and Halliburton. The initial signing deadline has come and gone. I may or may not be on a secondary list. I am not sure at this point, since I haven’t gotten any emails lately from the group.

Have I done the right thing, I honestly don’t know. I have turned down well over $25,000 in guaranteed lease payments, and the potential for royalties. If the area near me is made into a drill unit and all goes well and the water stays good and the roads are removed and replanted when the development is complete will I have regrets? If the area is developed and the aquifer is contaminated and I can’t sell my home and have to sue one of these companies for compensation will I have regrets? More importantly what would you do in my situation? I could probably still sign a lease…..should I? I would really appreciate it, if you could try to put yourself in my place and honestly consider what you might do. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

a river valley resident

(Tomorrow:  The National Council of Churches on the issue of drilling.)

Rally Asks NY State to Rescind Gas Drilling Moratorium

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


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

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

Uh oh.   Fifth grade angst is stopping my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will we plant our feet to stop them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come to the table before it’s barren.

EPA Confirms Drinking Water Contamination by Toxics Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

As part of a Superfund investigation, EPA began sampling in March 2009 in the Pavillion, WY area in response to multiple landowners concerns about changes in water quality and quantity following EnCana’s increased gas development in the area. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and EnCana had continually assured Pavillion residents that there was no evidence of hydrocarbons or toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells.


(The following joint  press release from Earthworks and The Powder River Basin Resource Council is re-printed here by permission of EarthWorks Action.  At this crux moment in our fight to protect our own Delaware River Basin, no report is  more timely.  Please read the story and then organize a Light Up The Delaware River Party.  Many of us believe  The Delaware River Basin Commission will decide the Basin’s fate by mid-October or earlier.  9-6-09 is our moment to come together as a Basin Community and say, “We need Environmental Impact Statements, cumulative effects studies and evidence that someone, somewhere will be monitoring the drilling industry and its disposal of toxins.”)

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

EPA Confirms Drinking Water Contamination by Toxics Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

Joint Press Release: EARTHWORKS * Powder River Basin Resource Council

EPA will investigate nearby oil and gas development to determine contamination source

Pavillion, WY citizens call for fracking moratorium

Pavillion, WY, August 14, 2009 – This week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told a group of over 70 that initial investigations found 11 of 39 tested drinking water wells were contaminated. Among the contaminants are toxics used in oil and gas production.

As part of a Superfund investigation, EPA began sampling in March 2009 in the Pavillion, WY area in response to multiple landowners concerns about changes in water quality and quantity following EnCana’s increased gas development in the area. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and EnCana had continually assured Pavillion residents that there was no evidence of hydrocarbons or toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells.

“Our families and neighbors are experiencing everything from miscarriages and rare cancers to central nervous system disorders, seizures, and liver disease” said John Fenton of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, a citizens group formed to address oil and gas contamination.

EPA confirmed the presence of 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), a known constituent in hydraulic fracturing fluids, in three wells. This is the same chemical that was documented in the water well of Laura Amos, a Colorado landowner, after nearby wells were hydraulically fractured by EnCana. EPA reported that other water contamination, in the Pavillion wells, included methane, as well as adamantanes (a form of hydrocarbon) and six other chemical compounds of concern.

In 2001 EnCana’s fracturing operations in Silt, Colorado were linked to methane and other contamination of Ms. Amos’ nearby water well. Amos was unable to test immediately for chemical constituents related to hydraulic fracturing as she was unable to identify what chemicals were in EnCana’s drilling products. In 2003 Ms. Amos was diagnosed with a rare adrenal cancer and she later discovered that 2-BE had been used in EnCana’s fracking products. According to Dr. Theo Colborn at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, known health effects of 2-BE include elevated numbers of combined malignant and non-malignant tumors of the adrenal gland, kidney damage, kidney failure, toxicity to the spleen, the bones in the spinal column and bone marrow, liver cancer, anemia, female fertility reduction, and embryo mortality.

As a result of the EPA’s findings, residents in the Pavillion area are now calling for a halt to EnCana’s fracturing operation. “It’s very concerning that we are finding known fracturing products and hydrocarbons in our citizens’ water wells,” says John Fenton. “We’ll await EPA’s determination as to what is the cause of this contamination. However, in the mean time, we are asking EnCana to ensure no more fracturing occurs in the area.”

EPA stated that they will continue sampling, meeting with all parties and working with EnCana to determine the source and extent of the contamination. Randy Tuween, an EnCana representative at the meeting, pledged to fully cooperate with the community and EPA officials.

“Full cooperation in this instance requires that EnCana fully disclose what products and chemicals have been used in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge fields,” says Deb Thomas, organizer for the Power River Basin Resource Council and the Pavillion Area of Concerned Citizens. “This shows why federal regulation of fracturing and drilling operations is so important. We have been seeking answers from EnCana and the State of Wyoming for years. We are very pleased that EPA is now getting results. All citizens deserve clean water.”

In June, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (S. 1215/HR 2766) was introduced to require disclosure of fracturing chemicals to public agencies and to lift the exemption for hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The legislation, known as the FRAC Act ensures that a federal minimum standard would prohibit endangerment of underground sources of drinking water while allowing states flexibility in implementing that standard.

“Citizens throughout the country have been reporting changes in their water well’s quality and quantity after nearby hydraulic fracturing operations for years and voicing concerns about both short and long-term health effects,” said Jennifer Goldman of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “The FRAC Act is critical to ensuring that we know what toxics are being injected into and near our aquifers and to holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the environmental and health impacts.”

*** END ***

For More Information

Contacts:

  • Deb Thomas, Powder River Resource Basin Council: 307-645-3236
  • Jennifer Goldman, EARTHWORKS: 406-587-4473
  • John Fenton: 307 856-7098

On hydraulic fracturing:
http://www.earthworksaction.org/hydfracking.cfm

On the inadequate regulation of hydraulic fracturing:
http://www.earthworksaction.org/halliburton.cfm

On Laura Amos, the Colorado landowner poisoned by 2-BE (including links to the Endocrine Disruption Exchange report on 2-BE)
http://www.earthworksaction.org/cvLauraAmos.cfm

On the Powder River Basin Council
http://www.powderriverbasin.org

EARTHWORKS | 1612 K St., NW, Suite 808 | Washington, D.C., USA 20006
202.887.1872 | info@earthworksaction.org | Privacy Policy

Light Up The Delaware River Party: “Shot Heard ‘Round The World?”

If you live in The Delaware River Basin, love it’s Wild & Scenic Specially Protected Waters or just like hanging out with your friends at gigunda parties,


RedBackedPoster

If you live in The Delaware River Basin,  love its Wild & Scenic Specially Protected Waters or just like hanging out with your friends at gigunda parties, here are a few free and easy (some harder)  ways you can help make  the Light Up The Delaware River Party  “the shot heard ’round the world.”

Follow the links on the  red poster to:

NB:  Last night, I told you CottageWorks was hosting the “Light Up The Delaware River Party because we hadn’t had a chance to create a stand-alone site for it.   When I woke up this morning,  I had an email from the indefatigable Tanyette.  During the night, she’d created the site and sent it live.  I’m still stunned by her determination and energy.  Thank you, thank you, Tanyette!

Light Up The Delaware River: 9-6-09 Is Party Day!


In my July 17, 2009 post, I wrote, “Imagine a   Delaware River Basin [Party]…that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.

“When Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt…the British Empire laughed…. They made fun of the ‘little brown man,’  as the newsreels described the Mahatma.  But, when images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes,… the sun began to set on the British Empire.

“…[at  the Delaware River Party]  I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,…a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.

“Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.”

*    *    *    *

The response was a startling, unanimous, “Let’s do it!”

So  Leni Santoro  (The Catskill Chronicle) and I  are hitting the road  for our “Light Up The Delaware River”  trip that starts this Friday August 14, 2009 in Philadelphia, PA and ends in Hancock, NY  on August 16th.

We’ll be hand-delivering  September 6, 2009 (Labor Day) Delaware River Basin Party invitations to as many community organizations and activists as we can reach.  (If you’d like to meet up with us along the road, don’t be shy!  Email me at:  Ljbucar@earthlink.net               Best of all, you can download a printable version of the  invitation at the end of this post.)

The threat to the Delaware River Basin cannot be exaggerated so we’re asking local community organizers to do a ridiculous amount of work  in a very short  time.

Once you have the party invitation in hand and on your computer (download below)  please:

  • Alert your local media about our road trip and  The Delaware River Basin Labor Day Party.   (Media websites always have an email address where you can send press releases and news tidbits.)
  • Email the invitation to your friends and family so they can
  • Help you distribute the invitations door-to-door or in front of your local post offices or wherever else  people gather in your community.
  • Forward it to all the river-lovers, water-lovers, community organizers, environmental groups and media you know.
  • Post your community’s  “Party Day Plans”  to the brand new “Light Up The Delaware River Party” website.
  • Search Light Up The Delaware River Party” for events in your area and help promote them.
  • Let all your friends and relatives know that they can follow  the road trip and party plans at Twitter,  “Light Up The Delaware River Party,” Breathing Is Political and The Catskill Chronicle.
  • If you have time, organize  complimentary  celebrations  in your community.  (One group is  sponsoring  a  “Toxic Canoe Regatta,”  but whatever you plan, do it on the banks of the River.)

Fifteen million people depend on The Delaware River Basin for their water so it’s critical that this Labor Day  we focus national attention on the  dangers posed to it by drilling and fracking.    We need as many people and media as possible to gather  along the banks of the River on September 6, 2009 to celebrate the  works of the River, its culture and its people.

The evening of the party, at  7:00 PM,  each person  in each community will pour a single cup of water into the River.  At  7:30 PM,  we’ll light our candles — a 330-mile long beacon  — from Hancock to Philadelphia.

In a recent article I wrote, “On July 15, 2009, the Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC)   extended the public comment period on Chesapeake Appalachia’s  application to begin withdrawing up to 30 million gallons of surface water per month for a ten year period.”

Many of us worry that despite its inclinations, the DRBC will be politically-driven to render approval.  Such approval will open the door to what both conservationists and drilling proponents predict will be  thousands of  wells in the Basin.

In accord with Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), Leni and I want  the DRBC to table all drilling and fracking applications until after an  Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and independent, scientific studies have evaluated  the cumulative impacts of drilling, fracking and waste water disposal on the Delaware River Basin.

When you’re at The Delaware River Basin Party on September 6, 2009, don’t forget to  sign up to support  the legal battles  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has been  waging on behalf of the Basin as well as the expertise it’s  been gathering over the past eighteen months.  In large part, DCS is  the reason there’s still a battle to win.

Click this flyer  link for a printable version of the Delaware River Party Invitation:  8-11-09 flyer

Chesapeake Energy & Penn State’s Robert Watson: Who Are Those Guys?

Also absent from his letter is the Class Action suit lodged against Chesapeake by investors for making “materially false and misleading statements” during a recent public stock offering.

And he skips any reference to the Court’s 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.

The 20 cows that dropped dead in Caddo Parish, Louisiana near a Chesapeake well also escaped Mr. McClendon’s notice.


Pursued  by a well-financed posse,   Butch Cassidy  and The Sundance Kid wondered again and again,  “Who are those guys?”   Their  wild west world —  a place they understood and  felt safe in —  had become more memory than fact.    Even at the very end, when Butch and The Kid  faced certain death at the hands of  hundreds of  Federales Mexicanos,  they and the audience believed  the old ways would survive side-by-side with the  industrial revolution. Because we didn’t understand industry’s insatiable  hungers  in 1908, we still ask in 2009,  “Who are those guys?”

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY:  Its own words and omissions.

Most readers of this column know that Chesapeake Appalachia is a natural gas drilling company that wants to hydraulically fracture and drill the Marcellus Shale. The Marcellus encompasses nearly 44 million acres and  underlies a third of Ohio, bits of Maryland and Virginia, all but a thin wedge of West Virginia,  most of Pennsylvania and stretches under and beyond the Delaware River  into New York State.

Pro-water advocates point to reports that hydraulic fracturing and waste water disposal have resulted in contaminated ground water, ruined private wells, sick residents, explosions and poisoned livestock.  “The Delaware River [Watershed] supplies water to 15 million people, including New York City and Philadelphia,” so Damascus Citizens for Sustainability and other conservation groups are pressing the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to produce  Environmental Impact Statements and a comprehensive review of drilling’s cumulative impacts before any gas drilling applications are considered or approved.

But behind the scenes,  what does Chesapeake tell its investors (or omit from the telling)?

First,  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Aubrey McClendon,  began his 2008 Annual Report to Shareholders with one of  Charles Dickens’ most famous quotes,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  One wonders that any CEO would willingly adopt a Dickensian mantle given the author’s depictions of hatchet-faced money-grubbers, but that’s Mr. McClendon’s look-out.

Chesapeake’s CEO tells his investors that, “As  of December 31, 2008, [Chesapeake] owned interests in approximately 41,200 producing natural gas and oil wells; and had 12.051 trillion cubic feet equivalent of proved reserves…[In 2008], Revenues rose 49% from $7.8 billion to $11.6 billion….”

(I’m  befuddled that he omitted mentioning his own annual compensation of $116.89 million which ranks him third amongst American CEOs even though his performance earned him a less stellar  rating of 66 out 175. Also omitted was the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s “six-party lawsuit” demanding that Chesapeake rescind the $75-million bonus it awarded McClendon.  I’m sure the omission was an oversight and so I’ve included it here.)

Also absent from his letter is the Class Action suit lodged against Chesapeake by investors for making “materially false and misleading statements” during a recent public stock offering.

And he skips any  reference to the Court’s 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.

The  20 cows that dropped dead in Caddo Parish, Louisiana near a Chesapeake well also escaped Mr. McClendon’s notice.

Nor did I find any allusion to  the recent Texas Supreme Court case which saved the drilling industry’s collective butt by saying company wells could drain  gas from adjacent properties without fault because “subsurface trespass by frac”  can’t be proved and therefore is not a ’cause of action’ in Texas courts.  “Frac treatments may commence at the surface, but the real work occurs unseen in the depths of the well and rock formations, and only theory and hypothesis can be advanced in support of an alleged underground trespass.”   (How, then, does the industry prove  that frac treatments are safe when they’re carried out “unseen in the depths…?”)

In 2008, Chesapeake forecasted that their Marcellus Shale leasing campaign would be finished by 2010 with “approximately two million acres of leasehold in the play.”

Consistently, Chesapeake and other gas companies have said  that moving forward at all possible speed with natural gas exploitation (without levying “deterrent” taxes or conducting  scientific studies) is required by our national interest.  On the other hand, in his letter to investors,  Mr. McClendon states, “Because of lower natural gas prices in the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009, we have substantially reduced our drilling activities in the Barnett [Shale] from 43 rigs in August 2008 to around 20 today. We intend to maintain this lower pace of drilling until natural gas prices recover to more attractive levels.”

Apparently, the national interest is only provocative if it dovetails with Chesapeake’s ability to rake in maximum profits.

As long as we’re  singing paeans to the National Interest,  let’s see what Mr.  McClendon has to say about sharing our national wealth with other multi-national corporations:  “A key to Chesapeake’s Fayetteville success,” he attests,  “was entering into a joint venture with [British Petroleum] in September 2008. In this joint venture, we sold 25% of our assets in the Fayetteville to BP for $1.9 billion in cash and future drilling carries.…Earlier in 2008, we had also sold to BP all of our Woodford assets in the Arkoma Basin for $1.7 billion.”

As to the amount of our  National Interest and Wealth that Chesapeake’s sharing  with Norway’s StatoilHydro,** Mr. McClendon announced proudly,  “After acquiring 1.8 million net acres, Chesapeake began looking for its third shale joint venture partner. This search culminated in a $3.375 billion transaction with StatoilHydro, one of the most innovative, well-respected and largest of the European international energy companies. This transaction, in which we sold a 32.5% interest in our Marcellus assets, was completed in November 2008. StatoilHydro had been seeking an entry point into a big U.S. shale play and had independently arrived at the conclusion that the Marcellus was the best shale play in which to invest….Today, Chesapeake is drilling with 10 rigs in the Marcellus. We plan to end 2009 with at least 20 rigs drilling and project 30 rigs drilling by year-end 2010 and 40 rigs drilling by year-end 2011… In addition, we also are engaged with StatoilHydro in searching for additional shale gas plays around the world in a 50/50 partnership.”

In a more innocuous statement, Mr. McClendon offers this prognostication, “I also see our company continuing as an industry leader in innovation and technology, underpinned by a work force and asset base second to none.”  In part, he is alluding to Chesapeake’s “Energy in Training” intern program [which] maximizes [Chesapeake’s] college recruiting efforts and encourages students to enter the [drilling] industry while still learning.”

Which leads me to wonder about the validity of  Pennsylvania State University’s  (PSU)  July 2009 study, “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play,” co-authored, among others, by Timothy Considine (University of Wyoming, whose state is home to  the Mowry Shale in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin) and Robert Watson (Pennsylvania State University,  whose state is home to the Marcellus Shale.)

Those coincidences alone are enough to ask  “Who are those guys?” but what really piqued my interest was that the study cites no funding sources and  sings hosannas for a projected economic boom in Pennsylvania without addressing the costs of environmental degradation.  (Costs that are already emerging in Fort Worth, TX,  Dimock, PA,  Hickory, PA and the state of Wyoming.)

The copy of the study I’ve linked  to is located at PA Marcellus — a consortium of drilling companies.  The Study’s authors  (1)  oppose legislation that will force drilling companies to reveal the toxins used in drilling and frakking; and  (2)  suggest that levying a production tax on the industry will burden Pennsylvania with lost revenues because,  the authors predict,  such State actions will deter companies from drilling in Pennsylvania and lead to slowed exploitation of the Marcellus Shale.

At last count, more than sixty organizations have  already opposed the Study’s assertion that a tax would impede exploitation of the Marcellus Shale.  In fact, opponents say, drilling companies are salivating at the prospect of drilling into the Marcellus’ rich heart.

Anyone — including drilling company employees — who tracks down the entities who funded this propaganda in a prestigious American university will win a gift from  CottageWorks.

In the meantime, who is Robert Watson, one of the study’s two lead authors?  He is the Director of Penn State University’s Consortium for Petroleum and Natural Gas.  Penn State’s website describes The Consortium thusly,  “The Consortium is industry driven and focused on identifying, expanding, and creating new value-added markets for petroleum and natural gas-based products. Research is also being done to identify and develop new technologies to increase the efficiency and/or productivity of petroleum and natural gas exploration, production, and refining.”

Perhaps he knows who funded his study. The PSU website lists his email address as:  bob@pnge.psu.edu and his phone number as  814-865-0531.

So who are these guys?  They’re the people who pay Congress to enact drilling-friendly legislation with provisions like the Halliburton Loophole.  They’re the people who help establish drilling-friendly curricula in publicly-funded universities.  They’re the people who benefit to the tune of billions of dollars when publicly-funded universities write studies supportive of their private industry.

More important,  who are the People of Pennsylvania whose lives are, according to PSU, improved by Penn State’s cosy relationship with the natural gas drilling industry?

They’re the people whose children will pay at least $12,538  to attend and live on PSU’s  University Park Campus this next academic year. (It’s not clear that the University’s tuition calculator incorporates a proposed 3.7% tuition hike.)

They’re the people whose unemployment rate climbed to 8.3% in June 2009.  (The average income of the bottom 90% of Pennsylvania taxpayers actually declined by 4% from 2001 to 2005.)

They’re the people who “..lost nearly 202,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing…”

They’re the people who are being conned into a poker game where drilling companies hold all the chips (jobs) and make all the rules.

Disclaimer:  As a New York State resident who’s  lived three decades in or near  the Delaware River Basin, these observations about PSU have been spurred by this particular study.  I have no doubt that  similar instances of Corporate Cronyism exist at the State University of New York.

Coming soon: Discussion of gas drilling leases recently signed in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

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*There is great debate about when and where the “real” Butch and Sundance died.

** Of their lucrative deal with Chesapeake,  Statoil Hydro says at their website, “The holding covers 1.8 million acres in the Appalachian region of the north-eastern USA. The acquisition is part of a strategic agreement between the two companies to jointly explore unconventional gas opportunities worldwide.  The agreement covers more than 32,000 leases in the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio. Chesapeake plans to continue acquiring leases in the Marcellus shale play. StatoilHydro has the right to a 32.5% participation in any such additional leasehold. With this transaction StatoilHydro has acquired future, recoverable equity resources in the order of 2.5-3.0 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). StatoilHydro’s equity production from the Marcellus shale gas play is expected to increase to at least 50,000 boe per day in 2012 and at least 200,000 boe per day after 2020. Both companies believe that the development programme could support the drilling of 13,500 to 17,000 horizontal wells over the next 20 years.”

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Opinion: DRBC Postpones Debacle. What’s A Conservationist to Do?

Imagine a Delaware River Basin Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin. Each river community will go down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it. Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Remember when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt? The British Empire laughed. They smirked.


I say to you  as I’ve said  regularly  to my long-suffering  children,  if you never listen to another word I say,  listen to me now:

The Delaware River Basin is threatened by the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing.  If you love the  river and its environs,  now is the time to act.  There won’t  be another moment.  In years to come, when  your water is spoiled and your land is worthless,  this is the moment you will remember and you  will ask yourself,  “What was so important that I didn’t protect the River Valley when I had the chance?”

The Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC) is under pressure from  the natural gas drilling industry, politicians, property holders and farmers dying on the vine.  The Commission’s decision to extend the public comment period on Chesapeake’s application was a gift to Conservationists but also provides drilling proponents with  additional time to concentrate their forces.

What can conservationists  do with the two months we’ve been given?

First rule of organizing:  identify your resources  and bring them to bear.  I’ll start with mine and those sent in by others. You add your own. (Three rules govern  community brainstorming:   think big,  fluidly  and don’t turn your nose up at any idea. It might not stand on its own but with others to bolster it,  the fabric becomes more whole.)

RESOURCES I see  that can be brought to bear in saving the Delaware River Basin:

The indescribable beauty of the area, the  thousands of people who started visiting as children and who now bring their grandchildren,  Robert Kennedy, Jr.,  Alan and Sandra Gerry, Jimmy Carter (flyfishing, flyfishing, flyfishing),  River and Mountainkeepers, WJFF,  The River Reporter, Sullivan Transition, Pete Seeger, The Sloop Clearwater, Upper Delaware Networkers,  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Wayne and Sullivan Peace Groups, Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development,  the many new groups springing up the length of the Delaware Basin in its defense, Thich Nhat Hanh,  the internet and its viral capacity, our kids,  Josh Fox, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, Maurice Hinchey, Hello Honesdale!, private lands where people can camp when they come for the day, Lawrence Rockefeller, Dan Rather, Amanda Burden, Charlie Rose, the New York City Council,  Wayne County Audobon Society, citizen journalists and commentators like Leni Santoro (Catskill Chronicle), Breathing is Political and Zest of Orange…

Of course, once we have our resources “on board,”  we have to give them something to do.

Imagine a   Delaware River Basin  Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.  Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly,  doesn’t it?  Remember  when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt?  The British Empire laughed.  They smirked.  They made fun of the “little brown man”  (as the newsreels described the Mahatma).  But then, the images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes  and  in that moment,  the sun began to set on the British Empire.

On the Conservation Day I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,  when orbiting  satellites can see it,  a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.   Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.

And if “too few people show up?”

I’m reminded of the political candidate who suggested during the last election cycle that certain members of Congress  should be investigated for Un-American activities.  Within 24 hours, the viral capacity of the internet had dumped $1 million dollars into her opponent’s campaign coffers.  (The poor man was absolutely flummoxed by  the unexpected bounty!)  We have the rest of July and all of August to organize  before Labor Day (if that’s the weekend we choose).   We have nothing to lose by thinking as large and inclusively as we can.   By the end of September,  the DRBC will most likely have made its decision on Chesapeake’s application to begin their surface water  withdrawals.  (For a detailed explanation of what the withdrawals will look like, please see James Barth’s lucid explanation in the “comments”  section following my last post, “Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River.”)

CottageWorks and Breathing Is Political will each donate $200 for the purpose of promoting the Day of Conservation. Whatever consortium of groups is willing to help organize the event, the money is theirs.

Finally,  I want to address the issue of language.  We who protect are often in defensive mode. Whether we stand in defense of the Constitution or our world’s ecology,   our position is often a response to a perceived threat.  In consequence,  we’re portrayed as the “antis”:  anti-war, anti-frakking, anti-nuclear, anti-business, anti-farmers.  I no longer submit to that characterization.  I am not “an anti-frakker.”  Besides being a nasty assortment of consonants,  I’m  not “anti-” anything.  I am a Conservationist.  I am  a walking, talking, thinking, loving,  nurse, construction worker, paralegal, writer and former farmworker.  And I’m pro-water, baby!

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

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Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years.


(James Barth’s commentary in response to the New York Times article, Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears was recommended for its “thoughtfulness” by The NY Times’ editorial staff.  It is re-printed here by permission of the author and with appreciation by Breathing Is Political.  Also, please follow these links for the earthquake threat in New York State, FEMA’s Earthquake Hazard Map and Water Under Attack, a new documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox)

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The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years. They will not be drilling to release geothermal energy, but what we call “natural gas”.  The Marcellus shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and extends into the Catskills and Southern Tier of NY State, is the prime target of the gas and oil industry. Other shale layers may be targeted, and indeed even sandstone layers, like the Oriskany, which Chesapeake is currently drilling into in Wayne County, PA.

These wells will be drilled up to a depth of 9,000 feet (or greater), and then they will turn horizontal for another 3,000 to 5,000 feet in length before being hydraulically fractured through our pristine aquifers using proprietary toxic chemicals that the companies, like Halliburton and Schlumberger, manufacture and sell. These companies and these toxic solutions are exempted from the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air and Right to Know Acts (among others) by the absurd amendments that were included in the July 29, 2005 Energy Act that was passed by Congress.

Not only do we fear correctly for the health of our drinking water systems from this drilling, but now, as it is explained in this article, we have to fear the potential seismic ramifications of these projects. These potential seismic activities further undermine any credible claims by the oil and gas industry that such drilling will never endanger our drinking water. Whether such earthquakes will topple buildings or not, they certainly will undermine any pathetic cement bonding and sealing that this industry claims will keep the production gas, and poisonous cocktails from migrating upwards into our aquifers.

I’m very grateful that the Times published this article. I’m also mystified  as to why it is about drilling for geothermal energy in California, when the Times has not yet published one article that explores the potential devastating implications to the health and environment of our immediate New York City area  that such horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing poses! This threat has been loud and developing over the past one and a half years in our region. It is well past time for the NY Times to directly take on this issue, and for the more than fifteen million area residents who depend on this water for life, to become aware of it.