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Bethel, NY’s Hydraulic Fracturing Ban; Public Comments


(Breathing Is Political left the Bethel Town Board’s March 15, 2012 Hearing on Town Law No. 1 of 2012 about twenty minutes before its finish. At that point, thirty members of the public had spoken in favor of the proposed law which would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a high-impact activity in the Town and four members had spoken against the law and in favor of permitting H-VHF activities. According to Larysa Dyrszka, supporters of the legislative ban collected more than 500 petition signatures and at least 100 letters.  

Unfortunately,  the Town of Bethel’s website appears to be “down,”  but  the proposed legislation is scheduled for a vote at one of the April  Town Board meetings which regularly occur on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 7:30 pm.  If interested,  the Town’s phone number is:   845-583-4350.)

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On March 15, 2012, the Bethel, NY Town Board heard from the public concerning the Town’s proposed Local Law No. 1 of 2012. (For more information, “findings of fact,” and an explanation of the proposed legislation, please see Appendix A and the Town of Bethel’s Land Use Analysis: Hazardous or Natural Gas and/or Petroleum Acivities and Industrial Uses.)

In introductory remarks, Bethel Town Attorney Robert McEwan described the proposed legislative changes as “explicitly prohibiting certain uses Town-wide” and as “amending Zoning Board procedures.”

According to a February 28, 2012 River Reporter article, Mr. McEwan said, “…that the amendment would not only ban gas drilling, but also a number of processes related to gas drilling, as well as high impact uses.” In the same article, Attorney McEwan clarified that, “High-impact uses are the kinds of industries that put out large amounts of pollution….” (BIP Note: The North American Industry Classification System mentioned in the article categorizes industries and assigns them “classification numbers” which can be researched here. The NAICS “is frequently used for various administrative, regulatory, contracting, taxation, and other-non statistical purposes.”

The provisions of Bethel’s Local Law No. 1 of 2012 most-addressed by speakers at the Hearing are these:

  • (6) Land Use Control. This Local Law is intended to act as and is hereby declared to exercise the permissive “incidental control” by the Town of its police power applied to the area of land use planning and the physical use of land and property within the Town, including the physical externalities associated with certain land uses, such as negative impacts on air and water quality, roadways and traffic congestion and other deleterious impacts on a community. This Law is not intended to regulate the operational processes of any business. This Local Law is a law of general applicability and is intended to promote the interests of the community as a whole; and
  • Sections 345-38 which explicitly prohibit injection wells, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration activities; natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production waste disposal/storage facilities, natural gas processing facilities, underground injection, high-impact uses and other specified activities.

PUBLIC COMMENTS CONCERNING BETHEL TOWN LAW NO. 1 OF 2012:

Although approximately forty people spoke at the the Hearing, Breathing Is Political offers these excerpted remarks as representative of the statements made:

Margarita Gleyzer referred to the fact that some who support H-VHF have called opponents of the process “fear-mongers.” In response, Ms. Gleyzerr  said, “Fear is an innate quality that keeps us from harm. We are not guaranteed jobs from fracking but we are guaranteed damage to our resources. Fracking is not a small town issue; it’s an international concern.”

Jeffrey Allison referred to many claims made by natural gas extraction companies as “myths:”

  • “We’re told there’s 100 years of shale gas in the Marcellus. At best there’s eleven.” (BIP Note: According to the US Geologic Survey, “The Marcellus Shale contains 84 trillion cubic feet of… technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of…technically recoverable natural gas liquids…” Using US Energy Information Administration data, the U.S. consumed 24.37 trillion cubic feet in 2011. Accordingly, even if all the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale was actually recovered and not shipped to Norway, Japan, etc., we would gain only an additional 3-5 year supply.)


  • “We’re told that H-VHF will bring thousands of jobs but 77% of jobs are filled by out-of-state workers.” (BIP Note: The Center for Economic and Policy Research begs to differ with industry claims of job creation in Pennsylvania drilling areas: “What the data tell us is that fracking has created very few jobs. In fact, employment in five northeast Pennsylvania counties…with high drilling activity declined by 2.7 percent.” (Even accounting for the recession, CEPR calculates a total of “around 1,350 jobs — [which] includes both direct jobs in the gas industry, indirect jobs in the supply chain and induced jobs from spending by workers and landowners.


  • “We’re told that natural gas is cleaner than coal but scientists disagree.” (BIP note: A study issued out of Cornell University reports that gas extraction’s carbon footprint is likely larger than that of coal production.)

Richard Gebel and many other speakers spoke to the natural beauty of Bethel that might be laid waste by high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Physicians such as Larysa Dyrszka, James Lomax and Hal Teitelbaum spoke to the human health impacts of H-VHF.  One of their shared concerns is that New York State’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement largely ignores those human health impacts. They talked about the dangers of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) and their impacts on water, soil, our foodshed – our human ecology. (BIP Note: Gas Drilling Tech Notes — with which BIP is affiliated — has an extensive library of scientific articles concerning H-VHF, the waste and radioactive materials produced by the industry’s processes and their impacts on natural and human environments.)

Eric London, a physician and researcher remarked that to begin fracking without a health impacts study would be unethical and he commended the Town Board for its efforts to protect the residents of Bethel.

Jennifer Young, a Bethel farmer, thanked the Town Board for taking a proactive stance. “The National Farmer’s Union has called for a moratorium. I raise free-range eggs and I depend on the quality of our land and water resources. We must support our farmers. We’ve seen an 18 percent decline in farms where gas extraction occurs.” (BIP Note: Apparently, Ms. Young was referring to a 2007-10 study conducted by Dr. Timothy Kelsey at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Science. In his conclusions, Dr. Kelsey states, “Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”)

Kate Kennedy, a local business owner and resident in the Town of Delaware said, “We need our creamery. We need our slaughterhouse. We are poised to be the New York City foodshed. Fracking will endanger that.”

Laura Berger responded to frequent industry claims that New York State’s regulatory structure and oversight are the “toughest” by citing to The Environmental Working Group’s assertions that New York State is ill-equipped to oversee H-VHF and quoted, “New York has just 14 inspectors to oversee 13,000 existing natural gas and oil wells.”

Ronald Turner said, “This is a big moment for the Catskills. It might be the biggest since our towns were flooded to create the reservoirs. Fracking is not conducive to the qualities that draw people here.” He asked what would happen as the underground infrastructure that’s necessary for H-VHF begins to decay. “Who will monitor that decaying infrastructure,” he asked.

Of the speakers who asked the Bethel Town Board to delay passage of legislation that would ban H-VHF within the Town’s borders, Bill desRosiers of Energy In Depth‘s Marcellus affiliate — the public relations arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — was the first to speak and urged the Town Board and Hearing attendees to visit the website, “Frac Focus.” “You can track every well drilled,” he said. “You can find GPS locations and view the chemicals used.” (BIP Note: As Jill Weiner remarked  in her subsequent rebuttal of Mr. desRosiers’ statements, release of chemical-usage information is voluntary, not mandatory.  Further, the Frac Focus site states, “Because the make-up of each fracturing fluid varies to meet the specific needs of each area…” there is still no way of knowing which chemicals were used at a specific site. Additionally, only non-proprietary chemicals are listed at Frac Focus.)

Mr. desRosiers also referred to the March 15, 2012 press release from the Environmental Protection Agency detailing its findings to date on water samples from Dimock, PA. “EPA’s testing in Dimock failed to show elevated levels of contamination,” he claimed. (BIP Note: A reading of the actual press release shows that contamination was discovered, that the testing is incomplete and that “EPA will continue to provide water” to three of the homes which are currently receiving such deliveries. Relatedly, Water Defense has asked several serious questions concerning EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock situation which has diverged significantly from investigations conducted by other EPA regional offices. Following EPA’s March 15th announcement, Dimock-resident Scott Ely drew water from his well and collected it in a plastic jug on March 16, 2012.  Thanks to Michael Lebron for this timely photo.)

In conclusion, Mr. desRosiers asked the Town Board to delay its approval of its proposed Town Law 1-2012, “Appeals will be filed in the Dryden and Middlefield cases. I urge you to await the results of the appeals process.” (BIP Note: Mr. desRosiers reference is to two recent New York State Court decisions which upheld the right of local jurisdictions to restrict certain activities within their boundaries.)

Sondra Bauernfeind, the former Chair of the Sullivan County Conservative Party, opined that “Zoning reduces property rights” and reiterated Mr. desRosiers’ request that the Town Board delay approval of the proposed law until “higher courts weigh-in” on the Dryden and Middlefield decisions. Further, Ms. Bauernfeind suggested that laws which prohibit a landowner’s exploitation of his/her property’s resources amount to a taking. “Delaware County wants $81 billion from NYC for property takings.(BIP note: Several courts have dealt with this issue of “takings” (or “Inverse Condemnation” as it’s known in the law) and many legal scholars have concluded that such claims will be struck down in the courts. An introduction to the topic can be found in BIP’s article, “Gas Drilling: Inverse Condemnation: Private vs. Public Interests.”

Harold Russell, a former Bethel Town Board member and opponent of the proposed Town Law pointed to foreclosures in Sullivan County and the dearth of employment for young people in our communities. “Use your heads not your politics!” he finished. (BIP Note: For more on property values, mortgages and natural gas extraction, please see “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages.”)

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In addition to the many Town of Bethel residents who spoke, residents from the Towns of Delaware, Lumberland, Cochecton and Callicoon were also in attendance, due, presumably, to the potential for natural gas exploration, extraction and processing activities being conducted in their Towns.

If you live in a Town where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is being considered, be aware that the process in Bethel has taken, to date, approximately fifteen months.  One resident close to Bethel’s process suggested,  “It makes sense for Towns just looking into zoning protections to consider a moratorium first.  With that in place, they can begin to address potential zoning changes.”

For more information on moratorium efforts, The Community Environmental Defense Council —  David and Helen Slottje —  is the  non-profit public interest law firm based in Ithaca, New York that worked — for free —  with  Bethel and many other Towns in New York. 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Pennslvania,   “is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life.  Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

 

Sportsman Danchak Comments at Breathing Is Political


When public figures participate in a public debate  about an issue  whose outcome will impact future generations living in the Delaware River Basin, it’s imperative that the  debate be a reasoned dialogue, not an exchange of demagogic slogans.

Mr. Jack  Danchak is  a well-known local columnist, sportsman and businessman respected for his  acumen.  In a recent opinion piece (“Can We Afford to Ignore Natural Gas?”)  he stated,  “We traveled to Dimick, Pa, [sic] recently, where there are several working natural gas wells and after talking to people from this town, we did not hear a single negative factor.”

Breathing responded to a similar statement by  William Eschenberg (The Town of Delaware’s Highway Superintendent):

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

The  Breathing article  describing what we saw in Dimock also included an interview with Patricia Farnelli who is a Dimock lessor and plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against gas extractor, Cabot Oil. In part,  Ms. Farnelli  told Breathing that,  when her children “drank water from the family well,  they’d get a terrible stomach ache and throw up.  They’d just double over….they’d drink water at the school, and they’d be fine but  whenever they drank our home  water,  they’d get sick.”

Ms. Farnelli is a real person with very real concerns  about the health of her children, her water and her future in Dimock, PA.  In fact, her concerns  have been well-enough substantiated that a Federal Court has agreed to hear  her allegations and those of several of her fellow lessors.  But, if  Mr. Danchak doubts Ms. Farnelli,  he can view  these videos from Dimock, PA.  Additionally, PBS’ interview of  Josh Fox has already aired and the  filmmaker’s  documentary,  “Gasland,”  will be  on HBO soon.  All are  available for viewing by anyone interested in more than the industry’s talking points.

At the most recent Town of Delaware Board meeting, Mr. Noel Van Swol stated, “Hydraulic fracturing  has  been around since the 1940s,”  and quoted  Mr. Danchak  as having said,  “…there have been more than one million  wells fracked in the US and not one  serious instance of  trouble.”  (Mr. Van Swol’s  historic facts   about the current gas extraction technology have   been disputed by  a gas industry publication,  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine,    “…when Devon Energy Corporation acquired Mitchell Energy in 2002, it drilled down vertically to the Barnett Shale, turned the drill bit, and continued drilling horizontally…. The combination of the water fracs and horizontal drilling revolutionized the unconventional shale gas play.”)

So, although Mr. Van Swol’s correct  that “fracking” has been around since the 1940′s, the  new slick water, high pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing  technology proposed for New York (and used in Dimock)  was pioneered,  according to the gas extraction industry,  a bare eight years ago.  Reports of  accidents and contamination in Dimock, Pa.,   DISH, Tx.,  Pavillion, Wy.,  and other areas,  contradict assertions  by Mr. Danchak and Mr. Van Swol  that  “not one serious instance of trouble”  has been caused by the  technology.

Within the last day or so,  Mr. Danchak wrote  at Breathing (#7   following Breathing’s re-cap of the 4/21/10  Town of Delaware Board meeting), “Sullivan County Government owns almost 2,000 acres of land, our county stands to get millions from responsible gas drilling and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time! Remember this county land is owned by us taxpayers, the people of Sullivan County would benefit not just individual landowners!  What are we waiting for, “Drill Baby Drill”!

Certainly one of  Breathing’s concerns has been  assertions by  pro-drilling interests that gas drilling  will benefit our local economies and especially, our farmers.

What has not been provided by Mr. Danchak and other drilling advocates  is a  review of the potential costs associated with gas extraction and slick water, high-pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

Neither have pro-drilling advocates  responded seriously  to claims made by Mayor Calvin Tilman concerning the deleterious economic and health  impacts of the extraction industry on the Mayor’s  small Texas community of DISH.

Nor have they responded  to

What Mr. Van Swol and others have done is cite to protections in their negotiated leases without ever making those leases public.  Unfortunately,  Mr. Van Swol and others have not explained how their alleged lease protections will protect unleased properties or  dairy cattle   poisoned by well pad leakage.   Neither have lessors and their organizations explained how their secret agreements will defend  community  ground water, soil,  aquifers or the deer so many families depend on for food.  (Breathing’s requests to review the leases have been ignored.)

As a successful businessperson, Mr. Danchak knows that  touting the benefits of an investment without a discussion of its potential costs is called a sales pitch.

Serious analyses  of an investment or endeavor  require thorough,  unblinking investigations of the downside of those investments or endeavors.  The analysis cannot rely on   publicity provided by  the salesperson or gas company  trying to sell you a product.

And certainly, our communities deserve more than demagogic slogans such as,  “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

That said, I hope Mr. Danchak will address the issues raised at Breathing with a serious  and well-documented editorial which I will publish in its entirety.

I also hope he will (if he hasn’t yet)  join Breathing and many of  its readers in supporting US Senate bill 1645, the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009. The bill has been endorsed by the Progressive Agriculture Organization, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, The National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Organization and their summary of  it can be read here.

Breathing wants to hear from farmers and  farm advocates about  the legislation. Please email   Ljbucar@earthlink.net  or  leave comments below this editorial.

If there are better bills or better suggestions for overcoming  the devastating economic realities confronting our local farmers,  we want to knowWe also want to hear how we can help ensure that   fair, decent and livable price supports are obtained by our local dairy producers.

Standing Room Only: Delaware Town Board: 4-21-10


Last month, one member of the public attended  the Delaware Town Board meeting.  Last night,  attendance was standing room only.

Highway Superintendent Bill Eschenberg made an appeal to the public for patience  as he cited to reduced funding from both New York State and the federal government.  “Please remember we’re all in this together if you find yourselves driving over potholes this winter.  We’ve got no idea what will happen with our CHIPS funding.”

CHIPS is  the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program and according to page 76 of Governor Patterson’s  Budget Briefing Book for 2010-11, “…the Executive Budget maintains the State’s core Trust Fund investment in the highway and bridge program at 2009-10 levels and also preserves funding for local highway and bridge projects under the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) at prior-year levels.”   Those figures may change depending on action by the NYS Legislature.

Kara McElroy,  the Town’s Grants Coordinator,  reported,  “We met with the Rural Water Association (RWA) about our sewer plant problems and it looks as if there are several funding streams available to us for help.  We’ve had an application  with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  for a long time so  the RWA met with us to suggest engineering directions we might pursue.”

Ms. McElroy also  reported that “the Town’s Community Development Grant application will be submitted this Friday and  our application for  Upper Delaware Council (UDC) funds will be sent tomorrow.”  (For more on these grants and the programs involved, please see  Breathing’s coverage of last month’s Town meeting.)

According to Ms. McElroy,  “We’ve been awarded a Category B Renaissance Grant for which the Town will be the lead agency.”  To help with the project, please email townofdelaware-ny.us

Harold Roeder,  Chair of the UDC and  the Town of Delaware’s  representative to the Council,  also spoke to the  fiscal  theme  struck by  Superintendent Bill Eschenberg by explaining that the UDC has been operating under the auspices of the National Park Service (NPS) since its inception.  “The Council was established  to protect property  rights and to protect water  quality in the Delaware River Corridor.  We get funding  from the NPS but  the amount hasn’t changed for twenty years.  That lack of increase results in less grant monies for our member townships.”

According to the UDC website,  the Council helps ensure the responsible actions of property owners through its  “…commitment to local land use controls and voluntary actions by landowners to protect the resources on their own private property, as opposed to federal ownership of the land in the river corridor.”

Ms. Ginny Boyle reported on The Callicoon Creek Park’s  recent “Work Day” which was coordinated with student volunteers from The Delaware Valley Job Corps.  She also referenced the many summer  events being planned for  The Park which include  music and art festivals,  weekly farmers’ markets  and a  May 22nd Plant Swap.  (The Park Committee’s  website and blog  will be “going live” on  or about May 1st so stay tuned for news on that.  Until then,  see notes at the end of this article for specific events and dates.  Breathing was very pleased to participate in the “Work Day”  with the  kids from Job Corps and had a great morning!)

While thanking the Town for refurbishing the Park’s entryway,  Ms. Boyle asked if funds  could be made available to replace damaged fence railings.  Although Town funds are not available, Councilperson Matt Hofer said Hofer Log and Lumber would donate whatever materials might be needed.

Councilperson John Gain reported on his tour of many of the Town’s  flooding trouble spots with  representatives of the  New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT),  Soil and Water Conservation and Mr. Jim Hughson,  owner of a local excavating company.  Mr. Gain described problems with rubble  under  the SR 52 bridge near Dick’s Auto Sales where the brook is seriously narrowed and several problems with culvert pipes.  “NYSDOT needs to get a digger from West Virginia that’s used to clear   rubble from coal mines but there’s no way of knowing when that will happen.  We’re facing significant erosion issues and it looks like  the pipes will have to be replaced.”

Mr. Hughson’s company, Jeff Sanitation, was awarded  a contract for the Town Clean-up Day.  (Please call  the Town Hall  at 845-887-5250  for details of that program  and another which permits residents and businesses  to dispose of electronic equipment on two separate days.)

Town Clerk, Ms. Tess McBeath  outlined steps that still need to be taken before the Town can incorporate  Farmland Protection into its Comprehensive Plan.

“The Gas Drilling Resolution,” which was tabled without comment last month,  passed this month with the removal of  an item calling for  “Inspections done by locally trained and qualified inspectors.”   According to Supervisor James Scheutzow,  the Board received a petition signed by forty residents  in support of the Resolution.  Council members Cindy Herbert, Harold Roeder and John Gain voted yes  “with reservations”  while Matt Hofer voted no and James Scheutzow voted in favor.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Mr. Matt Murphy of  the Stewart-Murphy Funeral Home asked why  Howard Fuchs, the Town’s Building Inspector,   cited him for  violations of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) when many other Town of Delaware businesses listed by Mr. Murphy  do not provide handicap access as mandated by the law.  The Board promised to look into the matter, discuss it with Mr. Fuchs and get back to Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Roy Tedoff,  a landowner in the Town of Delaware,  described  NYS Assembly Bills 10490 and 10633.  “A10490 asks that a moratorium  be declared in NYS  until 120 days after  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a report on  the impacts of  gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.   A10633 gives Towns the right to use zoning regulations to control where drilling can take place.   This Town Board should contact the Assembly and  state the Board’s approval of the proposals.”   Supervisor Scheutow said he didn’t know about the Bills but would look into them.

Although a resident in the Town of Fremont rather than Delaware, Mr. Noel Van Swol spoke at length several times.  He is  a leading public voice on the issue of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.   He was also a leading opponent of  the  National Park Service’s involvement  in the Delaware River Corridor twenty years ago when  he made the  argument that local people could police themselves and keep The River safe.  Now, he and Mr. Bill Graby of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, are  committed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing as “the only thing that will save us economically.”

In response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town support Assembly Bills  10490 and 10633,  Mr. Van Swol said,  “Those Assembly bills would further delay  drilling in New York State.  Our landowner group represents 9,215.24 leased acres in Delaware Township.  That’s more than 14 square miles.  Our organization has  to oppose the Board supporting the Bills.  Local property owners have been the silent majority while environmentalists have promoted their  hidden agenda to stop the drilling.  We’ve heard tonight of dire [economic] times and the only solution is this vital new drilling industry. New York State Senator  John Bonacic has said that upstate NY is dead.  Only  drilling can give it a heartbeat.  Hydraulic fracturing  has  been around since the 1940s.   As Jack Danchak commented recently,  there have been more than one million  wells fracked in the US and not one  serious instance of  trouble.”

Mr. Danchak  is a local sportsman who writes a regular column on fishing and hunting for the Sullivan County Democrat.  Although  he’s right that “fracking” has been around since the 1940’s, the  new slick water, high pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing  technology proposed for New York and pioneered in Texas in 2002,  has some  scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency worried.

Gas extraction companies had known for years about the immense gas reserves in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, but  there was no  viable way to remove it.  According to a gas industry publication,  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine,    “…when Devon Energy Corporation acquired Mitchell Energy in 2002, it drilled down vertically to the Barnett Shale, turned the drill bit, and continued drilling horizontally…. The combination of the water fracs and horizontal drilling revolutionized the unconventional shale gas play.”

Reports of  accidents and contamination in Dimock, Pa.,   DISH, Tx., Pavillion, Wy.,  Fort Worth, Tx  and other areas,  contradict assertions  by Mr. Danchak and Mr. Van Swol  that  “not one serious instance of trouble” has been caused by the  technology. (Milanville resident, Josh Fox, has documented some of those occurrences in his award-winning film, “Gasland.”

Mr. Van Swol continued his speech with a reference to New York’s dairy farmers who are still being paid at 1970’s  milk prices  and asked,  “What’s worse?  Some gas wells or farmers  going out of business and subdividing their properties and the environment being polluted by septic systems?”

Many family  farmers in New York  have been forced out of the dairy business due to abysmally poor pricing supports and federal underwriting of  gigantic  “factory farms”; but  people concerned with the impacts of  gas drilling have responded to Mr. Van Swol’s question in public hearings  by stating  that the carcinogens found in hydraulic fracturing fluids are not found in septic systems.

Mr. Bill Graby said, “We property owners have been working with the gas companies for almost two years. We’ve developed lease agreements that protect everyone.”

Mr. Tedoff replied, “Please make those contracts public.  We’ve been hearing about all the protections you’ve gotten,  but  all we  have is your word for it.   Until you stop keeping your leases secret, it looks like you  want to get all the gas out,  make the money and leave the rest of us so we can’t drink the  water.  Lease protections wouldn’t be so important if the gas drilling companies were regulated under The Clean Water Act.

A new resident and professional baker,  Ms. Elizabeth Finnegan said, “I also want to encourage the Town to support the moratorium Bill.   Let the EPA do its job.  If our water, soil and animals aren’t safe,  it won’t matter what kind of money’s available for grants.”

Steve Lundgren, another Town of Delaware resident  said, “Drilling is not the only solution to our economic problems and two years is not too long to study it.  Not everyone will benefit from drilling.   I understand  the farmers’ plight but only a small number of  leaseholders  will benefit.”

“The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is  responsible for protecting us,”  said Mr. Van Swol.  “If you don’t trust the State…they haven’t found problems in New York.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued reports on DEC’s inspection and enforcement record which contest Mr. Van Swol’s assertion and recently, Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC)  Commissioner Grannis admitted at a conference that his agency,  which oversees gas extraction, is understaffed.

(In a comment at Breathing, Jennifer Canfield, a long-time local realtor addressed one piece of the prosperity issue at Breathing by providing a list of banks  “who will not fund leased properties, based upon environmental risk, as per information gained from a mortgage broker who is still looking further into the situation:

First Place Bank
Provident Funding
GMAC
Wells Fargo (will know for sure in a few days)
FNCB
Fidelity
FHA
First Liberty
Bank of America

“A few local lenders who underwrite their own are still lending, ”  Ms. Canfield continued.  “We are trying to also get a determination from the sources at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae.”)

Additionally, FHA rules (Federal Housing Adminstration) state,   “No existing home may be located closer than  300 feet from an active or planned drilling site.  If an operating [gas] well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”

Another long-serving realtor, David Knudsen responded at his site, “When a property has a gas lease on it that permits use of the surface for drilling, a third party essentially has the rights to materially change the property. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, those material changes to the surface could affect the value of the property, possibly devaluing the asset that the bank has lent on. Likewise, appraisals become difficult. Any piece of real property comes with a ‘bundle of rights’ that comprise its value. A gas lease essentially severs one of those rights, gas extraction, from the real property, so it becomes difficult to determine the value of the property without that right to transfer with the real property. It makes valuation very complicated. And in this still-tight lending environment, most lenders don’t want to deal with anything complicated or with an unquantifiable risk.”

Mr. Paul Hindes, the Town of Delaware’s  representative to  the Multi-Municipal Gas Drilling Taskforce (MMTF),  explained the MMTF has been focused on creating Road Use Agreements the Taskforce hopes will provide asset protection in the event that gas drilling comes to its eight  member towns.  “We want all eight towns to have identical road use laws that take into consideration not only the weight of industrial trucks on our roads but also the weight of those trucks over a cumulative period of time.”

Bill Eschenberg,  the Town’s  Highway Superintendent,  said he didn’t see any  evidence of harm from gas drilling during his trip to  “Susquehanna”  where Dimock, Pennsylvania is located. “If trucks wreck roads, they won’t keep running over them.  They need to fix them for the benefit of their own equipment.”

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

In his final comment, Mr. Van Swol said,  “Don’t worry about  money for  DEC inspectors.  The New York State Legislature will give us whatever we need  due  to all the money  coming from drilling and a severance tax.”

Virginia Andkjar,  one of the Town’s  Assesor stated,  “Unfortunately, it looks like the severance tax  will  be just a pittance.”

According to pages 98-99 of  Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book,  the severance tax amounts to 3% on some gas extraction companies,  won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and is predicted to garner only  $1 million in revenues.

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CALLICOON CREEK PARK SCHEDULE (not including regularly-scheduled  Sunday Farmers’ Markets):

May 22 at 10:00 AM :  Plant Swap.  Email me at  Ljbucar@earthlink.net for details

July 10,  31 and August 21 or 28 (still in flux):  Under the Moon in Callicoon Concert Series.   Janet Burgan, coordinator. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for details!

July 17 : Art Fair.  For more information,  see Robin at  The Callicoon Wine Merchant

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.

Gas Drilling : Sullivan County’s Hazards Mitigation Plan


In early January 1987,  emergency sirens in Cochecton, Lake Huntington  and Callicoon shattered  the cold  afternoon.*    The children and I stared fearfully at the Plektron© where it sat on its living room shelf  crackling with meager details.  Like any good fire chief’s wife, I didn’t  pick up the phone to call him.  He’d ring us  the minute he had a chance.

Slowly, painfully,  news reached us.  A train had derailed just behind the Callicoon hospital on route 97.  A chemical had spilled and was filling the air with  caustic vapor.

Snow and mud were making access difficult.  All we knew for certain was that several train  cars had jumped the track and were lying on their sides.

For hours,  the nature and toxicity of the chemical remained unknown but  our husbands, brothers and  sons  were having trouble seeing and  breathing.  The Ladies Auxiliaries prepared coffee and sandwiches that remained undelivered.  We were banned from the site.  Our unanswered questions floated in the air around us,  “Where’s Conrail?  What kind of  poison is it?  What’s happening to our men?”

Barely two miles south of the spill,  as our eyes and throats began to tingle,  we learned that young Doc Salzberg had rolled up his sleeves and was helping to evacuate the hospital.  There were too few ambulances for speed or efficiency.

The baby in my belly kicked as my own fear rose.  At some point,  I remembered to feed his brother and sisters and thanked the fates we weren’t amongst the families being forced from their homes.

That was the night  we learned there were serious holes in our  county-wide disaster response.

Within weeks of the incident, local leaders, representatives of ConRail and our Congressional representatives gathered at the Cochecton Firehouse and began to rectify the situation.  It was an admirable and worthy effort on the part of a small county with minimal resources and to this day,  I couldn’t be more grateful for the care our leaders showed.

Fast forward to 2010 and Sullivan County is asking  residents to help update its All-Hazard Mitigation Plan by completing and returning its Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire by March 31, 2010.  According to Sullivan County’s Division of Planning and Environmental Management,  “[The questionnaire] can be mailed, faxed or emailed to Michael Brother at Barton and Loguidice, the consulting firm that is conducting the plan update.  His contact information is listed on the first page of the questionnaire.”

Although the questionnaire does not address  gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing specifically,  comments concerning  the gas extraction industry and its potential for disastrous accidents can be appended at the last page of the questionnaire.

In December 2009,  the Cornell Law School Water Law Clinic submitted its comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS) issued by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  The report stated, “...[DEC’s] current staffing incapacties must be remedied….To demonstrate the critical need for additional field staff, principal tasks specifically identified in the Chapter 7 of the dSGEIS are summarized in the 15-page Memorandum…”

In turn,  the Memorandum states unequivocally,   “…. The scope and extent of these tasks are clearly beyond the capacity of the DEC.” (Cornell comments dsgeis)  (Cornell Law School WLC Memo)

During Mayor Calvin Tillman’s  recent tour of upstate New York and Pennsylvania,   the DISH, Texas official  was asked,  “If a well catches fire in Texas, do local firefighters get called in?”

“No,”  he answered.   “We go to the scene  but  even emergency responders aren’t allowed on a site.  Even if they were,  most  don’t have special training.  If  a relief valve goes off,  our emergency responders  show  up  and  just wait for the guy to turn it off.  We can’t  get access.”

According to  the Environmental Protection Agency’s  (EPA) 2000  report on compliance in the Oil and Gas Extraction Industries, “Oil and gas extraction facilities are inspected much less frequently (46 months between inspections on average) than facilities in most other industries… and the enforcement to inspection ratio (0.05) is among the lowest of the included industries.” (Page 121: Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry)  In a chart on page  120 of the report,  the “enforcement to Inspection Rate” in Region 2  (including New York State)  was  0.17%  while  Region 3’s rate  (including Pennsylvania)  was  .04%.   (More recent data was unavailable at the site.)

So, if  oversight and enforcement of  the gas drilling industry “is beyond  the capacity of the DEC,”  and  the enforcement ratio was already abysmal during Clinton’s “boom times”  in the 1990s,  what disaster mitigation can we expect now in cash-strapped Sullivan County relative to gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing?

Here are a few  clues:

  • if residents see  a possible gas drilling spill or other emergency,  we’re encouraged to call the EPA’s  newly-established TIPLINE  (877-919-4EPA)  or  email the Agency at  eyesondrilling@epa.gov
  • of the 30-plus gas extraction States in  the US,   only  Pennslvania and New York have no severance tax on the industry.  States that have the tax use its revenue for, among other things, community services and infrastructure;
  • under emergency conditions, the FRAC Act (S1215 – 5 sponsors,   HR2766 – 51 sponsors)   would require gas extractors to reveal the  fracturing toxins used at a  particular site.  Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near passage and  consequently,  there is no reason to believe emergency personnel would know the nature of the chemical soup confronting them.

Nonetheless,  as Sullivan County’s Manager, David Fanslau says, “Federal law requires that the municipalities of Sullivan County develop and implement local hazard mitigation plans in order to obtain future FEMA grant monies for hazard mitigation.  These plans must be updated every five years.  Upon final approval from FEMA, Sullivan County and each participating municipality must formally adopt and approve the plan.”

In light of FEMA’s requirements and the potential harm from  drilling activities,  Breathing suggests the following:

  • Encourage  the Sullivan County Legislature  to hold  public meetings where residents can hear  from, and ask questions of, our Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and the County’s emergency responders;
  • Ask your  Town, Village and County representatives if they were present in Narrowsburg on February 19, 2010 when  Mayor Tillman met with local officials to discuss his  and his residents’ experiences with the gas industry in DISH, Texas;
  • Ask your  County Legislator to propose and/or support a Resolution demanding  that New York State maintain a moratorium on gas drilling until  cumulative impact studies have been conducted on the industry and drilling; until Congress completes its investigation of  the industry’s practices;  until residents can be assured of adequate oversight and enforcement of the industry; until  New York State has a severance tax which can be used to train emergency personnel and maintain our infrastructure; and until the FRAC Act has been passed and communities have full-knowledge of the  toxins we’ll confront in an emergency.

Some County Legislators can be be contacted  here and if you’re not sure which District is yours, look on this Legislative District map.

Individual Town websites will have contact information for your Supervisor and Town Board.

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**Sullivan County’s Gas Drilling Task Force Report.   Its  Emergency Mitigation portion is excerpted here:

“Along with impacts to local road infrastructure, emergency management  issues are another concern at the local level. Interviews with Emergency
Management counterparts in other parts of New York State indicate that gas  drilling companies have been very good to allow the emergency services (police,
fire and EMS) to attend training sessions which explain how and where a drilling  operation will be set up to include a site visit and hands on question sessions. In
summary, our investigation has shown that most natural gas production wells are located in the Western part of the state and the Emergency Service agencies in
those counties have reported no fire or health hazardous to be associated in there areas for the past twenty plus years.  A few safeguard measures and protocols must be instituted:

  • We must be provided with a list of operational telephone numbers and  email addresses of management contacts and especially emergency contacts that can be called in the event  of an incident near or at a drill  site.
  • Each well site will need a 911 address and access information (gate and lock locations plus access) to ensure that emergency response units can access the site. As will be discussed in the section to follow, the driveway permit process at the town level can be integrated with 911 addressing provided by the Sullivan County Division of Planning. As will be discussed in the next section, the driveway permit forms will need to be revised to require a site plan showing the drilling site and driveway access, as well as photos of the site before construction, after a well is installed and after any subsequent change (e.g., when a well is capped or abandoned) requiring a change in or addition to the NYS DEC permit).
  • Interface with NY Alert to inform Sullivan County residents of a chemical spill or gas fire.
  • Communicate with the public about the importance of registering on-line with NY-Alert to secure receipt of notifications of emergencies.
  • Transportation of waste water/or fracing fluid should be reviewed with emergency response agencies by each operator of a drill site.
  • Emergency management personnel should have access to, or know, the contents of the fracing fluids, to know how to treat injuries and protect the health of emergency personnel and medical staff.
  • For the purposes of health treatment by EMS units and hospital ER’s, the exact contents of the fluid should be on record so that proper treatment is made available.
  • Municipal emergency management staffs need to interact with DEC Region 3 Office and the Mineral Division of the DEC to understand the use of blow out preventers during drilling operations to understand how to control unexpected flows of gas which could result in fires. Along with the DEC, municipal emergency management staff should witness a blow out preventer test prior to drilling.
  • Local emergency management personnel should understand the gas flaring procedure and the layout of flow lines. As for pipeline transport of product through the existing natural gas line or new lines as built, we already have emergency reporting information and training as to how to response to a natural gas line break. This information is updated yearly by the Columbia Gas Transmission Company with their contractor for safety:Paradigm Liaison Services, Wichita, KS.

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*Here’s a  NY Times reference to  what we subsequently learned was  an acetaldehyde spill behind the Callicoon Hospital  in 1987:

DERAILMENT IN UPSTATE NEW YORK CALLICOON, N.Y., Jan. 4 (AP) -Twenty-seven cars of a Conrail freight train derailed in a wooded area near the Delaware River this evening, discharging a hazardous chemical from one car and forcing the evacuation of several homes and a small hospital, state police officials said.

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Resources you might find helpful as you fill out the County’s  Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire:

Environmental  Protection Agency’s Emergency Planning and  Community-Right-To-Know Act

Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry