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)

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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.)

Local Student Asks, “Does The Future Include Me?”

When I was growing up I used to love dreaming about what I would be when I got older. Maybe a veterinarian, a teacher, doctor, a writer. My dreams and hopes were immeasurable. As I grew older, I saw that many jobs were being lost; many people no longer had job security. I became concerned about what I would do when I reached an age where a decision must be made. Would my job choice be sufficient for me to live somewhat comfortably and have a sense of job security?


As part of our series, “The Recession Outside My  Window,” our guest writer is eighteen year old  Ashley Colombo, Sullivan County resident, grocery store clerk and full-time  Orange County Community College student (OCCC). “I absolutely love it at OCCC — have never enjoyed school more,” she says.  “I’m going to be majoring in psychology, English, and criminology, but don’t  have a clue what I want to do when I grow up.”)

When I was growing up I used to love dreaming about what I would be when I got older. Maybe a veterinarian, a teacher, doctor, a writer. My dreams and hopes were immeasurable. As I grew older,  I saw that many jobs were being lost; many people no longer had job security.  I became concerned about what I would do when I reached an  age where a decision must be made. Would my job choice be sufficient for me to  live somewhat comfortably and  have a sense of job security?

Then, I began thinking about our technological revolution and how dependent we are on it. I realized that many jobs will be lost due to this revolution. For instance, in the future, schools won’t be necessary. Kids will sit in their homes and have their lessons broadcast to them. Thus, custodians, school nurses, teacher’s aides, cafeteria ladies, administration, guidance counselors are just a few positions that won’t be necessary. I believe, literally, that hundreds and thousands of jobs will  be annihilated due to our dependence on technology.

I also thought about the  overwhelming amount of money we’re forced to spend on school  in order to gain access to  many  soon-to-be   nonexistent jobs.  What bothers me most about going to college  and possibly beyond, is that after we spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, we are not guaranteed a job in the field we have so painstakingly studied. I know that as technology is totally integrated into  our society,  all those college degrees and doctorates and those cute little paper diplomas with the shiny seals, will mean absolutely nothing.

We hope that the pretty piece of paper in that frame will buy us groceries and pay our bills but  too many of us will  fall into the ‘my job choice no longer exists’ category. That’s what faces us even as  we start our adult lives in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

It worries me that school costs so much in the first place.  It  makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Why must it be so hard to get ahead? We pay dearly for trying to make ourselves into something —  to better ourselves and to enrich our lives. What for? Why should I spend this money to try and make my life better, when in the end all it will do is knock my legs out from under me and take everything I have?

This seriously discouraged me about wanting to go back to school. I knew I had to, but did I really want to go through all of it just  to end up  coming home from being a greeter at a chain supermarket and  looking at the forsaken piece of framed paper hanging up on my wall,  knowing I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because of it?  It’s a repulsive vision of a future that will probably be the reality faced by most of my generation and the generations to come.

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(Breathing Note:  Please encourage our Guest Writers by clicking the very tiny, nearly invisible “comment”  link hidden in the tags and categories beneath Ashley’s commentary.  Breathing Is Political extends its heartfelt appreciation to Ashley for participating in our “View Outside My Window”  series.)

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Communities In Transition


According to an organizer,  thirty-seven participants attended the June 9, 2009 Transition Sullivan community meeting.   Their purpose is to build a Sullivan County whose economic base is “sustainable and resilient in a new age of expensive oil, galloping climate change, and reduced funding for communities.”

Like Transition Towns in England, Transition Sullivan participants will investigate two crux issues:  how does a community evolve past  its dependence on declining petroleum resources and reduce its carbon emissions in order to strengthen itself and its people?

The notion of communities powering themselves is not new but it is gaining in vigor.  This past weekend, I was delighted to spend  time with Tom Lambert who’s been a long time champion of Sullivan County’s evolving independence.  We reminisced about attempts twenty years ago to extend high speed rail service to Callicoon from Port Jervis.  (The memory of those frustrated efforts  spurred one of us to  unseemly language  and it wasn’t Tom.)  By the end of the discussion,  we cautiously agreed that perhaps we’d been too early to the party twenty years ago.

Whether it’s farmers growing their way out of oil dependence in Iowa, powering a town with wind in Minnesota or generating radio broadcasts with water power in Jeffersonville, NY,  the seeds of change have been sown locally, nationally and internationally.

In the past, some activists  stopped listening  the minute they heard “bio-fuels.”  Others buried their heads at the mention of  “wind towers”  and others sputtered unintelligibly when “nuclear” was  whispered.  We each have preferences.  Each of us is  capable of finding faults in any solution but more than ever, we recognize that our futures are being sorely wasted.

Today, The Center for Discovery’s Thanksgiving Farm is inspirational in its scope.  New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was an unknown agency just a few years ago but today, it reels beneath the demand for licensed professionals capable of comprehensive green renovations.  Our very own  Sullivan County Community College stepped up and now offers a degree program in Green Building Maintenance and Management.

Seems to me that Tim Shera and Maria Grimaldi have organized their Transition Sullivan initiative at the perfect time.  Grab your neighbors and family.  Join them on June 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM at the Sullivan County Cornell Cooperative Extension for the second organizational meeting.

Try to  visit Transition Towns and Open Space Technology beforehand  so you’re familiar with the Transition Towns  model in England  and how the meeting will be conducted.  Think about the town, hamlet or village where you live.  Jot down a list of resources your community brings to the larger table and  for an overview of the first meeting, please see the new article at The Catskill Chronicle.


Buy local. Read local. Eat local.

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing. Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle. Check out Leni’s Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’ Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods. The Mamakating Messenger is another source for local news as is Ellenville’s Shawangunk Journal.


Every few years,  a new movement springs up.  In the sixties, housewives were freed to be all they could be.  Our  political conscience then  hop scotched  through Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans  and our systemic subjugation of African Americans.  Each group — whether they be  Latino, Irish or tree huggers — gets its day in the sunshine of national consciousness.   One can argue that a piecemeal approach to  human and Earth rights doesn’t work, but it’s how we’ve limited ourselves in the past.

Today, it’s all about  raising a Green Standard in Defense of  Local Communities.  Buy local, save gas.  Eat local, save the micro-ecology. Save the micro-ecology and we’ll preserve a healthy-world-diversity.

Everywhere we look,  hard copy newspapers are dying  slow strangling deaths.  Recently,  after years of cuts and accommodations,  The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle  Post-Intelligencer stopped arriving  on doorsteps.

Until recently, our Sullivan County backyards have been blessed with a  bevy of local news sources.

Perhaps we took them for granted because  The Times Herald Record was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s  News Corps and presto-change-o, Beth Quinn was canned.  Predictably,  readers in Orange and Sullivan Counties cried out.  We sent a flurry of letters supporting her.  The Orange County Legislature declared August 9, 2008  “Beth Quinn Day”  and hundreds turned out to commemorate her thirty years of community service.  (While some elected officials acknowledged her role in keeping our local ecology vibrant, to my knowledge,  The Times Herald Record neither published our letters nor covered our day with Beth.)

In 2006,  Catskill-Delaware Publications purchased The Towne Crier and its loyal readers held their collective breath in dismay.  Publisher, Fred Stabbert,  did not increase the Crier’s online presence.  In fact,  few articles appear in the online version of  Mr. Stabbert’s flagship paper, The Sullivan County Democrat. Local activists were not surprised when Mr. Stabbert  merged the two papers and The Crier breathed its (probably) last independent breath in May 2009.

Members of a local community need information about local happenings.  How else do we know where to volunteer?  Without local advertising,  how do we know where to buy local products and services?  Where will we learn about the latest School Board fracas or Town Board tumult?  How will we know that our neighbors are descending en masse on Town Hall to protest tax assessments?  How will we know when gambling interests, power line advocates  and natural gas “frackers”  have drawn a bead on our green mountains and fresh waters?

Citizen journalists,  local advocates and volunteer-run public radio (WJFF-90.5) that’s how.  Sustainable Sullivan, Coalition for a Casino-Free Sullivan,  The Riverkeeper, members of  the Upper Delaware Community, The Towne Crier,  The River Reporter and many others investigated and reported what they believed were threats to our “way of life.”   WJFF ensures we have  multiple community fora for airwave discussions.  (The River Reporter’s current online front page is devoted to  natural gas extraction from shale beds and the resultant designation of the Delaware River as endangered.)

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing.   Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer  for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle.  Check out Leni’s  Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’  Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for  referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods.   The Mamakating Messenger is another source for  local news as is Ellenville’s  Shawangunk Journal.

Most of these  efforts are in their infancy and though we might not agree with  their points of view,  our communities need and deserve a wide-ranging discussion of the forces brought to bear on us whether they originate in China, Washington, D.C., our State Capitols or our Town Boards.

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Disclaimer:  Liz Bucar is the proprietor  of CottageWorks and holds a longtime bias in favor of the community servants & groups mentioned in this article.  She offers heartfelt apologies to any groups not mentioned.  Hopefully, you’ll contact her so your group, local business and events will be posted in a future article or at one of CottageWorks pages.