Monday, July 4, 2011

Update 1: Otsego County NIMBY Group
Quickly Loses Gastem Challenge

Clouds over Cherry Valley by Keturah Stickann
Clouds over Cherry Valley, a photo by Keturah Stickann on Flickr.
[Original post June 20, 2011. Minor update at end.]

A NIMBY group calling itself Advocates for Cherry Valley launched a legal challenge
in May in hopes of obstructing a low-volume frack in a vertical Utica shale well by Gastem USA, the American subsidiary of a Canadian company. 

But, just last week, they had their petition rejected by the NYS DEC, some 40 days after filing — which seems like it ought to be some kind of new record for swiftness.

I was looking for something else earlier today, when I happened to notice the ruling by the DEC's Chief Administrative Law Judge — dated and posted June 13, 2011, pretty short and sweet, and readable online here.

The dispute ostensibly concerns the Sheckells 1 well — off Irish Hollow Road, Town of Cherry Valley, Otsego County, NY — which was originally bottomed out in Utica shale by Covalent Energy
in September 2007, back prior to the time period when Marcellus shale mania exploded across upstate.

Successor Gastem, in September 2010, won DEC permission to hydraulically fracture the shalebed with less than 80,000 gallons of fluid, which qualifies as a low-volume "stimulation" that's already blessed under existing regulations and environmental studies.  (Contrary to widespread public confusion on this point, only high-volume hydraulic fracturing remains frozen under both versions of New York's famous shale gas moratorium.)

For one reason or another, however, the frack on the Sheckells hasn't yet actually occurred — although Gastem's home page does link to a press release touting a similar completion given to a vertical Marcellus shale well, the Ross 1, in the Town of Maryland, further south in the same county, around December 2010.

In May 2011, the Advocates put together a challenge against the Sheckells 1 on procedural grounds.  All I know
about the so-called Advocates — and all I need to know — is that they originally formed in 2002 in order to (soon-thereafter-successfully) kill a $50 million wind power project proposed in the neighborhood — which, to me, represents instant loss of any possible credibility as a bonafide environmental organization.

The original 18-page letter of complaint, written by lawyer Peter Henner from Clarksville, NY, is dated May 4, 2011, and is online with Google Documents here.

What the maneuver tried to do, in a nutshell, was to force the DEC to shelve the Sheckells job (and conceivably any similar completions statewide) under the same yellowing stack of indefinite delay now aging to Year 3 — and preventing the horizontal shale gas revolution from getting started in New York.  The effort didn't work, but you'd need to a lawyer to explain where their arguments went wrong.

A couple real-world observations, though: 

Notice that the NIMBY group didn't have any trouble whatsoever winning mainstream press coverage immediately after filing their complaint (appearing in the Albany Times-Union on May 6, and in the Oneonta Daily Star on May 10).  But — after they lost — where is the media?  Apparently neither of these outlets know how to follow up without prompting — and mum's the word from the Advocates, obviously. 

Notice, also, how many dollars and hours and days the opposition must have put into researching just this one well, and just this one case.  Their complaint letter appears to reference every communication running forward or back between Gastem (or predecessor Covalent) and the DEC, since the original permit application in 2007.  Clearly, these folks have much deeper pockets, and much more time on their hands, than is popularly imagined.

[Update 1:  Tom Grace of the Oneonta paper did ultimately get a move on and let the public know about this quiet setback for drilling opponents, as can be seen here in his July 1, 2011 story.  But I still haven't heard boo out of Brian Nearing at the Albany paper — even though he was Johnny-On-The-Spot when the NIMBY PR first hit the fan.  I emailed him.  I emailed both these guys.  What gives?  That's what I want to know.  Have the rules of journalism changed?  To me — if it's news that the activists filed, then it's news that their case later fizzled.]

No comments: