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
- the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s own findings in Dimock,
- the Environmental Protection Agency’s review of NY’s draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS),
- concerns that many large banks are not issuing mortgages on leased properties or
- a letter signed by former Mobil executive, Louis Allstedt, which requests that Governor Patterson withdraw the dSGEIS due to the document’s many deficiencies.
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 know. We also want to hear how we can help ensure that fair, decent and livable price supports are obtained by our local dairy producers.