Appalachian Basin

Road to Damascus Paved with Bad Intentions

Damascus, Pennsylvania, is home to me.  I grew up there on a farm my great-grandfather established in the late 1800s and his grandfather is buried in the Hillside Cemetery there.  I graduated from the same Damascus High School my parents did and had some of the same teachers.  My mother, my brothers, my son and grandson all call it home, too.  I own land there that I leased for energy development long before I ever heard of Energy In Depth.  I’m related to most of the folks who live in Tyler Hill and my mother taught school in Damascus Twp. most of her life.  I know what it means to be from Damascus.  Lately, however, I notice a lot of other people who have lived there but a few years, or who only have second-homes there, claim it as their own.  And as is so typical in gentrifying communities, the newcomers claim to speak for it: not just their part of it, but all of it.

Some of these folks, whose numbers have been proven by elections to be a distinct minority, have organized as the “Damascus Citizens for Sustainability” (“Damascus Citizens”) to oppose natural gas development.  This is surely their right, but when they attempt to co-opt the good name of my home to engage in advocacy on matters which have nothing to do with Damascus, someone has to call them on it. 

Who are the Damascus Citizens?  Well, the entity that goes by the name is a non-profit corporation registered by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) charity.  The official address on its tax return? 561 Broadway, New York City.  That’s part of the trendy SoHo neighborhood  (10012 zip code) — an “ultra-chic, ultra-luxe, and ultra-expensive” area 95 miles or so from Damascus – but worlds apart in other respects.  The Census tract for the address the Damascus Citizens uses to report to the IRS had a median household income of $93,959 in 2010, compared to $41,008 for Damascus and a per capita income of $81,711 versus for $22,247 for Damascus.  It had a median home value of $1,000,001, compared to $167,418 for Damascus.  Oh, and by the way, 32.8% of the households in that Census category heat their homes with natural gas, something not available to Damascus residents.

But, this is just the beginning, because 561 Broadway, the Singer Building, is a very tony location chosen by various celebrities who routinely dish out $4-6 million for what would be a standard size home in Damascus.  It’s also the location of the Citizens for Water Foundation and I♡H2O, two other anti-gas groups.  Check it out here.

561 Broadway – Official Address of “Damascus Citizens”

Damascus Citizens most recent published 990 return, for 2010, indicates it took in $197,450 that year.  The NWPOA, by contrast, charges $25 per year dues, and they’d have to have nearly 8,000 members to match that kind of stash.  It’s hard to believe that comes out of Damascus residents – and it doesn’t, of course.  The group is financed by special-interest organizations such as the Colcom Foundation, which gave it $50,000 in fiscal year 2011.

There are several things interesting about the Colcom Foundation, beginning with its size – over $388 million of net assets according to its latest 990 return.  It is described as follows in its financial statement:

Colcom Foundation (the Foundation) was incorporated in 1996 as a nonprofit private foundation to support awareness of major causes and consequences of human population growth on the environment and quality of life in the United States.

The Colcom Foundation is, another words, obsessed with population growth at a time when the greatest threat to our quality of life in places such as Europe, Japan, Russia and rural America is the lack of it.  Ask any school director if you don’t believe it – school enrollments are plummeting.  So, the Damascus Citizens group is the tool of a group whose real goal is to simply stop all growth.  Opposition to natural gas development is merely the current face of that movement.  Who knew?  It even funds Negative Population Growth, Inc.

There’s more, however.  The Colcom Foundation, headquartered 271 miles from Damascus and founded by Cornelia Scaife May, also funds many of the usual suspects among natural gas opponents including American Rivers, the Clean Air Council, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Earthworks and PennEnvironment.  It’s all in the 990 return.  So, also, are the investments it makes to earn the money spent attacking growth and natural gas.  Among those extremely smart investments are holdings of securities in Cenovus Energy, Diamond Offshore Drilling, Encana Corp., Gazprom OAO (ADR),  Noble Corporation, Petroloeo Brasileiro SA Petrobras, Precision Drilling Corporation, Schlumberger Ltd, Talisman Energy, Weatherford and pretty much every other major oil and gas industry.  Colcom is about as hypocritical as it gets, earning its way off oil and gas to pay the $300,000+ salary of its President while offering the world an attitude of righteous indignation toward that same industry.  It is, essentially, a set of extremely wealthy people who would deny others the same opportunities that gave them their wealth.  Damascus Citizens is its stepchild.

Damascus Citizens also takes money ($15,000 this year) from the Environmental Endowment for New Jersey, Inc., which is headquartered in Trenton, some 103 miles from Damascus.  It spends its money supporting “local, regional or statewide environmental projects that will have direct benefit in or near the tidally-related New York/New Jersey Harbor Complex, including Hackensack, Raritan and Passaic watersheds, or in the Delaware River Basin or in the Schuylkill Valley.”  Not much about Damascus in there, is there?

The Endowment describes Damascus Citizens as a “zero tolerance for drilling DRB” entity.  One wonders if it realizes how much of that money is used well outside the Delaware River Basin or any of the areas it claims as recipients of its largesse.  Damascus Citizens seems to spend a lot more time in the Susquehanna River Basin these days, but more on that in a moment.  It’s more than obvious the focus of the Environmental Endowment for New Jersey, Inc. is anywhere but Damascus.  Its 990 return also indicates it must be taking investment lessons from Colcom.  It, too, wisely invested in Baker Hughes, BP, Devon Energy, Noble Energy, PennWest Energy, Royal Dutch Shell, Schlumberger, Tullow Oil and the Williams Companies, demonstrating only a fool would ignore the good the oil and gas industry is doing and even those committed to attacking it are, by economic reality, forced to take advantage of it.

Damascus Citizens appears to get funding from other sources as well, but the reader will get the idea.  It is a Damascus organization in name only, a DINO, which is appropriate given its representation, largely, of the views of a dinosaur 1960’s generation.  I know, I’m part of it, too, but perhaps that’s why it’s obvious to me.  Regardless, what the group spends its money on is far more important then where it gets it.  This New York City based advocacy group isn’t about Damascus or the Delaware River basin anymore, if it ever was.  It is focused far more on the Susquehanna River basin, the latest example of this being a bizarre attempt by Damascus Citizens to insert itself into, and keep alive, an already largely resolved methane issue in Leroy Township, Bradford County.  That’s about 85 miles from Damascus.

The issue revolves around small volumes of methane emissions that were recorded earlier this year in connection with a Chesapeake well.  The background is laid out nicely in a Pennsylvania DEP letter to the Clean Air Council (CAC). The Clean Air Council had tried to get in on the act with a study of sorts conducted in June — weeks after DEP had already announced there was an issue and the agency was investigating and taking appropriate action.  That study was conducted by an outfit known as Gas Safety, Inc. which proudly solicits business on the basis of “giving you piece of mind that methane from hydrofracking has or has not contaminated your environment.” Obviously no bias there! Gas Safety, Inc. produced a report for the CAC that was shared with DEP and to which Secretary Krancer responded.  Here are some excerpts from Krancer’s letter:

The situation is, and at all times was, under control by DEP. Indeed, at this point in time the situation is for the most part over.

On May 19, 2012, DEP was notified of a methane gas migration event in Leroy Township.  An immediate response to address potential safety concerns and to delineate the areal extent of the incident was jointly undertaken by DEP and Chesapeake Energy staff.  At all times, DEP’s activities in this regard were very transparent to the public. Indeed, on May 21, 2012, two weeks prior to the Clean Air Council’s (CAC) investigation, DEP issued a press statement describing these activities.  I have enclosed a copy of that statement to the press herein.

Additionally, an evaluation of Chesapeake’s nearby Morse well pad was undertaken, revealing the presence of a failed packer that was installed to protect previously installed up-hole perforations, which were squeezed with cement.  Those remedial activities occurred as part of  remediation effort that was being conducted under a previous Consent Order and Agreement between Chesapeake and DEP. During the operations to repair/replace the packer, the up-hole perforations were exposed to gas pressure from deeper in the well.  It appears that the pressure may have caused gas to escape through these perforations into the shallow subsurface geologic section.  Operations have been undertaken to “re-squeeze” the up-hole perforations and the gas wells are being monitored to determine the effectiveness of the repairs.  At present, we continue to monitor the site and those remedial actions have proven to be successful.

Since the onset of the incident, DEP has undertaken considerable monitoring and investigative activities in the area. While investigatory activities are still ongoing, a significant improvement (i.e. substantial decrease in observed methane concentrations/expressions) has been observed in the private water supplies and surface water bodies in the area.

This wasn’t good enough for Damascus Citizens.  It proceeded to hire Gas Safety, Inc. to do a second study that suggested “methane may be entering the local fault/fracture system at a considerable depth and traveling laterally potentially thousands of meters before reaching the surface or residential water wells.”   This study has been released to great fanfare but there are a couple of problems, beginning with the fact it was apparently not shared with DEP as there is no comment from the agency regarding it in the AP story.  Gas Safety, Inc. also makes an astounding claim that casts doubt on everything else in both its report.  Here it is, from the second report (emphasis added):

Weather conditions for the second methane survey were mild and favorable. Variable westerly winds were negligible to light. Wind conditions are important because methane is less dense than air. Consequently when there is no wind, surface emissions of high concentrations of methane will tend to rise directly upward, restricting the extent of any ground level plume to the immediate vicinity of the methane emissions area. Light to moderate winds are optimal for detection of emissions because they cause measurable ground level concentrations to plume downwind up to several kilometers (several miles). Strong winds dilute and disperse methane rapidly making ground levels concentrations harder to detect.

Now compare this to what was said earlier by Gas Safety, Inc. in its first report (emphasis added).

This, however, is a major underestimation of the likely volume of gas being released in identified plume. Methane is a low density gas, about half the density of air. Consequently, methane will tend to rise in the air relatively rapidly and the lowest methane concentrations in the vicinity of a surface methane emission will be expected to occur at ground level. It follows, therefore, that an estimate of the likely methane emission rate in the identified plume area that includes the vertical extent of the plume would be orders of magnitude greater than the above estimate (150 cubic feet per hour) based on ground level methane only.

Gas Safety, Inc., brought in by Damascus Citizens to give another 15 minutes of life to this story (which has absolutely nothing to do with Damascus), can’t get it’s story straight.  Earlier, it said the lowest methane levels would be found at ground level.  Now, it says it’s all about the wind, claiming a lack of wind will keep the gas close to the ground (presumably creating a higher concentration there, not the lower one it claimed before).  It also says stronger winds will dilute and disperse the gas, which builds on the obvious – any dispersion, whether by wind or otherwise, will lower, not increase, concentrations the further one is away from the source.    It essentially contradicts everything said in the first analysis about the lower concentrations being at ground level.  So much for the credibility of Damascus Citizens experts.

This is par for the course with Damascus Citizens, which has intervened in several other Susquehanna River basin gas matters.  It shoots first and ask questions later, as it did with its challenge to the Marc-1 Pipeline and, recently, with its request to the New York City Council for hearings on the radon impacts connecting with piping natural gas into city homes, an action based on sloppy work by Marvin Resnikoff that we have already debunked several times here.  But, then, it is all about New York City isn’t it?  It’s certainly not about the people of Damascus or the Susquehanna River basin.  We’re all just occupiers of the land those folks who operate from the Singer Building think of as their own.  We’re not citizens of anywhere to those folks.  Indeed, as one supposed Damascus Citizen stated recently in comments on this blog, we’re just “lowlifes.”  That’s why Damascus Citizens is a phony organization.  It doesn’t represent Damascus and it doesn’t represent citizens.  It speaks only for those who would dispense with both.


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