Marcellus Shale

Appealing a Natural Gas Ban: Help Her, Help Us!

Last weekend numerous supporters of natural gas development in upstate New York gathered at the Carriage House in Oneonta, New York, Otsego County.  This group came together for the specific, and extremely important, purpose of raising funds to support Jennifer Huntington’s appeal of the county judge’s decision upholding the Town of Middlefield’s natural gas ban.  The enthusiasm among the crowd and the desire of all who attended to help get this case into an appeals court where it will be decided on its merits, were both palpable.

When the Town of Middlefield, New York enacted a ban on natural gas development, many landowners were irreparably harmed.  Huntington, a local dairy farmer, wouldn’t stand for it and sued.  Property rights are not something a town board can arbitrarily take away from its constituents.  Zoning isn’t properly done by applause, as Attorney Daniel Leary has noted on these pages.  Huntingdon has taken a stand to defend her mineral rights from an assault by those would deny them simply because they think they can, regardless of constitutional rights.

While both those towns that enacted bans, Dryden and Middlefield, saw their actions upheld in the lower courts, the decisions were made by locally elected judges with little experience in addressing pre-emption law.  Moreover, the decisions certainly do not establish precedence on whether or not local bans are legal as a general principal.  Therefore, the argument begins anew from a legal perspective.  Just last week both parties suing the towns announced they have filed their appeals.  The next step, unfortunately, will be expensive. Huntington will need financial help and moral support throughout the next steps of her appeal.  That’s what the event in Oneonta was all about.

Several individuals spoke to remind everyone of the great benefits available to New York from natural gas development if  it is allowed to commence and is not thwarted by local officials bent on denying property rights for the sake of appeasing a noisy anti-gas constituency.

The first to present was Andrew Hunter.  Hunter is an economist, engineer and lecturer from Cornell University. He explained the cost of natural gas and other economic aspects of natural gas development.

Mike Zagata, former Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, expressed his support for natural gas development as well.  Zagata warned the audience about the potential negative impacts of the Slottje’s attempt to sell communities on their special interest legislation. “He who pays the fiddler calls the tune,” he observed.

Zagata concluded his presentation by introducing the next speaker, Gregory Sovas. Sovas worked for Zagata while the latter was DEC Commissioner. Watch this powerpoint presentation Sovas put together explaining natural gas, followed by a question and answer portion.

Next to make a presentation was Attorney Ed Zaengle.  Zaengle discussed why he feels individual towns do not have the authority to ban natural gas development. His presentation was very similar to the presentation he is giving towns around New York, helping them see the danger of enacting bans or moratoriums. He discussed all the reasons he feels towns are putting themselves and their taxpayers in harms way by doing this. Watch his detailed presentation below and note how he discusses the potential for intergovernmental conflicts (towns suing towns).

Attorney Scott Kurkoski thanked Huntington for all she has done to support landowner’s rights. He presented a donation from the Joint Landowners Coalition to Huntington showing support and noted the appeal now has the Farm Bureau’s support as well. Kurkoski also updated everyone on where the case is.

Hydrologist Alan Springett discussed in detail the studies done by the Environmental Protection Agency. He also discussed climate change and other factors in the natural gas debate. Springett’s complete presentation can be seen below, as it is very informative.

Kim More presented the Ad Valorem Tax powerpoint presentation created by the Joint Landowners Coalition. She explains to everyone, in simple terms, how the tax works and its benefits. This presentation was taught to several people who are now being proactive and taking it to different towns. The boards are being shown the tangible positive impacts that taxation of natural gas can have on a small town. This is what towns in upstate New York so desperately need. Review the presentation for yourself, it’s extremely helpful!

The most moving presentation of the day came from a representative of the Elk Lake School District in Pennsylvania, who was willing to come to Oneonta and discuss the impacts he has seen on his school system and town. He had nothing but wonderful things to say about Cabot Oil and Gas who currently has one horizontal well and one vertical well on the school’s property. He discusses how the school benefits from the royalties and how the extra money helps them give back to the community.  He also discussed his personal experience with Chesapeake Energy.

Attorney Karen Moreau (American Petroleum Institute) also spoke. She spoke movingly about how she met Huntington and her relationship with landowners since then. She was extremely encouraging to the audience as she expressed the overall need for a fundraiser. She expressed her admiration for how Huntington has gone out of her way to help preserve every single person’s property rights.

Bryant LaTourette came to show support to Huntington from his website, The “greedy gang,” as LaTourette put it, pulled together money to support the fundraiser. Watch the moving moment below!

Finally, last to present was, well, me! I discussed the huge benefits natural gas can have on a community.  I told my personal story and discussed how the natural gas industry has changed my life. I pray the people of upstate New York can be as lucky as I have been and can experience what I get to see every day – hard working landowners who are finally able to enjoy economic opportunity and security. I pray our local farms are saved and my friends can also stay in the area instead of having to leave the state looking for work elsewhere, raising their families hundreds of miles away from where they grew up.

In the end, we all were gathered in Oneonta for one purpose, raising money for Huntington after all she has done for our property rights. Please help her, help us!

If you’d like to help send any donations to:

Middlefield Fund for Landowner Rights

NBT Bank

2 Commons Drive

Cooperstown, NY  13326

Thank you!

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