Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm An Upstate New Yorker. I Burn Natural Gas, And I Drink Finger Lakes Water. And Yet I Am Not Freaked Out About Shale Gas.

[This was written as a spur-of-the-moment reply to an especially offensive, badly written, highly inaccurate op-ed piece by Joseph Hoff of Keuka Park, Yates County, NY.  The writing materialized out of the ether today — appearing verbatim on the web pages for a whole slew of Suburban Rochester media outlets, a sample of which can be found here.  I noticed it because it immediately generated several hits on a particular Google media search function that I happen to follow — a tracking of the usage of the word "hydrofracking," which is basically a dead-giveaway that we're talking about opposition.  Anyway, I'm cross-posting my reply here — in order to preserve it, and in order to give it a hopefully wider readership, and because it's basically the only thing I've written in awhile, because I've just been too busy lately working on some shale gas stuff down in Pennsylvania — or shoveling snow in Syracuse.  If you want to join me in responding to Hoff, I think that would be awesome.  You'll just have to come up with a user name, and surrender your email address to the publisher, and then your reply will appear everywhere that the original posting appears.]

I live in Syracuse, and I drink water which has been drawn from Skaneateles Lake since the 1800s by the City of Syracuse.  This is a public water system that for economic reasons (and for political reasons) doesn't want to go through the trouble and expense of filtering its water.   (But let's get one thing straight about that:  For both Syracuse and New York City, the lack of high-tech filtering is all about money and politics.  It's got nothing to do with public health.  In fact, if it were truly about public health, then of course our professional water system managers would demand that the water be filtered already!)

I don't for one minute feel my health is any safer for the NYS DEC's decision to make more cumbersome (and more unlikely) any shale gas development in either the Skaneateles or the NYC-Catskills drinking water watersheds.  In fact, this very unfortunate decision was also all about politics.  It had very little to do with what's actually known about the environmental impacts of drilling for natural gas, including the revolution wrought by hydraulic fracturing technology to produce natural gas from shale.

If anything, I feel as though the landowners in those watershed areas — my own fellow New Yorkers — were summarily deprived of a rare chance for a future economic opportunity, based on their own unwitting ownership of a deep underground natural resource.  This de facto shale gas drill ban was carried out by the powers that be in exchange for no detectable health or economic benefit to me, or to any of my fellow city residents.   In fact, if anything, I'm probably even further behind, the same as everybody else in this state — because it's just one step further by the State of New York, marching toward that full-blown State of Decline.

Reading the heartfelt observations of adamant anti-drillers such as Joseph Hoff, I'm repeatedly struck by how little truthful, accurate information these people possess about the actual environmental impacts of the natural gas industry — or about the actual state and federal regulatory history regarding this industry.

Hoff's opinion piece, for instance, is so loaded with outright errors, incorrectly spliced details, and completely unhinged ignorance that a knowledgeable person would need a full half hour, an overhead projector, and a red felt-tip marker to show everything.  (Believe me, he's not the only one.  There is so much misinformation out there — spread over the last three years by dedicated, well-funded, anti-drilling propagandists — not even professional journalists are able to get half of it right, half the time.)

Right from the get-go, for instance, Hoff is just plain wrong when he says New York State passed legislation giving extra protection to the Syracuse and New York City drinking water supply areas as it relates to hydraulic fracturing activity.  That was an administrative decision, not a law, made during the administration of former Gov. David Paterson, and former DEC chief Pete Grannis.

Secondly, contrary to the way Hoff has phrased it, this administrative ruling won't have any restraint on the drilling of traditional natural gas wells, whether horizontal or vertical, such as for prospective supplies in layers of limestone or sandstone, all of which are still completely permissible statewide.  In fact, landowners upstream of every single Finger Lake, including Keuka Lake, have already witnessed and benefitted from significant leasing and drilling activity over the last decade or two (even before the shale gas revolution), driven by private-sector efforts to find and produce natural gas from these sedimentary layers.

If there's been any impact affecting Hoff's water, or my water — well, then, I'm all ears.

Otherwise, I say this:  You're gonna have to show me!

Show me the "devastation" and the "decimation," as Hoff so blindly, and so ideologically, alleges to have overtaken Pennsylvania.  To me, if you're going to truly help make public policy on this question, it's not enough to just be concerned, or to just be afraid, or to just mean well.

You're talking here about the privately owned resource of many New Yorkers, including anybody owning land uphill from all of those Finger Lakes — which is a lot of land, and a lot of people.  You're also talking here about the livelihoods of many past, present, and future New Yorkers, including many people who already call the Finger Lakes home (even though they may currently be working down in Pennsylvania, due to New York's political indecisiveness).  Lastly, you're also talking about a resource that many urban New Yorkers use without controversy every single day — whether it's for heating their homes, heating their water, drying their clothes, cooking their food, or generating their electricity.

Believe me, I would much rather continue to drink the water from Skaneateles Lake, but to also have 15%, or 20%, or 25% of my utility bill money go into the bank account of some farmer struggling to survive somewhere in Cortland County, or Cayuga County, upstream of Skaneateles Lake.  I would much rather have that happen than to continue to fill the pockets of some stranger from Texas, or Louisiana, or Canada — or even Iraq.

It just doesn't make any real sense for New York to be so completely freaked out about this — unless that's all part of somebody's persuasive plan.  If you are a New Yorker reading this, I urge you — before you fall under the spell of the anti-drillers, as has obviously already happened to Hoff — to seek out more balanced, and more reliable, information.  I think you will find, in the end, that Hoff is wrong on just too many levels to be considered a reliable source.

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