Marcellus Shale

Serfdom, Coming to a Town Near You

The United States was founded on the doctrine of freedom. America is where liberty has always supported a healthy economy. This is evident in Pennsylvania, as landowners all across the state were able to choose to develop their Marcellus Shale natural gas resources. The Commonwealth, as a result, now enjoys a new age of prosperity.

Meanwhile, in New York, fundamental liberties are in question every day. Local governments are purposefully ignoring state preemption, with the advice of the agenda-driven, Park Foundation funded Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC).  Landowners in places such as Dryden and Middlefield; have become victims of irresponsible exercise of local control, as these communities have banned all natural gas development. These bans not only limit residents’ property rights, but they also heavily restrict self-determination to buy natural gas products for heating and cooking. Choice and freedom have been seemingly stripped away in these two towns.

Traveling the Road to Serfdom Again

Seventy years ago, economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek warned about this type of totalitarianism and the immense dangers excessive government, at any level, could have on society:

The economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialists promise us and which can be obtained only by relieving the individual at the same time of the necessity and of the power of choice. (The Road to Serfdom)

Now Hayek’s prevailing fear is coming true. Local governments in New York are limiting personal rights (liberty of choice). These bans are perpetuating the Park Foundation’s ultimate goal of blocking natural gas development in the region by blocking the ability of private landowners to develop their mineral rights.

The EID-Marcellus team has covered this now infamous effort by the CEDC and its  lawyer David Slotjje, numerous times. Please revisit any of these articles for more information: NY Law Provides Legal Recourse to Towns Duped by SlottjeVestal Knows Marcellus Natural Gas Bans Are Illegal, The Great Davidski Tries to Ban Natural Gas and Disappear.

The CEDC’s Next Target

Poster of Woodstock

Woodstock Poster

Southeast of Dryden and Middlefield, sits the quaint town of Bethel, New York. This particular spot was once famous for hosting Woodstock – the popular music festival that defined a generation. Now, it hosts an intense debate over banning natural gas development. Like Dryden and Middlefield, the town board in Bethel has received guidance from CEDC’s lawyer David Slottje. Since last August, this particular board has held numerous public hearings.

At a recent public comment session, residents and farmers struggling to make ends meet cautioned against banning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. At the same time, many second home owners, supported such a ban to “protect” their vacation areas from imagined threats. The video below was taken at a recent hearing:

As you can see, those opposed to natural gas support the town ban on Marcellus Shale development because they have nothing to lose  if the town bans development.  Long-time local residents however often end up losing their homes and leaving the area in search of economic opportunity elsewhere, forfeiting land to wealthy individuals who can afford to live in the area.  It is a distinctly modern and rural form of gentrification.

Serfdom to Second Home Owners Is The Price of Liberty Surrendered

This pattern is just fine with some, though certainly not all, second home owners, who present a number of false arguments for their anti- natural gas position.  Here are a few of the more familiar:

Risks of Polluted Water and Air.  Consider it the Holy Grail argument of “fractivists” everywhere.  Natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing, in particular, are not safe, often citing Dimock as their evidence.  EPA recently announced the water in Dimock is safe to drink.  You can read StateImpact or Businessweek’s coverage for more information. For those seeking more scientific and historical evidence, check out EID’s own John Krohn’s latest EWG Fractures the Truth on Hydraulic Fracturing.  Most importantly, the Groundwater Protection Council,U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and others have all said hydraulic fracturing poses no risk to groundwater resources.

Road Damage. How many times have we heard about how natural gas development will crush local roads?  Too many times, is the answer.  What you don’t hear about are the significant investments made by the industry to ensure roads are in a much better condition than they were ever found. The natural gas industry has collectively spent over half a billion dollars in Pennsylvania over the last three years maintaining and rebuilding roads. This is much more then Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation could afford during that same time. Also, the industry enters into road use agreements to maintain roadways everywhere the industry does business.

Second home markets are the driving force of economy and this is threatened by natural gas development.  The second home market is a supplement to the local economy, not the foundation, due its highly seasonal nature. Furthermore, it is cyclical with a strong correlation to the standard home buying market. The illusion that second home buying could support a local economy is only remotely imaginable if something is first drawing people to purchase a second home. For example, ski resorts or the ocean are two prime real estate areas typically supporting a second home market.  Bethel, New York does have the Bethel Woods facility, which is an important draw that has helped to revitalize some small commercial areas proximate to it such as Kauneonga Lake, but that prosperity extends very little distance and has not saved various restaurants and bed and breakfast facilities that one would have thought were natural beneficiaries of the concert site and museum operations.  Bethel and every other town in Sullivan County faces declining agriculture, a collapsed construction industry and a total loss of manufacturing.  Are second homes going to replace those economic staples?  Don’t bet on it!

No, Bethel, like all of upstate New York is in the doldrums but it has the potential means to recover if it embraces natural gas development.  Will the town seize the opportunity to allow natural gas development or will it seize the liberty of its landowners?  Will those landowners have the freedom to pursue happiness or will they be serfs?  It’s an old question before us every single day.  History tells us, unequivocally, the price of surrendering liberty is serfdom.  Is Bethel listening?

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