Appalachian Basin

Another Natural Gas Ploy by the Plymouth Plantation

Meetings in Plymouth, New York have turned into a “let’s see who drove here today” phenomenon as natural gas opponents ask Pennsylvania residents to drive over an hour to talk for five minutes to a board who has already decided to wait on the DEC’s decision on natural gas development before making its own.

I recently attended another meeting in Plymouth, New York, Chenango County, to follow the natural gas conversation.  I’ve been there on a few different occasions, not because they are considering a moratorium, but simply because there are a handful of people who constantly attend the meetings pestering the board on the topic of natural gas.  The board seems to be waiting for the Department of Environmental Conservation to make some moves before they do, which is the smart thing to do to avoid the lawsuits we’ve seen in other towns.

What was particularly interesting at this meeting was the fact that some fairly well known folks had been enticed to drive more than an hour from Pennsylvania to speak for five minutes without knowing how much time they’d have.  It was a case of mutual manipulation.

Each meeting one or two natural gas opponents from Plymouth manage to convince one or two outspoken opponents from Pennsylvania to make the long journey.  We noted last time how inconsiderate this is.  The guests they invite must drive approximately an hour and a half each way to come to the meeting. While this may not sound terrible, the board has made it clear they’ll only allow public comment for 30 minutes in total and each speaker only gets five minutes to speak.  Once the 30 minutes is up, the meeting is no longer open for public comment.  Therefore, none of the “presentations,” such as they are, constitute much more than brief comments although they’re often hyped as major talks.

This Month’s Speakers Are No Exception

This month, the lucky people duped into making the drive for a combined 10 minutes of time were the Mannings from Franklin Forks, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. We’ve discussed the situation with their property several times, but will give a recap for those not familiar.

drivingThe family recently entered into a rent to own agreement for a property located on a small parcel of land right off Route 29 near Salt Springs State Park, although they’ve lived there for a few years now. They claim their well has been contaminated with methane from nearby natural gas development, suggesting this caused the well to erupt last year, but completely overlook the submersion of their well in both the 2006 and 2011 floods that hit the area.

Initial isotopic tests show the methane in their well actually matches the signature of that found in Salt Springs State Park where documentation of water being lit on fire goes back to the late 1700’s. It goes without saying this was long before Marcellus Shale became a household name or even before the Drake Well was even developed. Further, WPX was able to recreate the eruption of the well (as can be seen in the following video), demonstrating it was actually caused by a mechanical failure. Everyone is still awaiting test results from the DEP to be released, but that hasn’t prevented the Mannings from making accusations far and wide with the help of activists like Vera Scroggins and Craig Stevens.

It’s unfortunate really. Here you have a family in the process of buying a home with a history of methane issues as is evident from the several water wells that have been drilled on the property. They are located outside the area of required water testing, which in Pennsylvania is now 2,500 feet, so there are no pre-drill water tests to offer as comparison. For context, the Mannings house isroughly a mile away from the nearest wells.

The family was at first cooperative in working with WPX, but upon the heels of Dimock’s safe water declaration, opportunists like Scroggins advised them to stop allowing the company on the property or to do further testing.  This led the family to decline having their well repaired and instead they entered into a lawsuit. Now a problem that could have been fixed months ago has dragged on and the anti-movement in New York, fueled by individuals like Scroggins, has a new face to replace Dimock until testing shows otherwise. And, like the litigants in Dimock, if DEP testing confirms the methane in their water well was naturally occurring, they’ll be dropped just as quickly by the professional natural gas opposition.

Luckily, they live in a township where people are incredibly neighborly and life will hopefully go on in a friendly manner after the busloads of people have stopped coming to the small, rural community. But I digress…

Back to the Meeting

The meeting opened up to the public quickly.  Many people in support of natural gas development spoke and a couple spoke against it.

When Tammy Manning spoke, she read from a letter issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) explaining there were high levels of methane in their water.  She even quoted the part where the DEP noted they really won’t see any serious problems from high methane levels but also explained that, without venting the water, the methane could disperse in the home thus causing some hazard.  She admitted the natural gas company has provided them a system to vent the home, which prevents this from occurring.

Whatever credibility Manning had created was completely forfeited when she then tried to tell the audience Gasland is accurate.  We have debunked Gasland time and time again and now FrackNation has taken that debunking even further.  She also attacked the movie Truthland, noting the woman featured, Shelly, lives very close by.  She then offered what seemed to be a scripted accusation that Truthland had been produced to scam people. Well, we’ve gotten to know Shelly and her family pretty well and as a retired Christian school teacher we think she’d take exception to that statement.

Mr. Manning spoke next.  He claimed their water turned black. Like so many others claiming water contamination from natural gas development it seems stories change all the time.  According to Mrs. Manning, and original complaints, there were only high levels of certain things, including chloride, but their well turning black was never mentioned.  He then told people he couldn’t use their stove or furnace, despite his wife acknowledging the well is now vented, thereby preventing methane from entering the house.  He also claimed his family had been sick, but didn’t offer evidence of this either.

All in all, the whole Manning presentation, husband and wife combined, lacked authenticity, almost as if they had been given a storyline to follow.  They, in fact, did seem like victims. Not from natural gas development but due to special interest groups determined to exploit them for the sake of making ideological arguments or, as in Yoko Ono’s case, gaining attention for themselves.

Peter Hudiburg, a local anti-natural gas activist in New York invited the Mannings.  The last time he invited a person from Pennsylvania to come up and talk to the board they him they would have to abide by the five minute limit. Despite this previous warning, Hudiburg said he was “shocked” by the rule.  Of course, this isn’t the first time he was “shocked.” He had a couple drive an hour and a half one way to speak for five minutes at the last meeting as well.  He was upset then.  The rules are the rules, the board has always given each person five minutes to speak regardless of where they came from.  He again tried, to no avail, to pressure the board to bend the rules for him.

Following the board reprimanded him for constantly trying to gain exception to the five minute rule, the board also reprimanded him for placing letters in the paper implying the town is against natural gas when they have not made such a determination.  He tried saying he signed it personally as “Plymouth Friends of Clean Water” but no minds were changed.  The board clearly knew who it was dealing with, even if the Mannings did not.

This illustrates a fundamental weakness with much of the natural gas opposition; they are convinced they’re superior and others should bend the rules for them and give them special treatment.  They feel the meetings need to be run their way and try to demonize others when they don’t get their way.
When the meeting came to a close, there was nothing gained and nothing lost, leading the rest of us to wonder what it was all about.  Maybe next month Peter Hudiburg will stop begging people to come up (he is running out of families against natural gas anyway) and wasting their night for five minutes to speak.  Don’t count on it, though, because, if truth be known, we do know what it’s all about for them – themselves.
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