Oscar Night: Open Letter to President Obama


Dear Readers:  Please  celebrate having two of The Upper Delaware River Valley’s sons nominated for  Academy awards:   Josh Fox for “Gasland” and Mark Ruffalo for  “The Kids Are All Right.”

At this auspicious time in world history, send your own letter about Hydraulic Fracturing  to President Obama.   (Many thanks to Marcia Nehemiah for sending both  this link and one for today’s NY Times report on hydraulic fracturing to  The Upper Delaware Network.)

*   *   *   *  *

Dear President Obama,

While you watch the Oscars tonight, you will see clips from “Gasland.”  Please watch them carefully.  The people in the movie are my brothers and sisters.

The waters of the Delaware River Valley   meet the thirsts of 17+ million people and they  are under threat.  (Lower Valley,  Upper Valley)

I thought the Gulf, Flower Mound,  Dimock, PA and scores of others  would be sufficient to show the careless disregard with which gas extractors ply their dangerous trade.  I was wrong.

Gas extracted from my valley does not represent energy independence:  much of it will ship to BP,  Norway, and others.

“Big Coal”  lied to us years ago and its  agenda was shoved down our throats with the connivance of our leaders and representatives.  Pennsylvania and  New York are no better off  — and are probably worse —  for that sad chapter in our histories.

“Big Energy?”  “Clean Gas?”  Just more “Big Coal.”

How many more people have to sicken?   How many more fields & forest lands  have to be destroyed?   (Please support a National Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing!)

How many more neighborhoods, livelihoods, properties have to be wasted by 600+ undisclosed  “proprietary” chemicals? (Please support the Frac Act!)

There comes a point when ambition and greed are just unseemly, Mr. President.  And as we saw and voted in 2008,  ignorance of the cost of something is not an excuse for supporting it.  (The Iraq War.)

Please!  Watch the movie.  No matter what control you believe your opponents wield,  it’s nothing to the power being generated by the  flora and fauna in my valley or the risk they face.

Sincerely,

Liz Bucar

Breathing Is Political

Town of Delaware Board; Home Rule; Conflict of Interests; Public’s Right to Know

NY Court of Appeals case law interprets provisions of the ECL [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude that a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303 of the environmental conservation law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution.


Dear Readers,  After three weeks  without my laptop,  I’m  b-a-a-ck.  As always, I’ve provided Town of Delaware meeting notes according to  how the meeting unfolded.  Although  Town Clerk McBeath’s  notes are generally excellent (as was commented by an audience member this past meeting)  Breathing has the wherewithal to provide more context for a more  (hopefully!) complete understanding of the issues discussed.   If you’re a Reality TV fan,  come on down  to the Delaware Town Hall on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM. The meetings have been packed recently and…lively!   Despite the sometimes contentious nature of  discussions,  it’s  important to note how many fine people are contributing productively to the life of our Town.  Take especial note of  the grants being written and improvements being planned.

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

According to a spokesperson for Mr. James “Jimmy”  Hughson (Jeff Sanitation and J. Hughson Excavating companies),  New York State’s Department of  Environmental Conservation (NY-DEC) has informed the garbage hauler he must move his collection facility indoors as part of  a required upgrade.   The upgrade of  Mr. Hughson’s proposed  “private transfer station”  (located east of Jeffersonville on the  East Branch of the Callicoon Creek)  is being considered by the Town’s Planning Board as a Special Non-conforming Use under  the Town’s  ZoningLaw.  Mr. Hughson’s spokesperson said the proposal will provide more storage capacity, will not increase the amount of garbage accepted at the site and will  reduce the number of truck trips.    “Mr. Hughson will collect the trash and sort it at his facility.”

When Town Assessor, Linda Schwartz,  commented to Mr. Hughson that she didn’t understand why he  would undertake the project because it sounded as if   his costs would increase  due to the upgrade while his profits would decrease due to his hauled-tonnage remaining  the same,   Mr. Hughson shrugged.

Town Clerk, Tess McBeath,  who sits on the County’s  Solid Waste Task Force,  explained that the County has proposed simplifying management of the solid waste stream by instituting  “single stream recycling.”  (Instead of  individual  households separating plastics, glass, metals, etc.,  as is done currently,   a  “sorting” company would do the separating and also transport the recyclables out of state.)  “The County isn’t looking to put haulers  out of business,”  Ms. McBeath continued.  “…it’s  asked for  $6.5 million  to build a transfer station….”

In 2009, according to the Times Herald Record,  Mr. Hughson was charged by the DEC for illegal dumping at the site.  In 1988,  the DEC ordered Mr. Hughson to cap and close  a landfill (near the current site)  which was owned and operated by him.*

The Town Board unanimously agreed to write a letter of recommendation in favor of Mr. Hughson’s  proposal.

Local businessman, Robert DeCristofaro, reported  what he believes are several discrepancies in his sewer assessment and the Board agreed to review the Town’s  billing.

While making her Town Clerk’s report,  Ms. McBeath  said,  “Many older, disabled folks come into my office.  I’ve asked several times that the Town Highway Department install handicapped parking signs that it already has so  those folks don’t have to walk so far.”   She then asked the Town Board to help her get the additional signs erected.

Highway Superintendent William Eschenberg interrupted Ms. McBeath.  “You stop.  You just stop right now.  I don’t work for you. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s a sign out there.  If  they can’t read one sign they won’t be able to read three.”

To which Ms. McBeath responded,  “You forget who pays your salary.  This isn’t about me; this isn’t personal,”  and asked several times to be permitted to continue with her report.

While the back-and-forth between the two Town officials continued for several minutes — and the Board sat mum —   audience members called for Mr. Eschenberg to allow the Clerk’s report to resume.  When a local resident said,  “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” and told Mr. Eschenberg he was “being rude,”  the Highway Superintendent replied,  “I know you don’t understand” and asked the audience member to go outside with him so the matter could be explained.

Finally,  Ms. McBeath said to Supervisor Scheutzow,  “I need direction, Jim,”  and  Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “I’ll deal with it.”

Ms. McBeath also reported that the Town collected $2,580 in building fees during the month of May 2010.  (According to data obtained by Breathing with a  Freedom of Information Request,  eight fewer permits have been issued to-date this year than during the same period in 2009.    However,  as of 6/18/10,  fees  have totaled, apparently,  $13,519  an approximate $6,000 increase over the first six months of 2009.)

Mr. Eschenberg asked for, and received,  permission to  put the Town’s heating oil purchase out to bid.

The Building Inspector,  Mr. Howard Fuchs,  was not in attendance and so no report was made.

Tax Assessor, Linda Schwartz, reported  the Town’s  equalization and assessment rates  have increased to 57%.  (That means   Town property holders  will be paying taxes on  57%  of their  property’s value — a larger percent than last year.)

As reported by  the Town’s  Grants Coordinator, Ms. Kara McElroy,  The Town has received six proposals for  its  sewer project and must decide by  June 30, 2010 who will receive the bid.  In addition,  the Town of Delaware and three other River Towns are applying for a share in  a Scenic Byway Grant which will total $25,000.

Mr. Michael Chojnicki  reported that the hamlets of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville have applied for a $750,000  Community Development Block Grant.  Each Hamlet  would receive $250,000 and Callicoon  would use the funds for lights,  parking lot re-pavement (in the Klimchok lot),  shoring up the retaining wall near the same location, improved parking in front of the movie theater,  sidewalks and nicer connections between Upper and Lower Main Streets.

The Town Board awarded a municipal trash removal contract to Thompson Sanitation but when audience member Jim Hughson pointed out that  Thompson’s bid was significantly higher than Sullivan First’s,  the Board unanimously  rescinded  its decision.  New bids will be accepted and subsequently opened on  July 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM.

PUBLIC COMMENT


Mr. Roy Tedoff  read an excerpt of NYS Assembly Bill  A10633 which states, in part,

“Currently, local government officials are confused  about whether  their  local  zoning  ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries.  NY Court of Appeals  case  law  interprets  provisions  of  the  ECL  [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude  that  a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303  of the  environmental  conservation  law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution. This legislation clarifies that current  local  zoning  law,  and  local zoning  laws  enacted  in  the  future, will dictate where oil, gas, and solution mining is a permissible use, even with a regulatory program  at the state level.”

Mr. Tedoff  then said,  “Since the Town Board can use its zoning power,  you should.  It’s a no-brainer….We  voters  have a right to know where the Town stands on the drilling issue.”

Mr. Tedoff then asked  members of the Town Board to reveal  any interest in drilling either they,  their associates or family members have.

Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “Whose business is it to know?  Next, you’ll want to know what my bank  statement is.”

(According to Section 808 and Section 811 of New York State’s General Municipal Law,  Mr. Scheutzow, council members  and other public officials in the Town of Delaware are subject to annual financial disclosure requirements.)  Also according to Section 808,  the Town can appoint a Board of Ethics to review possible ethics violations and  to be the repository of  Town officials’  financial disclosures.  Section 808,  also allows that  if such a Town Board of Ethics is not established,  the County Ethics Board can be appealed to for an opinion.  (Breathing has found no evidence that  the Town of Delaware  established a Board of Ethics but has asked for clarification with  a Freedom of Information request.)

Breathing has  already provided some information on  the issue of conflicts of interest and public officialsSection 809 of the General Municipal Law also requires disclosures by public officials and Section 812 details the information officials are required to disclose  (Financial Disclosure Form NYS GML).  In fact,  according to the Town of Delaware’s own  Code of Ethics,

The rules of ethical conduct of this Resolution as adopted, shall not conflict with, but shall be in addition to any prohibition of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or any other general or special law relating to ethical conduct and interest in contracts of municipal officers and employees.

(e) Disclosure of interest in legislation. To the extent that he/she knows thereof, a member of the Town Board and any officer or employee of the Town of Delaware, whether paid or unpaid, who participates in the discussion or gives official opinion to the Town Board on any legislation before the town Board, shall publicly disclose on the official record the nature and extent of any direct or indirect financial or other private interest he/she has in such legislation.

(f) Investments in conflict with official duties. He/she shall not invest or hold any investment directly or indirectly in any financial, business, commercial or other private transaction, which creates a conflict with his official duties.

Section 5. Distribution of Code of Ethics. The Supervisor of the Town of Delaware shall cause a copy of this Code of Ethics to be distributed to every officer and employee of the Town within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Resolution. Each officer and employee elected or appointed thereafter shall be furnished a copy before entering upon the duties of his/her office or employment.

Section 6. Penalties. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.

(The Franklin County District Attorney has said about an ethics investigation in his  countyOur investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200….”)In  response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town Board  adopt a resolution in support of  The Home Rule Bill ( NYS Assembly Bill  A10633),  Mr. Roeder said,  “Why would we support legislation that’s  a plan to burden the towns to do things they shouldn’t be involved with?”

As a matter of clarification,  Breathing offered,     “A10633 is  the so-called, ‘Home Rule”  bill.’   It’s an effort by our  Assemblymember, Aileen Gunther — and other co-sponsors —  to clarify what the Town’s zoning jurisdiction is and  to restore local control over  zoning districts to local governments.  You have the right to zone heavy industry out of  a ‘rural residential district.’  I’d think you’d want local control back.”

Mr. Scheutzow said,  “That’s your opinion.”

Breathing Is Political:  “Perhaps  you could ask your Town Attorney to  contact Assemblymember Gunther  who’s a co-sponsor of the Bill.  Perhaps she or a legal person in her office could  clarify the purpose of the Bill.”

Mr. Scheutzow:   “No matter how many times this Board tries to explain that we only have control over the roads,  some people just don’t get it.”

Breathing Is Political:   “Then perhaps you could ask the Town Attorney to reach out to the State Assembly because obviously,  members of the Assembly disagree with you about the Town’s zoning prerogatives.”

There was no response from the Town Board to the suggestion.  Nor did any members of the Board respond to Mr. Tedoff’s request that they disclose any interests in drilling.**

IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

In a discussion outside the Town Hall after the meeting had ended,  Craig and Julie Sautner (Dimock residents and plaintiffs in a Federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil) spoke with  Mr. Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association).  In response to  the Sautners’ continued assertions that  the hydraulic fracturing process  left their water  undrinkable and contaminated with methane, Mr. Van Swol stated,  “I’ve been told that methane occurs naturally in the water in Dimock and that’s why your water’s contaminated.”

Mr. Craig Sautner replied,  “That’s not true and we can prove it.  The chemical composition of naturally-occurring methane is very different than what’s released into the water by hydraulic fracturing.  And what we’ve got in our wells is not natural. We’ve got the lab tests to prove it.”

When Mr. Van Swol was asked,  “If  700 gas wells are drilled,  would it be acceptable to you if  five families’ water wells were contaminated,”  Mr. Van Swol replied, “Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

“And if your well was contaminated?”  he was asked in a follow-up,  “what would you do?”

“I’d take the company to court,”  he answered.

The Sautners explained to Breathing that at the time of   Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s visit to Dimock,  Cabot Oil was supplying the family with water in “buffalo tanks.”    After his visit and because it appeared to him that the “buffalo” water was contaminated,  the Sautners asked Cabot to provide them with clean well water.  For a while,  the company complied but has subsequently refused to continue the practice.  According to Mr. Sautner, if his family wants  Cabot to  replace the water  the company allegedly destroyed,  they’ll have to settle for the questionable  “buffalo”  brew.

ASTERISKS

*DISCLOSURE:  Liz Bucar was a member of   Citizens for a Clean Callicoon Creek which lobbied for closure of  Mr. Hughson’s  Landfill in 1988  because, in part,  the landfill was located in close proximity to the East Branch of the  Creek and  over an aquifer.

**Breathing was  informed recently by a confidential source that  Councilmember,  Harold Roeder — who is also Chair of the Upper Delaware Council — had admitted privately to having signed a gas lease.  In a follow-up phone call from Breathing, Mr. Roeder adamantly denied the allegation,  “That’s an absolute lie!” he said.  “I’ve never spoken with a gas person in my whole life.”

New Gas Drilling Production: A Theater Near You


To  read  Breathing’s review of  the sometimes-bawdy, always entertaining,   “Corporate Relations:  Gas Does Marcellus”  please click here.

The choice is yours:  pay the admission price for a  tired old movie with a cast of raggedy characters  (be prepared to swallow long and hard)  OR  pop on  over to “Ban Natural Gas Drilling In New York State”  and sign the petition.

DEC Holds Drilling Hearing at Sullivan County Community College


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

*    *    *   *    *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a river valley resident

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

WJFF: Community Radio’s Future


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

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

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

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

*    *    *    *    *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

Walter:  Thanks, Bill.

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

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

Bill Jumper:    There is no  voicebox anymore.

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

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

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

Walter:  I will second that…

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

Hopefully, the  currently in-grown system which has

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

will be replaced by a  more inclusive,  elective process.

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

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

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

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

Light Up The Delaware River: Wrap-Up


(Addendum to “Gas Drilling Reps  Grilled in Sullivan County.”   Feeling out of the loop?  Didn’t know about  the meeting in Rock Hill?  Don’t feel bad. Supervisors James Scheutzow and Linda Babicz were there and they  echoed a pervasive complaint from other attendees about how  little advertising preceded the meeting, “We have flooding problems. We have revenue questions.  We need to know what’s going on.”)

*******


On September 6, 2009, the afternoon of The Light Up The Delaware River Party, a few of us were  watching the Big Eddy Regatta from the Narrowsburg Bridge.  We had Martin Springetti’s “Don’t Frak/Drain Our River” posters and were taking a break from showing them off to passing cars.

“Has anyone heard from  Hancock?”   Nope.

“Philadelphia?”  I shook my head.   “No cell service.”

I scooted into the Cafe bathroom to hold my head;  nobody else needed to know  I was  flipping out. What had I done?  What was I thinking?  How could I hang us all so far out on a limb and not even know whether people were actually gathering in our other river towns?  “This is why my children warn strangers about me,”  I thought.

Before our Granny-something road trip, Leni and I were brand new friends.  We’d known of each other for years, but before we climbed into the car and headed for Philadelphia, we’d  spent very little time in one another’s company.  How deluded were we  to spend three days in a car  —  on a mission  akin to searching for Shangrila — trying to speak with people who  knew little or nothing about hydraulic fracturing  — to invite  them to a 330-mile River Basin Party?

The bathroom walls were closing in.  I couldn’t breathe.

It was very like the night before we  left for Philadelphia.   I’d  sent a desperate plea  from Breathing: we needed a  Light Up The Delaware River Party  website or else the  people we met along the road wouldn’t  take us seriously.  Panic had started to set  in.

The next morning, as we headed out the door,  Tanyette Colon emailed to say she’d just sent the new  Light Up The Delaware River site live.  I was speechless.  Our few conversations had  been via email and yet,  she’d  worked into the wee hours  for the sake of an idea.

Leni and I had a silent agreement not to  think or talk much about the things that could go wrong.  We didn’t worry about disappearing like Amelia Earhart.  We didn’t think about people slamming doors in our faces.  We were leaping into a great well of faith:   people would understand  the threat  of hydraulic fracturing and our urgency  if we could just look them in the eye.

For the sake of an idea,  Mark Barbash invited us  — two complete strangers — into his home and drove us all over Philadelphia.   Nancy Janyszeski opened her study (a thoroughly impressive  place, btw) and showed us that The Party was already displayed prominently at Nockamixon.us. When Leni & I returned from a fracking pond site,  Nancy  and her husband gave us towels,  sent us off to use their bathroom and invited us to spend the night.

When there were no motel rooms from Matamoras, PA to BethelWoods because it was the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock,  three bikers invited us to share their room when they learned what we were doing.  (Although we didn’t take them up on their generosity, it warmed our hearts and thirty  years earlier neither of us would have hesitated.)

It was like that the entire 330 miles:  people read the invitation,  snatched the idea and began hatching plans for Parties in their towns.  When we got home,  our inboxes were  filled with plans  from Nockamixon to Damascus.

The next  three days were spent hunched over the computer searching for national, state and local environmental groups and harvesting email addresses.  By the end, over 200 groups and many more individuals knew The Delaware River Basin was on the move.

Fred Pecora — who’s spent the last two years writing letters, doing interviews and researching, researching, researching  —  heard Leni on WJFF and called  WBAI so the Party and its message  could start percolating  in New York City.

Emails arrived  from the Wyoming front lines.  They were watching and hoping.  Some of my high school buddies  near fracking sites in Ohio taped the WBAI interview  and cheered us on.

In the Upper Basin,  the  media was told to meet us  in Narrowsburg.  It wasn’t until the afternoon  of  the Party that I  realized nobody had organized a  Light Up  event  in Narrowsburg.  At 6:45 pm,  fifteen minutes before we were to begin pouring water into the River,  Bernie  Handler* wondered if we had any.  OMG!  Only a very few people  would be able to negotiate the steep bank from the Gazebo to the River.  All I could think as I grabbed containers and headed down over the rocks was,  “Please don’t let me fall in!”

Moments later, none of it  mattered.  Nearly 300 people had arrived.   Janet Burgan’s  rich,  sure anthems blended with  the dusk and as we munched Dan Brinkerhof’s old-fashioned popcorn,  Skip Mendler juggled and made us laugh.

Below us, the River darkened  and at 7:00, we poured our borrowed water back into it.  At 7:30, as a few small  boats lit up, candles  were set out along the Bridge.   The light  spread in an oval to the crowd around the Gazebo  and to the boatmen beyond.   (Later that evening, as  photos and stories began to arrive via email, we learned it had spread from Starlight, PA to Hancock,  Fremont, Long Eddy, Equinunk,  Callicoon,  Damascus-Cochecton, Milanville, Narrowsburg, Pond Eddy, Milford-Shohola,   Washington’s Crossing, Bridgetown,  Dunfield Creek and Philadelphia.

In the sky above us, Dan Desmond piloted his plane with Ted Waddell in the passenger seat snapping photo after photo —  recording a  single moment in the 400 million-year history of the River.

Along with the pictures, have come words, some of which I’ve included here:

From Nyssa Calkin –  Light Up’s Roving Photographer: “I came across some private and semi-private parties in the Equinunk and Long Eddy areas.    At one location… The entire group broke out into spur of the moment River songs.  Very moving.  Most of the images I took were of the bustling river life throughout the day.”

From Washington’s Crossing: “Wanted you to know we were there with our ‘pure water’  and lights on the NJ side…. My dog likes to clean branches out of the water, or maybe he thinks he is saving them from drowning.  Anyway, he did it while we had our candles lit.  He always tosses his head, though, so we got splattered with mud.  Pretty funny.”

From the Narrowsburg Regatta: “We read poetry, held a regatta, carried signs, barbecued, sang songs, saw puppets, poured water, lit candles, ate popcorn, watched movies…!”

From Hancock: Just wanted to let you know our party was quite successful — except we never saw the plane!  (Editor’s Note:  This was entirely my fault and something that needs much better planning for the 2nd Annual Light Up The Delaware River Party!)

We had between 50 and 60 people…and we did connect with the campers who had posted the other Hancock event.  They joined us,  and at the appropriate hour floated their beautiful, candle-carrying minature rafts from our candle-lit beach.

Thank you so much for all your efforts in creating this! The river was incredibly serene and gorgeous at dusk as we poured our cups of water and lit our candles. Laurie  of the CDOG (Chenango-Delaware-Otsego Gas) group spoke eloquently about the river and our mission to preserve water and land.  Lisa, an organic farmer, activist and poet, read two of her own poems inspired by the gas drilling threat.

We were thrilled that quite a few townspeople who had seen notices about the party joined those of us who are already committed.  We enjoyed live music…and recorded music…and lots of conversation and information sharing (even dancing!!).  It was a fun, inspiring occasion, and I think we all left feeling more connected to the river, one another, and our intentions to preserve the beauty and health of our environment.   How did the other parties go?

From Matamoras: I was at a private party earlier on Sunday just up the River in Matamoras and I will try to get some photos from that.

It would certainly be great to make this an annual event on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend sort of a Delaware River Appreciation Day (DRAD) something I believe would receive much support up and down the River. A little appreciation for all the River provides, including a source of clean drinking water and the many recreational opportunities from its source to the bay.

Great job by everyone…the River Thanks You All!

************

As I stared from the Bridge into  the heart of it all —   inexpressible joy mixed with sorrow.

Only a part of my community had come  to the River.  The farmers  I’d worked beside  were absent.  They’d sold their cows and land  or been foreclosed years before — but there are memories that bind people forever:  pulling a calf from a straining cow in a warm barn as a spring snowstorm howls outside;  the sound of a tractor rolling backward down a  hill and pinning a man beneath it;  the calluses at the base of our fingers from tossing bales and hauling shingles and sheetrock.

Many of  the people I’ve worked beside didn’t  come  to The Party  because they’ve already moved  from the  land their families tilled for a century or more.  Some were absent because,  after long weeks of painful weighing, they’d signed leases.  They weren’t sure if the Party was for them, too.  Some weren’t with us because they’re angry at us — believing that our defense of the River signifies  a willful disregard for what  gentrification, the economic downturn,  factory farms and the loss of industrial jobs have done to them and their children.  Some believe that our stance  as defenders of the  water and land is a denigration of  their long years of stewardship.

Every ten years or so during the thirty that  I’ve lived in Sullivan County, NY,  a wave of “newcomers” has arrived  in the Basin  because something  feels  “wrong”  or  “out-of balance”  in their lives.  Some  of them weather the storms and stay.  Many maintain two residences.  Too often  —  to the jaded eye of those who’ve  seen it all before and who struggle to pay one mortgage or rent — those second homes look like  get-away options in case things go sour.  Too often to recount,  many newcomers discover how  hard it is to live here…to raise a family here…to pay the mortgage here…. and after   they’ve  used their greater resources to rent Main Street shops and  charge prices many “locals”  can’t afford,  they  move away.  Those  whose families have worked and lived in the Basin for  centuries and who  rarely have a wealth of choices,  watch them go,  their communities upended in the wake.

But what of  those,  like myself,  who’ve  stayed?  They were all around me on the Bridge or chatting  in front of Dan Brinkerhoff’s Amazing Mobile Movie Theater Truck  waiting for the film to begin.  I saw farmers who work dawn to midnight creating community sustainable agriculture and  librarians who supervise after-school programs.  There were teachers who share their skills in our literacy centers and community programs, carpenters, artists, weavers & spinners, labor organizers,  shopkeepers, nurses, writers, construction workers, house cleaners  —  all of them working with every fiber to stay;  to lend their vigor to an old world and its traditions.

Just as some old-timers  fear that  gentrification will leave them behind,   their neighbors who  gathered along the River from Hancock to Philadelphia also fear abandonment. They watch the River through exhausted, angry and frightened eyes and  see   the specter of  gas companies descending like  locusts, despoiling our Basin and leaving us to clean up or give up.

No matter on which side of the issue we stand,  it’s not enough to say, “You can’t talk to those people.  They’re selfish/greedy/arrogant/ignorant/dilettantes.”  How does it benefit the River for us to squabble over who the “true stewards of the land”  are  —  especially when livelihoods, college educations, farms & family  businesses, land  and water are all at stake?   To paraphrase the President,   diplomacy isn’t for people who agree with each other;  it’s for those  locked in conflict.

Those of us who’ve been here long enough, remember the hate-filled  words that led to acts of violence  during the  NPS war and the twenty year embroglio over  school consolidation.  Perhaps the vile odors  of a house and barn burning  have left us unreasonably anxious  when  the same ugly words and frustrated rage surface  today.

Or perhaps, we’re struggling to learn from our past.

We hear  that a movie’s being planned  about the gas strife here in the Basin.  Let’s give them a truly different story to tell — one in which we find ways to preserve the things we love in common.

Incredible  amounts of good have come from the Party already.  A friend who just signed a lease has asked that we join forces to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act and a severance tax on the gas industry. As I mentioned yesterday,  a column will always be available to her here at Breathing. (More on that after September 20th.)  River communities throughout the Basin have renewed our joint commitment to preserve and protect and we are in daily contact.  Several people who saw Josh Fox’  film, “Water Under Attack,”  were in Rock Hill two days later demanding answers of  gas drilling representatives  (IOGA-NY).  Efforts are being renewed to create a national database of groups engaged in struggles akin to our own.  Ideas for internet videos  and guerilla theater are free-floating everywhere.  Meetings are being held by phone and  over the internet to discuss a possible Basin summit.  And integral to everything is this question,  “How do we save the Basin for all of us?”

*********

*I’ve already nominated Bernie Handler for The Prince Valiant-Iron Man  Award.  Not only did he save me from looking  like a total ditz, he also rescued Kalika and her  kayak during the afternoon  Regatta.)

*********

Note to readers:  Breathing Is Political, CottageWorks and Light Up The Delaware River Party! locked me in a family meeting last night.  They kept their promise to let me plan The Light Up  Party without nagging,  but now they need me to find a job.  So for their sake, and mine,  if you know  of a community-vested enterprise that’s  looking for a nurse-paralegal with a writing demon and native  organizing skills enhanced by sheer dumb luck, please let me know.

Best hopes for us all,

Liz

Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County


According to a press release from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY),  “The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York together    with the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Partnership)**  will host a public information session to address the environmental, scientific and economic aspects of natural gas exploration.”

At their blog, Marcellus Facts,  the IOGA-NY’s  agenda is described in significantly different terms,    “You can review media coverage, our Homegrown Energy booklet and other materials that highlight the many benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale.”  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 start time, Bernie’s parking lot was full and cars lined the side of the road.

The meeting opened  with  remarks  by IOGA-NY’s  reps who boasted degrees in hydrology, geology and jurisprudence.  They were, with the exception of the attorney,  folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.

The audience settled in to view,  “Homegrown Energy,”  IOGA-NY’s  self-described  “educational”  film  which provided a  cartoon-style description of  the drilling and hydraulic fracturing  process.

One audience member asked why IOGA-NY  had shown us a cartoon rather than a video of actual fracking operations.  “We’re not children,”  she added.  A while later, the sentiment was amplified by someone else,  “Why cartoons?  Why don’t you show us how the drilling and fracking look in Fort Worth and Dimock?”

The cartoon film  illustrated each stage of the drilling/hydraulic fracturing  process.  At one point,  it assured us that the cement casings (barriers) that are constructed to retain the toxic  fracturing fluids and gas are  safe and reliable.  (However,  after a house exploded in East Lake, Ohio, “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report [2] (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing [3].)

The cartoon attempted to allay fears concerning the toxic  ingredients found in hydraulic fracturing fluid (“mud” — which is injected through the well bore under enormous pressures  in order to fracture the shale bed and extract the natural gas contained there.)  According to the educational film,   the “mud” contains a soup of  additives necessary to the process which are commonly  found in antibacterial hand washes and dish liquid.

(For information concerning some of  the human health concerns surrounding  hydraulic fracturing, please click here for an article at the National Institutes of Health.)

The film did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hydraulic fracturing toxins which includes diesel fuel  “…sometimes a component of gelled fluids. Diesel fuel contains constituents of potential concern regulated under SDWA – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (i.e., BTEX compounds). The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to USDWs because BTEX compounds in diesel fuel exceed the MCL at the point-of-injection (i.e. the subsurface location where fracturing fluids are initially injected).”

Industry reps at the Rock Hill meeting  denied that  “mud”  used at their wells will  contain  toluene even though “Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes are naturally present in many hydrocarbon deposits, and may be present in drilling and fracking chemicals.”) Indeed, the  EPA’s 2004 report also states that not all of its listed toxins are present at all fracking operations.   This inconsistency and the  fact that   “The 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded hydraulic fracturing from [Safe Drinking Water Act]  jurisdiction,”  are why   Representatives Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey among a  few others have introduced  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which amends the  Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to DeGette,  “The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

In response, one of  IOGA-NY’s representatives quipped,  “Since we were never covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act,  you can’t  say we were exempted.”

Mr. Noel Van Swol, a property owner in Sullivan County who’s apparently affiliated with the  Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association was in attendance at the Rock Hill meeting.   When asked by Breathing if he would support the “FRAC Act,” and a severance tax on the gas industry  he was unequivocal,  “There’s no need for it.  The Frac Act is just  another instance of Maurice Hinchey trying to get publicity for an unnecessary law and we don’t want a severance tax.  We want the industry here,  not drilling someplace else.”

(Please see this list of organizations which asked Governor Rendell to  support a severance tax.   Considering the massive natural gas potential of the Marcellus Shale,  few people believe the gas industry will  abandon it  to avoid paying a modest tax.)

In fact, one Wayne County  resident who’s recently signed a lease,  contacted  Breathing to suggest we join  forces to  support the Frac Act and a severance tax on the gas industry.  In an email, she wrote, “I hope that both sides can drop the vitriolic language and concentrate on working together to get clear local, state, and federal oversight of the drilling process including a severance tax so that even those people who do not dirctly benefit from the drilling will see some kind of community financial remuneration for the burdens we will see put upon our communities by the drilling. I also feel very strongly that the 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act that fracking enjoys must be removed by Congress.”***

Most of the audience’s questions had to do with reports of noise and water pollution resulting from the drilling and  fracturing processes.  Maria Grimaldi described her trip through a gas drilling  area in New Mexico.  “It was awful.  I couldn’t get out of there  fast enough.”

Industry representatives reminded the audience that  any construction site  is noisy.   A  drilling proponent said,  “Look around you, folks.   We need the jobs and the money these drilling companies are going to bring.   I can put up with a month of ‘boom, boom boom.'”

Some residents living near Texas’  Barnett Shale disagree.

When the IOGA-NY geologist was questioned about reports that hydraulic fracturing had stimulated earthquakes,  the geologist claimed to have never heard such allegations.  Further, he denied knowing anything  about New York State’s history of earthquakes.

Another concern audience members expressed had to do with storage of the fracking fluid once it’s been extracted from the ground.  Citing Sullivan County’s history of flash floods, one  person asked how the  toxic frak fluid would be stored and who would oversee its disposal.  Industry representatives said that they would review individual situations but  tended to think  “we’ll store it in tanks because of the flooding.”

At one point in the evening.  IOGA-NY  was  asked specifically about incidents of toxic contamination in  Pavilion, Wyoming,  Dimock, Pennsylvania,  dead cows in Louisiana and tap water catching fire.  At first,  the Industry reps   dismissed those worries but backed off slightly when a recent EPA report and ProPublica story  about Wyoming were mentioned.  In part, the article states, “‘It [contamination] starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,'” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region.”)

When one of the Industry representatives asked where people were getting  their information, several audience members shouted out,  “Water Under Attack!  Josh Fox’ movie.”  There were also suggestions that members of  The Partnership and IOGA-NY  watch the film.  In response, one of the Industry presenters said,  “I’ll talk to [Mr. Fox].  I’ll talk to anyone.  Give him my card.” ****

In another back-and-forth having to do with water contamination,  IOGA-NY  reps told the audience that New York State’s  Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the strictest and best environmental enforcement agencies in the fifty states.  In consequence, he added,  New York residents won’t experience the same kinds of  problems encountered by residents elsewhere.  When Breathing asked if  strict oversight would be required in New York to keep  us safe from the Industry,  the response was, “Gas drilling is  an industry.  Industrial accidents happen.”   In a follow up question,    Breathing asked how many DEC oversight and enforcement personnel would be required to keep  our environment safe from the Industry.

I got the same answer  from  IOGA-NY as was offered by  the  Delaware River Basin Commission on July 15, 2009.   No answer.

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**When the  meeting adjourned,  Breathing  Is Political and a friend of Light Up The Delaware River  had an opportunity to discuss the evening’s event  and hydraulic fracturing with Mr. Tim  McCausland, President and CEO of the Partnership.  I first asked Mr. McCausland   to clarify  his organization’s relationship with IOGA-NY.   “I wouldn’t call it a ‘relationship,'” he answered.  “They approached us.  Offering sessions like this is part of what The Partnership does.”

This morning,  Mr. McCausland sent  me The Partnership’s  recently-released position statement on gas drilling which reads, “The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development believes strongly, that if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities  — and while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce:  (a)  a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”

(Breathing encourages you to share  your views of the Partnership’s position in our comment section.  I will happily forward  them to Mr. McCausland.)

***Breathing endorses  this  suggestion wholeheartedly by offering  the letter-writer a column here.   While the rest of us stumble  in the dark looking for a way to bridge the divide between “pro-drillers”  (a misnomer)  and  “anti-frackers,”  (please!)   she offers  a way to cooperate  for the good of us all.

****A request with which Breathing complied immediately.

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?