Hamilton Hears The Shale Gas Horror Story, But Few Facts!
There was a public forum the other night in Hamilton, New York, Madison County featuring three anti-natural gas development speakers, Ron Bishop, Kelly Branigan, and Chip Northrup. As usual their presentations were aimed to make natural gas exploration seem like a terrible thing for an area, without factual evidence to support their horror stories. Dr. Bishop spoke on the chemistry of shale gas development. Branigan spoke very generally about natural gas development, which was a bit of a surprise since her background is in real estate and one would assume she would speak on impacts in that sector. Finally, Northrup gave his usual Powerpoint presentation. It was a repackaged version of the same horror story our NIMBY friends are so eager to advance.
Bishop Brings the Hits
Bishop presented first, starting with the basics by describing the differences between vertical and horizontal natural gas exploration. He admitted the only real difference in terms of the process is the size of the operation. If he was being completely up front with the audience, he might also have mentioned that one horizontal well pad can recover the same gas as 24 vertical wells spread out on individual pads, so surface impacts are far less in horizontal development, as can be seen in the following graphic.
He then said the problems with natural gas relate to the well casings and referred the audience to Dimock, Pennsylvania. You can hear about what occurred in Dimock in this interview Shelly Depue did with one of the impacted, Consent Order landowners, Loren Salsman in the film, Truthland.
Also, please recall the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas have all conducted water testing bearing the same results: Dimock’s water meets all drinking water standards!
Bishop then talked about chemistry, beginning with brine. He said an area doesn’t need chemicals to damage streams or rivers, noting silt itself could do that. Bishop said about ¾ of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are dangerous but, if so, that’s also true of many things. It’s all amatter of the concentrations, isn’t it? Chlorine, for example, is extremely dangerous, but we use it every day to bleach our clothes and clean our swimming pools.
There was no mention, for example, of the risks associated with brushing our teeth each day with fluoride or the dangers to the water supply from flushing cleaning solutions and medicines down the drain. There certainly wasn’t any mention of how dish soap is used to clean our plates, but he did mention how a soap-like substance is used in hydraulic fracturing. Does this mean we should protest Ajax?
Anyone wanting to put this all into perspective should do their own research on the formulas used in the hydraulic fracturing process. We recommend visiting FracFocus.org where it’s easy to see this information on a well by well basis. There are also additional resources provided by the Groundwater Protection Council. Still another great source is the Halliburton hydraulic fracturing page, where all sorts of details can be found regarding formulas and the materials used.
Bishop then moved on to discuss truck traffic. He first said there would be a thousand trucks bringing in water. However, he then clarified, saying the companies are now piping in water to well sites to reduce the truck traffic. Are we entering a new age where our anti-natural gas friends actually engage in a factual discussion and present the full picture?
Kelly Branigan was the next to speak. She is from Middlefield, New York and began by discussing the lawsuit. She said a gas company had sued Middlefield and lost. That is incorrect. Jennifer Huntington, a landowner, brought the suit against Middlefield and the final outcome is still pending, as the case is on appeal.
She then told the audience her husband had worked in Towanda, Pennsylvania for two and a half years, living there, apart from her, while he worked. She said it was terrible, but failed to mention he wouldn’t have had to move there if the same job opportunity existed in New York. The fact there aren’t any good paying jobs, is what forced them to live apart.
Branigan continued her rant by discussing informed consent. She said doctors meeting with patients must tell the patient everything – all of the risks and benefits with any procedure they are considering. She said the shale gas industry should have to do the same. Would she argue car companies need to list the hundreds of thousands of things that can go wrong while driving a car? Natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing have been done safely for decades and the extraction of natural gas is one of the most heavily regulated industrial operations in existence, meanwhile as I mentioned disclosure is happening everyday at www.fracfocus.org.
The next matter she brought up was how everyone has a right to protect their family and community. Isn’t that obvious? Clearly, no one wants their families or communities hurt. But more importantly, perhaps she is missing the suffering happening everyday in New York. Doesn’t she see communities are hurting in upstate New York without the economy natural gas could create? Didn’t she see her family separated when her husband had to drive all the way to Towanda to find a decent job? Doesn’t she see the farms falling down, being sold and subdivided?
Branigan then claimed shale gas development will “hurt farming”. Every farmer from upstate New York we have talked to has said the first thing they would do with leasing money is invest in more livestock, fix broken machines and pay their farm taxes. When they are asked why natural gas is important to them they respond by saying they wish to pass their family farm on to the next generation. In addition, the New York Farm Bureau supports continued natural gas development, I doubt they would support something that will “hurt farming.”
After all of that, she then incorrectly said 70 percent of the jobs created will not be local. This was not quoted from any study nor did she ever reference where she found that number. My last post about the WELC, quoted a speaker from the New York State Business Council who offered a case study proving this was incorrect. It’s interesting she used the 70 percent figure because that is the overall number of local workers employed by the shale gas industry and individual companies have even higher figures.
One of the most interesting claims of the night centered around the premise that natural gas development will be bad for New York’s economy because there will be more people in need of medical attention. This was also offered without any supporting evidence. But even if it was true it brings about the opportunity to address a more important consideration. Natural gas would mean jobs for local residents which would provide increased health insurance coverage making it easier for citizens to care for themselves and not have to rely on taxpayer subsidized coverage. Much evidence exists supporting the conclusion that community health improves with economic development provided in areas experiencing shale gas development.
It seems the only topic the speaker didn’t address was real-estate, her specialty. When Branigan did address this issue the information she provided was also incorrect. Her main point was simply to parrot an article in the New York Times from 2011 that claimed banks will supposedly not give mortgages on properties leased for natural gas development. As we have covered on these pages before that is simply not true. One small example of many, our local bank, NBT, writes mortgages on leased land.
Finally, she stated schools will not benefit from natural gas development. She said, without evidence of any connection to natural gas development, schools in Pennsylvania are losing state funding. Schools are not losing funding due to natural gas development in Pennsylvania. It’s actually the opposite. One clear example is the Elk Lake School District which has seen a significant increase in funding thanks to natural gas. This is due not only to the economic development of the region, but also because the school leased its land and now hosts working natural gas wells.
Chip Northrup gave the same presentation he gave in Vestal, New York a couple weeks ago, making the same claims he has for months. He began by telling New Yorkers the state isn’t ready for natural gas, even though, of course, he lives in Texas which has prospered from natural gas. Incredibly, he said there wasn’t anyway to properly manage flowback water. Chip, clearly is either ignoring, or has no knowledge about, water recycling advanced by companies like Salt Water Solutions and Norse Energy who have recycling systems that New York State is ready and eager to use.
Later in his presentation Chip said New York will exempt natural gas development from taxes and argued that the Ad Valorem Tax in the state isn’t enough to deal with impacts from natural gas operations. He claimed, without evidence, the natural gas companies would find a way to get out of paying the Ad Valorem tax. Certainly, this has not been the case to date.
Lastly, Chip argued every town should pass a moratorium until the DEC releases the SGEIS. His reasoning will shock you. He said it will give the towns time to read the SGEIS and figure out how they can better monitor natural gas exploration. We see, yet again, how the anti-gas development crowd doesn’t trust the DEC but does trust town board members to determine whether natural gas exploration is safe of not.
During the question and answer section of the meeting, someone asked how expensive it was to enact a moratorium. Bishop and Branigan answered. Bishop, at least, was honest with his response. He said it was extremely costly to the Town of Middlefield because they have been sued and are now heading to the Court of Appeals. Branigan seemed to argue it could be virtually free. We see how that worked out for Middlefield and Dryden.
I had to shake my head at the end of the night. The audience lapped up every word offered by the three speakers. This is how the mistruths spread. There were no facts or figures proving any of the claims made by the presenters, but because they claim to possess authority, no one questions their assertions.
If we’re going to be truly informed on what’s soon to occur in New York, we should ask hard questions of the individuals providing information and do further research on our own. It’s no longer a question of if, but when, shale gas development will occur in New York, and the fear mongering has to stop.
People need real information to make informed decisions and to weigh the risks and benefits for their own properties. Presentations like these, especially Branigan’s and Northrup’s, just don’t cut it anymore.