Appalachian Basin

Seven Questions for the Mayor of DISH

In advance of Mayor Tillman’s trip to New York next week, EID poses a series of questions residents should ask while he’s there

It’s not every day you’re likely to run into the mayor of a small town in Denton Co., Texas ambling about the Southern Tier of New York State. But next week, that’s precisely where you’ll find DISH mayor Calvin Tillman – slated to make the nearly 1,500-mile trip to the Empire State to rally local environmental activists against efforts to explore for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.

Now, wait a second: Isn’t this the same Marcellus Shale that studies suggest could create 16,000 high-wage jobs in Broome Co., N. Y. alone — and generate $15.3 billion in local economic development? Yep, that’s the one. Turns out, though, that the mayor of DISH isn’t as sanguine on shale gas as you’d expect. And to help him punctuate his case, he’ll be bringing to New York a couple of recent “studies” on the subject aimed at scaring local residents into believing that natural gas exploration will ruin their air, sully their land, and poison their water. Should be quite the show.

Of course, we can’t say for certain whether the mayor will mention to local residents that these studies have been almost universally panned by independent environmental engineers; that they were recently debunked by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) itself; or that the contractor who did the study for Mayor Tillman doesn’t have a licensed professional engineer on its staff.

And who knows? He may forget to mention his relationship with the Oil & Gas Accountability Project(OGAP), an anti-energy group based in Colorado (but active in New York) which considers clean-burning natural gas a “filthy” form of energy. He may not find it relevant to mention that OGAP funded one of the studies he plans to show off – or that his town’s official government website links to OGAP’s page on the internet. Who can say for sure?

Thankfully, in the off-chance the mayor forgets to mention any of these details to the audiences he plans to visit – or that reporters forget to ask – Energy In Depth has assembled the following list of questions that Mayor Tillman might like to answer during his stay in New York:

1)     Mr. Mayor, your assertion that local natural gas exploration activities have adversely impacted the air quality of your town appears to be entirely founded on a study you commissioned by a group called Wolf Eagle Environmental. Are you aware that TCEQ conducted an internal review of this study and found that “it is not possible” to draw the types of conclusions that appear in that report?

2)     Mr. Mayor, are you aware that Wolf Eagle Environmental was formerly known as Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers & Consultants – but was forced to change its name upon it becoming public that the organization did not (and, in fact, still does not) employ an actual licensed professional engineer on staff?

3)     Mr. Mayor, is it true that once the Wolf Eagle evaluation was debunked, you accepted an offer from the national Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) to fund a second study of a similar type? Is it true that OGAP links are found on your town website? Are you aware that OGAP considers clean-burning natural gas a “filthy” energy source, and was in fact established as a means to fight natural gas exploration wherever, whenever and however it takes place?

4)     Mr. Mayor, have you had the chance to take a look at TCEQ’s recent air quality study of the areas in and around the Barnett Shale? If so, did you note that of the 94 sites tested by TCEQ, 92 registered short-term effects screening levels (ESL) well below anything that would cause “alarm,” according to TCEQ’s toxicology director? Are you also aware that repairs at the remaining two sites tested by TCEQ have already been completed by industry and certified by the agency?

5)     Mr. Mayor, you testified on numerous occasions that energy operators in your area are responsible for the emission of benzene and other potential contaminants into the air. But did you know that the mere act of filling up your tank with a conventional gas pump (one without a vapor recovery device) could expose you to benzene levels of 11,000 parts per billion (ppb), according to TCEQ — without any ambient air to dilute it? Are you aware that not even the Wolf Eagle study was able to find a single site in your area exceeding 78 ppb?

6)     Mr. Mayor, are you aware that according to EPA, “oil and natural gas production contributes only 2% of the total benzene emissions in the U.S., and shale gas represents a very small subset of this 2%”?

7)     Mr. Mayor, did you know that energy exploration is responsible for employing more than 200,000 people in your state? Accounts for the payment of more than $44 million in royalties and rents to landowners every year? And sends more than $4 billion each year to your treasury, representing nearly seven percent of your entire budget? Here in Upstate New York, we aren’t trying to be the next Texas – but can you understand how the availability of even a fraction of these new resources could help revive and strengthen our economy?

With that, we welcome the mayor to the Empire State – the only place in the world that can lay claim to (among so many other things) two Ivy League universities, Woody Allen, and the first-ever commercial gas well (Fredonia, 1829). Our hope is that he thoroughly enjoys his stay. And our expectation is that he’s ready, willing and able to render honest answers to the legitimate questions posed above.

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