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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a river valley resident

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

Planning A Party On A Shoestring

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to provide you with a short primer on “How to organize a 330-mile party in under five weeks for less than $1,000” so, gather round.

(Oh good! Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)


(I was going to write a Light Up The Delaware River Party wrap-up today but seeing as how photos and stories are still coming in,   I’ll wait  a  few days.)

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to  provide you with  a short primer on  “How to organize a 330-mile party in under  five weeks for less than $1,000”  so,   gather round.

(Oh good!  Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)

1.   The first thing you need when trying to organize a community is a good idea.  It should be easily explained and understood and it should include a component of fun.  (Your idea for  filling the shale bed with toxic chemicals and consequently polluting the land and water is easily enough understood and explained but honestly,  the “fun” piece is  missing.)  For instance, my idea for Lighting Up The Delaware River Party came from Gandhi leading  the Indian people to the sea to make salt.  He wanted them to reclaim their resources and the strength  that comes from working shoulder-to-shoulder in an act of solidarity. So we started with that idea and added puppets, songs, movies, dance, poetry, a canoe regatta, campfires,  kayaking.  It was a blast!

What’s the genesis of your idea?  This is important!  When I asked one of your spokespeople outside the July 15, 2009 DRBC hearing if he’d be willing to put your toxic chemicals in an impermeable container and then place them  in his child’s  glass of  water,  he said, “No!”  without hesitation.  It’s just not a good way  to garner trust and support.  And more important,  it’s just not fun.

2.  You have to meet people where they live. Seriously,  the way you’re going about selling fracking fluids and contaminated wells needs some honing.  It’s no good sitting in a meeting room hoping we’ll  find you.  (Many of us are hanging on by a thread and what with working 2 or 3 jobs,  we don’t have a lot of  time or energy  for your little soirees.)

And for sure,  it doesn’t help your case  to simply deny there’s a problem.  Granted, most of us who’ve been  living in  The Basin or rural New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and Ohio  for decades or centuries don’t have a lot of financial  resources but we’re not stupid  for Pete’s sake.  We can read a local newspaper!  We know about Dimock, PA,  Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio…  It doesn’t help your cause if people  think you’re hiding  a bunch of garbage in a closet.  So in your interest, I  urge you to  come clean.

3.  The best way to promote an idea in a tight-knit community is to  be vested in that community and to have a ton of good-hearted friends:  join the local fire company;  become a well-known agitator whom people trust whether or not they  like you and help bolster your local resources —  rivers, land, schools,  local production & distribution of food and goods.   The list is long and varied so step right up.  Here are a couple  PR beauts you could jump on in a split instant:

  • Vest yourself in the community.  I know it’s not a tact you’re familiar with so it bears some explanation.  For instance,  you can volunteer to help farmers get the hay in during the season.  You can deliver cups of coffee to our  volunteer  firemen who work long hours all day and then roll out of bed when the fire alarm peals.  If that sounds like overkill, at least  provide jobs for local people.  They’ll remember you fondly, I promise!
  • Support the  Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 so all the nervous Nellies out there feel appeased and safe.  If history’s a clue, you probably won’t have to  fix any of the problems you create but at least you’ll look responsible.
  • Stop funding Congress.  It makes you look bad and detracts from the wonderful product you’re promoting.  (People end up thinking you couldn’t sell gas drilling to a tribe of orangutans without having most of them in your pocket.  You can see how unwholesome it makes you appear.)
  • Pay the damned severance tax you convinced Pennsylvania Governer Rendell to pull.  Are you nuts?  (I’m asking as one organizer to another so don’t get in a huff.)  The tax will cost you barely anything in the billion dollar scheme of things and it’s great publicity.  Pay the tax and look like a regular guy.  You can’t buy that kind of good press.
  • The next time you convince a major  American university like Penn State to write a bogus “economic impact study” for you, at least fess up that you funded it.  (Again, we’re not stupid and it makes you and your university stooges look sleazy.  Sorry.  I can’t help you if we can’t be forthright with each other.)
  • If you aren’t vested in the community and you can’t distinguish Sullivan County from Wayne or Orange,  or if  we look like  numbers on a geologic plat map to you, here’s a great idea:   recruit a local organization to front for you.    (I’ve gotta’ tell ya’,  this is a really important piece and the whole Sullivan County Partnership  thing?  You blew it.  True or not,  most of us don’t think they could find the teats on a hog.   (Let’s try this:   give  me a call  and we’ll see if we can’t find you someone less…forgettable.)

Another big help is to know your local media and be trusted by them.  I’ve got to hand it to you on that point.  The work you’ve done with the media in Wayne County, PA  has been inspirational!  Almost as impressive as the national silence on some of the  “ooops”  factors you’ve precipitated in Dimock, Fort Worth and elsewhere.

And that’s where I think we can collaborate.   I’ll introduce you to the crackerjack local media who’ve remained beyond your reach and you can get me 10 minutes  on Lou Dobbs.

Deal?

Rally Asks NY State to Rescind Gas Drilling Moratorium

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


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

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

Uh oh.   Fifth grade angst is stopping my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will we plant our feet to stop them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come to the table before it’s barren.

Opinion: Defend Local Food AND Water

Perhaps the following ideas for a more unified community plan will encourage others to add more pieces. Without a plan, I fear our region will end up divided against itself:

1. Listen to local producers and work cooperatively with them to build the Buy Local movement in our communities;
2. Create a Delaware River Basin Buy Fresh Network or similar cooperative union of local producers and local consumers;


On July 19, 2009, Eileen Cear posted a comment to Breathing Is Political which I’ve excerpted here:

“What about the poor people living here for generations. We NYC people(I’m actually on Long island), but own property in the watershed, take such advantage of this area, and take away all future developement for people [who] have been here first. Remember what we all did to the Indians. We need to do something for upstate, not only take-and direct ALL future activites in the name of being our Playground.”

In re-reading my response to her comment, I have to say that I blew  by Ms. Cear’s very real concerns about the future of farmers and long-time property holders in the Delaware River Basin.

On July 11, 2009, I’d written,  “If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the [natural gas] drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.”

Perhaps the following ideas for a more unified community plan will encourage others to add more pieces.  Without a plan, I fear  our region will end up divided against itself:

1.   Listen to local producers and work cooperatively with them to build the Buy Local movement in our communities;
2.   Create a Delaware River Basin Buy Fresh Network or  similar  cooperative union of local producers and local consumers;

3.   Create a local coalition of  producers, retailers/wholesalers, lenders, consumers and government entities to:

Support distribution of local goods through local outlets.

Support retail and wholesale markets whose inventory is comprised of         60-75% local goods.  Encourage them to build cooperative purchasing         models that can reduce the cost of goods;

Support  politicians and candidates who work with local producers,               retailers,  wholesalers, lenders and local consumers to make local                   distribution economically viable and to promote the cooperative
distribution of local goods to local outlets;

Support local banks with a track record of lending to local producers            for capital improvements and expansion which result in greater                   production and availability of local goods;

Support new tax structures that encourage local production,                   distribution and sales of local products.

Encourage local schools and restaurants to buy/serve locally-produced         foods.

The day we stand beside the Delaware River to pour in our cups of water and to celebrate our roles as caretakers,  we must also pledge to join our farmers in creating vibrant, dependable markets for their goods. Our communities are actively harmed when we buy fruits, veggies, grains, dairy and meat products that originate a thousand miles from our tables. Without local control of our community resources, it’s difficult to understand how our communities will survive.

*   *   *   *
Here are more links with good information for those of us who are  as committed to preserving our local food resources as we are to rescuing our River and water:

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)
Transition US
Go Green NOLA
Food Routes

There are also a bunch of local  “Green Beings”  and Community Resource links here.

Locally, Sullivan Transition is meeting Monday, July 27, 2009 from 6 to 8 PM at Cornell Cooperative Extension. The group is dedicated to planning “…our LOCAL future in regard to food, green building and energy, education/awareness raising, local currency and economy, transportation, water and other resources…” Please see the CottageWorks Community Calendar for contact information and additional details.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if “too few people show up?”

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

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

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

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

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Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River

Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went unanswered. “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water? If that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that will enforce the regulations? I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids. I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”


The  Delaware River Basin Commission’s  agenda for July 15, 2009 contained twenty docketed items for review.  The meeting was scheduled for 1:00 pm.  At noon, except for some media crews, the Hearing room was empty.   By 12:55, in the middle of a gorgeous summer workday, it was standing-room-only. Interested parties plugged laptops into outlets and blessed wireless networks.

Several  items docketed for DRBC review were approved with little discussion.  Only two or three  members of the public addressed applications other than  Docket #20 and with each  DRBC decision, the audience  shifted, taking deep calming breaths.

At 1:36 PM,  the DRBC announced “that the public record on [DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1] will remain open until Wednesday, July 29, 2009 to allow an additional opportunity for the public to submit written comments.”  Some  in the audience weren’t sure they’d heard correctly but it was official:  no decision would be made  on Docket #20 until after the extended public comment period passed.

Why had  DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1  roused residents of the Delaware River Basin to leave their farms and offices in the middle of a work week?

On May 19, 2009, according to the DRBC website,  DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier announced that sponsors of  natural gas extraction projects “could not begin any natural gas extraction project located in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters without first applying for and obtaining commission approval.  This determination.. asserts commission review over all aspects of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters, regardless of the amount of water withdrawn or the capacity of domestic sewage treatment facilities accepting fracking wastewater.

On May 22, 2009 Chesapeake Appalachia  asked the DRBC “to review” its request  to remove up to 30 million gallons of surface water from the West Branch of the Delaware River over a period of 30 days “to support Chesapeake’s
natural gas development and extraction activities…for natural gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations…for the applicant’s exploration and development of natural gas wells in the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Less than 40 working days later,  the public was sitting in the DRBC Hearing Room.

Although the majority of  speakers  supported  the Executive Director’s May 19, 2009 determination, several raised issues of  agency jurisdiction and enforcement responsibility. Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went  unanswered.  “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water?  If  that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that  will enforce the regulations?  I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids.  I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”

Most projections  by both opponents and supporters of natural gas drilling anticipate  tens of thousands of wells being drilled in the Basin.  It’s clear that no federal or state agency has budgetary funds  to monitor the majority of  water withdrawals, their impact on the river or  where the waste water is dumped and under what conditions. Mr. Fox summed up the sentiments of the majority of  speakers,  “They’re [natural gas drilling corporations] going to lawyer us to death.  You’ll need a private army to enforce any regulations.”

Another opponent of   hydraulic fracturing in the  Basin asked that drilling companies test wells of any person living in  the Basin both before and after drilling commences and not limit the testing to potable water.  Yet another suggested that drilling companies pay for the water they use in their operations.

Specific to the amount of water being withdrawn, several speakers addressed water temperature, stressing that  variations will endanger the Basin’s shad and trout populations.

Over the last decade,  the Basin has sustained lengthy periods of drought that resulted in flash flooding when the rains finally arrived.  “What will happen to the open pits of waste water during a flash flood?” one woman asked while someone else demanded,  “Will drilling companies be required to stop withdrawals during a drought?  Will they have the financial ability to stop the withdrawals?”

One member of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)  said after the Hearing,  “We asked the DRBC to do an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) prior to considering any application for gas extraction activity in the basin.  DCS attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman spoke and had previously submitted a detailed letter to the Commissioners.  We believe there are legal grounds for requiring this EIS.”

The  DCS has also posted a “Help Save the Delaware from Gas Drilling  revised petition at its website and is asking the public to continue submitting statements to the DRBC.

Comprehensive oversight and enforcement by the DRBC is constrained by The Delaware River Basin Compact and a US Supreme Court Decree (Section 3.5 (c)) which apparently gives  de facto veto power to the Compact’s   signatories:  The President of The United States and the Governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

That’s where confusion and mixed intent reign.

Politically-speaking, State Governors are often the first to be voted out of  office  when the national economy tanks.  Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania lifted the ban on drilling in State forests and called natural gas drilling  of the Marcellus Shale a potential Gold Rush while saying significant problems caused by early exploration must be balanced with its benefits.  His  Department of Environmental Protection appointee, John Hanger, provided more insight as to the Commonwealth’s position on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling, “… some of the chemicals could be dangerous to human health but the  risk has to be weighed against the benefits that will come from the exploitation of…the ‘enormous’ gas reserves contained in the Marcellus Shale.”   Although “he pledged that officials would respond diligently to any complaints about polluted water resulting from the drilling,”  he was unable to  “confirm or deny reports that water in the northeast Pennsylvania township of Dimock — where many producing wells are located — is being contaminated by chemicals…”

To add further confusion,  DRBC’s rules and regulations state, “The Commission will rely on signatory party reviews as much as possible”  which may be one of the points Governor Rendell intends to press.

Proponents of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing repeated their assertions that new drilling methods and chemicals are safe, though none cited to  any independent scientific studies.   Noel Van Swol of Fremont alluded to DCS and their ilk as “dilettantes.” He further stated, “Seventy thousand acres are ready to be leased in New York from Hancock to Port  Jervis.  The towns are dying.  Anti-drilling presentations falsely assume that water withdrawals from the Delaware are not renewable,”  and claimed rainfall would replenish the water taken by drilling companies.

Our world’s water supply is a closed system.  Despite Mr. Van Swol’s  assertions, rainfall cannot “replenish” that closed system.  It’s merely one inherent part of it.

The next business meeting and public hearing of the Delaware River Basin Commission will be on Wednesday, September 23, 2009.

Draw A Line in the Sand: DRBC Hearing: July 15, 2009

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed water tables in India, didn’t the company know, as a “reasonable person,” that the local farmers and communities would be decimated?


Each day, we tell ourselves there are lines we won’t cross.

But, as global food, water and housing crises tear at the fabric of our local communities, it’s increasingly difficult to pay local farm market prices when Wal-mart has plastic-coated apples for less.  Eventually, as things get tougher, crossing even our most deepset lines is inevitable.  People who had jobs last year are  sleeping in tents and cars this year. Some of us will steal  food and shoes for our children and property holders wil sell gas leases to  drilling companies like Chesapeake.

It’s fine and dandy to say that stark times demand stark lines set in  stark terms but  gray areas abound. Diametrically opposed interests claim the same motivations. Consider the issue of hydraulic fracturing.  Proponents say, “Drilling is in the national interest. It’s a matter of national security.”  They say  there’s no evidence that fracking poisons our water, land, food and people.  Opponents  also cite “national security” but point to circumstantial evidence that links fracking  to increased earthquake activity, polluted well water and a plethora of health concerns. (“Circumstantial” because the gas drilling industry is currently exempted from disclosing the chemicals they use  in hydraulic fracturing.  Consequently, no  evidentiary studies have been conducted.) Interestingly,  few Congresspeople support full disclosure of  fracking chemicals. (Find out if your Senators and Representative support The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).)*

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of  “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed  water tables in India,  didn’t  the company know, as a “reasonable person,”  that the local farmers and communities would be decimated? When Monsanto polluted water and soil in  a bevy of locales,  didn’t the company, as a reasonable person, understand  the dangers posed by its actions to the local water, soil and animal/human population?  When Dow and the US government bathed Vietnam and its populations with Agent Orange (dioxin), they knew  the dangers. When my beloved Lake Erie was dying and the great Cuyahoga River burned,  didn’t the corporate polluters know their own practices were suspect?

All over the world, like lobsters dying quietyly in cold water brought to a slow  boil,
people are being incrementally dispossessed of rights, health,  life and property by corporate-government collusion. Doesn’t that collusion meet the legal tests of “depraved indifference” and “conspiracy?”

Don’t be silly.  Of course it does! but the guilty ones have written the laws. They’ve covered their liability with convoluted “immunity” clauses.  They’ve stacked
the deck.

Petroleum wars are so passé, don’t you think? In the near future, our beautiful children will wear their patriotic colors to the  water wars.  Around the world, corporations control greater and greater percentages of the world’s water.  Rampant pollution will lead to reductions of our finite “water reserves”  and the costs of “water reclamation” will skyrocket.  Exorbitant water bills will be a fabulous source of revenue for…somebody.  Probably General Electric of Hudson-River-pollution-fame.

A smart friend of mine recently said, “We beat back NYRI because we could see the corporate bad guy.  Gas frakking’s completely different.  It’s pitting neighbors against neighbors.”

So what do I, a wildly flabbergasted opponent of fracking, say to a twenty-something  grocery clerk  who sacrificed her teen years in  minimum wage jobs because she dreamed of going to college?  What do I say when she tells me she can’t go back to college in September because even the local community college costs more than she’s saved?

What do I say to the man who folds clothes for minimum wage  at the local laundry because the bank refused him a bridge loan to keep his restaurant open?

What about the  graduate student with an education debt in excess of $250,000 and no health insurance or  the dairy farmers in hock up to their necks who anxiously watch  their corn seed rot in the field?  What is my counter-offer when a drilling company waves a $100,000 gas lease in front of  them?

The Natural Resources Defense Council tells us frakking is a done deal but Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) fights on. “The DCS is part of a nationwide coalition of groups of citizens speaking from their homes, who do not want their environment and lives and communities further ruined by the current irresponsible approach to energy sourcing. It is our right and obligation as citizens to participate in the choices that will affect our future.  DCS’s concern is for the health and sustainability of life here (NE Pennsyvania) for us as people, and for the entire ecosystem we and all those downstream depend on.”

Members of the DCS are regular attendees at Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meetings. They are knowledgeable about the threats posed by  hydraulic fracturing   to our ground water, food supply and health. Their site is chock-full of facts, studies, maps and advocacy as well as articles about The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).

Please  browse their resources.  Plagiarize  their text and write a letter to the DRBC. Contribute to the DCS  legal fund and attend the DRBC Hearing on  Wednesday, July 15th.  (Email me at cottageworks@lizbucar.com  if you’re looking to carpool and I’ll forward your information to a carpool coordinator.)

The Hearing will consider an application by Chesapeake Appalachia for  “permission from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to withdraw 1 million gallons a day from the West Branch of the Delaware River for hydraulic fracturing and natural gas extraction.  This is the first application to the DRBC for this purpose and would put the Delaware River Watershed at risk for tens of thousands of applications to follow…The Hearing will be held at 1:00 pm at…Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center, 511 East 3rd Street, 6th Floor, Room 605, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. WE NEED PEOPLE THERE!”

(If nothing else, please read the Damascus Citizens’ Letter to Delaware River Basin Commission It is a  comprehensive  iteration of why the DRBC must deny Chesapeake’s current application.)

*As to The Frac Act: it will NOT stop the drilling.  It merely forces drilling companies to identify the  chemicals they use during the hydraulic fracturing process so that once our public water supply is poisoned, we can, ostensibly, prove the drilling companies did it.  (The Safe Drinking Water Act only protects  public water wells that service 25 or more individuals. Very few rural-dwellers   get their water from public wells!)

So who will buy our properties when our aquifers are poisoned?  Who will pay the taxes?  When our ground water is polluted, who will buy the food we produce locally and work so hard to distribute?  And even if the FRAC Act is passed, how many of us will have health insurance?  Who among us will be able to afford the diagnostic tests  necessary for participation in full-blown epidemiological studies?  And  once we’re guinea pigs without a human voice, who will ensure that epidemiological studies of our poisoned bodies are conducted?

When your local legislator refuses to draft a  resolution banning hydraulic fracturing until chemical disclosures and studies are made,  ask him/her the questions posed here.

In  The Pianist, Warsaw prisoners are made to lie belly-down in the dirt.  Their
shoulders nearly touch.  Each body shudders as an executioner’s bullet shoots through the back of its head. First one… then the next and the next. Each prisoner feels the slight jar and stillness when the one beside him is killed.  None raises a voice  or a hand. Their eyes are closed. I’ve thought they succumbed without a fight because  the horror was beyond understanding; or because the crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had sapped their will; or that they hoped for a miracle or believed, if  they were very, very quiet, they’d be invisible to the executioner.  The nearer the footsteps behind them, the quieter they lay — like babies hiding behind their hands in games of peek-a-boo — seeking invisibility.

Wherever we draw the line at this crucial moment, saving our communities isn’t over just because  the Natural Resources Defense Council says fracking is inevitable. It’s  over when we quit.

When people lose control of their local resources, it’s hard to argue  the existence of healthy communities. I grew up on Lake Erie. I watched it die  and our community with it.  When it was revived, so was our village.

If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.

Good informational links:

Hydraulic fracturing and  fishing

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Hinchey: Fracturing Responsibility


While being interviewed by WJFF’s  (90.5 FM) Dick Riseling,  Representative Maurice Hinchey discussed House Bill  (HR2766,  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009) and its companion Senate Bill, S1215.

The bottom line:  Congress does not have the chops (votes) to pass a bill that will prevent contamination of our drinking water.

Last week the House of Representatives passed an energy bill with the bare number of votes needed (219).  To be sure, it incorporated truly radical ideas like reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but somehow, our intrepid Congress got the job done.

One listener, Susan Sullivan,  called in to say  that  chemicals do migrate to ground water and wondered if  the EPA would  be required to  rely on  real science in formulating its oversight  and enforcement policies of the drilling industry.

In response, Representative Hinchey said,  “Fifty-sixty years ago, we already understood  the dangers of contamination.”

But will the EPA be required to rely on that really available science in formulating its oversight and enforcement policies?

No answer.

The two frack bills do nothing more than:  force drilling companies to identify the chemical constituents used in hydraulic fracturing to a State administrator;  force the Administrator to make those constituents available to the public;  and to make proprietary compounds available in emergencies (after proper permissions have been filed and, where appropriate,  confidentiality agreements are signed.)

How much less demanding can The Public  be, for Pete’s sake?  It’s akin to asking,  “Please tell me what the slop in the bowl is before I eat it.”

No more than common courtesy, I say.

And how many Congresspeople have signed on as sponsors to this White Flag?   Ten in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

The Natural Resources Defense Council attorney,  Kate Sindling,  was next up.  She encouraged all of us to support the bill because, in context, it’s the best we can do and even though the chemical disclosure provision is a no-brainer, its passage is not assured.  “I echo Congressman Hinchey,” said Attorney Sinding.  “‘Let’s get this thing passed.’   It’s a critical first step.  The public will be able to determine  whether chemicals are turning up in the water after  hydraulic fracturing.    It makes the actual chemical components available to  medical people in case of emergencies and  ill health.  It makes epidemiologic studies possible.”

In other words, once we’re poisoned, we’ll know by what.  And ten years from now, we’ll know to what extent.  (By the way,  the “Frac Act” specifically exempts injections of natural gas for underground storage from its disclosure requirements.)

Attorney Sindling  also reminded us that the Clean Drinking Water Act refers to public waters and suggested pressure would be required for the EPA to consider private wells as “public.”  Here followed some mumblety jumbo about the water in private wells coming from  aquifers which are in the public domain.  “Hopefully,”  Attorney Sindling said, “we’ll be able to pressure the EPA into extending its definition of  ‘public’  to include  those private wells.”

And just exactly how many rural dwellers drink from city wells?

Finally, when a caller said (in so many words)  that The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009  ignores known dangers and does nothing to prevent contamination (“The water will be polluted!” he insisted) Ms. Sinding laid this bombshell,  “We at the Natural Resources Defense Council are treating  hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shale as a foregone conclusion.  So  the best we can do is try to come up with effective ways to protect…” people’s interests after the fact.

So let me make sure I’ve got it:   if we can demonstrate we’ve been “injured” (asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune diseases, liver failure, cancer and other ailments such as headaches, nausea, and sleeplessness) we can then use the publicized list of poisons in an effort  to prove (in a lawsuit) what sickened us.

Even better, our ill health won’t be in vain!   Purpose has been delivered to us out of the dark!   We’ll be the subjects of epidemiologic studies!  It’s not the same as having our names in lights on Broadway and there’s no guarantee the studies will be funded, but what do we expect from an Oligarchy?

*      *       *      *

Legal note:  In Coalition of Towns v. EPA the United States Court of Appeals for the Second  Circuit articulated who has standing to bring a lawsuit:

“As a threshold matter, the EPA argues that, under the “case-or-controversy” requirement of Article III of the Constitution, the Towns lack standing to bring this petition because they have not
suffered any “injury-in-fact,” i.e., an invasion of a legally protected interest that is “concrete and particularized . . . and [ ] actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical”. (Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)… see also id. at 560-61 (holding that the three elements of Article III standing are (1) an “injury in fact” that is (2) causally related (“fairly traceable”) to the challenged action and (3) likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision).”

Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply

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


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

*   *   *   *

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

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

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

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