Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Terrific Essay from Richard Downey, The Voice of the Upper Susquehanna

[Blogger's note:  I'm told this was scheduled to appear in the 12/31/2011 Oneonta Daily Star, but I can't tell as of right now whether it made it or not, or how much of it made it.  Downey is a former NYC school teacher, now retired upstate, who finds himself leading a coalition of pro-drilling landowners in the Greater Unadilla-Otego area — in a pitched battle against the local forces of "sustainability," whatever you want that to mean.]

For pure chutzpah, you gotta love it.  Adrian Kuzminski tells us “NIMBY is good.”  Move over, Gordon Gekko.  “Greed is good” is so-o-o Eighties.  There’s a new mantra in town.  We’re all New Age now.

In his Nov. 19th Op Ed piece, “Sustainable Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word,“ Mr. Kuzminski condemns a hydrocarbon based economy, population growth, consumer demand, distant sourced food, energy, and manufactured products, Big Business, Big Government, and unresponsive politicians.  He lauds revitalization of our (organic) agricultural base, and processing local products for local use. Local renewable forms of energy — wind, solar, hydro, and biomass — are good.  Listing the evils of gas (you know the drill — no pun intended), he calls for home rule.

Not a bad list.  I can get on board for some of them.  And both mantras can be boiled down to “self interest is good.”  Again, no argument from me.  It’s central to Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.”  Capitalism 101.  My argument with Mr. Kuzminski is his grasp on reality and his cramped application of the term “sustainability.”

So what is reality?

Our nation gets 45% of its electricity from coal, 25% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear, 7% from hydro, and 2% from wind.  Solar barely registers.  Wind/solar exists only with massive subsidies.  Solyndra, part of a $16 billion loan guarantee package that was supposed to generate 17,000 jobs, sucked $535 million out of the taxpayers’ pockets.  Chump change, actually.  Each job in the total package is underwritten with over $940,000 of public money.  How’s that grab you?

In transportation there’s no substitute for the internal combustion engine, the diesel, or the turbine.  These engines power 94% of commerce worldwide.  Without them we’re back to the ox cart and boats with oars.  As for electric cars, remember 70% of the generating power comes from hydrocarbons, 20% nuclear.

Hydrocarbons are the feedstock for everything from grocery bags to structural resins.  From the frames of Mr. Kuzminski’s glasses to the synthetic fibers in his clothes to the elastic in his boxer shorts to the “rubber” on the soles of his shoes, Mr. Kuzminski is wrapped in hydrocarbons.  As are we all.

To get those hydrocarbons 90% of all new wells drilled in the United States are hydrofraced.  This 60 year old technology, substantially enhanced over the last two decades by incorporating horizontal drilling, has unleashed the vast reserves in shale formations that make the US the “Saudi Arabia of gas.”  Oil production is likewise increasing.  So much oil and gas is being produced that US pipelines are in reverse flow to accommodate our neighbors to the north and south.  US dependency on foreign oil has fallen from 60% to 47% over the last 5 years.  It continues falling.

With Poland, Germany, Argentina, Australia and China developing reserves, shale gas is upsetting geopolitical power balances.  50% cleaner than coal and 30% cleaner than oil, expect a dip in pollution everywhere gas replaces coal.

No man is an island.  We’re not hobbits in the shire.  From our earliest days we’ve depended on others outside our valley to produce goods that suit our needs and desires.  Somebody outside of Otsego County made the Prius that was parked in front of me yesterday.  Nobody walked to the DEC hearings.  Few of us make their own clothes.  We buy them at Walmart.  Sure, we should eat only local foods but … oh, those oranges!

Mr. Kuzminski lists the evils of drilling — bad water, gutted roads, undesirable real estate.  A suggestion:  get in your car and hydrocarbon your way down to Pennsylvania.  Talk to people; the real estate broker, the town clerk, the guy behind you at the 7-11.  Drive around.  Look at the roads.  Do you see the nightmare scenario painted by the antis?  Search for FOR SALE signs.  I found one 4 miles north of Montrose on the left hand side.  Maybe YOU can find one also!

Then come home.  Ask why are there so many houses for sale?  Why are our young leaving?  Why are our schools emptying out (18% decline in 10 years)?

Why?  No opportunities for young families.  Retirees come for the many amenities Mr. Kaminski enumerates but Otsego’s overall population stagnates, growing ever older.  We’re Scottsdale, AZ, with icicles.  An exemplar of sustainability?  Perhaps somebody‘s, but not mine.

Sustainability is a locally produced cheap form of energy called gas.  Gas will attract and retain industry (think Amphenol) and stabilize our family farms and woodlots and provide tax revenue for our towns and schools.  The good paying jobs generated will attract young workers and their families.  Only opportunity will truly sustain our community.

NIMBY is good?  Yeah, good if you’re a NIMBY.  Not so good for others looking for a better life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More Quiet News from Big Flats Water Case: Anschutz Pushes to Get it Over With

A thick set of legal filings from 12/28/2011 shows the defending Anschutz Exploration Corporation is pushing to expose the Fall 2010 water contamination complaints from Big Flats, NY, homeowners as groundless.

Anschutz, in a nutshell, is saying, "There's no there there."

Anschutz Filings 12-28-11

I do this out of a sense of alarm that the news-consuming public is being very badly misled by the cumulative impact of current media fashion and behavior. 

In fact, New York Times reporter Mireya Navarro — in the course of some counter-intuitive reporting on the economic boom PA fracking has triggered in the still-frackless Southern Tier of NY— recently provided another example of this phenomenon.  NYT editors chose to bury some details about the Big Flats case in a blog sidebar, rather than including them in the printed version of the main story.  And yet, in the process of even that burial, Navarro reported only the DEC's preliminary findings of its investigation — and not its significantly more damning final report, which I've had posted here since August 2011.

The case of Baker et al. versus Anschutz has not seen any new filings between July and December 2011.  To me, this raises a question as to the motives and seriousness of the plaintiffs' lawyers.  If there's, in fact, no there there, let me ask:  Are these lawyers working just hard enough to keep this thing slowly rolling — mainly because the case is good advertising for them in the course of drumming up possibly more lucrative, future clients?

The contrast in media coverage of the two sides of the Big Flats case clearly has something to do with the modern definition of news:  If an apparent little guy (to whom the public is pre-disposed to feel sympathetic) comes forward with spectacular-but-vague allegations against an apparent big guy (to whom the public is pre-disposed to dislike and mistrust), then that is unquestionably news.  News of the case against Anschutz, at the point of filing, was covered worldwide — triggered by an error-laden press release from the plaintiffs' lawyers, who specialize in this sort of litigation.

If, however — months or years later — the complaint turns out to lack scientific credibility, or legal credibility, or both, the media just let it fade away without much notice.  On some level, media people must feel uncomfortable running a story that actually accomplishes the public service of getting to the truth of the matter — which is that not all of these environmental complaints have merit.

What has become of NY AG Schneiderman's attempt to impede drilling in the multi-state Delaware River watershed — by pursuing a case against the federal government on grounds of insufficient environmental review?

What has become of the Maryland AG's once-announced plan to sue Chesapeake Energy over the broken wellhead incident at the Atgas well site (Township of Leroy, Bradford County, PA), which occurred hundreds of miles upstream of the Maryland state line in the then-swollen Susquehanna watershed?

What has become of Berish versus Southwestern, originally touted as one of the first water contamination cases in PA?

We don't know, because the media are incapable of fitting the actual current facts into anything that feels, to them, like a news story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Let the Landowners Be Heard: Video Highlights from the Shale Gas Showdown

Much as I personally respect the facts, the science, and the technology behind shale gas, it turns out the public debate on this issue is not really all that much influenced by those things.  Instead, this is a persuasive contest in which emotion counts.

So now I'm glad to see the pro-drilling landowners are finally getting their voices recorded and put out there, in a faithful, persuasive way.  I recognize a lot of faces and statements from the Binghamton hearing. 

Please, let's get this shared far and wide.