Friday, April 23, 2010

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Energy Business

A few days ago I emailed letters filled with my thoughts on the expansion of gas drilling in NYS to all my NYS elected representatives (find links to yours here). So far I have had an email exchange with Assemblyman James Brennan, who sponsored this bill in the NYS legislature. The summary:

"Establishes a moratorium on the issuance of permits for the drilling of wells and prohibits drilling within five miles of the New York city water supply infrastructure."

A good start, hoping that "water supply infrastructure" means the entire watershed and then another 5 mile radius out. This bill has been introduced, but not passed.

I have not heard from Gov. Paterson's office, nor the DEC commissioner, nor from my state senator, Eric Adams. But I suppose I can wait a little longer to hear their positions on this issue.

The New York Times published this article on April 21 (Thanks Marie!) suggesting that the newly adopted New York State DEC regulations (which permit drilling) would not apply within the watershed, suggesting that within the NYC watershed, there will be no drilling. Starting to get confused?

Here's a way to clear it up -NYC has power, money, and influence and we're saying not in our back yard. But, what we should be saying is, not in NYS. Because if the risk of pollution is too high for NYC folks, then it should be the standard for all our citizens. If the risk is too high for one Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn resident, then it is too high for one resident of Chenango, Broome, Tioga, Allegheny, Delaware or any other of our counties. I'm setting the bar high here folks.

Post Script:
I spoke to a resident of upstate NY who said he was rather in favor of drilling, because he would like the opportunity to make some money on his acreage. Fair enough, its been hard times for many upstaters for decades. Problem is this: once you have your 100K, what will it do for you? New truck, fix the roof, cruise? Can you drink or bathe in it? He says, "well -if the land or water becomes polluted, I will sell and move away." But who will want to buy in? After all, many people looking at acreage do so for farming, animal husbandry, or in some instances, just the beauties of a clean, healthy natural environment.

It's a deal with the devil, this "economic benefit." It has little to no long term benefits. In fact, it might even hurt in the long run. Of course, there are the tax gains for the state and local coffers in the short term, and the niche economic benefits for the operations and support business that revolve around gas extraction and delivery. At least until the wells are all used up. Then what? So, really -how many jobs are we talking about for upstaters? Give me a number and make sure those are not positions to be filled by those coming from other states where these practices and skill sets are more common.

Of course, read Rita McConnell, spokesperson for the industry. She'll tell you a different story. I discovered and suffered her misdirection on one NY Times article comment board. In her post Money, Its a Gas she tells us why NYers and Philadelphians are against Marcellus Shale gas drilling expansion. Incidentally her blog name, "Flowback," is an oilfield term: "The process of allowing fluids to flow from the well following a treatment, either in preparation for a subsequent phase of treatment or in preparation for cleanup and returning the well to production." Dangerously close to "Blowback," which of course means unintended negative consequences.

Here is a highly polished website, called EnergyInDepth, that Ms. McConnell often quotes from in her twittering (yep, twittering about gas). Oy.

And now, in this continual flow of google searches, Times arcticles, and thoughts, I have one more to add: If I were an upstate county landholder and I chose not to sign leases with the gas companies, yet any one or all of my neighbors did, then where would me and my freedom be? Surrounded by gas wells where soil, air, and water care little for our funny geo-political boundaries. Stuck in a gas field, maybe not able to sell or move -slave to the dollar that everyone is capable of being bought with. Including me, so one must be strong and convincing.


  1. Great that you're starting a discussion on this topic. I went to an event at the NYC bar where the NRDC and one of the major gas companies presented opposing arguments on this issue. The environmental problems seem insurmountable, but include: 1. the brine (millions of gallons) is currently untreatable in NY. That means storage in open pits (flooding issues) or transporting out of state (who will take it, and possible spills en route). See examples already in Pennsylvania: 2. New seismic activity in the shale formation after the wells are drilled (see what's happening in TX- 3. Migration of brine within & then out of the formation after drilling (gas co.'s most liberal estimate that 70% can be recovered- what happens to the other 30% - millions of gallons- 5, 10, 100 years from now?) NY has only a temporary moratorium on drilling until the supplemental general environmental impact statement is complete, so if people want to act to save residents of upstate AND the city, it's better to act sooner than later. This will be hard to stop once wells are being drilled every day. (Post-mortem stories from Colorado:

  2. I think the biggest issue for me is what comes out of the ground, is stored on site or is distributed to municipal sewage treatment plants. Accidents happen and what is it that is required by law to mitigate environmental exposures? This is the biggest concern, surface spills. I do not know enough about the geological sciences to have a clear understanding about the migration of the chemical slurry into the water table.


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