Update: Delaware Town Board Petition and Resolution


Dear Readers,  Breathing received an email this morning which contends  that  “…some signators  to the Resolution and Petition being circulated in The Town of Delaware believed they were endorsing an ‘anti-drilling’  petition and resolution.”

Neither the petition nor the resolution are anti-drilling.  Rather, the intent of citizens who are circulating them  is to enact whatever protections are possible in the event gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing  occur in the Town of Delaware!

Residents  concerned for the future of The Town of Delaware and the Delaware River Basin are encouraged to attend the Delaware Town Board meeting this Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7:00  PM at the Town Hall in Hortonville where the Petition and Resolution will be presented.

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Since  March 20, 2010,  when  Breathing posted a re-cap of the Town of Delaware’s  Town Board meeting and  a copy of  the  gas drilling Resolution Supervisor James Scheutzow  had presented to the Town Board,  The New York State  Assembly has begun to deliberate  several legislative initiatives.

  • One of those, NYS Assembly bill 10490, will establish a moratorium on gas drilling in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency releases its study of the gas industry and its  impacts.
  • A second, NYS Assembly Bill  10633,  is a “Home Rule” bill which makes explicit the notion that  local governments  have and will have zoning control over where gas drilling occurs in their jurisdictions no matter what powers of jurisdiction a  State authority may  claim.

In response,  Breathing wrote on April 18th,  “…. I will ask  citizens throughout New York State  to petition  their local governments to adopt resolutions and/or ordinances that:

  • support  A10490’s  requirement that a moratorium be effected in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency submits its report on hydraulic fracturing;  and
  • amend  or enact zoning laws which preserve and protect the local citizenry and their natural resources.

“An example of a zoning ordinance written  in Nockamixon, PA is available here. Although  Pennsylvania and New York State regulations are often baffling  in their differences,   the language of the Ordinance is instructive;  as is a reading of this article and its links which help explain  the legal reasoning that New York  and Pennsylvania  State courts might bring to considerations of local zoning ordinances that regulate drilling. An important legal tenet is that the decision of a  State Supreme Court may be cited as precedent in other states in the absence of  more weighty legal decisions.  That does not  mean the precedent will stick,  but it does mean it will be treated with value  when a different state court weighs similar legal issues.

“Inaction will no longer be an option for local governments in New York.  It  will now be clear that if local governments do not regulate gas drilling enterprises within their jurisdictions, they are choosing to support  the short term pecuniary interests of a few lessors over the long-term and communal interests of  the land, water and people they are obligated to defend and protect.”

Other New York State  legislative  gas drilling initiatives which came to light since the beginning of April are:

  • A10088 which prohibits “on-site storage of flowback water.”   (After toxic hydraulic fracturing fluid is injected into the shale bed,  15-40% of the toxic soup is recovered as “flowback water”  and is frequently stored in open pits at the fracking site.  60-85% of  the injected fluid is left in the shale bed.);
  • A10090 which prohibits the “disposal of drill cuttings at the drilling site.”  (Drill cuttings are the primarily solid pieces generated as the drill bores through the earth.  For those familiar with wood or metal drills,  think of the shavings created as the drill rotates and penetrates a  2 x  4 or metal bar. During hydraulic fracturing, drills bore thousands of feet.  The resultant “cuttings”  are composed of  NORMs (Naturally  Occurring Radioactive Materials) and other toxins which, according to  New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) qualifies  them as  “hazardous waste.”  In justifying the  need for A10090,  its sponsors state, “In their hearing testimony, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicated that a multiple horizontal well site will generate 100 to 500 times the volume of cuttings generated at a vertical well site. More importantly, the Marcellus formation has been shown to be high in pyrite. Oxidation and leaching of pyretic shale produces Acid Mine Discharge (AMD) which can lead to significant water impairments. Unfortunately, in the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), the Department of Environmental Conservation proposes to prohibit only the on-site disposal of cuttings contaminated with drilling mud.”
  • A10091 which would require “the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids; and, *[prohibit] the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing chemicals that pose a risk to human health including, but not limited to, fluids that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (as defined by the EPA) or are known mutagens. Effects of Present Law Which This Bill Would Alter: Amends section 23-0305 (8)(d) of the Environmental Conservation Law.”
  • A10092 which  “Requires an environmental impact statement to be prepared for any natural gas or oil drilling involving the use of hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
  • A08784 which “Requires permit holders to test groundwater prior to and after drilling wells for oil and natural gas.”
  • A9414 which “Establishes the natural gas exploration and extraction liability act of 2010.”  (Of the initiative,  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy has said, “This bill would not apply to the million and a half acres already leased in New York State and for that reason we think it needs to be amended.”)

On March 21, 2010 and in response to Breathing’s March 20th article about the Town of Delaware Board meeting,   Bruce Ferguson posted a comment which pointed to at least one issue of importance concerning locally-trained and qualified inspectors:    “But the notion that these inspectors should be ‘locally trained and qualified’  doesn’t make any sense at all. Who in the Town of Delaware is in a position to ‘train and qualify’  shale gas well inspectors? All inspectors should be hired and trained by the NYS DEC Division of Mineral Resources. The Department already has the resources and years of experience in this field and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Also well inspectors should be the best-qualified people the DEC can find, and they should be full-time professionals. The job of regulating gas wells is a huge responsibility and it should NOT be entrusted to amateurs or part-timers.”

Believing questions about the Resolution were warranted, on March 24, 2010,  Breathing created a separate page which encouraged residents to participate in adding to, changing or re-writing  the Resolution.   Included,  were several suggestions for alternate language of which this was one option:  “A moratorium on gas drilling/hydraulic fracturing should be enacted in New York State.”

The email Breathing received this morning expressed  additional concerns which I believe will be of import to those who’ve signed the petition  or who are considering signing it:

  • the resolution asks the state legislature  to compel the DEC to provide mandatory setbacks from homes  We already have mandatory setbacks from homes.   To make sense, the resolution should call for greater setbacks than exist under current law;
  • ‘closed loop drilling’ and ‘no open waste pits’ are listed  as separate items in the resolution. Of course if you have closed loop drilling, then by definition, you don’t have open waste pits.  These items should be combined into one coherent item.

NYS Drilling Moratorium : Aileen Gunther


During the month of March, many residents of New York State were asked to contact their State Representatives about several pieces of proposed legislation having to do with hydraulic fracturing:

  • A10088 which prohibits “on-site storage of flowback water.”   (After toxic hydraulic fracturing fluid is injected into the shale bed,  15-40% of the toxic soup is recovered as “flowback water”  and is frequently stored in open pits at the fracking site.  60-85% of  the injected fluid is left in the shale bed.);
  • A10090 which prohibits the “disposal of drill cuttings at the drilling site.”  (Drill cuttings are the primarily solid pieces generated as the drill bores through the earth.  For those familiar with wood or metal drills,  think of the shavings created as the drill rotates and penetrates a  2 x  4 or metal bar. During hydraulic fracturing, drills bore thousands of feet.  The resultant “cuttings”  are composed of  NORMs (Naturally  Occurring Radioactive Materials) and other toxins which, according to  New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) qualifies  them as  “hazardous waste.”  In justifying the  need for A10090,  its sponsors state, “In their hearing testimony, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicated that a multiple horizontal well site will generate 100 to 500 times the volume of cuttings generated at a vertical well site. More importantly, the Marcellus formation has been shown to be high in pyrite. Oxidation and leaching of pyretic shale produces Acid Mine Discharge (AMD) which can lead to significant water impairments. Unfortunately, in the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), the Department of Environmental Conservation proposes to prohibit only the on-site disposal of cuttings contaminated with drilling mud.”
  • A10091 which would require “the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids; and, *[prohibit] the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing chemicals that pose a risk to human health including, but not limited to, fluids that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (as defined by the EPA) or are known mutagens. Effects of Present Law Which This Bill Would Alter: Amends section 23-0305 (8)(d) of the Environmental Conservation Law.”
  • A10092 which  “Requires an environmental impact statement to be prepared for any natural gas or oil drilling involving the use of hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
  • A08784 which “Requires permit holders to test groundwater prior to and after drilling wells for oil and natural gas.”
  • A9414 which “Establishes the natural gas exploration and extraction liability act of 2010.”  (Of the initiative,  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy has said, “This bill would not apply to the million and a half acres already leased in New York State and for that reason we think it needs to be amended.”)

On April 5, 2010,  Breathing received the following note from Aileen Gunther  (Assembly District 98) “A new bill has been introduced (A10490) by Assemblyman Englebright to establish a moratorium on conducting hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas or oil until 120 days after the Federal EPA issues their report on the effects of fracking on water quality and public health. I am a co-sponsor of this bill.  I am hearing positive response from individuals and groups regarding this newly introduced legislation.   Although I have not officially signed on as a sponsor of many of the bills you reference, I do support the bills and will support them when they come before the EnCon [Environmental Conservation] committee or to the floor.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)

Although some activists who support a total moratorium have questioned  A10490’s  120-day limit, others believe it’s a middle-of-the-road position — neither obstructing nor approving hydraulic fracturing until a comprehensive study of its effects is completed.  In the past,  the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found many faults with NYS DEC’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement   (dSGEIS).   Currently, completion and submission  of the dSGEIS is the basis of   New York’s  de facto moratorium. Obviously, A10490 would extend that moratorium  until the completion of EPA’s  “comprehensive research study.”

For  more information concerning the status of the proposed legislation in this article or to contact Ms. Gunther, please follow the supplied-links.  To find your New York State Legislators and to let them know how you feel about the legislation,  please visit the New York State Assembly and/or Senate pages.

As  readers of Breathing Is Political’s “Inverse Condemnation” article  may remember,  NYS Senator John Bonacic has staked a  position on hydraulic fracturing which is different than Ms. Gunther’s and although that position is  protective of lessors,  it does not address the larger issues of human and environmental health.

Coming next:  Local conflicts of interests and incorporating  the above-legislative initiatives into Town and County Board resolutions.

Dr. Ronald E. Bishop Comments to NYS DEC


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

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Dr. Ronald E. Bishop
Cooperstown, NY

December 30, 2009

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

To Whom It May Concern,

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

Section 2.2 Public Need and Benefit

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

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

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

Section 3.2.1.1 SGEIS Applicability – Definition of High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

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

Section 5.4.3 Composition of Fracturing Fluids

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

Section 5.11.1.1 Subsurface Mobility of Fracturing Fluids

This section and the associated Appendix 11 register a glaringly flawed assumption:  that fracturing fluids are being pumped into dry rock formations.  Analysis of flowback fluids clearly indicate (dSGEIS Table 5-8 and Section 5.11.3.1) that rock strata including target formations are filled with salts-saturated water, i.e. brine.  The ability of deep rock formations to accommodate additional non-compressible fluids may well depend on their ability to direct them into faults, abandoned wells or other, more porous strata.  This consideration, along with accounting for repeat hydraulic fracturing, should guide a fresh attempt to model the subterranean flow of fluids introduced at high pressures for natural gas extraction processes.

Section 5.12 Flowback Water Treatment, Recycling and Reuse

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

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

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

Chapter 6 Potential Environmental Impacts

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

Section 6.1.1 Water Withdrawals

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

Section 6.1.6 Waste Transport

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

Section 6.5 Air Quality

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

Section 6.7 Centralized Flowback Water Surface Impoundments

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

Section 6.8 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Marcellus Shale

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

Section 6.9 Visual Impacts

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

Chapter 7 Mitigation Measures

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

Section 7.1.4.2 Sufficiency of As-Built Wellbore Construction; Appendices 8, 9 & 10

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

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

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

Section 7.1.12 Setbacks

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

Section 7.5 Protecting Air Quality

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

Section 7.11 Mitigating Road Use Impacts

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

Section 7.12 Mitigating Community Character Impacts

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

Section 7.13 Mitigating Cumulative Impacts

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

Chapter 9 Alternative Actions

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

Appendix 15 Hydraulic Fracturing – 15 Statements from Regulatory Officials

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

Respectfully,

Ron Bishop
References Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tillman: Dimock to Callicoon : Please Stay Tuned!


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

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

Honesdale Vigil: Climate Change Talks : Copenhagen


Dear Breathing Readers:  The following article is published here with thanks to SEEDS (Sustainable Energy Education & Development Support.)  I received it as an email notice about  the upcoming candlelight vigil scheduled in  Honesdale’s Central Park on December 11, 2009 at 5:00 pm.  The vigil is intended as a message and plea  to the Climate  Change Talks in Copenhagen and is organized  in solidarity  with 350.org.  However,  it includes information about the impacts of climate change on our local area and so I’m helping promote the event  to a larger audience.   Best, Liz

*     *     *     *

All are invited to bring a candle to Central Park, Honesdale at 5 PM on Friday, December 11th to join a vigil for hope during the climate change talks being held in Copenhagen.  SEEDS (Sustainable Energy Education & Development Support) is holding the vigil locally, while 350.org is calling for similar events around the world.

Here in northeast Pennsylvania, our Maple and Black Cherry trees are already being challenged by the effects of a carbon-overloaded atmosphere, and are expected to disappear completely within our children’s lifetime when our local  climate will be resemble  that of present-day Alabama and Georgia, according to a recent report specific to Pennsylvania and  published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  While we are already getting a taste of devastating floods in our region, countries like the Maldives and Bangladesh will soon be devastated and are fighting for their very survival.

“Our atmosphere has almost 400 parts per million of carbon, mainly from fossil fuel burning for electricity and cars,” says SEEDS chair, Michele Sands.  “We need to get down to under 350 to continue life as we know and love it in northeast PA.  SEEDS is promoting renewable energy sources and sustainable food choices locally, but we need our government leaders to respond to the urgency of our situation, here and in Copenhagen.”

CNN called the previous worldwide 350 event in October the biggest day of political action in the planet’s history. Several local groups including SEEDS took part, SEEDS announcing an ambitious plan to encourage installation of 350 Kw of renewable energy in our local area within a year and save just as much through conservation.

“We hope these vigils will surpass the October action,” says Kathy Dodge, organizer of the local vigil. “And this will be as easy as a walk in the park. So, please come with your candle or lantern to help send a message to Copenhagen.”

Anyone wishing more information about this vigil, may go to 350.org or SEEDSGroup.net. Contact SEEDS at (570) 224-0052 or SEEDSGroup@gmail.com.

Open Letter from Glenn Kroll, Candidate for Sullivan County District Attorney


Dear Breathing Readers:  On October 22, 2009,  I  invited  Attorneys Jim  Farrell and  Glenn Kroll (candidates for Sullivan County District Attorney)  to publish  open letters of interest and intent to local voters in the Breathing forum.   I  welcomed them to present their views and policies at length  because our  readers  care deeply about the future of  our beautiful, generous and often, beleaguered county.  We  deserve a forum in which  pertinent questions are  posed and thoughtful answers are provided.

Although Mr. Farrell has not  responded as of yet, I am very pleased to publish  the following Open Letter from Mr. Kroll and express appreciation for his support of a public exchange over issues as urgent as crime, poverty, education, our diverse cultures and the futures of  our grandparents and grandchildren:

Dear Sullivan County Voter: October 30th 2009

When asked why I was running for District Attorney, my response was straightforward: as an experienced trial lawyer and elected Bloomingburg Village Justice for the past four years, plus my unique background in both Law and Education, I was in a position to help my home County in new and positive ways for all of us.

I graduated from college in 1993 and New York Law School in 1996. For two years I taught in the New York City School System, having been appointed as Dean of In-School Suspension. It was an eye-opening opportunity to learn how children go wrong – and how their self-destructive behavior can be turned around. I understand how today’s young bully can become tomorrow’s gang member with guns. THIS MUST STOP!

We all understand that our criminal justice system is mainly geared to finding, arresting and prosecuting criminals. My legal training and experience as a trial attorney and Village Justice certainly qualifies me to handle that part of the DA’s job. But when I researched the operations and accomplishments of our DA’s Office over the past 20+ years, I discovered something very important had been completely overlooked:      almost no crime prevention programs or efforts had been undertaken in the last three decades!

As so many District Attorneys in New York State (and the nation) have learned, it’s vital that our DA’s office  become an integral factor in initiating and maintaining local crime prevention efforts in Sullivan County!  Let’s stop crime together in your community and your schools.

The slumping economy is also causing increased crime in our County: the economic crisis has caused a high level of crime in Sullivan County to become even worse. Drug use, drive-by shootings and illegal assault weapons on our streets, have increased dramatically in just the past few years!

My unique professional background will  add a new dimension to the District Attorney’s Office in the form of a strong and proactive program of CRIME PREVENTION in our County.

The DA’s office is, first and foremost, the arm of our legal system that protects the County’s citizens by prosecuting those who break the law. I intend to do just that with:

1.RELENTLESS Prosecution of the Real Criminals: The gangs, the shooters, the drug dealers, the child molesters and the second and third time felony offenders.

2.RESPONSIVE Community Input – the key factor in an effective County-wide Crime Prevention Program. As District Attorney, I will implement a network of Community Liaisons who will work closely with the DA’s office to share their specific concerns and needs for law enforcement in their communities. As District Attorney I will be ACCESSIBLE, APPROACHABLE and FAIR!

3.RESPONSIBLE Fiscal Control. Everyone in the Country is feeling the pain of these hard times. The District Attorney’s office must also conserve taxpayer dollars whenever possible. I pledge to run a lean, but more efficient operation.

My vision and energy will lead the District Attorney’s Office in the uncertain and dangerous years ahead. With your vote and support, we can begin to turn around the growing problems of crime in our County. It is important to all of us. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you. Please make sure to vote on November 3rd.

Thank You,

Glenn Kroll

VOTE ROW “A” or “E” November 3rd Election Day

(845) 733-1065

DEC Holds Drilling Hearing at Sullivan County Community College


The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held one of only four  state-wide Hearings on  drilling and hydraulic fracturing at Sullivan County Community College on October 28, 2009.

The vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd was opposed to drilling in New York State.

Few or none  of the opponents drew a distinction between drilling in a watershed or anywhere else.

Most or all  asked for additional  time so the public can read and  comment knowledgeably on the DEC’s  800+ page  “Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Drilling in New York State.” (DSGEIS)

They asked that  several  more public hearings be scheduled throughout the state because some had driven three or more hours to attend last night. (Note:  When I left at 11:00 PM, the meeting was still going on.)

Several local highway superintendents described their local roads as  “substandard”  and worried about the damage that will be wreaked by the enormous volume of truck traffic  necessary to drilling.  Uniformly,  they asked that the DEC inform local municipalities when each drilling application is made so that Road Use Agreements can be drafted in a timely fashion and so that control of local road use will reside with the towns.

Town Supervisors reiterated what the Superintendents said and went further.  Jim Scheutzow (Town of Delaware) said,  “We need the gas companies to step up.  We  don’t have the resources to  take care of the  roads.”

Jim Greier (Town of Fremont) laid out the specifics,  “We have  1391 people,   84  miles of town roads,  16.8 miles of county road, one gas station, two bars and no extra funds  for repairing roads that are damaged by extra heavy trucks.”

One Building Inspector, citing to the lack of local  prerogatives,  raised a point that’s bothered drilling opponents from the beginning,  “No drilling company’s come to me for a permit.”

Perhaps the greatest applause was saved for Luiz Aragon, Sullivan County’s Planning Commissioner and Maria Grimaldi, a tireless advocate for  a sustainable local ecology and economy.

“Despite DEC’s efforts,” said Mr. Aragon,  “many citizens remain concerned by  DSGEIS on many issues.  I respectfully request that the cumulative impacts and socioeconomic concerns be fully-addressed.”  He included, amongst others,  the impacts on municipal infrastructure,  standards of notification,  safety to muncipalities, protection of aquifers and  the overall health and welfare of our communities.

They were not empty words.  Referencing the Sullivan County Legislature, Mr. Aragon called attention to  the potential for drilling in flood plains and called the body of legislation salient to environmental protection, “inconsistent.”   After listing  several recent accidents and incidents of contamination by the drilling industry,   the County Planning Commissioner called for bans on open pit  storage and drilling in all flood plain zones.  He urged the DEC to add a requirement  that the contents and composition of frac fluids be posted at  drilling  sites and with emergency responders.  “Our County remains concerned that municipalities must be permitted to issue  local laws without fear of lawsuits.  The cumulative impacts of  pipelines and compressors will be huge.   It is unclear that mitigation can be effected if contamination of ground water occurs.”

When Maria Grimaldi said,   “The DEC’s  DSGEIS  seems to be enabling an industry that is not compatible with  protecting our environment,”  the crowd roared approval.  Her follow through was received even more noisily, “I’m concerned about conflicts of interest between state  governments  and  the gas drilling industry. Where did the information come from for the DSGEIS and  who was consulted?  We should require that no  high level   public servants can work for the gas companies  for four years after leaving public service…. How  will we be  protected by accidents that inevitably happen?  There have been  failures in eight  states with human error being the  leading cause  of systemic failures.”

On and on, opponents  stepped to the podium.  They asked for a clear delineation of  responsibility  for oversight of drilling practices and  enforcement of  regulations,  “What will happen when there’s an accident?  Who will respond?  How will the rights of  residents who didn’t sign leases be protected when their wells are contaminated?  How can we test our wells  [when they’re contaminated] if we aren’t allowed to see a list of the chemicals the industry used?  How can we  prove liability and recoup  our lost property values?”

Some worried that DEC regulations do not prevent the drilling industry from drawing down our groundwater supplies but the umbrella concern remains this,  the DEC’s  Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement admits that it does not review the cumulative  environmental and socio-economic impacts of drilling.

Most opponents demanded  a halt to drilling,  calling it  a dangerous activity while citing to groundwater, human, flora, fauna and soil poisonings from Pavilion, Wyoming to Dimock, Pennsylvania.    One speaker referred to The  Precautionary Principle,  “Let the industry prove, within the context of  the wholesale destruction of an entire ecosystem [Dunkard Creek], that their technology is  safe.”

Members of the audience who want us  to “Drill, Baby, Drill”  included representatives of  IOGA-NY (Independent Oil and Gas Association lobbying group),  Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners’ Association), Chesapeake Energy and David Jones (Owner, Kittatinny Canoes).

The Chesapeake representative stated, “Banning drilling anywhere would be inappropriate.”

The IOGA-NY  industrial spokesperson objected to  the DEC’s  DSGEIS,  “It  goes   too far and puts   us at an  economic disadvantage  compared to PA.   Many companies will walk away from exploiting the   Marcellus Shale   if the DEC continues to  move so slowly.”

Mr. Van Swoel claimed that,  “Ten percent of Sullivan County Land is under lease” and then quoted Newt Gingrich, “We should let the industry drill down.”

Opinion:

Last night  was  my third public meeting on the subject of drilling  and I salute those who’ve attended regularly for the past two years.  I don’t know how you do it.

Breathing is dedicated to an open forum;  not because I’m particularly nice, but because I believe  our world is on numerous brinks and  I’d like to help steady rather than destabilize it.

Last night I had to face the truth: I’m divided against myself.   The  lies and drivel that were uttered last evening by “Drill Now!” proponents   left me quivering.  My stomach was so roiled by  contained outrage that  vomiting was an imminent worry.

I wanted to listen politely.  I wanted to hear their words  in silence.  I wanted to find any points of agreement because I want to save our land and spend my days  building a sustainable local community.

Instead, drilling proponents made baseless assertions about safe practices and   denied that accidents have occurred or that lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by fracking poisons. They lied about the types of chemicals used and turned aside questions about  industry liability when contamination inevitably occurs.

As already covered by Breathing, nobody seriously believes the drilling industry will “walk away” from the brilliantly lucrative prospect of the Marcellus Shale.

IOGA-NY’s insistence  that the  DEC’s Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Driling goes too far is inconsistent with the DEC’s own recognition that the DSGEIS ignores the cumulative impacts of drilling on our entire ecology.

Nobody in a position of policy-making (including the drilling companies) have answered  the real questions:

  • Why did it take Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection nearly three weeks to close down Cabot-Halliburton when the Dunkard Creek ecosystem was destroyed?
  • Who funded the Penn State study that touted the economic benefits of drilling in Pennsylvania?
  • Who will oversee drilling and fracking?
  • Who will enforce the already flimsy regulations?
  • How will people know what’s contaminated their water if  they aren’t allowed to know the nature and composition of drilling chemicals being used?
  • Who will clean up the mess when  inevitable accidents happen?
  • Who will make the residents of Fort Worth, TX,  Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY and New York State  whole for the loss of their water and property values?
  • What will we drink or use to grow our food when the water’s destroyed or requires  remedial interventions that nobody has been able to describe because they simply don’t exist?

Wes Gillingham of the Catskill Mountainkeeper has been to nearly all the meetings.  He’s knowledgeable about the issues and the land.  I echo his words from last night,  “I’ve tried to be patient.  I’ve tried to weigh all sides.”

But here’s my truth:  “Civility” does not require me to be silent in a packed hall when industrial interests are shoving the rape of my world down my throat.  “Civility” does not require me to listen politely to greedy lies.  Nor does “civility” require that I acquiesce sweetly to an  industrial oligarchy.

More importantly,  Justice requires  that the money lenders  be “driven from the Temple.”

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.)

WJFF: Community Radio’s Future


(This article derives, in part, from a September 23, 2009  WJFF Board of Trustees  meeting.   Under normal circumstances, it would have been  published  within 24 hours of the meeting.  Instead,  for  four days, I’ve fretted and edited.

WJFF  has touched each of us whether we know it or not.  Its in-depth interviews of local, national and international activists have broadened and influenced our local  debates about  casinos, dams,  flooding and the advent of hydraulic fracturing.  During the lead up to the Iraq Invasion,  while  other journalists cheered  the fear mongers,  we  listened to WJFF   and heard  85 year old  Robert Byrd  lead the filibuster against granting the President preemptive war powers.  In a shaky voice,  he outlined  the Constitutional limits of Presidential power and Congress’ obligations.  We had no doubt  the moment was historic and potent.

But WJFF’s contributions have  been individual and personal as well.  The kids, including my youngest son, who participated in The Station’s  Youth Radio Project will never forget the safe haven where their creative juices could erupt in wonderful and often unpredictable ways.

It has been, quite simply, an integral part of our evolution as a region.)

*    *    *    *    *

“In 1986, WJFF founders Malcolm Brown and Anne Larsen put an ad in some of the newspapers around Jeffersonville.  It asked if there were folks in the area that were interested in having a public radio station, and if so, would they come  to a meeting about it at the Lake Jefferson Hotel.  This was the beginning of WJFF.   Station lore has the number of people who came to that initial meeting growing and growing.  (It’s up to over a hundred by now) but in actuality, somewhere between 40 and 50 people arrived at the Lake Jefferson Hotel that first night.  But hundreds of community members were involved from that day forward in getting  the station on the air February 12, 1990….”  (WJFF  “Soundings”  newsletter, 2005 retrospective.)

Twenty-three years later, on September 17, 2009, the following  email was forwarded  by a friend who has no  station-affiliation, “There have been internal issues that the volunteers, the Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Board of Trustees  (BOT) of our community radio Station, WJFF, have not been able to iron out.”  The writer then asked community supporters of  WJFF to attend the Board of Trustee’s meeting on September 23rd.

Regular listeners of WJFF  knew that Walter Keller,  host of  First Class Classicals (one of the station’s longest running shows)  and his production assistant,  Bill Jumper, had been either “fired,”  “suspended,” or  “dismissed”  after their August 29, 2009 show.  (In fact,  Mr.  Jumper resigned.)

In a letter to Community Advisory Board (CAB) member, Matt Frumess,  WJFF’s Board of Trustees President, Steve Van Benschoten wrote,   “…the two volunteers had “[violated] one of the cardinal rules of the station.  On page 9 of the volunteer manual,” he stated,  “you will find this injunciton:  ‘Volunteers may not use WJFF airwaves, events, listserve or links to discuss station politics.’   The rule is there to prevent an on-air person from using their program as a bully pulpit to present their case…. We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

Furthermore, Mr. Van Benschoten explained,  Walter and Bill had  run afoul of  WJFF-procedure,  “We have a process in place at the station for grievances to be mediated.  If a programmer feels that the Program Committee is wrong in their assessment of his  or her performance, they can take the matter up with the Board of Trustees (BOT), bringing supporters and arguments to bear on their side of the isue.  Instead, Walter and Bill chose to seize an opportunity on-air, in violation of station rules, to thumb their noses at the procedures WJFF has set in place to establish a rule of fairness and justice.  We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

(Breathing note:  Not only is the Program Committee appointed by the BOT, but   WJFF’s new 2008  “conflict resolution policy”  describes  the grievance process  somewhat differently,  “Volunteers who feel they have been treated unfairly in mediated dispute or who feel unjustly accused of violation of WJFF regulations may present their case to the Board of Trustees provided that…They submit their argument in writing to the Board of Trustees.  The Board may or may not decide to hear from the complainant or complainants in person.“)  (I was unable to find this document online for linking purposes.)

During the Board of Trustees meeting on September 23, 2009 and in subsequent emails, several volunteers disputed Mr. Van Benschoten’s   contention that a  forum exists where  the public, volunteers and station management can openly discuss their differences. Others  expressed a need for change in the way Trustees,  the Station Manager and members of the various boards are selected or appointed.  “It’s in-grown and self-perpetuating,”  one volunteer said and several echoed.

According to the station’s by-laws, most members of  The Board of Trustees are appointed by currently-serving Trustees and  no more than three Trustees are elected  by the active volunteers at the station.

Further,  The Board of Trustees determines the number of Trustee vacancies to be filled during any given election  cycle, appoints members to standing committees, approves  the Community Advisory Board and hires  the Station Manager.

“I don’t know what we can do,” wrote one volunteer after the  BOT  meeting where  she was not afforded an opportunity to speak.  “I want to try and work through the differences in a diplomatic fashion, but we are not even being allowed a forum…can’t talk on the list serve, can’t talk via email….  It’s a scary situation….Winston [Station Manager] and Steve can argue that we were there to discuss a ‘personnel’ issue (which isn’t always open to discussion), but they both knew through my emails that I had other concerns – lack of communication, lack of leadership, the feel of the station changing etc.  Walter and Bill are the underlying symptom of a much deeper problem….I do know that there are people who have stopped listening.   This is not due to the Walter/Bill issue but the fact that we are sounding too homogenized – where are all the community voices?”

*   *   *   *   *

So what did Walter and Bill  say on-air during First Class Classicals  that simply could not be borne by station management?

Walter led off  by referring to a recent change he’d made in deference to the Programming Committee:    “We don’t have the international weather.”

Bill Jumper:  We’re going to change a lot of things at First Class Classicals because this program has come under some pretty serious criticism from the WJFF Programming Committee.   They are saying that the paramount concern is  the audience so what we would like to do is ask our listeners out there… to ask you to let us know what you think of the aspects of the program as we’ve been doing it.  And, if we have some  good reports  for the programming committee  we would like to have  some of those to do…  otherwise  you’ll  see some probably pretty signifcant changes here at  First Class Classicals  here on WJFF.

Walter:  Thanks, Bill.

Bill Jumper:  Please participate. Please send in your cards and letters.  Please call the station and let them know what you think of  First Class Classicals.

Walter:  Thank you, Bill.   What is the number  on the voice box for people to call?

Bill Jumper:    There is no  voicebox anymore.

Walter:  Oh.  There’s no more voicebox?  (Gives WJFF’s  phone and address information.)

Walter:   I will say this… that each of us individually and collectively  have  had very positive feedback  about how the show begins.

Bill Jumper:  We have had some but  we just need more of our listeners to participate.  To let the station manager know what you think about this program.  Because you are  our first concern.   It’s why we are all here.  We aren’t doing this for the station manager or the  programming committee, so please give us a response and let us know if we’re pleasing you.  If we’re not, by all means we will change anything you’d like us to change   This program has been singled out for some very severe criticism, in my opinion by the program committee.

Walter:  I will second that…

Then, at the top of the next hour,  Bill  said,  “We just wanted to remind you that we need your support.  We’ve received some information from the Programming Committee that they want to substantially change some of the thngs we do here at First Class Classicals.  And so we would like your input and, as is true of us too,   the paramount concern is you the listeners  so please give us your support.  (Provides station contact information.)

(Breathing note:  During fund drives, this kind of conversation occurs on  most of  The Station’s on-air shows.  In the midst of  WAMC  fund drives,  personnel frequently allude to  bean-counters, program decisions  and hatchets,  “So now’s the time, if you want to keep this program,  you have to step up,”  or words to that effect.)

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In  response to Walter’s  suspension and Bill Jumper’s resignation,  CAB member, Matt Frumess wrote,  “At the last regular CAB meeting…,  Walter Keller read a directive from the Programming committee… [which] included… some specific things involving the content of his show.  These things included shortening his international  weather segment and instructions to begin playing music as soon  as the local weather was done.  Frankly, Walter was less perturbed by these items than were many members of our board.

“The meeting ended after several of us expressed our concern about the station management micro-managing our station’s shows and, in general, meddling with the content of ongoing shows….All of us who listened to Bill’s short requests were surprised by  how innocuous they were.  We had all expected to hear some sort of tirade….By this time, word had gotten out that Walter’s show had been cancelled and emails and listserve entries hit the fan;  nearly all respondents were appalled by the heavy-handed behavior of the station management.”

Mr.  Frumess then laid out  four conclusions reached  unanimously by  the CAB:

  • “that Walter and Bill be reinstated immediately…  We feel that….there was nothing said that was so egregious that it should have elicited the immediate and inappropriate reaction it did.
  • that  given the extraordinary contributions made to the station by both Walter and Bill, the heavy-handed manner in which they were treated sends a dangerous message to all the current and prospective  volunteers at the station… As the CAB, representing a devoted listening audience, we expect the station management to maintain its community orientation and ts commitment to diversity, free speech and fair play
  • globally, that the recent behavior of the station management is being seen as a threat…to the integrity of WJFF as we know it….diversity requires freedom for  programmers and staff to express themselves as they see fit…unless they stray dramatically from the shows original proposed content or violate the law or specific station standards…
  • that the removal of the voicebox call-in line was inadvisable and should be restored.  The station needs a safe harbor mechanism for listeners to call….With our  mission to  serve a broad-based community, we need any source of feedback we can get.”

(Breathing note:  Walter Keller and BOT President, Steve Van Benschoten both attended the CAB meeting described here by Mr. Frumess.  Mr. Van Benschoten  was  aware that  Walter had  agreed to the Programming Committee’s recommendations and had begun to implement  them.  Nonetheless  —  and without making his intention clear at the CAB meeting  —   the Station Manager was directed to call Walter the next morning  and inform him [after nearly 20 years on  air] “that he and Bill Jumper were indefinitely suspended for violating station policy.”)

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In a letter written after the September 23rd  BOT meeting where Walter’s suspension was discussed in Executive Session,  Mr. Van Benschoten wrote,  “I’m pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees’ voted to reinstate Walter Keller to the airwaves and that Walter has agreed to the conditions… I also want to inform the volunteers that the Board of Trustees has accepted Bill Jumper’s verbal resignation from the station, and (as he requested) a written acceptance of his resignation has been sent to his home.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.”  (Breathing note:  If you want to receive  meeting notices, you can sign up for the WJFF newsletter.)

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Breathing opinion:  WJFF  must be cherished  as a valuable community resource.  Its capacity for a full-breadth of discussions  cannot be lost to us in a time when its service area faces the challenges of hydraulic fracturing,  multiple casino developments, increased job losses  and failing revenue streams.  It would be helpful to have WJFF’s alphabet soup of  committees,   volunteers and  concerned members of the public convene  in “town hall”   venues throughout the listening area.  The community of current listeners, those who’ve drifted away and those who haven’t  found 90.5  yet, must be given an opportunity to  help formulate the way forward.

Hopefully, the  currently in-grown system which has

  • Trustees appointing themselves and standing committee members
  • approving CAB’s members and chairperson  while also
  • hiring and tactically directing the duties of  the Station Manager

will be replaced by a  more inclusive,  elective process.

Since its inception, WJFF has reflected  the rough-hewn, down-to-earth flavor of  the village streets and sharp winters where it lives.   Despite some of those villages being more gentrified   than they were twenty three years ago, we’ve  learned through hard times that no set of hands is less than another and that all voices and visions must be actively sought.  Otherwise, we face a future  scored  by the divisiveness of  “them and us.”  Given WJFF’s legacy to us — that  a strong community can build anything it conceives —  such an outcome would be a terrible waste.

As would forgetting this phrase from WJFF’s  Mission Statement,  “Radio Catskill… aims to involve the community in preserving and transmitting its own cultural heritage and artistic expressions….”

To paraphrase a question raised by one volunteer after the  BOT meeting was cut short, “How does replacing  Walter’s homegrown First Class Classicals with  a canned program sponsored by British Petroleum (BP) involve or preserve the   ‘community’?”    We’re a  (*%@$%*^@!)-ing hydro-powered radio station!”

A highly-charged debate about hydraulic fracturing is taking place in WJFF’s listening community. British Petroleum will receive 32.5% of  revenues generated by Chesapeake hydraulically fracturing the Marcellus Shale.  For the BOT or Programming Committee to say, “You can’t blame us; canned programs come with sponsorship embedded,”  is, politely-speaking, insufficient.  Please see an earlier Breathing article, “Tom Paxton’s  We Didn’t Know.”