Thursday, November 17, 2011

Photographs From Nov. 17 SGEIS Hearing in Binghamton: Landowners as Underdogs

This is a display from a recently formed pro-drilling coalition of both pro-business and pro-labor groups — together with landowners who originally organized themselves in order to attempt collective bargaining of leases with the drilling industry.  I'm not sure if I can put my finger on it, exactly, but the artwork has a very interesting leftist vibe to it — which, to my eye, is nicely counter-intuitive in the context of this dispute.

An anti-driller — sometime during the hearing — had apparently come along and planted signs in front of the hotel where the landowners had earlier gathered to warm up, and to pick up some swag, and to be fed lunch.  But the intrusion was soon thereafter eclipsed with more pro-gas signage, simply placed in front.
Nicole Jacobs from Energy In Depth, Northeast Marcellus Initiative.  This is an industry-organized and industry-funded web site, which has taken on the basically impossible job of correcting or counter-spinning significant misinformation coming from the anti-drilling side.  The freaky-but-effective, frack-related distortions have been very successfully spread by the Internet, or during in-person "educational forums" in the PA and NY areas over the last three or more years.  EID Northeast, on the other hand, has been trying to dig the pro-gas side out, since sometime earlier this year.
This was a new T-shirt on me, sponsored, as you can see, by, which looks like another outreach attempt from the American Petroleum Institute.  If it were up to me, I would not have printed anything on a yellow background.  But these did at least stand out for the day.
An usher told me the Forum officially held 1,527 seats.  But they didn't use the balcony to seat the crowd during the 1-4 p.m. session.  So I would say attendance in Binghamton on Nov. 17, midday round, was around 1,200.  It was tight, and occasionally more than a little testy.  That is Victor Furman with his arms folded on the right.  He earlier gave the DEC a three-minute piece of his mind, and he has also become a persistent pro-drilling voice in the Binghamton area, especially on the letters page, and in the thoroughly over-heated comments section of the online Press and Sun-Bulletin.
This is Hazel Brandt from Windsor, NY, and her very powerful, very personal, pro-drilling statement has been since preserved by EID-Northeast here.  Definitely worth a read.  She had to drop her cane in order to handle her notes.

The NYS DEC took testimony from as many speakers as they could fit in, between 1 and 4 p.m., at the rate of three minutes per speech — minus, of course, time lost to explaining ground rules, walks to the podium, applause and boos, official shushing of the applause and boos, and people who tried to go over their limit.

The anti's seemed to go over their limit quite a bit, which inevitably led the gassers to yell "Time!"

Having to sit and listen quietly to so much absolutely preposterous untruth — some from the excessively hopeful gassers, but by-far-most from everywhere-doom-seeing anti-drillers — was very difficult for me.  (And that was pretty much why I was not able to stick it out for the evening session, sorry to say.)  My only comfort, the whole day long, was the knowledge that soon somebody who shared my sentiments would be yelling "Time!"

Looking back, it occurs to me that that should be the landowners' rallying cry against all further shale gas delay:  "Time!"
This is Hazel Brandt again.  This was the right coat to wear to this event.  As the day progressed, I learned that I could tell which side each speaker would be on, immediately beforehand — based solely on garb, hair, and body type.  Only one speaker threw me — a tall female small-scale farmer in felted wool pants, whom I mistakenly thought for sure was going to be on the "Absolutely Not" side.  There were a surprising number of frack-o-phobic women who appeared to be nursing late-stage eating disorders, their pants on the verge of falling off.  The pro-gas side, on the other hand, both male and female, looked like a bunch of pretty enthusiastic eaters.  (Just FYI:  I'm in no position to throw out the first potato.)

One of the interesting things about this battle — and it's something that the generally under-40 media people simply don't have the life context to appreciate — is the fact that the anti-drilling side has been basically engaging in this sort of dramatic street showmanship, on one issue or another, their entire post-adolescent lives.  It's old hat to them.  (Hopefully, in a year or two, it'll be something new.  Possibly they'll be taking on the scenic blight of windmills — or some other, equally quixotic cause.)

The pro-gas side — not so much.

o get even a handful of these kinds of people out of their kitchens, their diners, their Masonic Lodges, or their volunteer firemen's halls — out onto the streets of Binghamton, NY — this issue must carry a lot of unprecedented, personal oomph for them.

And so here they are.

Many of these folks are the authentic old-guard anchors of upstate New York — my upstate New York.  But a surprising number of others are thickly accented NYC metropolitan transplants — with hearts of gold.  Or recent immigrants to the U.S.A. — who have discovered some unexpected obstructions to their personal American dreams.  Behind every face, I believe there is a story of
personal transformation.  But these have all been missed by reporters working today — so enamored are they with the latest fully-acted screaming sound-bite from Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Total bullshit.

Total friggin' bullshit.
On at least three occasions, I noticed anti-frackers smoking cigarettes in the street outside Binghamton's Forum Theater.  I had heard about this previously, but I was a little surprised to see it in person.  These guys are still smoking?  I mean, believe me — I'm all for free choice.  And, as an ex-nicotine junkie myself, I maybe hesitate a bit to sling this kind of mud.  But what is wrong with this kid?  If he's truly concerned about health risks, he should simply take a hard look at what he's already habitually sucking down.  Even if he actually worked full-time on a drilling rig, smoking is easily a thousand-times-bigger issue than any health impact his body would ever see from shale gas development.
As you can tell from the banner on my home page, this is my favorite message from the pro-gas side.  In fact, soon after it was put out in bumper sticker form, I wrote a whole post about just this message.  The fellow on the left is Douglas Lee (spelling?), and he later gave a speech inside, demolishing a long list of falsehoods from the anti-frack side, with a voice still nicely accented with his native tongue (which I don't know for sure, and which I didn't get a chance to ask).  The tall blond woman in the middle was the only speaker for which I could not guess her preference beforehand.  I forgot that I had seen her before the hearing started, standing out here with these characters.
I'm pretty sure this is Victor Furman, who was second in line for entry to the DEC's 1-4 p.m. hearing in Binghamton on Nov. 17.  I was there by maybe 9:30 a.m., and so he had to have planted himself sometime beforehand.  Very clever sign.  Later on, there was a speaker inside — a different fellow — who actually felt the need to explain his midday weekday presence with this:  "I'm able to be here today because I don't have a job... Welcome to the Valley of Opportunity."

That's a reference to an old catch-phrase for the Greater Binghamton area — the so-called Triple Cities — back when corporations like Endicott-Johnson, or Singer-Link, or IBM were credited with systematically improving the lives of thousands.  Now, for some reason, corporations
have been re-cast as villains (but not, strangely, not-for-profit corporations).
This is Dan Fitzsimmons, leader of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which is what I like to call "the coalition of coalitions" in upstate New York.  Formed in the Fall of 2008 — shortly after New York's temporary shale gas moratorium got started — JLCNY today claims to represent more than 20,000 households, 70,000 people, and 800,000 acres, mostly in the Southern Tier.

Given the popularity of the drilling issue within upstate media, you would think Fitzsimmons would already be findable, pictured many times on Google Images — and also be findable, quoted hundreds of times, on Google News.  Instead, I assert that JLCNY and Fitzsimmons and many others on the pro-gas side have been routinely ignored by upstate media — especially those outlets originating as daily newspapers. 

This is simply because the current generation of journalists is too committed to a reflexive (but essentially untruthful) enviro's-versus-industry narrative.  Tell me, where do the pro-drilling landowners fit in this narrative?  Where do the job-hungry labor unions fit?  Or the pro-drilling chambers of commerce?  The story that's customarily told — over and over again — is not the whole truth, and it's not the whole story.  And my frustration level on this point is beyond bursting.

I know Fitzsimmons has been called for a quote once or twice before, but I believe this is the first web-posted photo of him.  Three years later — this is the first.  To me, that is amazing. 
I think I'm now officially starting to lose track of the number of web sites that have been created, over the last two years or so, with the specific calibration of taking the pro-shale gas side — in a seemingly authentic, grassroots way.  In my recollection, Shale Country was one of the earlier entrants — leading with some fairly artfully done slide-shows-with-voiceovers.  But there wasn't much updating or follow-through — which is certain death for any web site.  I don't know enough about the genealogy of the oil and gas policy family to be able to explain all the subtle shadings and differences, presumably traceable to all the various funding sources.  All I know is, with regard to this Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale fight, everything in NY and PA has been too little and too late from the pro-drilling side. 

All hindsight, and no foresight, in other words. 

Running forward, we shall see.


Anonymous said...

don't you have a smaller font?

virtuallyme said...

Nice work, Andy and great to finally meet you! Thanks for all you do to get the message out

OurLand said...

Andy, Great coverage of the event.
My speech was tossed after sitting and listening to the 32 Antis prior!
I did not deliver it well.
I could not sit their and hear one more person talk about polluted water,in the waste land of Dimock PA.
September 25 2011 a call went out to all anti NG development groups.
Rally to save Dimocks water!
Dimock a township with a population of 1400 located in Susquehanna County a total 40,000 residents.
On that sunny September day only 4 Dimock residents attended "The Save Dimock water Rally? The 4 residents of Dimock were the litigants on Carter Rd. This brings up the question to the audience of fear at the forum.

Where were you!

A community tells the story. Four people from a potential 40,000? The four with a vested interest from a law suit?

I heard from the voice of Grag Suatner yesterday the 17, his water is contaminated!

Before it was polluted by "fracking" fluid! His water is contaminated from methane!

When you sit on top of one of the largest NG finds in the world you MIGHT have this issue/blessing.
A towns name now forever attached to wasteland! Because of a problem blown so out of proportion to forward an agenda for a few. Will the Suatners.."friends" NYRAD be their when this is over?
How is it a Town that created such an opportunity for our youths future restores its proud past and future.