Gas Drilling in Sullivan County, NY?


According to this announcement  received via email,   “The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York invites you to attend the following public information sessions beginning Thursday, September 3, 2009 to present facts and updates regarding natural gas exploration in your region. Other dates and locations: 9-8-09: Bernie’s Restaurant, Rock Hill.   9-10-09. SUNY Oneonta, Hunt Union.   10-1-09. Morrisville State College Theatre. Morrisville, NY.”  (Please visit the CottageWorks Community Calendar for event details.)

Interestingly, these meetings are being billed as informational sessions.  At an alternative website for The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York,  the Association makes clear their intent in organizing these events,  “Thank you for visiting MarcellusFacts.com – your source for information about the benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale…”

These events are being organized in New York State on the heels of Governor Paterson’s announcement that exploitation of the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale in New York State is part of his energy plan.  Yesterday’s Times Herald Record published a story entitled, “Gas Companies Prepare to Drill in Sullivan.”

Steve Israel’s article tells us who The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York  is, what they have planned for New York State, and more particularly, Sullivan County.  “After delaying drilling of the gas-rich shale beneath Sullivan for much of the year, the industry is ready to resume leasing land once the state’s new environmental standards are released, perhaps as early as next month. Drilling of the Marcellus shale could start in the spring.”

“We’ll do it and we’re looking to do it, once the regulatory hurdles are cleared. Then the permits will flow,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.”

Recently, 2,000 pro-drilling advocates rallied in New York with the mantra of “Drill, baby, drill.”

I will be attending the  9-8-09 “session” at Bernie’s Restaurant in Rock Hill, NY  and hope to see you there, too.

Blogger Gagged


On May 29, 2009,  the 79th District Court of Jim Wells County, Texas  released its decision in Coronado Energy  E&P Company, L.L.C. v. McGill Ranch, Ltd.,  Stephen Burns and Elizabeth Burns; Cause No. 08-06-47106-CV. (This link will take you to the blog which has several links to documents.)

According to the Court’s papers,  Plaintiff   Coronado alleged that Ms. Burns,  based on her previous actions, is likely to publish “proprietary”  information  about Coronado’s practices if she isn’t stopped.  Coronado further  alleged that Ms. Burns has published confidential  documents provided to her during the legal discovery process.

On December 3, 2008, Plaintiff Coronado Energy requested, and  the Court signed, a Protective Order which was entered  against Ms. Elizabeth Burns who publishes the blog,  “A Satirical View from the McGill Bros Lease in South Texas.”  The Court evidently agreed with Coronado’s  wish  “to protect Coronado’s  proprietary and trade secret related or type information that will or may be revealed through the course of depositions and other discovery in this matter.  Such order will allow all  parties in this case to designate certain discovery  products as confidential and thereby limit disclosure and use of such information outside of this lawsuit…”

Under normal circumstances, such confidential designations are frequently made in civil suits.  However, under normal circumstances,  the party wishing to designate documents as “confidential”  does not do so in the aggregate and provides specific reasons for each instance.  The concern in this case is that the burden  of proof has been  shifted to Ms. Burns,  who, if she wants to publish Coronado documents, must show, apparently,  that such documents should not be designated “confidential.”  By placing the burden on Ms. Burns,  the Court has effectively ruled that  she must return to the  Court for permission whenever she wishes to publish  Coronado documents

During our 330-mile River Trip to light up the Delaware River,  Leni and I discovered that very few people in our River Basin had ever heard of  hydraulic fracturing and even fewer knew what it was.

The burden of educating the public about what the gas companies plan for our communities has fallen, in large part, to bloggers.  Although there are notable exceptions  (The River Reporter and  The Intelligencer, to name just two)  the understanding most people have regarding the issues  comes from watching a virtual deluge of pro-drilling ads on their TVs.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in New York Times v. United States (1971)  “The United States, which brought these actions to enjoin publication in the New York Times and in the Washington Post of certain classified material, has not met the “‘heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement of such a [prior] restraint.'”

(“Prior restraint” refers to  restrictions placed on  a citizen’s rights in case the citizen  might overstep legal bounds at some future time.  The Supreme Court was reminding us that  if the State seeks to restrict a person’s  speech,  the burden on the State is enormous.  In so saying,  The Court was reminding us that  our nation is only as strong as our sources of information,  our ability to access that information and the  open fora in which we discuss that information.)

In one of the most brilliant and moving opinions ever published by the Court, Justice Black wrote, in part, with Justice Douglas concurring:

“In my view it is unfortunate that some of my Brethren are apparently willing to hold that the publication of news may sometimes be enjoined. Such a holding would make a shambles of the First Amendment.

‘Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

“James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge. Madison proposed what later became the First Amendment in three parts, two of which are set out below, and one of which proclaimed: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” 2 (Emphasis added.)

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

I am not an attorney and  would not presume to voice an opinion on either Coronado’s allegations or Ms. Burns’ response, but I  hope that all of us — bloggers, the populace,  mainstream media and Courts of Law —  will read and re-read Justice Black’s statement.  Although it  concerns restraints placed on citizens by  The State,  in our current oligarchy where  The State and Corporations are enmeshed,  Justice Black’s words ring with  deep import.

Nockamixon Township Peforms Baseline Water Tests

Scientists are beginning to sample wells and water sources in the township. It will serve as proof if the water is poisoned by gas drilling.

If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.

Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers.


(Breathing Is Political extends its appreciation to The Intelligencer and Amanda Cregan for  allowing  me to re-print the following article which first appeared  August 18, 2009. The “Cabot property” referenced in the article is the one Leni Santoro and I visited during our River Road Trip.  A photo is viewable here.  Please note that the berm around the frack pool did not appear to be  more than three feet high and the  return fence (running perpendicular to the road) was no higher than  2-3 feet. Because so few people we met during our journey were cognizant of   drilling and hydraulic fracturing or the threat  they pose to our  aquifers and land,  I wanted  people here in the Upper Delaware Basin to know what some of   our sister communities  are doing  to protect themselves.)

By: AMANDA CREGAN Bucks County Courier Times
Scientists are beginning to sample wells and water sources in the township. It will serve as proof if the water is poisoned by gas drilling.

If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.

Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers.

With a $25,000 grant, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee, a group of governmental representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, voted in September to do the testing as a protective measure.

Delayed all summer by frequent rainstorms, scientists have completed testing water wells at nine homes and the Upper Bucks Regional EMS headquarters.

Now they’re roving the township, gathering 20 samples from creeks and streams. Overall, water data will stretch over a 300-square-mile region.

“We’re testing for a whole suite of chemical parameters,” said James P. Shallenberger, senior project manager for Princeton Hydro. “Right now, the objective is just to establish some base lines and sense what the water is like. If there is any drilling done, there will most likely be some follow up work closer to those drill sites.”

If the water was to become contaminated, the Lower Delaware River management committee argues, this baseline, pre-drilling data could be used to make the case that drilling was the cause.

“The baseline testing is extremely important. Because all the discussion we’ve had about accountability and liability, the onus is on us to show the integrity and clarity of our water and have documentation on it,” said the committee’s Pennsylvania chairwoman Nancy Janyszeski, who also serves as Nockamixon’s supervisor chairwoman.

Scientists are focusing their water testing on both sides of the former Cabot Industries property, she said.

The Cabot property on Beaver Run Road, just of Route 611 near Revere, is the only site in the gas drilling permit application stages at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The 102-acre property was home to a specialty metals production operation. The site underwent a federal environmental cleanup in the early 1990s.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Cabot site a clean bill of health.

The Lower Delaware River management committee is worried that one misstep at a drilling site in Nockamixon could spell disaster for its neighbors.

Township homeowners rely on private water wells and septic systems, and many are already grappling with a diminishing groundwater supply.

Natural gas is extracted thousands of feet below the surface via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The process uses vast amounts of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, injected into the ground under high pressure to create fractures in the rock and allow the oil or gas to be more easily withdrawn.

Like already-affected municipalities across the country, Nockamixon officials want the gas company to disclose what chemicals are being used, but it’s considered a trade secret and is exempted by federal law.

About 250 homeowners have signed leases with Michigan-based gas drilling company Arbor Resources. Nockamixon supervisors have asked Bucks County Court to overturn a decision by the township’s zoning hearing board, which decided Feb. 9 that township ordinances go too far in restricting drilling and agreed with Arbor officials that the state’s Oil and Gas Act trumps local regulations.

If groundwater is poisoned in the drilling process, the burden of proof will be with the gas company, said Shallenberger.

“The state rules put the burden of proof on the drilling company. If there is a problem or if someone else reports a water quality issue within six months that the drilling occurs, there is a presumption the drilling company is responsible for a change in water quality,” he said.

Although these samplings would serve as a before-and-after picture of Nockamixon water quality, it would bring little relief for homeowners suffering the consequences.

“Water is crucial resource for everyone,” he said.

Princeton Hydro’s water samples will be sent to the laboratory. Results are expected in a month.

August 18, 2009

Drilling, Hydro-Fracking, Journalism & Bias


(This column was sparked by  “elb’s”  comments below and invites either “elb” or  the commentator of his/her choice to respond as a guest columnist. Although  I disagree that the available science urges us to give  drilling and hydraulic fracturing  a chance,  the point of Breathing is to offer a forum for intellectually-honest discussion.  “elb’s”  full comments can be reached by clicking the comment link to the right of this column under  “recent comments.”)

Dear “elb,”

I wish you’d cited to examples when you wrote, “Those thousands in upstate NY who rallied for gas drilling see more benefits than negatives, yet you have not even made the first attempt to understand their point of view or why they reached it.  Instead, you’ve inferred that they’re insane idiots who care nothing for the land, just their wallets.”

I’d be interested to know how my  statement, “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?”  infers that drilling proponents are “insane idiots who care nothing  for the land, just their wallets.”

In fact, I’ve written angrily as a  former farm laborer and construction worker that many  landholders have been forced by  economic circumstances to even consider leasing their  gas rights and I’ve  exhorted  Basin communities to take specific steps in defense of our Basin’s economy and local producers.)

When you say, “Yet I hear very little insulting, denigrating comments directed at the ‘other side’  from them, despite a passion equal to yours…,”  does that include your statement,  “Instead, you’ve taken the blindly narcissistic stance that ‘it’s not possible’  that you and your fellow supporters might be guilty — or even capable — of exaggerating risks?”

Does it account for  Mr. Noel  Van Swol calling pro-water advocates “dilettantes”  at the July 15th DRBC Hearing?

Your statement provides no substantiation that I’ve exaggerated my claims  so  there’s little I can say in response.

However, it seems to me that certain facts must be accepted before we proceed:

  • hydraulic fracturing fluid contains toxic chemicals capable of rendering a water supply worthless;
  • the only scientific investigative  study currently in existence is the one recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • polluted water  wells must be reported within six months of  the suspect gas well being drilled and fracked;
  • when screwing anything on the horizontal,  the object will remain stable… until it doesn’t;
  • The Texas Supreme Court recently stated, “The [drilling] design projects the length of the fractures from the well measured three ways…. Estimates of these distances are…at best imprecise. Clues about the direction in which fractures are likely to run horizontally from the well may be derived from seismic and other data, but virtually nothing can be done to control that direction; the fractures will follow Mother Nature’s fault lines in the formation.”
  • no governmental or ad hoc agency has the budget or staff   to oversee any aspect of drilling and fracking:  not the drilling and water withdrawals nor the actual  fracking and disposal of the resultant toxic waste water — a crucial gap that has been  recognized by the Delaware River Basin Commission;

Despite your assessment of my position  (“I see one thing over and over again on this blog — a true lack of an open mind. You’ve made up your mind about gas drilling, despite much evidence ((especially in western NYS and other areas inside and certainly outside the West) that it can live in harmony with the environment and local communities.”))  I am not opposed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing;  I am opposed to slipshod processes.

And most assuredly,  I am opposed to approving an  activity or technology just  because there are locations where it’s operated safely even though  a wealth of circumstantial evidence points to very specific harms elsewhere.   (Not all smokers die of  smoking-related diseases.  Does that mean smoking is harmless?)

To further  explain my objection to shoddy process,  I  opposed  invading Iraq without well-articulated reasons, proof and adherence to Constitutional law.  I was especially opposed to our  policy makers relying  on  Ahmad Chalabi’s vested-interest “clarifications”  since he was angling to  be  Saddam’s  replacement.

A reasonable person would have questioned the value of  Chalabi’s  “evidence” as I  now question the value of  drilling company vested-interest   “evidence” and “assurances.”

More personally,   having been a teenager myself,   when my kids  told me  the party they were attending was safe, I automatically checked with the chaperones.  Loving our children or liking corporations doesn’t absolve us of using  common sense.   If people behaved rationally and  with the “common weal”  firmly in mind,  we’d have no need of laws or oversight  or even newspapers and discussion fora.

Which leads rather nicely to the issue of the  report released by the Environmental Protection Agency concerning  water contamination in  Wyoming about which you say, “Instead, you’ve decried the gas drilling industry’s propaganda (of which there is plenty) in favor of Earthworks’ propaganda: a press release that only hints at the fact that the EPA (1) has not yet determined the cause and source of the contaminated wells, and (2) only THREE of the 11 contaminated wells — out of 39 tested — had a toxin specific to fracking. How does that qualify for sounding a nationwide alarm, let alone the environmental catastrophe you’re constantly trying to whip your readers into a frenzy about?”)

What follows here are

“In interviews with ProPublica and at a public meeting this month in Pavillion’s community hall, officials spoke cautiously about their preliminary findings. They were careful to say they’re investigating a broad array of sources for the contamination, including agricultural activity. They said the contaminant causing the most concern – a compound called 2-butoxyethanol, known as 2-BE  – can be found in some common household cleaners, not just in fracturing fluids.

“But those same EPA officials also said they had found no pesticides – a signature of agricultural contamination – and no indication that any industry or activity besides drilling could be to blame. Other than farming, there is no industry in the immediate area.

“…according to EPA investigation documents, most of the water wells were flushed three times before they were tested in order to rid them of anything that wasn’t flowing through the aquifer itself.

“‘It starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region. The investigation “could certainly have a focusing effect on a lot of folks in the Pavillion area as a nexus between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.'”

(Conclusive, “elb?”  No,  but certainly worthy of  a moratorium until full explanations are available.)

  • a link to an earlier introductory article  and
  • a link to the EPA’s actual report (which I was unable to locate despite searching for over an hour)

We don’t have to argue the content; readers can decide whether or not I am attempting to  “whip [them] into a frenzy”  or whether I’m reasonably  concerned by the consequences  we see in Wyoming, Fort Worth,  Dimock (PA) and elsewhere of  “rushing to judgment”  as we did in Iraq.

Isn’t it rational to wonder why  those with the least are risking the most and  well-heeled energy corporations are poised to make out like bandits yet again?

Is it whipping readers “into a frenzy”  to remind them that corporations aren’t always honest and government  overseers are not always  concerned for the well-being of the “People.” (We have ample evidence of this given the recent economic meltdown and the collusive actions  of the Securities & Exchange Commission, ratings agencies and other financial pirates who  secured obscene profits for a few  while huge numbers of us lost our life savings and homes.)

Is it particularly onerous that I would raise those issues when our very water supply depends on drilling companies caring more for the water and our welfare  than they do their profits?  Is that me falling prey to “Earthworks’ propaganda” or is it a reasonable caution given  the times  in which we live and the fundamental nature of corporations which is to increase profits for their shareholders?

“Unlike the people you reached out to farther down the Delaware Valley, where gas drilling is likely never to come,”  you write, “most landowners in this area have done their homework and — untainted by the desire to hear only the facts that support a pre-set point of view — have come to a different, far less extreme conclusion.”

I’m left to assume  that their “far less extreme conclusion” is to  lease their gas rights…?     How is jumping in with both feet, no matter their reasons,  “far less extreme”  than  my position which I reiterate here for the umpteenth time:

“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.”

Rather than being  part of a frenzied rush to drill,  I’m trying to  set the brake on  a run-away train.  (Imagine how much better we’d be sitting if   caution and science had informed  President Bush’s Iraq War strategy before he launched  “Shock and Awe.”)

You also state, “We are all actively working to avoid the kind of environmental holocaust you relish describing, even though the fact remains that no catastrophe on the scale you fear here has ever been seen in the U.S.”

I’m sure that your  reasoning will provide  comfort  to the residents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island which were, I’m sure you’ll agree,   ground breaking events in their own right.

(I would appreciate you forwarding to me copies of   gas leases  which “avoid the kind of environmental holocaust”  you believe I “relish describing….”  Or perhaps you could include them in your rebuttal as evidence of  lessors’ efforts to protect our Basin.)

As to your insistence that information printed by ProPublica is propaganda, please consider Mr. Lustgarten’s  credentials  (“Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.”) and the fact that he has chosen to work for ProPublica as a respected news source.

Then, please,  provide evidence of your assertion that ProPublica spews propaganda as well as  examples of  gas industry propaganda.

So you see, I completely agree, whether or not it’s my ” blog to do with as [I]  please,”  readers should demand  that we  provide  well-researched and balanced information for them to chew over in a civil venue.

In return, I ask the same of you and whomever you choose to write your rebuttal which I will be pleased to publish here.