A Canadian BANANA Bus Tour of the Marcellus Shale (Un Tour de Bus À LA BANANE canadien de Marcellus Shale)
It’s no secret the world is watching what happens in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania when it comes to natural gas development. We were reminded of this just last week when Marcellus Drilling News announced that a group from Quebec were making the trek to our region to see Marcellus Shale activity first-hand. It seemed a bit odd for a group to be making such a long journey without contacting any companies developing the Marcellus Shale. Most groups would want to contact natural gas producers to receive a tour of a natural gas rig, compressor station or hydraulic fracturing operation if they actually wanted to learn about the process of extracting natural gas. Given the odd set of circumstances, we figured we’d head out to see just what kind of experience the group was seeking and what they came to see.
First Stop: Cortland, New York?
If you were going to take a tour of “Gasland” where would your first stop be? If you’re up on natural gas related topics, you’d probably say somewhere in Bradford, Tioga, Susquehanna or Lycoming Counties. Why? These counties have seen the most natural gas activity and as a result receive significant media attention.
Knowing this, one can imagine our confusion when the Quebec group made their first stop in Cortland, New York. Here attendees were provided a presentation on “the agricultural impacts of Marcellus Shale development” by the Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County (GDACC) . Logically, this makes little sense given the fact there is no Marcellus development occurring in New York. This little fact could make it difficult for residents in Cortland to speak intelligently about “impacts” from natural gas development. Nonetheless, Rachael joined the group with an open mind, thinking maybe, just maybe, GDACC had some good information to present.
Sadly, Rachel was confronted with the truth when a man registering attendees asked for her position on natural gas development before allowing her to enter the room. Why this would matter is a bit baffling, but apparently it was important to the GDACC folks. Rachael responded that she was there to learn about the agricultural impacts of hydraulic fracturing. She was promptly told to watch the movie Gasland because it would explain everything. This fellow must have missed the memo explaining the film has been debunked numerous times and Josh Fox himself has admitted to omitting key information if it didn’t conform to his agenda. But, we digress.
Once inside the meeting, Rachael was approached by a woman who asked who she was, where she was from and how she heard about the meeting. For whatever reason, they wanted to be sure no one in favor of natural gas development entered that room.
Once admitted Rachel could finally watch the presentation which showcased acres of farmland being plowed around natural gas wells. For Rachael, who is from New York and has seen her neighbors struggle to keep their farms afloat, the images were initially promising. How could that be? Well, they illustrate how a farmer could be getting royalties and still be able to farm in close vicinity to a well site. For many farmers a natural gas well means finally having the opportunity to catch a financial break while continuing their farming unimpeded! That’s why the NY State Farm Bureau supports natural gas development and has asked Governor Cuomo (D) to speed his review of the state’s regulatory documents. But, of course, this was not the message the group wanted these visitors to take with them so none of this was mentioned.
Where others might finally see hope of saving a family farm, GDACC tried hard to create lasting images of devastation by showing photos of natural gas rigs alongside a typical Finger Lakes landscape. What they didn’t mention was that the well site only looks that way for less than one month while its being developed. Later in the process, when the well is reclaimed only a 1.5 acre footprint will remain. For most farmers 1.5 acres of land is a rounding error left off a surveying map.
GDACC also failed to mention the difficult financial times befalling the people of New York , especially farmers. Overall, this presentation was not only inaccurate, but laced with fear mongering and a complete misrepresentation of a situation that no one in that room was actually qualified to speak to.
Onward to Bradford County
The next day showed promise, though, as the group headed to Bradford County where many companies are actually developing natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Nicole caught up with the group as they headed to the Riverstone Inn for lunch and a presentation by Mike Lovegreen, the manager of the Bradford County Conservation District.
For those not familiar with Towanda, the Riverstone Inn now has a renovated restaurant and two hotels thanks to natural gas development. Greg Murelle, Manager of the Riverstone, was happy to host the group and hoped they would also see the economic impacts the County has witnessed thanks to this new industry. Greg, of course, has experienced those impacts first-hand and talked about them in this video:
During his presentation Lovegreen discussed a variety of topics including the amount of money companies have spent repairing roads and naturally occurring methane in area water supplies. He also highlighted the economic progression of Bradford County thanks to natural gas development. Once a severely economically depressed area, Bradford County now boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state and is one of two Pennsylvania counties with the highest wage growth over the past year. All of this is due to responsible development of the Marcellus Shale and you can see it here ( including the French translations in the clips below).
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As you can see from the videos, the conservation district manager has quite a different impression from the information the group received in New York. It’s amazing the difference in perception between those actually living in a natural gas area (Pennsylvania) and those not (Quebec and New York). It is also worth noting the message Mike delivered to the group didn’t seem to register based on what the travelers reported when they got home. Be sure to check out their quotes to the press below and ask yourself how they could have missed so much and, at the same time, saw so much that just wasn’t so.
Upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania to study shale gas, a delegation from the Saint Lawrence Valley is more opposed than ever to developing the resource in Quebec. Smog, animal infertility, potable water contamination, food insecurity, property value depreciation, tanker traffic – all this in return for a small compensation and a few jobs. Serge Fortier of the Saint Lawrence Valley umbrella group against shale gas is convinced of the need for a moratorium. The trip also gave PQ MNA Martine Ouellet a lot of ammunition. She says the government is wrong to have placed so much emphasis on gas projects in the recent budget. Quebec Solidaire’s future candidate in Bertheir, Louise Beaudry, says that the shale gas industry did not keep its promise in Pennsylvania.
Saint-Maurice farmer Jean Guilbert has come back devastated from his recent trip to Pennsylvania. This trip took place just a few days after Marcel Cote from Secor told the Chamber of commerce and industries in Trois Rivieres that nuclear energy and shale gas were good business opportunities for the province. Jean Guilbert deplored the effects of shale gas development: water and air pollution, impact on animal and human health, and the irresponsibility of companies. He said that the idea of shale gas being a good business opportunity is an illusion of progress because the gains for the population are minimal and very short-term and the bulk of the money earned will go into the pockets of financial holdings. Jean Guilbert says he has returned more determined than ever to sensitize people to the dangers of shale gas development.
Quebec citizens came back worried from their trip to Pennsylvania, where they had gone to study the impact of shale gas development on farming. What they heard is that farmers in Pennsylvania were suffering from devastating effects, such as a high animal mortality rate, problems with gestation, and health problems. Farmers had said they even had to negotiate the right of passage on their own lands because of the presence of gas pipelines. Farmers in Pennsylvania also warned the visitors not to sign contracts with shale gas companies back home without consulting a lawyer. They say they had been duped and they regret the contracts they signed. A third delegation from Quebec might visit Pennsylvania in June.
Following Mike Lovegreen’s presentation, the group proceeded to a tour with well-known Bradford County BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) activist Dianne Siegmund. Dianne’s last “tour” resulted in one participant proclaiming chemical genocide is occurring in the region.
“This is the worst thing that can happen,” [Toshia] Hance said. “It’s chemical genocide. These people are ultimately dying due to the radiation contamination.”
Unfortunately, Dianne’s degree in psychology and status of “holding down the fort largely by herself down there,” (see below) does not make her an expert on anything related to natural gas development and, frankly, the information she shares tends to be misleading and wholly inaccurate. She is alone in her efforts to disparage natural gas development in the county, largely because the vast majority of Bradford County residents are pleased with the development and many are even working in the industry. Following is a great example of Dianne’s tendency to wildly exaggerate and overstate in how she reportedly explains natural gas activities on her tours (from a July, 2011, e-mail circulating among anti-natural gas supporters):
First: A group of us went down to Bradford County, PA yesterday to see the devastation for ourselves. And devastation is what we did see and learn about. I will be writing up a talking-point report on this soon. For the moment, our guide was Dianne Siegmund …. She is holding down the fort largely by herself down there (for instance almost single-handedly so far documenting 92 poisoned wells in the county, including one woman whose body is radioactive from drinking her well water, fighting her way through an intimidated populace who can’t talk, because they have signed non-disclosure deals –or won’t talk because they are afraid that the energy companies will literally cut off the fresh water that is being delivered to them.) She and Mike Bastion … who also accompanied us, are virtually devoting their lives now to getting the word out and helping to prevent fracking from getting a hold here in NYS. They beg us please to organize more trips, get more people down there to see what they have to show us and hear what they have to tell us. Let’s keep them in the loop and organize as many trips as we can. Seeing is definitely believing — smelling (the truck diesel,) hearing (the deafening pipeline pumping stations,) choking (on the clouds of dust on the roads,) coughing, and wiping stinging eyes (from air pollution as bad as that of Los Angeles,) and dodging (the endless monster trucks barreling by) is also believing. – Dianne Siegmund
Many of the examples Diane used last year have since been investigated and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found the items to be naturally occurring incidents not related to natural gas development. On this trip there wasn’t any dust on the roads and the only smell Nicole came across was some pretty foul manure a farmer was spreading across his field.
Commissioner Doug McLinko, who was willing but unable to speak to the group, regrets they didn’t take the time to talk with more community leaders. He opined on that point in his remarks below:
“Bradford County has had tremendous positive impacts from this industry. Our residents are working, our roads are being fixed, and we desperately needed what this industry has provided. Have there been some issues, sure. But those are few and far between. I just hope these individuals from Quebec were given an accurate portrayal of our county and the opinions of its residents.” – Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko
It Wouldn’t be a Tour Without a Stop in Dimock
The group ended their excursion with a tour of Carter Road in Dimock where they met with the litigants there. We’re sure they weren’t told of the EPA’s recent findings that Dimock’s water is safe, nor did they take the time to talk with the majority of residents in the community represented by Dimock Proud. If they had done this, they would have received a much different story than the one they likely recieved.
Interestingly, the only welcome signs seen in Dimock were put up by Dimock Proud who hoped the international visitors would take the time to meet with them to get a more complete, and accurate, view of Dimock.
After the weekend’s events we left hoping the group had a pleasant visit even if the majority of the information they received was inaccurate. If the group wants to understand the real situation in communities developing shale resources they should come back and take a tour of a natural gas rig or other natural gas infrastructure. Or, at the very least, speak with community leaders and other residents of the real “Gasland” – the ones who are delighted to live here and have natural gas supporting their previously faltering economy. If the group does come back and meet with these folks they will find the real truth. You know, the truth New York fractivists don’t want to let out of the bag. That truth is that natural gas has been good to Pennsylvania and it will good to Quebec as well. Le gaz naturel a été bon à Pennsylvanie et il ira faire bon à Québec aussi.