The Battle of the Millennium, A Clash of Shale Gas Opponents!
The Town of Hancock, Delaware County, New York is the proposed location for a new compressor station on the Millennium Pipeline. Naturally, local anti-natural gas forces are opposed. What, after all, is there to which they’re not opposed? They held a meeting among themselves to organize against the compressor station last Saturday in Long Eddy, New York. They even brought in Matt Walker from the Clean Air Council down in Philadelphia to inspire folks. Not so surprisingly, the majority of the people attending the meeting were weekend or summer residents from New Jersey and the New York City metro area.
What a meeting! It quickly descended into chaos with activist attacking activist. Poor Matt Walker got an education on dealing with fanaticism and NIMBYism. He learned a valuable lesson my elders have drummed into me and it this; “It’s seldom your enemies that get you into trouble, but, rather, your stupid friends.” How true it proved!
The Background – Compressing the Truth
Please keep in mind, the purpose of this compressor station is to increase the capacity of the Millennium Pipeline to deliver Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale gas to the New York City market. Isn’t it ironic opponents of natural gas development are metro area residents who will be the primary users of the shale gas to flow through the Millennium Pipeline? Most businesses, community facilities and homes in the metro area are, either directly or indirectly, heated by natural gas and with a high demand for the product it is crucial to have a way to get it there efficiently.
Bruce Ferguson, of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, compressed the truth at the very outset of the meeting (Video 1 – 1:17) by claiming the pipeline ruined the ten acre piece of land the compressor station will be located on. Later in the meeting, a long term resident and former caretaker of the property said this statement was inaccurate and the pipeline didn’t ruin any land at all (Video 2 – 32:35). Surprise, surprise!
Several anti-natural gas folks fretted that Hancock Town Supervisor, Sam Rowe, hadn’t heard enough complaints about the compressor station and talked about how to increase the decibels of their protests. Noel van Swol and Bill Graby set them straight by noting other towns would welcome the project if Hancock didn’t want it (Video 2 – 31:45) due to the potential revenues involved.
Matt Gets Taken to the Mat
The main act for the day was supposed to be Matt Walker from the Clean Air Council in Pennsylvania, but it turned out he was the main course on the menu as a voracious crew of activists attacked him with everything but their knives and forks. Walker drove up from Philadelphia to speak on the “air pollution” associated with compressor stations.
My associates, who have witnessed several of his ginned up protests at Pennsylvania compressor station hearings, would surely say “He don’t impress us much,” but I have to tell you, I felt sorry for him – truly sorry. Someone said he left the pollution filled city of brotherly love at 10 am to make the 5 pm meeting. That sounds a bit exaggerated but, surely, it was a long drive, considering the reception he got. He wasn’t warmly welcomed as I’m sure he expected he would be. He must have left muttering, “What was I thinking?”
He had run through about half his presentation and hadn’t yet mentioned anything about the Hancock Compressor Station when one woman stood up and made a scene (Video 1 – 36:45). “I’m sorry, I have had a glass of wine but,” she begins and then proceeds to complain about how he had been wasting precious time because he hadn’t discussed the proposed station yet. She also berated those who wanted to turn the battle into one over hydraulic fracturing, whereas she was concerned only with the station near her.
She mentioned children with leukemia and another man stood up exclaiming, “Those kids are part of my family, don’t use them as a pawn in your game!” She responded by saying she certainly was going to use them, expressing the typical “I can do what I wish” attitude of so many in the anti-natural gas crowd. She made a point of letting everyone know she was a pathologist and listed her husband’s qualifications as well, as if that should end the conversation.
Walker didn’t know how to respond, so he basically begged for an opportunity to finish the presentation. Check out how Ferguson, a retired “60 Minutes” producer who has made the area his home and adopted natural gas opposition as his pet cause, loses his temper on several occasions during the meeting (a rather common occurrence in our experience), directing his anger not only toward natural gas supporters but, especially toward his own constituents, who keep refusing to follow the script. They argued with each other more than anything else. It was a clash of NIMBYs and “fractivists.” Bruce, at one point, screams “Just shut up and sit down!” to Ms. Pathologist, while another woman insists the group oppose all Marcellus Shale development and compressors everywhere (Video 1 – 38:40). Watch the whole thing!
Ms. Pathologist also declares (Video 1 – 39:36), “I’m sorry we all have leukemia!” It appears she was trying to say we all have leukemia potential and environmental factors can trigger it in some people, but she mixed and matched her points at will, making no sense. She noted, for example there already were multiple leukemia cases at Delaware Lake (pre-station) and then tried to implant the idea additional releases of carcinogens from the station would magnify the risk.
However, Ms. Pathologist neglected to point out it is the concentrations that matter, not the mere presence of an element. Common carcinogens include alcoholic beverages, sunlight and wood dust, none of which are threatening except with heavy exposure. It’s the levels that matter and, on that, she had little to say, indicating the quality of her argument. Perhaps that’s why Ferguson was so annoyed!
Interestingly, Walker claimed diesel trucks were more of an issue than compressor stations (Video 1 -31:13) although he quickly tried to argue the latter will be a bigger issue by 2020. He wasn’t talking about anything but natural gas development, of course, and never provided the necessary context regarding how all of this fit into the bigger picture. He spent a great deal of his time tearing apart diesel exhaust, ignoring the reality many stations, are powered by natural gas, as this one will be. He said nothing about mass movement of products via tractor trailer trucks across the country, of course, which dwarfs any impacts of natural gas development. This isolated analysis of impacts with no context and no reference points, is the stock in trade of natural gas opponents.
Walker also raised the venting of methane as an issue. Numerous companies, however, are now employing “green completion” technology where the methane is captured. He later admitted companies are now doing this (Video 2 – 9:55), but only after he took credit and had demagogued the matter first, much as he did when said the industry produced more pollution than urban auto traffic (Video 2 – 18:45)! This is the kind of loose statement illustrating the true mission of the Clean Air Council (stopping natural gas development) and why they and other anti-natural gas organizations are rapidly losing credibility. If they’re willing to say this, they’ll say anything, which, of course, is what they accuse the industry of doing, but that’s how demagogues work, isn’t it? Accuse your opponents of what you’re doing seems to be their motto.
They’re Worried About Noise After That Scuffle?
A good deal of the later discussion revolved around the noise of the compressor station might make and, frankly, I found it hilarious. The noise these activists produced arguing with each other was louder and more annoying than any compressor station could ever be. Did you know a shouting human voice (e.g., Bruce Ferguson telling Ms. Pathologist to “shut up and sit down”) is about 88 decibels in strength?
One woman said there is a “noise sensitive area” just over 400 feet away from where the proposed compressor station will be located. The compressor station will be limited to 55 decibels at the point, assuming she was correct on the distance and it’s far from clear she was. When asked, in fact, if that meant there was a house there she didn’t know, but she later screamed at Noel that there were homes within 400 feet. She never mentioned, of course, whether it was 400 feet from the compressor station or 400 feet from the edge of the property.
Sound pressure levels reduce at at a rate of 6 decibels for every doubling of the distance from the noise source, so Bruce Ferguson’s yelling would, at 48 feet distant from him, drop to about the same level as the compressor station (55 decibels). I’m pretty sure the compressor station is a better deal, especially when one considers 55 decibels is somewhere between an average home and conversational speech. It was suggested the company had agreed to putting up a sound barrier but, of course, this wasn’t good enough for the protestors, none of whom knew how many homes were within 1,200 feet from the proposed site (the number of feet several recommended for sound reduction).
Noel van Swol asked what it would sound like and of course Bruce jumped in to answer (22:20). He said it would sound like a dishwasher and wants to know where the compensation for the noise would come from. Oh my gosh! A dishwasher! Call me cynical but I would love to ask how many people in the audience have a dishwasher in their homes. Does that interrupt them when the watch TV? Do the dishwasher companies compensate their consumers because of the noise? It’s certainly food for thought, and as Tom would say, “there ought to be a law!”
The whole video of the second part of the meeting can be seen below.
The meeting wrapped up after about two hours but several people stuck around to talk. Very noticeable at this particular meeting was the fact the folks against the compressor station made an argument and then refuted it themselves as battles waged between NIMBYs and fractivists. Once the arguments began, they didn’t end and it all made my job rather easy as you can plainly see. It is said “When your enemy is destroying himself, shut up and get out of the way,” so, perhaps, I just couldn’t resist. What an event!