Friday, July 29, 2011

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.

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