Marcellus Shale

Natural Gas Bans: The Other Side of the Story

Members of the town board of the Town of Butternuts, N.Y. and other folks from the community heard the other side of the natural gas ban story Tuesday evening, as Attorney Ed Zaengle gave a thorough presentation on the law.  Zaengle walked through the state’s  Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), the case law and recent court decisions in Dryden and Middlefield, telling those present they need to be extraordinarily careful before enacting a law that might lead to major lawsuits. Zaengle is also a geologist and provided everyone with a comprehensive perspective on the issues involved. His bottom line was “know what you’re doing.”

The Legal Facts of Life

Mr.  Zaengle articulated the differences between the oil and gas law and the mining law which, contrary to the arguments of the Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC ), are substantial, especially with respect to the exceptions. He also noted the Frew case actually supported the pro-development side of the argument — because the mining law allows for zoning while the oil and gas law does not. He also reviewed the practical differences between mining and oil and gas development. Watch the whole thing here:

Zaengle’s presentation was followed by some excellent questions and answers. Watch as the anti-gas members of the crowd (relatively few in number compared to the pro-gas contingent) try to argue with Zaengle and Attorney Chris Denton, among others you may recognize.

When nothing else was working, the antis brought up compulsory integration. Chris Denton answered the implied question and Zaengle followed up, adding his geological expertise. He discussed fracture zones, production curves of natural gas wells and other factors that underlie New York’s policy, which differs from some other states (including Pennsylvania)

The Costs of Entertaining the Park Foundation

A very concerned constituent, Scott Montgomery, discussed the problems he saw with towns enacting the moratoriums proposed by the Slottje husband and wife team, and what following the orders of these Park Foundation-funded lawyers might cost taxpayers. He asked the attorneys present to explain how costly this could get for the town – owing to the fact that the Slottje team apparently isn’t willing to represent towns in court or compensate municipalities for any losses they face.

One anti-gas audience member tried to tell the room the town would never see any revenue from natural gas and it would, instead, end up costing it money. He suggested, with no regard for the actual experience of other towns, that Butternuts taxpayers would be held liable for costs associated with upgrades for and fixes to infrastructure.  This is incorrect.  Towns have the ability to create road usage agreements, which are contracts between towns and gas companies holding the latter entirely responsible for the costs and towns harmless.  Plus, as we continue to see in Pennsylvania, natural gas companies aren’t just leaving roads in the same condition they found them – they’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars (in some cases, more than the state itself) to make local roads better, safer and more durable than they’ve ever been before.

Interestingly, Amphenol Aerospace was mentioned. The area surrounding Sidney, N.Y, which includes Butternuts, would be devastated by a moratorium and its impacts on this large employer.  Maintaining those jobs is absolutely critical. It was noted some the people moving into the upstate area are retired individuals who are already financially comfortable, but there are also many well qualified local individuals needing the good jobs Amphenol Aerospace offers.  Zaengle discussed the benefits and costs in the context of risk analysis indicating “The more data that comes in, the more I realize it is safe.”  He acknowledged the risk of methane migration problems,but also pointed out these risks exist even without natural gas exploration taking place, given local geology.  “Firewater” is nothing new to the region.

Vic Furman provided his own special take on the choices:

Sue Dorsey, longtime proponent of natural gas development, also made a strong argument supporting natural gas exploration.

Wind Power – Good Luck with That

So what do the antis who appeared in Butternuts, New York, want?  Wind power was mentioned. Yet, there is no cell phone service in Butternuts because residents protested a proposed cell phone tower.  Does anyone really think they would be content with windmills if they weren’t okay with a single cell phone tower?  Perhaps the experience of the nearby Town of Bovina, Delaware County, New York is instructive.  Does anyone think the people who opposed those windmills aren’t of like mind to those opposing natural gas development?  If anyone doesn’t, I have some Monopoly money I’d like to trade them for dollars.

As the meeting proceeded the discussion shifted to what can people do to ensure every possible precaution is taken when and if natural gas exploration comes to the area. Listen to Denton and a member of a coalition, Todd Barnes, addressing these issues.

Zaengle also commented on the work of landowner coalitions in upstate New York and Bryant Latourette followed him with a powerful statement.  No sooner did he finish speaking than an gas opponent jumped in to argue, unconvincingly, natural gas is dangerous.

There was also another powerful statement by a resident suggesting taxpayers will be the only ones to suffer if Park Foundation/Slottje moratorium is imposed.

Attorney Zaengle did a fabulous job showing Butternuts the other side of the natural gas ban issue.  He was quick to note, “you can put five lawyers in a room, ask them to read, interpret, and state what one law means and you will get five different answers” but no one who listened objectively could not see the weakness in the Slottje arguments as Zaengle persuasively laid out the law and the case for pre-emption.  Zaengle, if nothing else, ensured the Town of Butternuts has no excuse if it proceeds to take the risk of buying onto the Park Foundation’s special interest agenda and faces a costly lawsuit in Federal or State court.

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