Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas Opponents Try Scaling the Yogurt Summit and Lose Grip

If only it had been like the Oikos commercial on TV.  You know, the one where actor-singer-hottie John Stamos appears after you eat a spoonful of Greek yogurt.  Alas, the protest outside the “Yogurt Summit” in Albany featured a couple dozen protestors (with no resemblance to Stamos), a few placards and (reportedly) a few kids suited up like dead cows.  By the way, I’m not a parent, but isn’t making your kid impersonate a dead animal a form of child exploitation?

The purpose of the protest was another desperate attempt by natural gas and energy development foes to grab a bit of spotlight, create yet another scare tactic, and insinuate the industry will somehow harm New York State’ s yogurt output.  The natural gas industry has support from many farm bureaus and individual farmers, many of whom are large energy consumers, as well as royalty owners.  Here, in fact, is an excerpt from the New York State Farm Bureau’s 2012 Legislative Priorities:


Goal:  New York has a unique opportunity to take advantage of the abundant source of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale.  If done properly, the state has the ability to stimulate the kind of economic recovery that is so badly needed by farm families and others throughout our state.

For farms, development of the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale formations means the ability to again invest in farm infrastructure.  Farmers can build new barns, add cows to allow the next generation of people to stay on the farm or purchase a new tractor.  These investments will ripple through the local economy and grow community businesses – from the general contractor, to the farm machinery or seed dealer or the local hardware store.

However, it is critical that the state require strict oversight of the natural gas extraction and production processes.  Proper statewide regulation must promote the safe and responsible development of natural gas in a manner that protects our land and water. Additional staff at a number of state agencies is needed to ensure that drilling is done safely and successfully.

The Yogurt Summit itself was a purposeful discussion about another NY industry that has the ability to create jobs and bolster our economy. Yogurt making, which Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “is a great economic opportunity, especially for upstate New York where we need economic opportunities the most.”  Yes, that’s “opportunities” plural, meaning more than one and room for more.

And, yogurt making, like any industry, has benefits and inherent risks.  Around any yogurt production facility, there are lots of trucks and increased traffic (with increased air emissions and occasional accidents) and refuse (acid whey being the most harmful of the organic lot).

There are also incidents and issues common to all industry activity that are anticipated and swiftly and thoughtfully dealt with when they happen so they won’t be deterrents to progress.  Raw ingredient issues such as a milk shortage (this summer’s drought means milk production is down in some areas), water, and energy are all things that need to be considered in promoting this industry.

Yogurt making, of course, needs energy and clean burning natural gas from New York wells would be a win for all.  Moreover, the development of water treatment and waste handling technologies in the natural gas industry can be used to benefit all industries.  Interestingly, in fact, some of the same groups opposed to natural gas development (e.g., Sierra Club, et al) have indicated they oppose the Governor’s plan to ease severe environmental planning requirements on small to medium-sized dairy farms, even though they were there this week to protest the impact of natural gas on dairy farmers.  Perhaps, if they’re that worried about threats to farming, they should look in the mirror for the source of the problem.  It’s hardly natural gas.

New York State is full of dairy farms and – with more than 14,000 active wells – full of natural gas activity, too.  In a recent conversation with organic dairy farmer, Neil Vitale, he told me the following:

We haven’t seen any evidence of farm animals harmed by natural gas.  I saw a farm in Pennsylvania where the dairy cattle was grazing right up to the fence surrounding the drill pad and next to it was sheep farm.  Here we had three industries working side by side, harmonious with the environment.

An article in the Albany Times Union also quoted  one of the summit’s participants who said more available natural gas would be a help to dairy processing facilities.   Sounds like a win-win to me.  So why waste time and effort to protest a plan for successful growth?


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