Marcellus Shale

Unatego Landowner Says Natural Gas Is Key to Southern Tier Future

Richard Downey
Unatego Area Landowners Association

“Down by two in the bottom of the fourth,” best describes the situation those of us who are pro-gas find ourselves in after the Middlefield and Dryden cases went anti.  However, take heart. There are a lot of innings left before the final “takings” case goes to the Federal court.

In the meantime, let’s add a little cognitive dissonance to the slap of high-fives by my anti friends at their celebratory bash. Some 90% of all new wells in the continental United States are hydraulically fractured. Chances are the Audi you drove, the chaffing dish from which you took the entree, the fake flames in the fireplace, even the plastic toothpick in the hors d’oeures, all were made from hydraulically fractured products. Bon appetit.

The trouble with the closed-minded, apocalyptical propaganda of the antis is that it shuts down problem solving and stops any risk/benefit analysis. Fear trumps thought; emotion eliminates reason. Take one issue — natural gas development and drinking water quality. What are the facts?

I recently saw an anti agit-prop piece that pictured a beautiful 2 year old surrounded by funky one gallon milk jugs, that declared the water contaminated, that framed every sentence with exclamation marks. It’s out on the internet. Effective propaganda? Yes. Factual? Well … not without context.

Here’s some context: Aside from the fact two small independent samplings of Otsego’s water wells found 25 to 50 percent currently contain methane, and the fact a 16,000 sample data bank shows one in three water wells in Pennsylvania fail one or more EPA standards for water purity prior to natural gas development, consider the following:

Chatauqua County, New York — has 5,000 active wells with 300 to 500 new or restimulated wells coming on line each year. Since 1988 (the year the DEC instituted new exploration and casing protocols) there have been 26 reports of water well disturbances, about ONE a year. Reports get investigated; most are found to be unsubstantiated, or temporary spikes in methane or turbidity. The DEC oversees any necessary remediation. Those are facts.

Bradford County, Pennsylvania — Chatauqua County wells are mainly vertical, using less than 80,000 gallons of water. Bradford’s wells are mainly high-volume hydraulically fractured, using millions of gallons. From 2002 to October 2011, 1,187 gas wells have been developed.  Penn State Cooperative Extension reports “less than two dozen” water well disturbances during that time. Of those, three properties had downward re-evaluations due to water quality issues. Last month, the Extension Service reported there have been NO (that‘s ZERO) water well disturbances of note since February, 2011. That’s an important date. That’s the date when Pennsylvania upgraded their exploration protocols to those similar to the ones New York State instituted in 1988. In other words, Pennsylvania was over 20 years behind New York’s standards. Meanwhile, New York’s current SGEIS adds yet another string of casing to our requirements.

Those are longitudinal water quality facts — outlining the “risk” in risk/benefit analysis. The benefits? Not enough space in this piece to do justice to the turnaround prosperity that has accrued to Bradford County, but let’s look at Otsego County today.

We’re an aging population. It’s a great place to live … if you’re a retiree. It’s not so great trying to make a living here, or starting a family. Research shows Upstate New York, if considered a state unto itself, would rank 49th out of 50 in in-migration in the cohort of 25 to 40 year olds. Why? THERE ARE NO JOBS. Need proof? Ninety applicants for one entry level road crew job in Oneonta (Daily Star, 2/23/12) Anyone who has a job with benefits holds on to it for dear life. There is no mobility; no opportunity. With no young replacement families, our schools are depopulating. The Unatego Central School District  had over 1,450 students in the late Nineties. Enrollment now — 1,040. The regional vocational-technical program reports an area-wide 18% drop in enrollment over the last 10 years.

Unatego High School

Unatego High School

Schools are talking bankruptcy. Layoffs are inevitable, mainly that 25 to 40 year old group. The quality of this group is outstanding. At Unatego, one kindergarten position had 89 applicants; surely indicative of quality of the person who was hired; also indicative of a huge unemployment overhang. At a public meeting with our local legislators, speaker after speaker spoke to the lack of jobs and opportunity as a contributing factor to our school‘s financial difficulties.

The overall prosperity natural gas development will bring won’t be coming to Otsego County in a meaningful manner any time soon. But the hysteria created by assuming worst-case scenarios as certainties and using propaganda to perpetuate that lie only blinds us to what is real. It stops any conversation that might actually be useful. So we fight over the unexamined symbolism of “safety” as our schools hollow out and the young keep moving anywhere but here.

Note: A similar version of this article appeared in the Oneonta Star as an Op-Ed.

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