Sunday, May 9, 2010

More Marcellus Madness

My little Sullivan County town seems to have caught the petrophilia virus from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The symptoms are acute myopia and – a new word to me – paralogia, a type of reasoning disorder.

While the rest of us have been riveted to the point of distraction by photos and stories on the latest legacies of fossil fuel mania in West Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico, these two paladins have been preparing the way for New Yorkers to experience these legacies first-hand. What a pair. Both appear to think they can play the role of David and tame the savage Goliath by being a welcoming host. History says otherwise.

The step my town is taking is to amend its zoning to provide that gas drilling will be a permitted use, subject to “special use” restrictions, throughout districts which comprise 90% of the town’s land area. I’m not sure yet why the town thinks this is a good idea and I’m going to assume for now that its intentions are defensive. But I am quite sure that substantially all those special use restrictions, setbacks being only one example, will fall within the ambit of the DEC’s regulatory scheme which, legal authorities agree, will therefore place them off-limits to local enforcement.

As everybody knows, the DEC, with its shrunken corps of inspectors, is not set up for much enforcement itself. So what is likely to happen? Well, a driller who has been invited in, subject to special use, may wish to knock out those special use restrictions by tying up the town in litigation – the towns’ greatest of all fears -- and with a pretty good cause of action, at that, meanwhile banking on inaction by the DEC. The invitation and the fray will logically attract more drillers, who, like water, have repeatedly displayed a tendency to run toward the places of least resistance, and the operations of those drillers will be similarly ungoverned. This is the way they behave; I’m not making this up. Our town, as Keith Lambert, the mayor of Rifle, Colorado predicted, will be overrun. He knows. His almost was. Dish, Texas, really was. Its mayor, Calvin Tillman, came to New York communities at his own expense to warn about the realities of drilling.

It is still hard for me to believe that a ‘smart’ state like New York can’t take its cues from the messes that cutting-edge fossil fuel extraction has caused elsewhere; that it fails to take note of the dawning awareness on the part of other governments and agencies  that the trade-offs are unreasonable; that it cares so little about its beautiful environment and its rural communities to leave them scrambling to protect themselves by whatever misguided means. Good intentions or not, my rural town, which sits on the upper Delaware River, could end up an industrial zone and a major polluter of the river for millions of downstream users.

I will be joining the local dialog and doing what I can to see that common sense prevails here. But it may take millions of protesters to see to it that common sense prevails in Albany.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The New York Times reported on April 23 that the main reason given by Commissioner “Pete” Grannis for deciding that stricter standards – instead of an outright ban – should be applied to prospective hydraulic fracture gas drilling within New York's and Syracuse's watersheds, was a grave concern about landowner lawsuits. It “risks very substantial litigation,” he said.

Lawsuits by whom? Is he referring to landowners in the watersheds who may have been hedging th eir bets, dickering over lease terms but ready to sign and reap bonuses at such time as the DEC overcame city opposition? No standing there that I can see. Signed-up landowners contending that royalties are due them even though they cannot establish that recoverable gas exists under their land? A speculative damages claim. Would the DEC be a proper party were a landowner to claim a vested right to use his property industrially (whether or not it is so zoned or whether or not the use constitutes a public or private nuisance under New York common law)? Was the DEC a party to his lease? Did the DEC warrant that his property would be drilled? I really, really doubt it. This compromise seems intended , instead, to get out of the sights of angry, powerful City pols and to divide their alliances with upstate protesters, without looking wimpy to the gas industry.

Those allegedly litigious landowners can read, I'm sure. They're reading that the stricter standards will mean no drilling anyway. What's the difference?

The Commissioner should worry about litigation, but he should be looking, instead, in the other direction. He should be worried about the claims of third parties who may, and likely will, suffer the collateral effects of gas drilling that the DEC will have permitted, whether those parties be in these watersheds or elsewhere.

This is where I come to my pet theme: that if the DEC continues on its present course , putting the environment and the health, safety, and welfare of people at risk in order to provide for the efficient development of oil and gas, it will be in breach of its public trust. A nice basis for a lawsuit.

Readers may have heard DEC officials stating that their job under the Environmental Conservation Law is to promote, foster and encourage the efficient development of these resources. And you might think that was true from reading the language of Section 550.1 (a) in the Code of Rules and Regulations (6 NYCRR 550.1), which the Department or its predecessor prepared for the administration of the oil and gas portion of the Environmental Conservation Law (the “ECL”). It describes the agency's mission as “the fostering, encouragement and promotion of the development, production and utilization of oil and gas... in such a manner as to prevent waste.” (Italics mine.) But this is not what the law actually provides. Way back in 1978 (by Laws of 1978, Chapter 396) the legislature changed the wording of the source statute, ECL Article 23, Section 0301, to its current language. It substituted the word “regulate” for all these promoting verbs. Despite prodding, the DEC did not correct the Code language and continues to disregard the error.

A careful reading of the ECL itself, including the definitions section, ECL 23-0101, also shows that preventing “waste” does not mean making sure the greatest amount of oil or gas is recovered from each formation or spacing unit. “Waste” refers to oil or gas permanently lost in the development process– the stuff that escapes into underground fractures or into people's water supplies and cannot "ultimately" be recovered. So, the ECL does not authorize the DEC to proceed with development and issue permits without having in place an effective program to prevent the escape of gas. There isn't one yet. It now turns out that the type of cement that has been approved by DEC for sealing well bore joints cannot withstand the pressures of deep-shale drilling and is to blame for many of the migrations of gas and other toxins into Pennsylvania streams and well water. Geologists have expressed concerns that the deep rock of New York's Marcellus is highly fractured and variable, potentially giving rise to uncontrollable migration of gas outside of wellbores.

The capstone of the “breach” cause of action is the relationship between ECL 23-0301 and the “mother” policy set forth in ECL Article I, Title I. That policy governs everything in the entire statutory scheme that the DEC oversees. It must therefore be reconciled with, and read into, ECL Article 23 . Article I, Title I describes the overriding mandate of the DEC as “to conserve, improve and protect (the state's) natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well being”, plus other consistent goals expressed in that Title. Note that there's nothing here about developing natural resources. It's quite plain that the legislature's intention was that the DEC serve, through its permitting and regulatory functions, as a check on the development of oil and gas, not as its promoter. So, unless and until a program is in place that renders the process of gas development a virtually harmless undertaking, environmentally, economically and socially, the DEC should not be contemplating issuing any drilling permits anywhere. Proceeding forward now, with knowledge of the hazards and with no adequate regulatory forces to tame them, is an invitation to lawsuits.
There's still time for the Commissioner to back away from the precipice, either by instituting a blanket ban or by holding off until such time as drilling in the Marcellus Shale comports with the protective policy of the DEC's enabling law.

Friday, April 9, 2010


  In the past few weeks an impetus has been building  in New York to delay the commencement of the natural gas play until the EPA concludes its two-year study on hydraulic fracturing.  Activist groups have petitioned the DEC to hold off issuance of its final sGEIS until the report is in.  Meanwhile, a bill is circulating in the legislature providing for a two-year moratorium on gas drilling.

For nearly two years now, many of us have been questioning what  the hurry was, anyway, because of the bad news on the impacts of “unconventional” gas development in Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania.   We knew the gas in the Marcellus Shale,  then as now, was not in danger of drying up or dribbling away.  Since that time, facts have come to light about the drilling process and the industry, about international energy dynamics, and about politics, culminating in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, that have helped to reveal the forces behind the pressure to drill and to put the drilling debate in perspective. There’s no sound reason for New York to hurry.

The industry continues to pound impatiently on New York’s door and to warn that if the state gives it too hard a time it will have to hurt us all by walking away. Never mind my personal response to this threat.  Even from the industry’s own point of view, it makes no sense. True, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar two years from now.  But the price of gas is presently depressed, and will presumably go lower yet as more of it is recovered.  That means gas companies will realize less value for each mcf of New York gas they drill now than they will if they wait until a time when it is in scarcer supply. As there is no present capacity for stockpiling gas, there is no price float to benefit them, either.

The same is true for the state, in terms of taxes to be realized, and for landowners in terms of royalties payable to them, since both are measured by the price of the gas produced.  I, for one, am unsympathetic to the respective interests of the State fisc and the hard-up landowners in getting a “quick fix” now, because evidence is mounting on the extent of collateral damage that may be inflicted upon our citizens in order to provide it to them.  Part of that evidence suggests that the losses to the state and its communities from an immediate gas play, even in purely economic terms, may end up outweighing the gains. (I advert here to the study that was the subject of my March 31 post, and to another look at the economics in a webinar.

So, a quick fix for the state from the riches of the Marcellus Shale is probably a pound-foolish delusion.  As for the landowners who believe that “their” gas entitles them to special consideration, they need to be reminded that when they leased away certain rights in their own land, they also gave away, free of charge, many of the rights of their neighbors to enjoy their own lands,  as well as the security of the water supplies of people in distant downstream regions. That somehow fails to make their needs a priority for the rest of us.

Two years will serve to cool many heads. By the end of  two years, there should be some useful published statistics on the human health impacts within drilling communities in other states, and on the communities’ economic health as well.  There should also be  progress in the unsettled matter of how to treat and safely dispose of the large-scale toxic wastes produced by hydraulic fracture drilling.

 In two years, too, technology will change.  The Halliburton formula could by then be superseded by something far safer.  Whatever happened to fracking with propane, the process tested in eastern Canada and alleged to be safer and more efficient ?  Could it work in deep shale?

In the meanwhile, two years lost to gas drilling will mean two years of confidence that the water we drink won't have stuff like toluene in it, and two years for safer sources of energy to take hold in New York.

By way of a postscript,  I add that moving precipitously ahead with drilling in New York will NOT aid U.S. efforts to become energy-independent.  Gas will not supplant mid-eastern oil until such time as gas applications become as broad as oil’s.  We will need to keep importing oil until we’ve got natural gas cars and trucks. We’re not there yet.  In the interim, New York’s supply , given the current glut in the U.S., will doubtless flow overseas: perhaps (who knows?) to Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Here's a paper on the economic potential for gas drilling in New York's Marcellus shale region, prepared by an economist, Dr.Janette Barth, who's really done her homework. She urges that officials take the time now to look beyond the gas industry's  projections of prosperity at some hard, cold statistics that point in another direction. These come both from New York's own history with natural gas exploitation and from the recent experiences of other states with deep-shale drilling using the hydraulic fracturing techniques to be used here.

None of this comes as a surprise to me.  The only surprise is that no one in government seems willing even to  verify the economic realities before setting our ship of state on such a dangerous course.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It seems that, of all Obama’s appointments, the EPA’s Lisa Jackson is emerging as the best friend of the people who elected him –  albeit under considerable pressure from Congress and demonstrators.  Lately the agency has not only undertaken to review the environmental effects of hydraulic fracture gas drilling nationwide, but, in West Virginia, has proposed to veto a permit that the Army Corps of engineers had already approved for a large mountaintop-removal coal mine.  This is a big reprieve for poor West Virginia.  In recent years it has had to endure the despoliation of its land and communities by both Granddaddy Coal and its fat and gassy stepchild, which is now drilling in southern edge of the Marcellus shale.  Of course, that’s in part because West Virginia is ... poor.  But the fact of politics is that this kind of large-scale despoliation happens in rich states, too.

    I listened this morning to a WBAI interview with Jeff Biggers, author of a new  book about coal, Reckoning at Eagle Creek.  A journalist and the grandson of a coal miner, Biggers outlined the deceptive mantras of the coal industry which, together with massive political contributions, successfully kept legislators and regulators off its back for generations.  Jimmy Carter, having promised to ban strip mining during his campaign, apparently learned how difficult it was push back against such a powerful industry, and never acted on his promise.

    Coal was cheap as long as no one tallied its environmental and health consequences or gave any thought to cleaning up its messes, and it’s been long embedded in our national culture as the principal source of electric energy.  The “jobs” mantra has played a substantial role in the schmeer effort by Big Coal even though it has turned out that jobs have considerably shrunk over time, owing in part to the mechanization of the strip mining process. Over the same time, the governmental response to coal issues, Biggers says,-- even where the causal connection between strip mining and environmental or health damage was demonstrated -- has been a predictable compromise:   to minimize the environmental damage rather than to curtail the particular practice that perpetuates it.

    Now, Coal has convinced many, including Obama himself, that it can be “clean”. The industry has spent not one dime, says Biggers, to develop clean coal, but it claims that underground sequestration of carbon will curb the emissions that contribute to global warming.  The industry doesn’t mention that the sequestration process in itself requires considerable energy,  and thus more coal to burn and more money in Coal pockets.

    Here in New York’s portion of the Marcellus region, the not-so-flush southern tier, West Virginia history seems about to repeat itself with natural gas. Gas may be cleaner than coal, but not while it’s being produced.  The promise of tax revenues and other income to the state from gas drilling, and the deceptive promises of local community revival which I have reviled in previous posts, have blinded officials to the vast environmental damage that will result if anything like the officially projected quantity of deep shale wells is ever realized.  Our New York regulator is firmly rooted to the compromise strategy of minimizing environmental damage from natural gas drilling by, e.g., providing setbacks measured in 100 or fewer feet (your pond must be at least 50 feet downstream of a gas well), and resolutely ignoring the compounding of negative impacts where more than one well is sited in a particular environment. The spills, methane migrations, and illegal dumpings across the border in Pennsylvania and in other gas-rich states, the unusual concentrations of disease symptoms within drilling communities, the economic ill health of many post-drilling communities – none of these things is leading toward any official determination in New York that drilling should be banned or limited.  It seems instead to have brought on one-upmanship – Hey, our guys (all sixteen of them) can do this better than you!

    We can hope that the EPA’s promised new study of “hydrofracking” won’t be too little and too late to avert serious toxic disaster. It is an entirely new EPA from the one under the Bush administration which simply cleared the path for whatever industry wanted to do. The agency’s 2004 study of the process, which concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed “little or no threat to drinking water”, did not even involve
water testing.  It is that flawed conclusion that the gas industry touts every time it fears that state officials will wise up to the true facts.

    If you are a New Yorker, be sure to sign the  petition to the DEC demanding that it wait for the EPA study results before issuing any permits for hydraulic fracture drilling.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Renewable energy sources are a long time in developing, and some of them already have their critics. Windmills are unsightly, some say. Solar just isn’t powerful enough. Geothermal isn’t right for everyone’s needs. Meanwhile, we’ve got great quantities of mile-deep natural gas (“Cleaner than coal!” “Cleaner than oil!”) to keep our nation’s busy engines churning.  Why not just grab what there is and face up to our energy problems when it runs out?

Well, lots of reasons, most of which have been thoughtfully enumerated. Aside from fossil fuel emissions that contribute to global warming, Americans need to reconsider the profligacy with which we have come to consume energy, which is out of whack with our awareness that we have only a diminishing supply of fossil fuel  to use to perpetuate the consumption.

 Natural gas is being seen, especially by that wheeler-dealer, Mr Pickens, as the replacement for oil, not just for preparing the way for renewables but for heating and so that trucks can continue criss-crossing the country to deliver food and other products from remote centers to places where they could just as easily have been produced.  As long as we keep thinking this way, we will continue turning up the thermostat to keep our leaky houses warm. The availability of gas, in other words, allows us to ignore both reality and common sense. It’s time to think both smaller and smarter.

Harvesting gas is not clean, as many commentators have noted.  Nor is it economical, broadly speaking.  It clearly pays off for the industry itself, or players would not be darkening the sky above shale formations like crows over a cornfield.  They, of course, need not live with the dirty consequences of their work;  when their feast is over, they can fly home.  Newly rich land lessors, also, can take their money and run.  I think many of the rest of us have wised up to the seductive promises of prosperity and have come to realize that the economic costs of coping and cleanup can equal or exceed the income to be realized.  Last month, Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish, Texas, told  listeners in Callicoon, New York that his initial hopes of economic benefit for his little town were quickly dashed, that the tax base had dropped, and that he couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to live in a place where breathing is a health hazard.  The economic calculation does not begin to address the health and environmental consequences that simply can’t be cleaned up.

One of these days, clean and  green technology will take hold.  But if Mr. Pickens has his way, it will be too late for it to restore quality of life to the shale regions that will have given their all to the energy market. The money and the jobs will have moved away, leaving a sad landscape which a photographer from Syracuse, Laura Brazak,  has envisioned as the dystopian  future of the Marcellus:

         “All the money is gone.  We're living in an industrial wasteland that used to be our pristine environment.   We're waiting for the first of many water treatment facilities to come online and in the meantime we're drinking bottled water.  Somewhere down the road, we're trying to fix the roads which got ruined from the truck traffic.  There are clusters of cancers and respiratory issues and skins rashes.  The air smells funny.  And there is no money to even begin cleaning up the mess.  Mortgage companies cancel your mortgage insurance because your well water has become contaminated. People start to move away.  Agriculture suffers and the vineyards and wineries close.  Tourism tanks.  Rich people stop sending their kids to Syracuse University and our other fine colleges until the "water situation" is rectified.  The organic farmers have left and what was beginning to be a slow food movement dies on the vine. The plan to revitalize downtown gets put on hold again and all the money goes to clean up the sites of old drill pads and to try to find companies capable of dealing with environmental disasters of this magnitude--but they are all busy in Pennsylvania....”

What a shame not to have slowed down and concentrated on renewables in the first place.  These may ultimately include different technologies we haven’t heard so much about, such as....algae farms.  I  read 
 that the chemical composition of at least some algae is identical to that of gasoline.  Apparently algae as potential fuel is quite efficient, besides being eminently cultivable.  Who could find this objectionable? There is something deeply satisfying about the notion of being able to apply what has been regarded as a pestilence to the solution of a major worldwide problem.  And the best part?  The wastes can be fed to cows!

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fueling Un-Food

 Michael Pollan, the food writer, was a guest on Democracy Now this morning. He commented that U.S. agribusiness is well on its way toward completing its conversion of our food supply from farm produce to “food-like” substances manufactured with heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Evidently, oil and gas play important roles in all the complex processing that goes on in giant centers around the country. Maybe worse: oil and gas could be the very stuff Americans are buying to eat.

 I won’t get into the ugly particulars of what Pollan had to say about what agribusiness has done to small farmers and school food programs, because his observation is ringing other bells with me.  The pressure that’s coming from the incorporated un-food industry to keep Americans eating  more while eating worse, seems to be related to the pressure that’s coming from the incorporated energy industry to drill for gas in our back yards. We’re being told  we need more energy now and we need fossil fuel to keep America humming. We need it for...Monsanto? Cargill?  To step up the manufacture of un-food ? To distribute un-food across the country,  push more farmers out of business, increase the work load for the already bloated and warped health care industry  (diet-related diseases accounting for a great proportion of the nation’s ill-health), all the while making the globe hotter?  Not from my back yard we don’t.

Pollan said the industry is finally getting some backtalk now, from organic growers and co-ops and from people who actually prefer real food.  There’s hope that the unnatural chain agribusiness has constructed can be severed before it chokes us all. Those of us living here above the Marcellus Shale can help that effort and ourselves by eating right and supporting our remaining farmers. But we can also do our part by refusing to contribute the energy that lies under our feet to the ignoble cause of agribusiness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How They Do Lie

GXYBAU4G29S5We knew it all along: Shale boom leaves industry considering US gas exports | FT Energy ...
Energy independence is the "national need" footing of the bullshit pulpit from which the industry has been preaching the virtues of gas drilling.  So much for that pledge.  The very least we should have been able to expect was that our plundered harvest would be reserved for use here at home.

The other pulpit props, the promises of community prosperity and good jobs, are proving just as unsturdy.  The landowners  and businesses that stand to benefit are few. And here's how the industry treats the people who work for it: Disposable Workers of the Oil and Gas Fields — High Country News.

'Nuf said.

Monday, February 1, 2010

We Shale Overcome, Together

The City has definitively spoken out against any natural gas drilling in its watershed which involves the contemplated hydrofracking process.  Some, but not all, of its spokesmen have also urged that no such drilling should take place in upstate regions, either. As a part-time resident of both places, I  fervently  hope they mean that.  Given the powerful forces that have been aligned to make this “done deal” a  reality, it’s essential that the City and upstate opponents maintain a common front until they both get what they want and need.

The watershed.  Almost all the talk about watershed protection has centered on buffer zones, and how big they need to be.  I believe buffer zones will not be enough;  they can’t guarantee the degree of safety the City has said it requires.  Out west, it has been shown that surface waters have  transported contaminants long distances from wellsites, distances much greater than any of the protective boundaries for the watershed (no more than five miles) that have been discussed.  All water is connected, it has been said, and our state has more of it than perhaps any other.  Flooding is common within the Marcellus region, and low-lying bodies such as reservoirs are instant targets of stormwater, plus anything it has swept along with it.  That can include chemical spills and overflows from waste pits on distant hills.

Underground contamination is no less a threat.  Not even water experts can predict with accuracy the movements of  the voluminous, chemical-laden waste water (some 70 percent of used fracking fluids) that operators do not pump back to the surface.  Its migration through faults and seams,  natural or induced, has  no timetable.  Migration could occur even long after all drilling operations cease.

In the event the watershed region  proves to be treasure trove of gas, then the margins of any protective zone for the City’s water supply will predictably become jammed with as many wellpads as the law allows.  The DEC’s steadfast refusal to analyze environmental impacts cumulatively will virtually assure that. The potential for wastewater contamination is such that, for the level of protection it requires, the City must demand a region-wide ban on the chemical hydrofracking process. Now, owing to recent revelations of  high radioactivity in the Marcellus Shale, see the 2008 OGAP report, it may need to demand more than that.  The health risks posed by gas drilling in radioactive rock may not be abated solely through the elimination of hydrofracking .  The OGAP report states that gas production operations can concentrate naturally-occurring radioactive materials (“NORM”) through changes in temperature and pressure, thereby releasing toxicity that would otherwise be dormant. A ProPublica article has reported that radioactivity is particularly high in the New York Marcellus. If the watershed region is high in NORM, then the City’s concerns may need to go beyond hydrofracking. 

Both advocates for the watershed and upstate activists need to insist on much better protection for the City’s water than a buffer zone offers.  There should be a ban on drilling throughout the region at least until the known toxic threats can be controlled and the DEC can demonstrate that it is able, and also willing, to control them.  If the City should  go off satisfied with anything less, we will all be sorry, and that will be especially true for the residents of the largely rural Marcellus area.   For them to be able to preserve, not their water alone, but their quality of life, their livelihoods,  and the health of whole upstate communities, they will need the continuing power of the City’s voice of support.

Upstate communities.  I choose to believe that City officials have spoken out for protection for upstate aquifers  not purely out of self-interest, but out of  an appreciation of the terrible burden that the state is placing on unsophisticated communities in the name of energy development.  Water contamination is only one of many threats.  Cash-strapped local governments and their citizens are totally unprepared for large-scale air and soil pollution, for constant noise, for (night) light pollution, for the fragmentation and flattening of their landscape, or for the prodigious impacts on their roads and weak infrastructure that are in the offing.  The survival of rural towns will mean adapting to boom-bust economics, getting by on short-term money gluts and population spikes while watching their long-term assets – revenues derived from property taxes, agriculture, fishing, sporting, and tourism - decline. Some of these traditional assets may disappear entirely. 

 The economic picture for the Marcellus region and most of the people in it is, in short, looking uglier by the day, eroding any credibility in the gas industry’s unsecured  promises of prosperity.  The new wealth of landowners and retailers will not brighten the picture, because the rich won’t linger in a damaged place;  they will take their money and run. For the rest,  resistance to gas drilling as championed by the State is growing, and can no longer be dismissed as NIMBY sentiment.  It is something that we, as communities both large and small, simply cannot afford. 

City and country folk, keep up the fight!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog Fight: Marcellus Shale Jobs

I just read a Jan 19 piece in the Capital Business Blog, a product of the Business Council of New York State, Inc, urging the State to press forward in the development of the Marcellus Shale. According to her bio on the website, the writer, Jennifer Levine, “has been able to contribute fact-based, accurate information to the public debate on gas drilling.” I, for one, would appreciate it if she would do that and not what she has done in this piece, which is dishonest. Business interests should come up with better arguments, anyway, than “You haven’t proved it’s not safe!” and “Jobs! Jobs!” in support of their cause. The piece is set forth below this post.

While a million wells have been “hydrofracked” around the country, the article asserts, “there has never been any evidence linking the process with well contamination.” Repeating statements like this, in the face of mounting evidence linking the two, won’t help them to become true. This is one of the mantras the DEC itself was repeating until Toxics Targeting got hold of its records which showed that water wells had been contaminated by gas drilling activity even in New York’s relatively innocent past . When the EPA identified 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) in Pavilion, Wyoming drinking water recently, it noted that there was no other industry or activity besides gas drilling in the area to blame it on, See Scientific American article.  These are reasons to be cautious. Neither the Business Council nor any other proponent is entitled, as a condition of further delay in the Marcellus play, to conclusive scientific proof of a connecting link that has been supported by so many improbable coincidences, among them the contamination of water wells near a Cabot gas play in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Cool it, Business Council.

The article’s second leg of support is a misreading of a study report by its cited source, the Empire Center for New York State Policy, on an outward migration of State residents. The argument is that moving forward with gas drilling will help stop the exodus of tax-paying New Yorkers and keep jobs here. Yes, the report does say that 1.5 million people left the State in the period 2002 to 2008. It does not say, however, as urged in the article, that they left looking for better economic opportunities. The 1.5 million figure includes retirees who, safe to say, would not be prospects for gas-related employment if they had stayed. The breakdowns indicate that the exodus diminished somewhat over the period and otherwise don’t help Ms. Levine’s thesis. Some 60% of the destinations of those who left were the southern states, more commonly associated with warm weather than with industrial growth and job opportunity. An overwhelming majority of the 1.5 M people who left, left the New York City area, not one of the State’s more critical centers of unemployment. I would certainly question whether these urbanites and suburbanites, if they had been looking for work, would have been deterred from moving out of state by the prospect of relocating in mostly-rural upstate where the gas-related jobs will be.

So, this piece is pure invention, as phony and misleading, though not as clever, as the right wing’s invention of “death panels” to scuttle the Democrats’ health care programs. Both are about putting business freedoms to pursue the dollar above people’s health and safety.

The battle cry of “Jobs! Jobs!” has me baffled anyway. As I’ve said before, I want to hear more about the local job opportunities that are alleged to come with gas drilling. “Thousands of new jobs!”, I keep hearing. What kinds of industry jobs will go to locals rather than people who come with the operators? How many jobs will outlast the initial development phase of drilling operations? How many will consist of cleaning up the environmental messes, at governmental expense, after the drillers have gone? Maybe the Business Council can shed light on that.


Marcellus Shale: Still too early to start drilling? Really?
Written by Written by Jennifer K. Levine on January 19, 2010 – 6:36 am
The Times Union editorial 1/10/10 suggests that it is still too early to start drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and wants the DEC to further study the effects of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Nevermind that over one million wells have been horizontally drilled and hydraulically fracked around the country and there has never been any evidence linking the process to well contamination.
The editorial further states that the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale isn’t going anywhere so what’s the rush? The natural gas may not be going anywhere but New Yorkers definitely are. According to the Empire Center for NYS Policy, between 2000 and 2008, 1.5 million New Yorkers left the state in search of better economic opportunities; the largest exodus of any state in the US. And drilling companies, especially the large ones with holdings around the world, will not wait forever for New York to finally allow permitting and drilling to begin when they can easily shift their resources to other shale plays in the US and around the world in China or India. In that case, New Yorkers will not only lose thousands of jobs but will also pay more to import natural gas from other states and countries where environmental regulations are far less strict than those proposed by the DEC.
How many thousands more New Yorkers will have to relocate in search of jobs while we continue to wait, study and review regulations that are already the strictest in the nation? We have an enormous opportunity to safely develop the vast home grown natural resource that lies under our feet but while the gas may remain there, the opportunity for New York to revitalize our nearly bankrupt economy will not.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Here we are, after the end of the comment period on the DEC’s “Final” sGEIS on natural gas drilling, waiting for the last governmental shoe to fall. Is there a dialog going on within the walls of the executive branch on whether to blandly update the document, or to hold off drilling or even scrap and replace it as the EPA, New York City, key New York pols, and the union representing 2000 DEC professionals, scientists and technicians have variously urged? Might we next hear that it has been finalized and that a first permit has been issued to drillers in the town of Hancock? That is to worry.

A piece in this morning’s Albany Times Union has endorsed the delay fray and raised another valid point: that the size of the Marcellus play as apparently contemplated by State officials may be just too big. For the first time, I am seeing some stunning figures on state tax and other income that have been dancing in their eyes. Thirty-two million in tax revenue and a whopping $1.4 billion overall, per year! Would they be so keen if trusted voices were to advise them to cut those numbers down substantially? And, once the floodgates are open and the quantum effects of drilling, fracturing, and waste disposal become palpable, will the DEC even be able to shift gears and begin denying permits based on statewide, or even county-wide, density? After all, new players won’t want to acknowledge and be bound by the errors of their competitors. They will probably sue.

That brings up a point I raised last spring in one of my unanswered letters to the DEC, and which I have not seen voiced elsewhere. Whenever the gas play begins, assuming it will, the DEC, if not the local governments which have been elbowed aside, should be in charge of it, and not the gas industry. I don’t get why government must be reactive, letting industry decide when, where and how it will drill, and limiting its own powers to approving, tweaking, or disapproving the plans as proposed. Industry cares about the geology; it doesn’t give a f... about water supplies, local communities or natural beauty. Allegedly, the State does care about these things. Why can’t New York turn the tables around and say, “You’ve got these seven leased sites. We’ll let you begin on Site 5, because it is not proximate to human habitation and because the probability of wastes entering water systems from here is minimal” (Plus other factors seen as environmentally significant.)? In my view, this is the way we should go, if and when we do go. The start should be slow and measured. It will allow the DEC’s small staff to acquaint itself with the realities of the horizontal fracking process before it gets out of hand.

Comments welcome.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

And How About the Delaware, NY Times?

Below is an editorial from yesterday's New York Times. Below that is my letter in response.

Hands Off the Watershed

Published: January 1, 2010

New York City has now officially registered its ringing opposition to a proposal by state regulators to allow natural gas drilling in the watershed that supplies drinking water to more than eight million city residents. Albany should amend its proposal and put the area permanently off limits to drilling.

The watershed covers roughly a million acres of farms, forests, lakes and streams northwest of the city. Its subsurface rock formations contain rich deposits of natural gas and are part of a much larger geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which runs northward from West Virginia into New York’s southern tier.

The state wants to exploit this resource because it could add to the region’s energy supplies and give a much-needed lift to the upstate economy. But the watershed contains just one-tenth of the state’s known gas deposits. That means New York would not be giving up all that much if it does the right thing and bans drilling there.

Last fall, Albany issued a thick set of rules intended to regulate drilling. Environmentalists and city officials immediately cautioned that while carefully regulated drilling could proceed in other parts of the state with minimal environmental damage, it would be foolish to risk the city’s water supply.

A new report commissioned by the city, and written by scientists and engineers who specialize in gas drilling, confirms those fears. It says that the drilling process — which is done by injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into the rock formations — “creates a substantial risk of chemical contamination and infrastructure damage.” That, in turn, could force the city to build a $10 billion filtration plant and negate the sizable investment it has already made to keep the watershed clean. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to be commended for commissioning the report and demanding a quick turnaround.

The good news is that the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, believed to be the largest leaseholder in the watershed, has already announced that it will not drill there. But its decision is voluntary and not binding on other companies. The only sure way to guarantee the protection of the watershed, and New York City’s supply of drinking water, is to quarantine the area.


To the Editor:

Your editorial ( HANDS OFF OUR WATERSHED Jan. 2) states a strong position on protecting New York City's water supply from possible contamination by natural gas drilling and hydrofracture. But there is another water resource in New York State that deserves special protection. The Delaware River supplies water to local communities before it becomes a major source of drinking water for Philadelphia and other points south. Numerous leases have been signed by landholders on both banks of a river that has been designated Wild and Scenic by the federal government. The runoff from these potential drilling sites would not only pollute the Delaware's drinking water, it would ruin one of the State's most beautiful recreational venues. Fishing, boating and swimming would become dangerous activities and the visually stunning vistas of this peaceful waterway would be compromised by chemical effluent. Grace van Hulsteyn ,Cochection, NY.