New York Senators on Pennsylvania Witch Hunt With Local Ghostbusters
Over the weekend, I went on another of those Vera Scroggins/Craig Stevens tours of Northeastern Pennsylvania — as an uninvited guest, of course. This tour was for the “benefit” of three New York State Senators from the New York City area, all of whom apparently knew little to nothing about their ghost-busting tour guides — and even less about natural gas. It was, predictably, a fiasco.
No doubt many of you have seen Ghostbusters, a silly (yet hilarious) film from three decades ago where Bill Murray and two out-of-work friends save New York City from a giant marshmallow and other ghostly apparitions. The three eccentric parapsychologists used a bunch of strange equipment and even weirder ideas to pursue imagined evil in the Big Apple. Although the movie was pure fiction, the parallels in the movie and what happened Saturday in Northeastern Pennsylvania are pretty amazing: Local anti-gas characters Craig Stevens and Vera Scroggins took three New York State Senators on a tour of Susquehanna County in a hunt for ghosts and other sinister beings among the hills and valleys of that beautiful area.
Senators David Carlucci, Cecilia Tkaczyk and Bill Perkins made the trip on Friday to the area, courtesy of a group called Citizens for Clean Water, according to this article. All three are from the lower Hudson Valley — a region, ironically, that is plagued by actual environmental problems. Some 200 miles of the Hudson River is classified as a Superfund site, after all. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has tested the water in Dimock, Pa., and concluded it was well within safe drinking quality standards.
Nevertheless, no one will be surprised to learn the three Senators decided there was more political value to attacking imagined environmental problems in Pennsylvania than real ones in their own districts (and own state). The trip was engineered by Scroggins, last seen screaming obscenities and xenophobic remarks at Phelim McAleer and trying to block a movie fire exit in Montrose.
As far as we know, Scroggins is the only member of the Citizens for Clean Water group she claims to have organized, although its website now being archived. Yet, somehow three members of the New York State Senate chose her to give them a tour.
In any event, the absurdity began as soon as the tour got underway. Scroggins and Stevens had the group meet them at Salt Springs State Park — which is, perhaps, the last place one would have expected to find them. The spring has had methane in its waters for centuries, long before natural gas development took place anywhere in Pennsylvania or New York. It has been almost obligatory for visitors over many decades to go to the spring and set it on fire because of natural methane migration. EID, in fact, took Nick Grealy of No Hot Air (a U.K. shale gas site) there last year and he successfully did it for his readers across the big pond:
I suppose I should have offered to do a firewater show for the Senators but, no doubt, Vera would have blamed it on natural gas development nearby, notwithstanding the historical record, detailed here or the fact the park is supported by a non-disturbance gas lease. So, I simply followed the assembled crew as they piled into three cars and headed off to what was also the first first stop on the equally bizarre Ono/Lennon tour. Here is the video of what happened:
The misinformation that had been spread before the tour participants even arrived on site was clearly something to behold. Senator Bill Perkins, who struck me as open-minded, started off things with a revealing question. He inquired of Scott Miller of WPX about “those yellow things, sticking up,” (0:55) also asking for his indulgence because he was from New York City. He was informed these were pipeline markers (1:30) and asked folks to help him understand how it works. He queried whether “something was coming up into the pipe, or the pipe identified the location of something in the ground,” suggesting he and his colleagues were there “because of a concern about what is coming up is unhealthy.”
While Senator Perkins’ question was undoubtedly sincere, it indicated just how little many legislators know of how natural gas is actually produced, and it further illustrates how easily special interest propagandists can influence the debate. The Senator clearly didn’t understand how a pipeline actually works, which isn’t entirely surprising given the 61 percent of NYC area residents who use natural gas to heat their homes (see chart below) view at it as merely a matter of adjusting the thermostat. Nonetheless, when something as simple as a pipeline needs explanation, there is tremendous opportunity for distortion by anti-growth forces. Perkins seemed eager to learn, so perhaps we’ll get him back to Susquehanna County to provide a thorough explanation — without it being filtered through anti-gas ghost-busting filters.
If Senator Perkins was naive regarding pipelines, he was astute in asking another question about the “funny kind of green” stuff he saw in one of the rivers (2:05), reacting to something apparently told to him earlier by Vera and Craig and trying to get the other side of it. Scott Miller informed him it was algae, but how would he even catch a glimpse of algae in a river without it being pointed out in a rehash of the quickly debunked claim these two advanced to WBRE recently?
That Scroggins and Stevens would continue to advance a false claim about the algae bloom being attributable to natural gas development tells a lot about their other claims, and I had the sense Perkins suspected it. When pressed as to what might have sparked this question, he quickly called on Scroggins to answer. He claimed, “we were told it was something else” (2:22). Scott asked “Who told you that?” and Vera jumped in to say “No, we told you it was algae.” They bantered back and forth a bit as Scott noted Pennsylvania DEP had investigated and found it was algae, and Vera tried to cover her tracks, being aided by another activist who changed the subject to methane bubbles. Scott explained methane was common in the area, a fact that any tour starting at Salt Springs State Park might have uncovered had it been conducted by anyone but two hard-core activists intent on distorting the record.
While they were talking, though, no one paid much attention to a truck labeled “Vestal Asphalt” as it drove by. This nearby New York State company has become what it is today because of natural gas development in Pennsylvania. It has hired many local folks, too. Senator Perkins comes from Harlem, where the unemployment rate is typically twice that of New York City as a whole, which isn’t doing so well either, so it’s unfortunate that he missed what was happening. Perhaps we’ll get an opportunity to introduce him to Neil Guiles of Vestal Asphalt some day.
Once the truck had passed, the discussion shifted to what neighbors thought, and it was noted the community widely supported natural gas development except for “professional activists” such as those giving the tour. Scroggins feigned offense and said she couldn’t imagine why anyone would call her that even though she charges for many of her tours and has posted hundreds of videos on dozens of sites all over the internet. Perhaps the fact she and Stevens constantly criss-cross New York and Pennsylvania has something to do with it; or, the fact Stevens runs a group called Energy In Denial that even adds its name to advertisements in Iowa; or his testimony against development in front of the New York State legislature.
A few minutes later, Jill Weiner of Catskill Citizens attacked me for having an actual job that supports the industry (guilty!). When the discussion shifted to me, I used it as an opportunity to invite the Senators to back to do a well tour with us. They didn’t have anything to say, just nodded their heads and ignored the open invitation — but Senator Carlucci told reporter Jon Campbell this prior to the trip:
He said he wants to meet with gas companies in the region, as well.
“It’s really to see it first hand and hopefully share stories with (state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah),” Carlucci said. “Because I believe we are getting down to maybe some of our last chances to make sure that the science and not only the environment but the impact on human health are taken into the equation.”
Suffice it to say the Senators will get personal invitations from Energy In Depth to come back for a real tour and some real science.
As the tour continued, Scroggins got more defensive. I asked if she would be taking the group to talk with anyone who supports the natural gas industry, and she admitted she would not (7:33). She then told everyone the industry was blocking her by not letting her go on site, although she was only being prevented from trespassing, which is her normal routine (7:50). (Later [9:17] she even admitted she was trespassing.) In fact, she was so frustrated that we showed up to give the other side of the story, she was even rude to Senator Perkins, basically telling him to stop looking around and pay attention only to what she was saying (8:20). Here she is lecturing her own guest.
And, so it went. Scroggins preposterously suggested WPX had erected a split rail fence to keep noise out, although earlier she complained it was erected to keep her out, at the request of neighbors, no less (9:08). Senator Perkins pointed out the obvious – it wasn’t loud. Scroggins became aggravated and assured him “it’s not loud now but it is when they are ‘fracking'”, never mentioning, of course, this takes place only at the outset just prior to production for a period of only few days. Perkins then asked what “fracking” was. This led to this nonsensical statement from Scroggins:
Vera (11:30) – “We have stacks right there over the heaters, so there’s all kinds of VOCs that are coming up out of there and other toxins that are coming up out of there…If we had a FLIR camera we could see it.”
Fact – It is a closed system and the sound heard is the well equipment — which, upon reaching certain pressures, releases water into the tank. No methane, no VOCs and no toxins are released from the well. The water (“produced water,” sometimes referred to as brine) goes into tanks and is later taken off-site for processing and recycling. Northeastern Pennsylvania operators are now recycling virtually all of it. Also, FLIR cameras cannot “see toxins” – they only show infrared radiation and this isn’t the first time the natural gas opposition has distorted the truth about what they can “see.”
This wasn’t all that Scroggins got wrong. Listen and watch at 8:30 as she suggests natural gas production at this site, known as the Hollenbeck pad, involves up to four million gallons of water use per day per well for four wells. A quick search on FracFocus.org shows that the fracturing for all four wells took place between December 17-19, 2011, and used 3.6 to 3.9 million gallons of water per well, presumably recycling it from well to well, meaning the actual water use was probably considerably less. To put that in perspective, the same amount of water used to hydraulically fracture one well flows down the Snake Creek every 1.9 hours, and it’s more than regenerated when the gas is combusted.
None of this factored into Scroggins’ and Stevens’ presentations, of course. They were on a mission to condemn natural gas development, steering clear of the facts and science that Senator Carlucci said he wanted. Stevens even tried putting a WPX worker on the spot by asking him if he was local (11:20). He was shocked when the worker told him he was from right down the road and his family had been there for years. You’d think a 6th generation resident — such as Stevens claims to be — would know who his neighbors are.
The caravan proceeded to a few other sites, searching for anything they could find and, of course, delivered water to the Mannings, where I doubt the lawmakers were informed of the water well’s mechanical problems. When they finally found some truck traffic, Scroggins was so excited she pulled the convoy over and got everyone out to take pictures. She also ran over to me and asked me if I would raise my babies next to this. I told her yes, happily so. She then tried telling me all of their kids had asthma. For most, this would be seen as little more than a non sequitur; for anti-gas activists, it is the “truth” bomb of intellectual discourse.
I wonder, by the way, if she or the visiting Senators know New York City’s asthma rate among children is almost twice the national average and it has nothing to do natural gas development.
That’s how it all went – one bombastic assertion after another with nothing to back it up, all delivered by two ghostbusters with imaginary FLIR cameras that could see toxins in the air if they only had them. And yet, somehow, I doubt any of these Senators in their heart of hearts saw anything but beautiful rolling hills and jobs the people of Harlem could only dream about.
There were no giant marshmallows anywhere to be found, but the facts certainly did get slimed.