Bethel Landowners to Town: Don’t You Dare!
The Town of Bethel, New York, in Sullivan County, held a meeting Saturday, August 27, 2011 to address several different issues occurring in the area, including the possibility of natural gas development coming to Bethel. Approximately 200 people flooded into the once busy elementary school gymnasium to speak on the topic of natural gas development. Many of the people in attendance at the meeting were part time Bethel residents there for the summer. The sign up sheet soon filled up with landowners (and others) excited to give their opinions and let the Town know enacting a natural gas exploration ban is dangerous business legally.
Entering this meeting, I was looking forward to hearing a variety of different people discuss their personal views and opinions on natural gas. Each person was given 2.5 minutes to address the board. It seemed that some people who didn’t support gas were able to go on for over 4 minutes while many who supported gas exploration were given a warning when they reached their 2 minute mark. During and after supporters of natural gas spoke, I was appalled by the crowd’s reaction! People interrupted the speakers while they were trying to make their points, “boos” were heard from every direction, and the time allotted to speakers were kept to 2.5 minutes almost exactly, compared to the 4 minutes given to some people that didn’t support natural gas.
The people speaking out against gas production all hit on a couple specific points. The main thing they argued was that hydraulic fracturing would “contaminate” White Lake. Secondly, they argued that jobs are brought in by the company and not given to the local people. Finally, they argued that gas companies would not disclose the fracturing fluids used in the process. All three of these issues were blown away by supporters of natural gas. I get so tired of the disclosure argument. It’s called Fracfocus.org and you should check it out if you haven’t already.
Noel VanSwol spoke wonderfully, stating his support for natural gas development. He discussed how those on either side of the fence should come to a compromise. Noel argues that there are ways to protect areas that are developed for production and counters the argument made by others that Bethel Woods and White Lake would no longer be an attractive place for people to visit. Among all the things he brought up in his statement, he also talks about the lawsuits the town could face. Let’s not forget what happened in Afton, NY, Chenango County. The board approved a highway preservation law, Local Law 3, which was discriminatory. This law was repealed, costing Afton a total of approximately $4,000 of their $7,500 annual legal budget, as Earl Colley reported.
A local full time resident, Mary Ellen Seilen, stated her view on natural gas shortly after Noel spoke. She countered the arguments made by those worried about contamination of White Lake by saying she sees the benefits from natural gas development. She is more worried about the quickly spreading invasive weed, Milfoil, currently contaminating White Lake itself. She noted the Town is currently paying for an investigation on this matter.
Jack Danchak, a longtime Bethel resident countered the idea that natural gas development doesn’t provide local jobs. Jack used his close friend, Jonathan Hardy, as an example. Jonathan couldn’t find a job in the area which led him to look elsewhere. He applied to Chesapeake Energy and landed a job as a truck driver for the company! He now works full time in Pennsylvania – wonderful for Jonathan but another job New York couldn’t provide. Anyone is welcome to visit their website and submit a resume or apply for a job.
Another great point brought up by Jack was simply that the gas companies are essential practicing “sandblasting” – a nice layman’s perspective on fracturing, which uses a mixture of water and sand.
Al Larson touched on the numerous jobs that will be created for New York if natural gas production is permitted. Al stated 71% of jobs created through the natural gas industries are taken by local residents! He reminded everyone of the jobs lost from local towns not allowing industries, such as wind power. In conclusion, he stated that he hadn’t listened to either side, but that he had read independent studies and drawn his own conclusion- that natural gas exploration can be done safely with regulation, generating ample jobs in the process.
Sondra Bauernfeind was among the last to speak but had a story I won’t soon forget! Sandra’s husband bought land in Bethel in 1957. When the deed to their land was signed, there were no restrictions on how they could or could not use their land/mineral rights. Sondra tells a compelling story on why she believes its unconstitutional to block development of citizens mineral rights and the struggles residents of Bethel face everyday due to their slow economy.
As the meeting ended, it became crystal clear what this was all about – a Town trying to please its seasonal residents and new voters without considering the impact on its long-time landowners or the facts. Fortunately, those landowners came out to be heard and they were. Now, will the Town listen?