Appalachian Basin

Oxford Stays Open to Natural Gas

Last night there was a fascinating town board meeting in Oxford, New York, Chenango County. The town board was asked to consider enacting a ban or moratorium on natural gas development, which it decided to discuss in  public forum. When word got out the board was going to be discussing natural gas, the prospective attendance grew to numbers the town hall couldn’t hold, so they were forced to move it to the local high school auditorium.

EID Marcellus was there in the form of yours truly and one thing struck me immediately as I took in the comments from the natural gas opponents who had pushed for the discussion.  These activists seem to trust the town board members over the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to make decisions about natural gas development, and, to think, no one on the town board has a geology or engineering degree!  While I’m sure the town board appreciated such confidence, it wisely avoided acting upon it, demonstrating far more savvy than even natural gas opponents could have imagined.

Several people spoke in favor of natural gas development during the discussion. The first to speak was Denise La Tourette. She spoke passionately about property rights. She questioned why the town should have the right to dissolve its citizens’ property rights.  She asked if the town had resources equal to DEC to do the research required to produce informed decisions.  She enlightened the board about the 60,000 comments the DEC has sifted through and used to adjust the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement.  La Tourette also pointed out the natural gas debate was more of an emotional issue than anything else, indicating the anti-gas side was spinning facts and spreading misinformation to scare the public.  We intend to post her entire remarks here, but watch the video in the meantime.

Bryant La Tourette spoke as well. He also expressed the need to preserve individual property rights and contrasted the way New York State treats mineral rights with the way natural gas opponents would. He noted DEC’s compulsory integration rules, while they do not require anyone to accept a gas well on their property, are intended to ensure companies compensate all landowners for minerals withdrawn from their property by development activity on adjoining parcels.  The state goes to great lengths, in other words to ensure property rights are respected.

This raises an obvious question; shouldn’t a town then have compensate the landowners if they take away those same mineral rights?  How can the state allow a town to undermine (pun intended) its protections?  Does it make any sense to prescribe detailed procedures for protecting rights when another unit of government at the local level can take them away on a whim?  Bryant is onto to something here.  See for yourself.

An individual opposed to energy development urged the town to pass a moratorium. He wanted to know what would happen if our area was in a drought situation and natural gas exploration was taking place. The simple answer to this is the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) regulates water withdrawals and, in a drought situation, would not allow excess water to be taken from any stream source.  It happens routinely and is the way the system is supposed to work.

The Oxford Town Board has drafted a road use agreement similar to what other Chenango County communities will be using when natural gas development moves into the area.  Natural gas opponents, for reasons unclear to anyone, seem to think this is inadequate.  They rose to suggest the town needed to enact a moratorium to research enacting a law instead of proceeding with an agreement already researched and ready to roll.

Isn’t it ironic how natural gas opponents simultaneously argue boards should enact protections, then argue for delays, in the form of moratoriums, to think about it?  If protections are required isn’t it easier and quicker to just enact them?  Readers know the answer to that one.  Our friends on the other side don’t want protections – they simply want to stop development any way they can.

Another man, in favor of natural gas development, countered the arguments regarding road damage. He used the example of logging trucks.  When they come in the area and log, they are held responsible for any damages by the town or state depending on which roads had been damaged.  It’s standard procedure and there is no basis for treating natural gas development any differently.  Road agreements are also common for delivering windmill equipment, by the way.

Sue Dorsey made a statement in support of the Joint Landowners Coalition resolution. She also noted even Lisa Jackson from the Environmental Protection Agency has stated there have been no documented cases of natural gas development contaminating water.  Dorsey also discussed mortgages, stating banks will still give mortgages to people who have signed natural gas leases on their property, despite statements to the contrary from natural gas opponents. We know this is true from representatives of lenders who have posted here.

Victor Furman spoke after Dorsey. He made the point we have been addressing for months; how does a town board know how to protect a town if the DEC cannot?  The area in which we reside desperately needs an economic boost.  We know natural gas development can be done safely and responsibly.  We also know the money coming in from natural gas will help everyone who lives in the area, not just landowners.  Why are we waiting?

A few people who spoke stated they were on the fence about natural gas development in the area. That being said, they were very much against allowing the town to abscond with their property rights by enacting a moratorium or ban.  They said they want to be the ones to decide whether or not natural gas is suitable for their land or not. They noted their deeds were free and clear, and rejected the notion the town could legislate away the mineral rights the state itself was willing to protect.

A local welder who owns his own business addressed the board. He agreed there was a lot of misinformation being thrown around and he believes natural gas development can happen safely with DEC management.  He suggested natural gas opponents were locked into a mindset that would never permit progress of any sort.

Another man said he has lived in Oxford for 30 years and tries his hardest to keep his home and land looking nice for him and his neighbors. He noted the whole natural gas question had sadly turned political and urged his neighbors to drive to Pennsylvania and see for themselves what natural gas looks like.  He then he closed his comment by telling the board to let the DEC do their job.

Some individuals opposed to natural gas development tried to turn the debate toward cancer rates, indicating Oxford had experienced higher than normal rates. The reasons are unknown but, of course, these suggest natural gas development will lead to higher cancer rates. If they took the time to look at the data from the Barnett Shale region of Texas they would see cancer rates have gone down in areas with natural gas development. Maybe the reason is the ability to afford health insurance and better health care?  Just maybe?

It was clear, upon conclusion of the meeting, few, if any, of those on the anti-gas side of the debate had read the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) because if they had they would seen their comments and questions had been addressed in the document, as my father, Earl Colley, pointed out.

All in all, over 35 people spoke, split fairly evenly between advocates and opponents of natural gas development.  When it was all said and done, the town board decided to support neither a moratorium or a pr0-gas resolution, but, rather, to leave the matter with the DEC where it has been from the beginning.  While a positive resolution would have been an excellent outcome, the fact the town board recognized the misinformation being generated on the other side and rejected, leaving things as they are, was also a good outcome.  It was a vote for sanity.


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