Friday, July 29, 2011

July 2011 Drill Rig Count: New Record for PA;
OH Just Getting Started

While environmentalists plot persuasive strategy, and newspaper reporters follow their lead, thousands of roustabouts, chainhands, and mud loggers were busy, 24/7, making a living in the hills of Pennsylvania — and quietly breaking another state drilling record.

These were the workers, most undoubtedly from out of state, who kept 115 rotary rigs actively drilling in PA, as of July 2011 — a gain of three rigs over the previous record from June 2011.

Ohio, meanwhile, appeared to be maybe showing a slight uptick,
over the last few months, to 12 such rigs (though could still be early for trend-spotting).  That was the statistical situation just a day after Chesapeake Energy confirmed months of rumors by finally announcing that the Buckeye State indeed holds commercially viable shale oil (on top of shale gas and natural gas liquids), and that the target rock there will actually be the deeper Utica, and not so much the storied Marcellus.

All this ebb and flow in drill rig numbers comes from the most conservative of the rig counts, as provided by oil patch service behemoth Baker Hughes, which released the North American stats at noon central time today (the same as it does every Friday).

A Google News check at this hour (it's now about 10 p.m. eastern time) shows that many media outlets are in the habit of running wire service copy reporting the weekly gains or losses of rigs working the U.S. or North America.  But not a single Northeastern media outlet has yet taken notice specifically of PA's remarkable run — which now marks a trend that has consistently gone even or upward for 30 months (except for an apparent Mud Season hitch early in 2011).

Two other Appalachian states, both also holding conventional and unconventional fossil fuels, have still not yet shown anything like the giddy-up demonstrated by PA:  West Virginia had 20 rotary rigs on hand, which is well within its usual tolerance, and New York had another 0.  In fact, the last time NY had a rig working in-state big enough for Baker Hughes to find it, was back in December 2010.

Online records going back as far as 1987 show the oil and gas industry has never in modern times been so busy in the Keystone State — a rush that's mostly tied to a boom in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas from Marcellus shale.  The now-two-and-a-half-year-old push in Pennsylvania is widely attributed to strategic, long-term desires to maintain thousands of leasehold acres — rather than have to purchase these all over again, due to expiration, due to inactivity. 

One thing is for sure — it's not the market value of the natgas that's driving this train — what with futures still trading at industry-cheating, landowner-cheating, and grandchild-cheating prices of between $4 and $5 per MMBTU.  

Despite this, national rotary rig numbers have continued on a non-stop upward trend.  Some of that is due to oil work, which has stolen some investment from natgas.  But, overall, the rig numbers keep insistently going higher:  In the U.S., there were 1,900 rigs working on average in July — up from 1,863 the prior month.  It's a number which has been consistently increasing for two years straight, since June 2009.

The chart above runs the data back to October 2004, the month when Range Resources quietly became the first driller in the Appalachian basin to stimulate a horizontal Marcellus well by pumping, under high pressure, a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into the shalebed.  Word of Range's surprisingly successful gas-finding results on this and follow-up wells did not get out widely until January 2008, when geologists Terry Engelder of Penn State and Gary Lash of SUNY Fredonia released a significant re-estimation of the natural gas content of the Marcellus formation.

Over this time frame of the shale gas revolution, the Baker Hughes rig counts are useful in offering a historical comparison of industry's boom or bust response to the varying economic times, geologic fortunes, and regulatory receptions posed by each of these four states.  As you can readily see, drilling in Pennsylvania has nearly without exception been running even or higher every successive month since January 2009, for instance, but in New York, industry's interest in developing landowners' shale gas has been met with a regulatory holdup and a political firestorm.

In fact, New York, on July 23, 2011 reached the three-year mark for its infamous moratorium — a ban which began as a temporary administrative freeze on any full-scale Marcellus or Utica drilling permits, pending still-ongoing study of the environmental impacts, and the crafting of reportedly tougher rules.  (Not a single media outlet made mention of that anniversary, either.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Baker Hughes has long kept a tally of active drilling rigs for both informational and promotional purposes.  The counts trace their history to 1944, when they were initiated by predecessor Hughes Tool Company (whose founder Howard Hughes, Sr. invented the two-cone rotary drill bit). The Hughes company realized that its sales force generally knew (or could find out) the location by state or province of every single operating rotary rig in the United States or Canada — even those which weren't (yet) using Hughes tools.

The counts have been consistently maintained ever since, and they have become a barometer for the energy sector, and for the economy generally.

Baker Hughes' rig counts are considered more conservative than those broadcast by other outlets, because they only count active, rotary rigs — highly complex operations which are in the midst of placing substantial economic demands on the service, support, and labor sectors.

Rigs are only counted as active if they are being employed anywhere along the line between "spudding in" (or starting a well) and "target depth."  Not counted are rigs that are in the process of being taken down, moved, or rigged up again, or rigs that are being used to support non-drilling chores, such as workovers, completions, or testing. Most relatively small, cable-tool and truck-mounted setups are also excluded from the census.

Landowners' Coalition Leader Dick Downey: On Frackonomics — And the Politics of Fear

[Blogger's note:  Dick Downey of Otego, NY, a leader with the Unatego Area Landowners Association, has emerged — in my estimation — as one of the most forceful, pro-landowner, pro-drilling voices in all of upstate.  Here is some text that's in the pipeline for publication as an op-ed in the Oneonta Daily Star.]

Raise the curtain on the second act of Gas Wars.  The SGEIS allows access to 85 percent of the shale gas beneath our state.  The hard-core environmental lobby has lost to the science and the multi-state research of the three-year study by the DEC.  All that is left is the hoopla surrounding the 60-day comment period.  The DEC then presents the final document to the governor for release.

Then gas development begins in New York.

The development will start in Broome and Tioga counties, the natural geographical progression from  West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  The proximity to the Millennium Pipeline gives easy access to the Northeast markets.

In the development there will be spills and accidents.  The accidents will be remedied; the spills cleaned up.  New Yorkers will see that the world-as-we-know-it will not come to an end.  Slowly, as the money from sign-on bonuses and royalties filter into the communities, and as good-paying jobs support young families, and as tax rates are tamped down and tax revenues bumped up with the infusion of money from productive wells, and as individuals and institutions take advantage of new opportunities, the Southern Tier will finally begin to recover and prosper.  For years there’s been a lot of political happy talk of boosting the upstate economy.  At last that talk will start to become a reality.

But don’t expect any of this any time soon in Otsego County.  Two reasons:  one economic, and one based on the politics of fear.  On the economic side, since development depends  on access to markets, infrastructure needs to be built.  Also, the much-studied and prolific Marcellus formation is shallow in Otsego County, thus more economically difficult to extract and possibly excluded by regulation in the northern parts of the county.  The Utica will be the main target formation.  The Utica’s potential is largely an unknown.

Politically, those opposed to drilling in Otsego, with the help of a friendly press, have painted a picture of a nightmare industrial wasteland of poisoned water, ruined roads, plummeting property values, etc., etc.  An organized and dedicated core following believes this scenario.  Gas companies aren’t stupid.  What company wants a posting on YouTube of some retiree in Lands End gear and Gucci loafers handcuffing himself to their rig?  What company wants to go to court to argue over restrictive ordinances a la Cherry Valley?  There are other areas in the Southern Tier with equal rewards and far less hassles.  Drillers will eventually develop Otsego after the fear subsides and the lawsuits are over, but for some folks who are just hanging on, that will be too late.

Most people opposed to drilling are sincere.  However, they are largely unaware of the exaggerations, the tactics, and the agenda of their leaders.  The opposition of some of those leaders stems from their fear that this newly abundant, cheap natural gas delays the adoption of wind and solar energy.  Their aversion to fossil fuels impels them to  attack natural gas even if these attacks helps bolster coal in the near term and  continues our dependence on foreign energy.  Natural gas, the game changer, is the big  threat to their larger agenda.

Adrian Kuzminski of Sustainable Otsego asks, “[Is] natural gas a transition fuel until renewables are economically competitive?  Hardly.  In fact, it’s a big roadblock to our future; it perpetuates our polluting habits, externalizes its costs onto society and taxpayers, and sucks up investment capital that should be going to renewable instead.”   (Hometown Oneonta, 6/7/2010)

Let me ask a question.  With 97 percent of our transportation powered by fossil fuel, how does Mr. Kuzminski suggest we get ourselves and our goods around?  What is the replacement for diesel which powers the bulk of our truck, rail, and ship traffic?  Where is the renewable powered substitute for the turbine engines that makes commercial air traffic possible?  What do we do while we wait for these replacements?  Walk?  Swim?  Paraglide?  Ride a mule?  And that just transportation.  How do we power our industries and our homes which support our way of life which, in turn, is the economic engine for much of the rest of the world?  We live in the real world, Mr. Kuzminski, not a theoretical one.  If we go to renewable energy, there has to be a transition.  Shale gas must be part of the energy mix leading to that transition.

With shale gas we have an opportunity to have local energy serve local needs, an opportunity for our region and the our state to emerge from the economic doldrums, and an opportunity for our nation to become less dependent on foreign oil.  Gas development is a jump start for New York.  And some day it will come to Otsego County.

Today's Scoop: Bluestone Gathering Pipeline
All NYS Details Now On File

Happened to notice this this morning:  Details on the Bluestone Gathering natural gas pipeline — at least the New York State portion, as proposed — are now fully open to download.

Looks like 107 separate files.  Who knows how many pages.  Or how many professional-person-hours.  (I can already hear the strained creaking of the thickened wallets of the consultants hired to put together this application!)

Anyway, to see it all — and to read it at your leisure, should you be into that sort of thing — go to the NYS Public Service Commission public file room here, and search Bluestone, and look for
Case No. 11-T-0401, with a file date of July 27.

All this has to do with a subsidiary of Michigan-based DTE Energy requesting official permission from New York State to go ahead and spend $250 million in private sector dollars, over the next five years, constructing a 37-mile-long PA-NY natural gas pipeline — known under the promotional phrase "Bluestone Gathering."

I wrote about this very recently — in the last section of an excessively long post here, criticizing the Binghamton (NY) Press and Sun-Bulletin for its willful inability to see or cover all sides of the whole Marcellus story. 

Let's see how they make out now — with all this data available.

I checked to see if DTE filed with the PA equivalent of the NYS PSC at the same time, but it wasn't there at this writing.

P. S. — I note from the invaluable that PA and NY landowners who believe they are along the route of this pipeline have very smartly organized themselves in order to share information, to maximize the benefits, and to minimize the burdens, of hosting this infrastructure.

Kinda short notice, but there is a meeting coming up tomorrow:

Bluestone Pipeline ROW Landowner's Meeting

WHEN:  Saturday, July 30th at 9:30 AM

WHERE:  Harmony Twp. Municipal Building. It is located in Harmony Twp. on Starrucca Creek Road (SR 1009 ) and the corner of Rockwell Road.

PURPOSE:  Organizer from the Laser Pipeline agreement will be volunteering their time to assist us in getting a fair agreement with Bluestone.  PLEASE inform anyone you think may have an interest in this pipeline.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Anti-Shale Gas Bias of Binghamton P&SB Lives On: It's Just Not Journalism Anymore

In upstate NY, pro-drilling partisans have complained since the Marcellus story first broke in 2008 that the Gannett-owned daily in Binghamton — the merged successor to the newspaper I grew up reading, and delivering — has consistently exerted an anti-drilling, anti-fracking spin upon its coverage of the emerging shale gas issue.

Having spent some time during my salad years as a crusading-but-not-very-disciplined newspaper reporter, I have always been pretty skeptical of these kinds of complaints from hot heads. 

You can always tell something doesn't add up, when both sides on any particular contentious local issue are loudly complaining against bias from the daily paper.  Both sides can't possibly be right — at least not all or most of the time — and I have come to believe that many people have simply grown fond of the sport of mercilessly kicking their hometown paper around — even while they read it every day, as it slowly goes out of business.

But this situation with the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin is really starting to make me question my prior worldview regarding hometown journalism in America.

During the 2008-2010 reign of environmental reporter Tom Wilber — who was given an outrageous amount of free rein by his editors, apparently because they liked the results — I was forced to start agreeing with the pro-drilling, land-owning Local Worthies — as they complained vociferously in their online info-sharing forums.  And I also started finding myself agreeing with the fairly worldly oil and gas industry veterans from PA, or WV, or TX, or LA, or OK, or CO — none of whom had ever before in their careers witnessed such relentlessly cranky local news coverage. 

Wilber's whole frame of reference was very badly twisted, and I think that might show most glaringly in hindsight.  Just as a sample taste, here's some Wilberese from November 2009:
"The state's depiction of a clean, tightly regulated natural gas industry just got a shot of muck in the eye."

"As the debate over the merits of Marcellus Shale development reaches a crescendo, an Ithaca researcher has culled a list of 270 files documenting wastewater spills, well contamination, explosions, methane migration and ecological damage related to gas production in the state since 1979."
[Ithaca researcher?  This was the supposed investigatory bombshell from anti-drilling activist Walter Hang — later disposed of by former DEC Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis in a little-publicized, seven-page letter to a key, inquiring NYS assemblyman, still online as a PDF here.  Among many other factual details, Grannis very simply pointed out that there were actually only seven natgas-drilling-related cases on Hang's entire compilation of 270 incidents, stretching back over 30 years.  (Only seven?  In 30 years?  How can there have been only seven?)]

Then, sometime around June 2010, Wilber was said to have quit daily reporting in order to write a book on this issue, and Jon Campbell was reassigned from Gannett's Albany-based team of State Government Overseers.  I thought Campbell did a much fairer, much more even-handed job, and the "truthfulness" of the paper's overall shale gas coverage seemed to be finally correcting itself.  [Although not so its anti-drilling reputation, which may never die among local pro-drilling people — left holding the bag, the short stick, with long memories, and bitter grudges, to all of which, I think they are now bloody-well-entitled.]

Compared to Wilber's zeal, Campbell's copy showed way less evidence of the inner person's wishful need to persuade with every cause-and-effect transition, every emotionally laden word choice, or every nudging-wink-wink turn of phrase.  And Campbell's range of story selection (or angle selection) expanded to include news beyond the simplistically ridiculous pat narrative of...  "Local underdog people, who are merely concerned about the environment, are rallying the populace against the deceitful rapacious schemes of the powerful resource extraction industry, which is now threatening to take advantage of us poor naive innocents here in peaceful Greater Binghamton, NY."

Lately, Campbell has made his way back to Albany, though he's still Gannett's main man on Marcellus, covering shale gas news of statewide interest, and still doing a pretty good job — most of the time, in my estimation.  Stories of more localized interest have been taken over by Steve Reilly, whose text has also been coming through pretty clearly, accurately, and unspun — at least by contrast to the painful wincing inflicted upon knowledgeable readers by other, less-sophisticated media outlets, further afield, such as this stuff here from Utica TV.

Despite these improvements in Gannett's reportorial effort, I have still lately noticed some residual evidence of bias — coming not so much from the reporters, as from the chain of papers as an institution.  To me, these recent twists demonstrate that the editorial brains behind the Binghamton Press, Elmira Star-Gazette, and Ithaca Journal still, frankly, have a bug up their ass on shale gas. 

Maybe this is just anecdotal.  Or maybe this is like the blind man (or the blind-folded man), confused after being led around and asked to identify certain parts of the elephant — by touch or smell alone.  Or maybe this is just "cherry picking" from a whole unsorted pile of possible facts — like that now-famous insult to the field of investigative reporting, Ian Urbina of the New York Times.

But here are three recent pieces of coverage — or pieces of non-coverage — from Southern Tier Gannett which have struck me as journalistically unfair.  These examples have also struck me as revealing more about the passions in the hearts of the people we rely upon to organize this information, than about the news itself. 

(I only see the print version of Binghamton intermittently, so what I have to say is based on the presumption — which may or may not be completely accurate — that what they put online is fairly reflective of what actually shows up as ink on paper down at my mother's house in Whitney Point, NY, before it starts getting yellow in the recycle bin.)


DEC COmmissioner Joe Martens by New York NOW
NYS DEC Chief Joe Martens with public radio reporter
Karen Dewitt
, a photo by New York NOW on Flick
Shortly after the Cuomo Administration went public June 30 with its plan to take a Cautiously Gung Ho stance on shale gas, hand-picked DEC Commissioner Joe Martens made a special appearance before Binghamton newspaper pro's on July 6.  Jeff Platsky, who has a hand in the paper's online efforts, put up a live feed, which I did not see, but which was said afterwards to be too choppy to bother trying to keep online for posterity. 

At my nurging, however, they managed to dig out an audio-only version, taken from a reporter's recording device, and right here you can download the whole 32 MB Windows-Media-Player-compatible file yourself, and listen to an hour and eight minutes of it, while you are busy doing the dishes or something.  Martens' visit — to me, as I sit here, entertaining myself by interpreting things as though they were movie cliches — it was almost as if he was the doctor, coming out in scrubs, to break the somber news, that the paper's baby, its three-year-old campaign against shale gas, was not in fact going to live through the Cuomo Administration.  The recording reveals the excruciatingly limited range of questions that were on the minds of these editors and reporters — something a print media reader doesn't often get a chance to objectively weigh — which is another way of saying it reveals what questions never even friggin' occurred to them.

The tone and direction of these questions, coming from the anonymous reporters and editors sitting around the table, is so uniformly slanted toward the same old ground — tirelessly sculpted by professional anti-drilling activists over the last three years in New York State — that I have become convinced these guys were emotionally crest-fallen at the quite evident official failure of their (in their minds) heroic campaign.  They seemed badly stuck within their old ossified frames of reference.  (Yeah, but...  Can't this thing still be beaten?  How can opponents still slow this thing down?  This is still a bad thing, right?)  They were struggling to make the transition to the suddenly new reality that the state's top elected official, Governor Andrew Cuomo, had heard every possible argument for and against shale gas — and he was now coming out openly for it.

Give me a notepad, and five minutes, and I could think of any number of questions they never even thought to ask of Martens while he was available — questions of interest, and of real-life significance, to anybody who owns land in upstate, or anybody who pays taxes, or anybody who still wants to work for a living in this particular geographic area (criteria which presumably define a large share of the Binghamton paper's remaining readership). 

Mr. Martens, do the state's legal experts expect "takings" lawsuits from Catskills and Skaneateles watershed landowners — now that these people are in line for being permanently enjoined from developing their most valuable mineral resources?  Do you think it would be fair to compensate those landowners in some way?  Who should pay for that — NYS taxpayers, or NYC/Syracuse drinking water consumers?  What does NYS plan to do about its previously made gas lease deals — some continuing indefinitely, due to being "held by production" — given that this same state now proposes to disallow shale gas drilling upon its own lands?  How do you think these draft regs are going to compare to what's now already in place in PA — which is now 3,000-plus Marcellus wells ahead of NY?  From the point of view of your own people — that is, the experts who wrote this draft SGEIS — do you think the populace has been grossly misled on this issue, either from the pro-drilling side, or from the anti-drilling side?  What was the operational distinction behind deciding that conventional drilling could still go on in state forests, while unconventional drilling has been tentatively ruled incompatible with the public purposes justifying the state's continued ownership of these at-one-time privately owned lands?  Tell us about the science behind the proposed unfiltered drinking water watershed bans, and the primary aquifer bans?  How much of these were political decisions, much more so than actual impact? 


The New York State Business Council's research arm, or think tank, the Public Policy Institute, released a significant report on July 14 (PDF here), which was soon thereafter updated on July 21 (PDF here) — following release of new economic data from PA, whose real-life experience formed the basis for most of these projections.

Except to give these links, I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of these numbers.  I just don't have the stomach for it, anymore.  Suffice it to say, these were the latest economic forecasts — measured in either private-sector dollars, or tax dollars, or just plain employment numbers — ascribed to grande, venti, or trenta development of the Marcellus in New York, should it ever get rolling, already.

You can legitimately take the position that all these numbers are simply rosy optimism from enterprise-enthusiastic experts — spun, distorted, ordered up, glossified, and paid for ultimately from industry's treasure chest of persuasive dollars.  And I will certainly let you have your say — a least after I've had a chance to read the damn thing for myself!  But you cannot legitimately take the position that this report was not news, or that ordinary citizens of New York don't first deserve full, honest, detailed coverage of that news!  Especially not in New York's Southern Tier, where it's now widely believed that thousands of dollars in fossil fuels hide deeply under essentially every single acre of ground down there. 

But that's basically what Gannett Binghamton-Elmira-Ithaca did — though they did so in a passive-aggressive way that gave them a very thin cloak of deniability.  Sure, sure — heck, yeah — they covered the report.  See, right here, July 14, there's a paragraph hiding inside this story headlined, "Poll: New Yorkers evenly divided over fracking report." 

But what this means is this:  Instead of simply outlining the forecasts and assertions of this study in a straight-forward, stand-alone story, and instead of simply reporting that it was paid for with industry dollars and sponsored by a pro-business group, Gannett chose to "dispose" of it — by mentioning it in passing as one paragraph inside a story which angled toward a completely different piece of news.  The Gannett organization already had seven — count 'em, seven! — whole on-topic paragraphs from this same reporter — Joseph Spectoras proven by what ran here on their Albany blog.  But, in Binghamton, they used only one paragraph!

Remarkable!!!  (Shall we say... politely...)

If you have an activist-created "study" on the home loans lending system supposedly ready to melt down under the heat of the havoc Marcellus shale is surely going to cause upstate property values — then, yes, that runs in full.  If you have an activist-created "study" inspired by the desire to graphically scare people with maps of the proportion of upstate land the owners of which have already chosen to put under lease to the natural gas industry — then, yes, that gets its own story.  But if the number-crunching brainiacs at the NYS Business Council say Marcellus shale could trigger a quarter million new jobs in upstate... that's not interesting... that's not relevant... and that's not news.

[I got just two words to say on that:  What the...!!!]

These kinds of editorial decisions are the face of journalistic bias!  Whether rooted in a philosophical ideology, or a bitter emotional cynicism about the state of the modern world — these editorial choices add up to a willful, undutiful, unprofessional, reader-disserving bias.  And it's no wonder the paper in Binghamton has been losing both subscribers and credibility.  Maybe the more self-reflective of these editors alleviate their professional guilt by talking themselves into believing that nobody's ever going to notice their subtle manipulations.  But, in the end, I don't believe that.  Ordinary people do see through these kinds of things, and they do strike back by losing trust — and well they should!


In a similar case of passive-aggressive reporting, the Binghamton paper has not yet done a straight-forward story on the jobs impact, landowner impact, and private-sector investment impact of an announced $250 million natural gas pipeline, designed to run 37 miles northerly, right into its readership area in Sanford, NY, in eastern Broome County, from neighboring Susquehanna County, PA (where they also have many readers).

This proposed pipeline is called Bluestone, and it's actually one of three pipelines planned or underway — all of which are designed to resolve separate geographic aspects of exactly the same infrastructural need:  To gather natgas from PA's burgeoning Marcellus fields, but to get around the PA bottleneck by moving the product to easterly, big-spending, big-city, natgas-guzzling markets via the ginormous Millennium Pipeline, which runs west to east, but further north, right through the heart of New York's Southern Tier. 

This is one of a number of possible stories which demonstrate the inescapable geographic sprawl of the Marcellus shale economic phenomenon — even while actual drilling remains banned in NY for what has now been three full years.  Sometimes that phenomenon has gotten covered, even by Gannett — such as here, when Laser Northeast recently broke ground on its similar pipeline project, slightly further to the west, the furthest along among the three. 

But, other times, the story gets stubbornly ignored — or buried behind inconsequential chaff.  On July 6, I noticed here — courtesy of a very key website by New Yorker Jim Willis, known as Marcellus Drilling News — that Michigan-based DTE Energy had the day previously announced it had secured the necessary natgas-moving contracts to make the Bluestone pipeline a build-able reality.  There was a dollar number involved, $250 million over five years, and a time frame for being initially in-service, sometime by the middle of 2012.

Well, that's pretty big, pretty quick, and pretty interesting, I thought.  Did the Binghamton paper run this?  Even though they may not like it, they would have to cover this, right? — I said to myself.  After all, how often would a daily newspaper in a seriously stressed, rust-belt city completely ignore a private sector proposal to drop $250 million in engineering contracts, government filing fees, surveyor bills, title-searcher charges, easement purchases, legal legwork, reports from environmental consultants, 16"/20" pipe purchase expenses, earth-moving costs, trucker's pay, property taxes, and pipe-welder's union scale — right in its own backyard?  (Plus, think about all the traffic tie-ups sure to affect newspaper readers — during that phase of orange cones everywhere, surrounded by fully employed, hardhat-and-sunglasses-wearing flagmen, and flagwomen!)

Checking for it, I found that Reilly of the P&SB had actually picked up on this way early [May 22, but no longer free online, apparently] — but only in connection with the scent of controversy involving the Bluestone project.  It turns out — even before the pipeline was fully announced, or applied for, or approved — DTE Energy was being investigated by an arm of state government over the mysterious clearance of 9.5 acres of land in a pipeline-shaped line near Sanford, NY.  The nature of the pipeline, where it was to come from, and where it was to go, the cost of it all, and the time frame of it all — that was merely touched upon in the last paragraph, or left out entirely.  Possibly, it's true — the news hadn't yet been released.  But, clearly, the paper's news focus was exclusively the trees, and the whiff of conflict, and the official investigation — and not economic development.

Sometime around July 7, I did a lot of complaining against the P&SB on Twitter, much of it sent in such a way as to directly ding its various tweeting reporters.  Just to be clear — I got no dog in this fight.  I own no land down there.  It's not even anywhere near my hometown.  I know for a fact I've been to Windsor — at least once, for sure, in a canoe, on the Susquehanna River — but I don't think I've ever even been to Sanford.  And I've never worked on a pipeline project in 11 years of title searching for oil and gas.  But I do read the newspapers.  And I do love upstate NY.  And it seemed preposterous to me that a developer could put out a press release, revealing significant additional detail on this size of a project, with unquestionable positive (and negative) local impact — and the Binghamton paper would choose to run nothing. 

Then, finally, July 21, they got back to delivering the new Bluestone details — but the story is still specifically calibrated so as to give primary emphasis to the interesting-but-essentially-insignificant side issue of the trees.  "Michigan firm's gas pipeline plan hits snag," the headline reads — as though the situation with the tree investigation could actually prove to be an impediment to this development. 

Based on Reilly's own reporting, here's what I believe is the bottom line with these trees:  Yes, landowners situated along the proposed pipeline —
who had already signed easement deals with the developer, and who had been informed in detail as to the routing, at least on their land — made independent decisions to maximize their return on the project by harvesting the trees (their trees) well-beforehand — trees which were destined to later come down, if the plan were to go forward as mapped, as they expected it would.  It's true the pipeline is not yet a governmentally approved development, and it's true that land-clearing actions by the developer in advance of development are not allowed, and it's true that the state authorities were investigating.

But, still — gimme a break!

These are your own damn readers behind this — breaking out the chainsaws in order to salvage the best from those opportunities which present themselves, in order to pay their NY taxes, and to hold on.  And you've got everything repeatedly spun so as to make the pipeline company out as some kind of culprit?

What this situation really means to me is that the only way an unsubsidized, $250 million, purely-private-sector, natgas-related investment along the PA-NY line is ever going to make the papers in Binghamton — is if there's some kind of hint of evil-doing, behind which the economic facts might be begrudgingly presented.

I'm telling you — that's flat-out dishonest!

It's just not journalism anymore.

Norse Energy Already In Line for NY's First Full-On Utica Shale Gas Permit

[Update April 2, 2012: The proposed Spacing Unit Map associated with this application has been obtained in PDF form and uploaded here.]

[Blogger's note:  Original post was July 19 — a minor scoop for my blog.  Since then, July 23, vaguely worded press releases from Norse have led many other outlets to take at least general notice of the company's plan.]

A Twitter associate of mine — @ikkeregistrert of Norway — noticed that penny stock Norse Energy on July 13, 2011 formally applied to the NYS DEC for a permit to drill a horizontal Utica shale gas well — as per the
state's online database, which can be searched in person here

The proposed well is dubbed the Norse-Housing 1H, and it's right in the heart of Norse's long-running, sandstone-directed leasehold in the Town of Smyrna, Chenango County — though I'm hearing through the grapevine that the surface location and much surrounding property may actually be owned by Norse outright. 
(Click my explanatory aerial map into a new window for the best possible view.)  The proposed "top hole" is just off Willcox Road, a little bit more than one mile by direct line northwest of "downtown" Smyrna.

So far as I can tell, Norse's application represents a couple different firsts for New York State — at least on paper.  For one, it's the first horizontal Utica application over any time frame — counting the period before New York's famous shale gas moratorium got started, and the present time period since the end of the moratorium has finally come into view.  (There were dozens of applications for horizontal Marcellus permits back in 2008 — including a couple from Norse itself, or from its predecessor, Nornew — but these were all essentially shelved during New York's well-publicized, drawn-out process of rewriting its rules for drilling and completing these new types of wells.)  Secondly, Norse's filing is actually the first of any kind of proposed horizontal shale gas well — Utica or Marcellus — since the draft SGEIS, version 2.0, was released on July 1. 

Utica shale outcrops at (and was named for) a spot less than 40 miles to the north.  But its depth under this hillside near Smyrna is forecast by Norse's geologists to be 4,761 feet. Utica shale is older and deeper than the much-more-famous Marcellus, and nowhere near as fully explored (although it has been the subject of significant hype lately in eastern Ohio, reputedly as a source of both shale oil and shale gas).

Norse's proposed unit size is 418.27 acres, which means that everybody who happens to own any part of the oil and gas underlying that much land surrounding this well — in a northwesterly-southeasterly running rectangle, the exact shape of which is not yet known — stands to earn most-likely-at-least 12.5 percent royalty on production from this one well, plus any followup wells.  The proposed unit size also shows the operator is ultimately planning to drill additional horizontals (either four or six total) from this same surface location, and to pay everybody from the combined production.  Under New York's ultra-conservationist spacing laws, the work is allowed to go forward, and 
all owners inside the unit stand to get paid — whether they signed a lease or not, and whether they like it or not — but only so long as the surface location is signed up, and only so long as more than 60 percent of the ownership has signed on, in one way or another.

New York State still must insert the last chapters into its plan for getting fracking, and then graciously receive an additional two months of undoubtedly outlandish public commentary, and then ultimately issue a final rule book — with the forecast being for drilling permits to maybe start dribbling out in 2012, at the earliest.  That being the case, it seems unlikely the former Empire State will do anything more with Norse's application
, at present, other than keep it on file.  (One creatively enterprising possibility — that would need to be further inquired about — would be whether NY could see its way clear to allow Norse to go ahead with drilling the entire well this year, and then only later to seek permission for completing it with a high-volume hydraulic fracture — after the rules are finalized.)

Either way, however, a skeptical observer should be asking:  What possible advantage could Norse gain by being so far ahead of the game with this application?  I think the answer lies somewhere along the lines of Norse's need to play to an audience of current and future investors, as well as to the resource owners, many of whom remain impatient for there to finally be some progress — any progress! — on shale gas in New York.

Similar activity occurred on December 24, 2010, when Norse actually went to the trouble of spudding its first vertical Utica well, the Aarismaa 1 near Norwich, as I previously outlined here.  However — it turned out, a short six months later — Norse for unknown reasons plugged and abandoned the project on June 28, 2011, having only drilled a 20-foot-deep starter hole.

Another way of seeing how tightly Norse's fortunes have gotten wound around New York's shale gas axle would be to — holy cow! — check out the share price spike the company experienced over the July 1 weekend.  I don't know enough about this stuff to be able to distinguish American dollars from Norwegian krones on a stock chart, but it looks like — in whatever currency — Norse's share price quickly doubled between June 30 and July 5 (although it hasn't stayed so high since).  What happened, in the interim, was this:  The
Cuomo Administration — starting with an anti-driller's news leak which broke around midday, June 30 — let it be known for the first time that it was going to take a Cautiously Gung-Ho stance on developing shale gas in New York.

[Cautiously Gung-Ho?  Well, in this political environment, I guess you can't ask for much more than that.]

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Frack War, Year 3: Commence Exploitation of Children in Advertising

This is the Come-One, Come-All poster for the 2011 version of Cabot's Community Picnic — to be held Saturday, July 23, at the Harford Fair Grounds, just off Route 81, in Susquehanna County, (NE)PA.  Over the last four years of extensive Marcellus shale gas development in that locality, Cabot Oil & Gas has made a lot of friends, and a lot of enemies — although I think it would be fair to say that their enemies are way louder.  About 2,300 mostly friends showed up during the premier event last year, and this year, in addition to free food and gifts, they're going to showcase a lot of heavy equipment — which should easily win over this guy.

These are ads from an anti-fracking campaign put out by a well-endowed network of Hudson River area green groups.  They've got so much money floating around, placing these ads, I've even seen certain versions of them turn up on pro-drilling web sites, such as  At the time of their original release, April 2011, my favorite remark upon them came from Jennifer K. Levine, writing for the NYS Business Council, who said:  "This girl is adorable, all dressed up in her water ranger gear.  Let’s cut to 10 years from now when she can’t find a job and has to pack up her superhero cape and goggles and leave New York in search of a brighter future."

NYS Natgas Production Down 23% in 2010
But Check Out These Top Ten Wells

[Blogger's note:  Original post July 7, 2011, then revised July 15, and now this:  On July 20, this story was amplified upon by Forbes energy writer Christopher Helman, who spells it out here with a bit more pointedness than usual.  My original post was and is based on my own query against the state's dataset as it existed around July 6.  I noticed only afterwards that the DEC had at some point in time issued official 2010 production totals in DBF format on its web page here — numbers which also show the downturn, but which vary somewhat from mine.  On July 14, Steve Reilly of the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin did a story based on the official government stats, which ran in a number of Gannett outlets (sample here).  So, just to correct the record, the DEC's official stats show NYS natgas production of 35.8 BCF in 2010, a drop of 20% by volume compared to the previous year.  I'm not able to open a DBF file, so I still haven't been able to figure out where the discrepancy originated.  One more thing:  Keep in mind that DEC Minerals Division should, in late July, issue its complete 2010 annual report, which will mine through all this data in many additional, illuminating ways.]

Stats maintained by the NYS DEC, but released from legal confidentiality as of July 1, show indigenous natural gas production in New York State was 34.57 BCF (billion cubic feet) in 2010 — a drop of 23% by volume, compared to 2009, when production was 44.85 BCF.

The prior dropoff in 2009 was 11% by volume, compared to 2008.

So, as I mentioned the other day here when covering New York's three-year downturn in drilling activity, we now have something of a confirmed trend going on.  The trend syncs up pretty closely with New York's having politically balked at the dawn of the shale gas revolution — at the exact same time as that's where most oil and gas investment money happened to be flowing, to other states, by the millions. 

Measuring the dropoff by dollar value requires assumptions regarding the price achieved at the wellhead by the state's various producers, and I'm just not going to get into it — at least not on the basis of comparing things year to year.  Later during the month of July, 2011, the NYS DEC Minerals Division should be releasing its 2010 annual report, and they will undoubtedly pick an average statewide $ per MCF number for year-to-year comparison purposes.  So stay tuned for that.

The chart below shows the top ten producing wells during 2010.  Note that all the best wells continued to be horizontal Black River limestone producers drilled in the Southern Tier counties of Steuben and Chemung during the Aughts — except for Norse's Corey 2H, which is a horizontal Herkimer sandstone well, drilled in the Town of Smyrna, Chenango County. 

In terms of payout to the landowner — based on unit size, per acre, per year — the Corey 2H would probably be the Number 1 well statewide.  This would have to be double-checked by somebody with better computer access and more patience, but I believe this is the first time that's happened for such an easterly wildcat in New York State.

Well Name Operator Gas (MCF=1000 Cubic Feet) Value if $4.16 per MCF (EIA) Royalty if 12.5% (No Deductions) Unit Size Royalty per Acre per Year County (Town)
The Center at Horseheads 1 Anschutz Exploration Corporation   1,324,941 $5,511,755 $688,969 637.72 $1,080 Chemung
Gross D1 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   1,010,952 $4,205,560 $525,695 631.88 $832 Steuben
Dzybon 1 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   883,475 $3,675,256 $459,407 664.74 $691 Steuben
Nowlan 1 (626469) Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C.   809,355 $3,366,917 $420,865 634.51 $663 Chemung
Reed 1 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   677,876 $2,819,964 $352,496 515.42 $684 Steuben
Lovell 1323 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   636,843 $2,649,267 $331,158 636.08 $521 Chemung
(Big Flats)
Hartman, BJ 1 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   575,660 $2,394,746 $299,343 630.51 $475 Steuben
Harndon 1 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   569,990 $2,371,158 $296,395 639.19 $464 Steuben
Corey 2H Norse Energy Corp USA   511,776 $2,128,988 $266,124 87.53 $3,040 Chenango
Cotton-Hanlon 2 Talisman Energy USA Inc.   478,940 $1,992,390 $249,049 650.72 $383 Chemung
(Van Etten)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Great Quotes of Late from the
Shale Gas Hydro Fracking Debate

"This is the worst thing that can happen...  It's chemical genocide.  These people are ultimately dying due to the radiation contamination."
Toshia Hance of the Town of Augusta, Oneida County, NY,
as quoted by Gary Liberatore of WKTV News Channel 2, Utica, NY,
on July 18, 2011.  (Hance was one of eight Central New Yorkers who took
a bus tour of PA drilling sites — apparently paid for, arranged, organized,
orchestrated, and open-only-to anti-drillers).

"What is most troubling is the suggestion by This American Life that the integrity of our research is a commodity that can be bought and sold.  On the contrary, the veracity of our scholarship is priceless, and serves as the very foundation of our reputation as a research university.  The notion that we would accept a monetary donation in return for favorable research findings is insulting — baseless speculation rooted in a conspiratorial imagination."
From an official statement issued on behalf of Penn State,
the institution, July 15, 2011. (Responding to a recent radio program
by the NPR-affiliated show, which I did not catch, and which I will not
be tracking down now, because I absolutely cannot stand the pinched
condescending smugness of the voice of its host, Ira Glass.)

"Joining this group requires approval.  The manager has requested that you answer the following question:  Please give us your name, location, and a brief statement about the reason for your interest in the NYRAD discussion group.  Thanks!"
From the application required prior to joining a
Google [Discussion] Group entitled NYRAD,
or New York Residents Against Drilling
(It is said to currently number 216 members.)

"The NYT reporter and his editor consistently shape information to serve their dominant anti-gas narrative by including sensationalistic words like 'ponzi scheme' to stampede opinion, excluding key data, ignoring conflicting opinions, using anonymous, unchallenged sources, inaccurately describing sources to mislead readers, and other sleazy techniques.  The NYT Reporter and his editor do the same thing on their gas beat that Fox News and the House of Murdoch do every day when covering President Obama.  Of course many viewers of Fox and readers of the Drilling Down series get their prejudices and biases confirmed.  But they do not get the truth from this despicable sort of journalism."

— Former head of the PA DEP, John Hanger, in a delicious July 17, 2011 blog post
(calling attention to the fact that New York Times "Public Editor," or Ombudsman,
Arthur Brisbane had the day previously remarkably challenged the Gray Lady's
own recent style in investigative journalism, as practiced specifically by Ian Urbina.) 
[Yes, Hanger had a prior run-in with Urbina.]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Seldom Seen Experts Speak in WNY July 13
Including NYS Geologist Taury Smith

[Original post July 12, 2011.  Checking for it a number of different ways afterwards, I find that this conference was not covered, referenced, or even mentioned in passing by any media outlet, blog, or web site anywhere.  (Though, of course, there's always still time.)  This could very well be because IOGA of NY orchestrated its event as an industry-only affair.  But — as we have already seen in PA — I don't think that's going to work in the long run for shale gas in NY.]

Here is some little-noticed scheduling from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA of NY), which has its 2011 Summer Meeting set for this Wednesday and Thursday upcoming, July 13 and 14, at a conference center in Findley Lake, west of Buffalo, NY.

The day-long technical program on July 13 features a number of New York-based experts on oil and gas geology, regulation, and enterprise — notably including NYS Geologist Taury Smith, whose strained public profile I've previously covered here, as well as the very-low-profile DEC Minerals Division Chief, Brad Field.

With the exception of John Holko, who is an officer with IOGA of NY, and Scott Cline, who has written a number of excellent op-eds, very few of these folks have appeared in mainstream media with any degree of regularity over the last three-plus years of non-stop coverage of the shale gas issue.  To me, the number of times the same handful of anti-drilling activists have been consulted and quoted, over and over again — rather than any of these actual experts — is astounding, remarkable and sad. 

I don't expect many reporters to suddenly turn a 180, and to take note of this meeting — or to make an effort to attend in order to report the highlights.  But I can't think of a good reason why they shouldn't. 
It's not as though there is any lack of public interest in this information.  But there may be a lack of journalistic interest in covering all the dimensions of this story.

Here are the speakers IOGA of NY's attendees will be hearing from:

John Holko, President, Lenape Resources Inc. — “ORPS: Property Tax Reporting — A Producer’s Perspective,” 8:45-9:00 am.

Brad Field, Director, Division of Minerals, NYS DEC — “NYS DEC Regulatory Update,” 9:00-9:30 am.

James Carr, Partner, Hinman Straub — “The Albany Perspective
NYS Legislative Update,” 9:30-10:00 am.

Adam Schultz, Attorney, Gilberti, Stinziano, Heintz & Smith— “Town Resolutions and the Impact to the Oil & Natural Gas Industry,” 10:00-10:30 am.

Taury Smith, State Geologist, NYS Museum — “New York’s Utica Shale,” 10:45-11:15 am.

Larry Wickstrom, State Geologist, Ohio Division of Geological Survey — “The Utica Shale Play
Will Ohio Be the Focal Point?” 11:15-11:45 am.
Panel — Water Disposal & Treatment Options in New York, 1:15-2:15 pm:

Chuck Kozora, Regional Business Development Manager, Aquatech International Corp. — “Wastewater Treatment Solution for Shale Gas — Mobile Industrial Distillation System.”
Paul Drof, Niagara Falls Water Board “Treatment of Hydrofracking Fluids/Residuals at Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants.”

Larry Shilling, Regional Vice President, Casela Waste
“A Study on the NORM Concentration of Drilling Waste.”
Scott Cline, PhD Petroleum Engineering — “Review of Subsurface Stimulation Fluid Retention Mechanisms and Unlikelihood of Fluid Communication with Shallow Aquifers,” 2:15-2:45 pm.

Rich Nyahay, Geology & Geophysics Manager, Gastem USA — “Historic Evidence Through Records of Water Resource Quality Before the Advent of Drilling,” 2:45-3:15 pm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flashback to 2009, When DEC Considered Landowners — Did the Science Change?

Neversink Reservoir by jeffs4653
NYC's Catskills/Delaware water collection system — from an explanatory sign overlooking
Neversink Reservoir — a shot by jeffs4653 on Flickr.  Note that the land misleadingly depicted in
green is actually 70% privately owned.  These private lands could be currently valued at more than
$2,000 per acre — particularly a
t the westernmost end — just for oil and gas leasing purposes. 
But not anymore — since, on July 1, 2011, NYS initiated an outright ban on the private sector
developing shale gas from these areas.
A forum participant at the CNY Landowners Coalition, johnNY, recently noticed something, and I too thought it was remarkable.

Below are some quotes [portions underlined by me] from prepared remarks by former NYS DEC Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis, who served under the previous Paterson Administration.  Grannis was speaking before a NYS Assembly hearing, Oct. 15, 2009, shortly after release of what turned out to be only a first-draft SGEIS.  (That's the cumbersomely named regulatory tome intended to systematically break down the new impacts expected, and the new rules needed, to produce natgas from Marcellus or Utica shale in NYS.)

Climate Week NYC 2010 - EV20 Roundtable by TheClimateGroup
Former NYS DEC Commissioner
Alexander "Pete" Grannis

at an event in NYC, September 20, 2010,
shortly before his firing during the
final months of the Paterson Administration.
This is a photo by TheClimateGroup on Flickr.

Grannis' full text is still online here, but — given the contrast between the then and now, and that Grannis served the prior administration — it may not stay up for much longer.
"The dSGEIS calls for extensive protections for public water supplies, with additional protections identified for primary and principle aquifers, and the New York City watershed.  DEC of course is as committed to the filtration avoidance determination as the City administration.  I have said it before and I will say it again:  DEC will not permit drilling that would jeopardize the City's watershed, or, for that matter, any other watershed..."

"While DEC is fully committed to protecting the New York City watershed, it should be noted that approximately seventy percent (70%) of the land in the New York City watershed is privately owned.  While there have been many calls for an outright ban on drilling within the New York City watershed, such a ban would limit the mineral rights of the private property owners.  Our conclusion, following the comprehensive evaluation of the drilling process, assessment of impacts, and implementation of mitigation measures, is that if drilling takes place pursuant to the dSGEIS there is no substantive basis to believe that water quality will be degraded in the New York City watershed, or that the filtration avoidance determination will be impacted..."

"As much of the discussion regarding the New York City watershed to date has been a general expression of conclusions, the public comment period is an opportunity for the proponents of special restrictions in the City's watershed to objectively and substantively explain with specificity the underlying basis for their risk assessment, and directly address how the mitigation measures proposed are in their view insufficient, bearing in mind the legal standards we must follow in taking administrative action, and the State's burden if it were to act in a way that impacts on private landowner rights..."
Looking back in time, Grannis' text strongly illuminates a turnabout in NYS DEC policy, triggered over the last three years of the Late Great Hydro Fracking Debate.  The change is especially marked with regard to the question of whether private interests should be allowed to make private deals to develop shale gas under private lands — when those lands happen to be located uphill from places where big cities collect (but don't want to filter) their drinking water.

SkaneatelesLakeSouthEnd2005 by lvanvlee8
Farmland draining to Skaneateles Lake — should winter ever end
is another terrific aerial by Bill Hecht (2005), as posted by lvanvlee8 on Flickr.
Originally — from Summer 2008 to at least late 2009, the time of Grannis' speech — the DEC took the position that shale gas drilling and fracking could in fact be done safely in those areas (in the same way as conventional drilling, before and since).  The DEC also said the property rights of landowners deserved at least some degree of consideration.

Then, for months afterwards, the public firestorm grew.

In April 2010, Grannis — at Paterson's behest, or with his backing — unilaterally threw those same landowners into a special class of unpaid, uncompensated, paper-rights-holding people — but only in such a way as to bureaucratically try to weasel out of the "takings" question.  Yes, yes, a driller could still drill in those so-called watershed areas — theoretically, maybe, some day — but only if it first succeeded in shepherding through to completion a site-specific environmental impact statement, presumably a new one for every series of wells from a single well pad.

Still thereafter, New York City remained wildly unsatisfied with this level of "protection"

 — to put it mildly.

Then, in July 2011, DEC Chief Joseph Martens — with the backing of the Cuomo Administration — dropped even any remaining pretense of balance on this question.  In the unfiltered, big-city watershed areas (and over certain publicly significant groundwater supplies — all of which are filtered before consumption, without controversy, or excessive expense, by the way), outright bans are now on the cusp of being permanently imposed against the exercise of certain key, long-standing property rights.

My Water Supply by CarbonNYC
NYC's off-limits Ashokan Reservoir in upstate,
a photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr.

[Basically, in certain geographic places where the public interest in water seems like it's threatened by private rights in minerals, the landowners have simply lost.  And nobody proposes the public interest should pay a nickel for its imposition!  Just so it's clear to readers where I stand on this issue, let me just say this:  I'm actually okay with these bans, at least for the time-being — but only if government double-checks its popularly-driven zeal for controlling everything with the very significant public expense of being fair to these landowners.  If all taxpayers or water rate payers had to temporarily lease, or permanently buy out, these mineral rights — then how controlling would they demand to be, really?  It's easy to be in favor of controlling everything, and banning everything, when there's no consequence for you personally.  But there should be no free lunch.  In fact, if the public actually took control of these mineral rights, by force or by open market, I believe — in the long run, after the dust had settled — government could eventually find a way to itself responsibly drill and frack and make some income from those areas.  The New York City Water Department could be in charge of deciding when and how and whether to supply consumers with both clean drinking water, and clean-burning natural gas — from the very same lands.  If it turns out NYC doesn't want to ever do both — well, then, that's their privilege as owner!]

I don't agree with the rhetoric of anti-drillers very often.  I can really only think of a couple recurring themes from the anti's which ring true with me.  (One of these revolves around incessant pleas for delay — based on the assertion that fossil fuels still in the ground will only get more and more valuable, as time goes on.  To me, that sounds like a reasonable forecast — but it's also an assessment of the future that I think the actual owners should be in charge of interpreting and acting upon.)

n501807078_1122631_4947 by Chris_Park
Young woman recreating in Skaneateles Lake
(my source of drinking water as a Syracusan),
is a photo by Chris_Park on Flickr.

In the case of the water issue, the agreed-upon truth here, between me and opponents, has to do with the fact that the NYS DEC has made numerous distinctions between how to regulate different areas of upstate — but solely for political reasons, hidden behind a tangled web of expert obfuscation, and scientific analysis.

I agree with the opponents:  This is not science.  This is pure naked politics — calculated to divide, to conquer, and to get it done, already.

And, I admit, like most of New York, I'm basically okay with that.  But only if you're upfront about it.  And only if you compensate the victims of these game-changing, regulatory decisions.  The current leaders of New York State no longer talk anymore about any of this — like Grannis once did, just two short years ago.  And there is not a single mainstream reporter working in New York State today with the intelligence — or the true sense of fairness — to ask these kinds of deep, real-world questions.  (Instead, they're all still stuck on the same half-dozen non-issues, posed and re-posed by anti-drilling activists.)

This new plan offers several proofs that politics have indeed trumped, without challenge, rational regulation.

On state lands, old-school drilling (and, in fact, old-school fracking) are still allowed — as these resource extractions have been routinely allowed, in the same way as tightly controlled timber-cutting has been routinely allowed, throughout the state's history of post-Depression land ownership.  (Woe — the pitiful memories of upstate media:  NYS's last oil and gas lease auction on public lands was as recently as 2006, and those leases still haven't expired!)  But now we see that shale gas development — at least if undertaken from the surface of those state lands — has been suddenly ruled inconsistent with the public purpose of those forests.  Why?  What about the public purpose represented by the plight of taxpayers in a state that has so few alternate sources of income to pay its rather significant bills?  What is so different between conventional and unconventional drilling that makes the latter so inconsistent with management of public lands?  Both have impacts.  Both have benefits.  Both can be safely done — the DEC just said so.  The science which purportedly underlies the distinction is very hard for me to see.  In fact, I don't think it's there.  Much more noticeable is the politics of throwing opponents a sacrificial scalp, so they can go back to their people in a self-congratulatory way, telling the tale about how they won this battle.

Farm along East Lake Road overlooking
Skaneateles Lake,
a photo by anoop! on Flickr.
Similarly, if an oil and gas E&P company were to be so venturous as to propose, right now, to drill and complete a vertical or horizontal wildcat in conventional bedrock from a spot upstream of Skaneateles Lake, or upstream of NYC's Catskills reservoirs — there would technically be no regulation currently in place, or contemplated, to formally stop them.  In fact, running forward, this will still be allowed, at least on paper, while development of shale gas, on the other hand, is formally banned in those areas.  Why?  If this is only about the risk of sediment winding up in surface sources of unfiltered drinking water — well, then, let me be the first to point out that there is no meaningful difference between the technology of sediment control from a conventional well site, versus what goes on during an unconventional project.

Again, I agree with the drilling opponents:  The regulatory distinctions here are not about science, facts, or what's known about actual environmental impact.  The distinctions are about calming the political passions of those millions of New Yorkers who have — at the voices of often outrageously inaccurate, agenda-driven persuasiveness — lost their heads.

It is disgusting to me, really, the extent to which our publicly employed experts abuse their position and their expertise — by pretending, by never coming clean, and by never simply saying out loud what the Real Deal is.

In fact, they are dishonest — because honesty is too ferociously punished by the body politic.

Anyway, you can think what you want.  And you can say what you want.  But let me just say this, before it's too late:  This sort of bald dishonesty — popularly enforced against the very same experts upon which most of us ordinary people desperately rely — is a very dangerous game.