More on Natural Gas, Moratoriums and the Village of Oxford
I headed back to Oxford, New York last night for the village board’s monthly meeting. It was a relatively short meeting, but still managed to drive home the pro-natural gas residents’ messages to the village. There were 10 or so antis there as well, but I’ll tell you more about them in a bit. For now let’s recap what’s been going on in the town and village and look at some of the question and answer session from last night.
Quick Oxford Recap
There is a Village of Oxford and a Town of Oxford. The town board met a few weeks ago and has decided not to consider passing a ban or moratorium, after hearing comments for hours from a group so large the meeting had to be held in the Oxford school auditorium. Many of those who spoke were in favor of natural gas development and opposed to a ban.
Last week, the Village of Oxford Planning Board hosted two speakers, an attorney pushing for a natural gas moratorium, David Slottje, and another attorney to discuss the risks associated with passing a natural gas moratorium. I was at the meeting with Slottje and reported on it here and village resident, Denise LaTourette also shared her reactions to the presentations. The whole purpose of having the planning board host these two speakers was for the planning board to gather information to make a recommendation to the Village of Oxford Board on whether or not they thought its advisable to pass a natural gas moratorium.
Busy Day for the Village
Prior to the meeting, members of the Village of Oxford Board, the group holding last night’s meeting, traveled to Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania and toured Cabot Oil and Gas operations. Interestingly, as you can see in the video below when asked what was learned, board members were reluctant to share (3:15).
Now, we agree that one tour doesn’t make someone an expert by any means and regulations will differ slightly in New York from Pennsylvania (for the better), but there was still a good deal of information and common best practices seen that he could have spoke about to answer the question and potentially alleviate some fears. Joe accompanied the group on yesterday’s tour and you can check out his post to learn more about the type of information shared with the village board members.
Where Did You Say You’re From Again?
Now, I am from New York and understand the various towns, villages, and many boards can be a bit confusing for those not familiar with the structure of our municipalities. Honestly, it’s confusing at times when you are from the state, which is why I’ve tried to give some clarity for the readers in the above recap. But generally, one would assume when you are from said town or village, you know where you reside. And certainly the boards of those towns and villages know the boundaries of these. Right?
Why then last night were the only people who spoke out against natural gas development all wearing shirts begging the town to protect Gerry Lake? Ironically enough, Gerry Lake is not in the village, but in the town. So, why were all of the individuals wearing these shirts, or all of the antis present, petitioning to the village board when they live in the Town of Oxford? And a better question, why is the village board considering a ban brought forth by non-residents?
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
The board opened the floor to the public for comments before they began their meeting (which didn’t even have natural gas on the agenda). There were a number of local business owners who came out to speak against enacting a moratorium. The first man is not only a business owner, but also a landowner. When he asked the board why they are thinking of enacting a moratorium, the board members gave a non-answer. One man said he couldn’t explain it because it would make one side of the debate or the other angry. Talk about a “Wizard of Oz” statement. The leader talked from behind the curtain hoping not to upset anyone.
Unfortunately, a board cannot please everyone and its never been their job to do so. They are to use facts to make decisions in the best interests of constituents, not be pressured by a group of people they don’t represent.
The board explained the process they are trying to follow, if they do, in fact, go ahead and enact a moratorium. Based on the explanation, this could take a while and we all know time is money. Yet, when asked how long the process will take, the audience received another Oz-like answer.
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Another local resident, owner of Chenango Truck, indicated he does a lot of business with natural gas companies. He mentioned he has a lot of money tied up in the community and he has a lot to lose. He wanted to know who will be responsible for his losses if natural gas is not welcome in Oxford. He also brought up the potential tax money the village could receive.
Sue Dorsey spoke to the village as well. She handed out all the information Slottje avoided discussing at the last meeting, including laws 264 and 265, and a village law. She also pointed out, if 20% of the village land wants natural gas they can petition to overrule the moratorium.
Another woman wanted to know if the planning board’s recommendations will be presented in a public meeting? The town wizard stuttered and said the planning board could possibly consider that, but he didn’t know for sure.
Denise La Tourette spoke near the end of the meeting. She urged the village and community to really go through the facts of natural gas development. She begged residents to go visit nearby natural gas well sites, as she had done earlier in the day with the board.
One woman said she had several questions about natural gas and no one could answer them. She began listing them and I realized quickly why no one could answer most of them. Her first question was how many natural gas wells will there be in Oxford? No one knows that exact number for one reason, why would a company come in and decide how many natural gas wells will be in a small area when they aren’t even sure if New York will allow natural gas exploration? Her other questions involved truck traffic and, once again, this is something we don’t know until a company takes a closer look, and determines the number of wells and how water and other supplies will be brought to the locations. She also asked what additives are used to water to make hydraulic fracturing fluid. That’s actually a quite simple answer. Visit www.fracfocus.org to get the details on a well by well basis.
Another anti who spoke, also a Gerry Lake resident, seemed not to know the first thing about natural gas exploration. She told the board this was new and everyone needed to take the time to study it. This has been an issue for years, landowners and the DEC have spent countless time and resources studying it.
It was, to be honest, patently obvious none of those in favor of a moratorium took the time to research anything before attending this meeting. The questions they posed were all basic and could have been answered with 10 minutes of research.
Now here’s an eye opener, but one not too shocking considering the way the board has tried, to the point of being detrimental to its residents, to try to remain neutral:
The village doesn’t look forward to anyone suing us.
When was the last time a town got sued for not enacting a moratorium?
One thing was clear by the end of the meeting – the village board is being pressured into enacting a moratorium. The facts prove there is no need for a moratorium and the village is more likely to be sued if a moratorium is passed than if the job of regulation is left to the DEC where it should remain. The crowd of antis who came to the meeting with those wild colored shirts might have stood out (for color alone) but, in reality, the ten of them don’t even live in the village. The saga continues as the village planning board meets tonight, so with that I’ll say,
To be continued…