Friday, April 27, 2012

Cabot-Williams Constitution Pipeline:
New Developments Missed By Upstate Media

Again, the Cabot-Williams "Constitution Pipeline" — a proposed 30-inch, 121-mile, PA-NY natural gas line — was first put out by press release, and a very generalized map, on Feb. 21, 2012. 

I have previously described this as an "interconnect" — designed, at least in part, to shift natgas from one or more over-capacity mainlines in PA, to two or three mainlines running through NY.  But recent details — including this map, especially at the southern end, where it looks as though it's intended solely to collect from the Marcellus shale gas fields of NE PA — call into question that description.

Anyway, here's what's new lately:

1) As noted, as of April 5 or so, there's this newer, better map available — but, as always, still somewhat generalized, and still subject to change.  (Click above into a new window to see it all clearly.)

2) As of April 24 or so, generally pro-development landowners with the CNY Landowners Coalition have been reporting survey crews on the ground in the Town of Afton, Chenango County, NY — presumably in connection with this project.  Leaders from this and other coalitions have also vowed to help open-minded landowners along the general route get organized as a protective negotiating block — first for the purpose of information-sharing, but also for simply raising the knowledge level out there.  No dates or places have been set yet, to my knowledge, but this would definitely be worth keeping an eye out for.

3) As of April 23, at least some landowners on the preliminary route reported having received in that day's mail survey-request letters.  That's according to Windsor farmer Jim Worden, whom I believe plays a role with lease coalitions local to him, as well as with the Joint Landowners group, which is Upstate's "coalition of coalitions."  Worden also had a hand in helping landowners negotiate workable agreements with a shorter PA-NY pipeline billed early on under the name Laser Northeast Gathering, and afterwards purchased by lead Constitution developer Williams.

4) On April 24, the developers put out a press release indicating they've got contracts in hand to move all the initially announced capacity of 650,000 dekatherms per day (more than three-quarters of it committed, unsurprisingly, by 25% joint venturer Cabot).  To me, this indicates that market forces are unlikely to be an impediment to this development.

5) On April 16, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) accepted the developer's request to initiate a process known as pre-filing review, which appears aimed at early, planning-stage consideration of public feedback and environmental issues.  Looks like the developer is hoping for formal application January 2013, final FERC approval November 2013, and to be in service by March 2015, all of which could prove optimistic.  If you'd like to keep closer tabs on this and successive proceedings — which will inevitably become a blizzard of technical paperwork — bookmark FERC's e-Library and regularly search for "Constitution Pipeline," or Docket Number PF12-9-000.  (I don't know if they'll give a new number to the ultimate application.)

6) Also, here's a link to the developer's carefully worded, preliminary pitch to landowners, and state and local officials, on this thing, which I believe also dates from around April 5.

And what have mainstream media in Upstate NY and NE PA done with any of this?

Nothing but crickets, as of this writing.

Until the inevitable opposition gets organized — which is an unfortunate, but widely understood, media narrative in this part of the world — I believe coverage of this development will likely remain minimal or non-existent.  For some reason, just like the shale gas story, the economic side requires a constant stream of press releases — not all of it as complete, frank, or reliable as one might wish — and sometimes not even these get any notice.

I've come to believe that this might be one of the leading cultural reasons why New York State, and Upstate in particular, have devolved into such dysfunctional backwaters.  Our media and political systems have become over-porous for conflict, and for misinformation generated by professional activists, but coagulated against the flow of actual fact-gathering, and honest, unspun assessments.  Our servants in the purported public interest lack the resources, or the mindset, or both — and I guess it's up to additional, interested members of the public, such as myself, to try filling in some gaps, as free time allows.

Reading some of this new stuff closely, I see that using the Interstate Route 88 corridor — a half-cocked, pet suggestion of mine — supposedly remains an option for part of the route, though the developer is quick to say "not directly adjacent."  That sounds to me like they might be taking a very wide-angled view of what would constitute "co-location" with that corridor.  Anyway, we'll have to see.

Though my info is now dated, for background on this, I have three prior posts:

The initial Cabot-Williams announcement.

The prior, competing El Paso-Tennessee Gas Pipeline "Northeast Exchange" plan, which may or may not be shelved already.

An informal open letter to Governor Cuomo, suggesting that this could be another "Energy Superhighway" for his administration.

A question I wish media would ask:  The southernmost 30 or 40 miles of the Cabot-Williams deal are very similar to the older, shorter, and smaller Bluestone Pipeline, which still exists only on paper, and in the hands of a different developer.  Is it too late to hope for lower impact through either market-driven, or governmentally imposed, consolidation?

Also, does this project have any potential sync with an effort by Penn Virginia Resource Partnersrecent purchaser for $1.0 billion of Chief Gathering LLC — to develop an easement option won from the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern PA?  The seeming green group holds fee rights to an old, 28.8-mile-long D&H corridor snaking through eastern Susquehanna County, PA, at least as far as the NYS line.

Total "Constitution Pipeline" price tag, minus any "multiplier"?  I found an early answer on this:  Capital expenditure was guesstimated to be "between $700 million and $800 million at this point," during an April 26 Q&A between analysts and Williams Partners CEO Alan S. Armstrong.

Total employment impact, preferably in job-years?  (TGP's version was 7,165, just in NY.)

Total local property taxes anticipated?  (TGP's version was $15 million per year.)

And how much do they propose to pay landowners, per foot?

The list goes on...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

NYS PSC Accepts Bluestone Pipeline's $400K

[Original post April 6, 2012, but updated to accommodate subsequent events.]

Nearly a full year later — but two short weeks after the developer got down on bended knee with a $400,000 settlement offer — it's a done deal:  Bluestone Pipeline's Tree-Cutting Caper in the Town of Sanford, Broome County, NY, has come to a close, according to an April 19, 2012, order posted on the NYS Public Service Commission's server:

NYS PSC Accepts Bluestone Pipeline $400K Settlement 4-19-2012

To recap, this remarkable administrative sideshow involved tree-cutting on the New York portion of the proposed Bluestone pipeline route.  This was done by landowners, on their own land, and reportedly on their own initiative, in hopes of making a few extra bucks on timber or firewood deals, independent of the pipeline developer.  This occurred long before state officials had a chance to approve, deny, or modify the project, and it's unquestionably illegal for the pipeline developer to engage in that sort of advance work.  The landowners, on the other hand, always stood outside the reach of the PSC's dragnet, and a lawyer for at least one of them has described the state's investigation as "frivilous."

Anyway, it looked to me as though the PSC spent the better part of the last year, quietly fingering an investigative noose, and hoping something good might come of it.  They may have privately justified their administrative slowness on the theory that the State of New York could tolerate no loopholes, whether occurring by happenstance or unproven suggestion.

If you're anti-development, you'll probably be upset that This Thing with the Trees is not enough to stop the project, but you'll see the result as some kind of Sweet Justice

If you're pro-development, you might pity the out-of-state fool, and call it what it really is: An Empire State Shakedown.  To me, it sounds a little bit like being stuck in Algeria with an expired passport, and dealing with foreign customs officials who dither for months, seemingly lost in hazy indecisiveness.

Man, that is some pretty expensive timber!

Anyway, there are winners on this: 

— The Town of Sanford Food Bank (30% of the settlement).

— Environmental science students at Broome Community College (the other 70%).

— A few local governments and school districts in NY (not sure about PA), eager to enter even just their limited share of this 37-mile pipeline into the Almighty Property Tax System (while there are still no also-taxable shale gas wells permissible in NY).

— New York and Pennsylvania landowners, who stand to get paid, directly or indirectly, several different ways on this thing.

— Downstaters who are quietly enjoying themselves, downstream of all this Marcellus shale gas, (currently) available at Fire Sale Prices.

— The employed and unemployed of New York and Pennsylvania, most of whom want to go to work already (there's supposedly $250 million in unsubsidized private sector dollars, ready to be spent on everything from timber crews to weld X-ray technicians).

In fact, the unreported list of homegrown entities and officials which have so far gone on record with the PSC in support of this project reads like this:

— Labor unions:  Upstate NY Laborers' District Council (Syracuse); International Union of Operating Engineers, Upstate New York Operating Engineers, Local 158 (Glenmont, NY); and Laborers International Union of North America, Local 785 (Ithaca!).

— Landowner coalitions:  Broome-Delaware Coalition, and Deposit Gas Group

— Pro-business organizations:  Deposit Chamber of Commerce, Deposit Events Committee, and the Progress Authority (Towanda, PA).

— Local government:  Town of Sanford Town Board, and Debra A. Preston, Broome County Executive.

— State government:  NYS Assemblyman Clifford W. Crouch.

The losers on this: 

— Developer DTE Energy out of Michigan, which, as I said, basically innocently (but carelessly) strolled right into this whole mess.

— Opponents of drilling, and of indigenous fossil fuels generally, who are reluctant to let Upstaters see firsthand any further economic development spinoff from the Shale Gas Revolution, already well underway in PA.

— Reporters at the Binghamton Press, who will eventually be forced to hunt around for a new angle to fret over, in opposition to any local economic development they can't squeeze into one of their few acceptable narratives.

(And, yes, this is how these young, underpaid journalists behave — despite the fact that the area they purport to serve ranked in the last census as the biggest population loser statewide, by straight body count.)

For further background, I've written about Bluestone several times before.  For instance:  Deep inside a long criticism of the Binghamton paper, and a single photo that speaks a thousand words about the blinding PA-NY situational contrast.

New York Energy Politics:
Black and White and Read All Over

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In NYS, Irony Equals Hypocrisy — But We Don't Like to Talk About It Much

From the April 17, 2012, Norwich (NY) Evening Sun, whose generally pro-drilling coverage has long been invisible outside the region, behind a paywall.  For more on this incident, see Exhibit B below.
[Original post April 12, 2012.  Some updates internally, and to adjust for the clipping above.]

It's right under everybody's nose.  But you sure don't hear much about it.  Must be too dangerous. 

Ordinarily, irony — especially cheap irony — is something with great appeal for media people.  But apparently not in New York.  Reportorial senses seem to be dulled by youth, overwork, underpay, and relentless furrowed brows from Sixties Generation editors.

Some things are just too impolite to point out, evidently.

So, here, let me do the honors.

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Exhibit A — Ithaca, NY:  Progressive entrepreneurs organized as Energized Ithaca recently announced a plan to install a co-generation facility somewhere in that city's Nifty Downtown Area — in order to efficiently generate both electricity for the grid, and heat for nearby buildings.

I endorse this.  I'm all for electricity, heat, and efficiency.

This co-gen plan is still in its infant stages, and it doesn't look like any particular site has been picked yet.  But the apparently unprincipled Ithaca City Council was asked to back it in principle, and did so, unanimously, April 4, 2012.  Their symbolic act was greatly simplified by the fact that taxpayers aren't expected to be asked for any funds or tax breaks.

I endorse this.  I'm all for unsubsidized private sector development.

The entrepreneurs were apparently just looking to get some sign of Advance Public Consensus — and thus to fend off any possible Developmental Train Wreck, down the line.  That can happen.  In fact, energy infrastructure projects tend to often derail in that way, especially in highly educated, highly touchy, full-of-themselves, prone-to-protest regions— where it's practically a matter of Social Custom to challenge pretty much everything.

An area like Ithaca.

So what's the fuel source?  (Good question!  Excellent friggin' question!)

In its next-day coverage, generally describing how co-gen works, the Ithaca Journal made a trepidacious, passing reference to "gas turbines."  But nowhere did the reporter come out and openly report that this thing is gonna be powered by natural gas.  (That's inevitably the case, unless, I suppose, the developers were to later reveal they're actually thinking about wood chips, coal, sewage sludge, or garbage — and something tells me those ain't gonna fly, next door to The Commons, the pita man, the tapas bars, and the head shops.)

Now, if you've seen the news lately, you know that natural gas is the same stuff they're fracking the hell out of Pennsylvania in order to supply, among other places, still-frackless New York, including Ithaca — which ranks as The Northeastern U.S. Left Wing's HQ for the War Against Fracking.

It's heavy metal irony, dude.  It's radioactive hypocrisy.  It's everything you ever wanted in a local news story, but were simply too afraid to publish.
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Exhibit B — Town of Plymouth, Chenango County, NY:  As can be divined by a close reading of the online conversations hosted by the CNY Landowners' Coalition, a local anti-frack activist (and recently unsuccessful candidate for a seat on the town board), Peter Hudiburg, of South Plymouth, was exposed at an April 9 public meeting as somebody who — gasp! — signed, and then later extended, a gas lease!

(Not only that, but these were low-paying boilerplate lease documents, drafted by lawyers working for Norse Energy, the dominant operator in that locality.  And, not only that, but the time frame for at least one of Hudiburg's fully compensated signatures laps well into the period after shale gas became Public Enemy Number One for at least a certain class of Righteous Upstater.)

It would be one thing if Hudiburg had already voluntarily gone public with his past indiscretions, possibly somewhere within one of his lengthy letters to the editor published by the Norwich Evening Sun.  Or before he got rolling, during one of his prior, long-winded appearances before the Plymouth Town Board — seeking to add another locality to New York State's Symbolic Frack Ban Scoreboard.  (That's what the group Fleased stands for — upstate landowners who acknowledge they signed oil and gas leases in the past, before the enterprise became so controversial that they have now gotten pretty well freaked out about it.  Which is fair enough by me, for as long as they feel the need to be that way, concerning their own land.)

But that was never part of Hudiburg's schtick.

Instead, here's how it all went down, according to fastbasser, giving his review later the same night as a Plymouth Town Board meeting:
"When it was brought up, poor old Pete freaked...  He started yelling and would not let the 'presenter' finish what he was saying!  He was so belligerent, the Supervisor was forced to suspend the meeting, call the Sheriff's Department and have his sorry butt escorted out!"

"It was so entertaining!  A copy of his gas contract was then given to the board for their records."

"I wonder how he is gonna 'spin' this to all the sheep he has been lying to.  What a piece of work!!!!"
I suppose it's too much to hope that smartphone video cameras might have been ready and rolling.  If it helped the technologically blessed anti's, I'm sure it would have been posted by now.
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Exhibit C — Hamilton, NY:  This is the home of Colgate University, and — like most upstate college towns — even the graying members of the local population are generally Youthfully Outraged at the Threat Fracking Obviously Poses to Upstate.

Meanwhile, however, elected village elders — starting nearly three years ago — have been slowly shepherding through a plan for a non-profit, municipally owned utility to bring natural gas to the college, the hospital, the schools, and, later on, businesses and residents.

Two different supply pipelines could be tapped into, only eight miles away.  And, for the bigger institutions, the savings in heating costs alone are currently forecast to be 50% or more.  Which is kind of hard to argue against, unless you happen to be the sort of villager who takes seriously his or her philosophical consistencies. 

Media coverage on this one has, on at least one occasion, had the good, dutiful sense to call passing attention to the Psychological Stress such a money-saving innovation is triggering among the Anti-Frack Faithful.  Here's how a March 21, 2012, story in the Utica Observer-Dispatch handled it, down at the tail end
"[Mayor Margaret Miller] said the other topic that drew the most interest at the public hearing was how the gas utility would relate to hydraulic fracturing."
“'There is obvious concern, not only in Hamilton, but statewide and nationally, about the process of fracking in mining for natural gas.  Hamilton will not be mining for gas.  Our proposed municipal gas utility will be structured to buy gas from existing third-party sources and distribute it to users in the village,' explained Miller. 'Our plan is to provide access to an energy source that is cleaner and more economical than some of the other fuels currently available in the village. We respect the concern, and expect to explain the distinction again during the public meeting.'”
Isn't that special?

The latest report on Hamilton's utility plan indicates there's a referendum coming right up — open to registered village voters, April 17, noon to 9 p.m., at the Hamilton Public Library.  If I were running that vote, I would just love to slip in a second question, asking Hamiltonians how they feel about their own fellow Upstate New Yorkers someday being finally allowed to help supply the village — by making business arrangements to develop their subterranean resource.

[Update April 18:  Hamilton villagers proved themselves Wildly Gung Ho on the natgas question — at least as measured on the End Consumer side.  Reports today have the tally as 240-56 in favor, or better than 4-to-1 (Utica paper), or 240-86, or just less than 3-to-1 (Syracuse paper).  Now if we could just see about renting a table at their summertime farmer's market, and setting up a "Buy Local" shale gas promotion.]
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Exhibit D — Binghamton, NY:  The Gannett chain's Press and Sun-Bulletin — the merged successor to the newspaper I grew up delivering, reading, and at one time respecting — on April 10, 2012, announced it could no longer afford to give away its coverage for free online.  A pay wall is coming, which will slam shut before non-subscribing readers, after a limited number of teasy reads. 

I don't begrudge them this.  In fact, I don't begrudge anyone the need to make a living, certainly not around these parts.

But I do begrudge them the outrageous hypocrisy of working aggressively for years against the economic interests of their own readership, and then — way, way, way late in the game — complaining about the area's economic decay, and vowing to finally maybe do something about it.

Here's the part that just kills me:
"Starting in May, we will expand the way we deliver information to our readers and focus our reporting on the topics you have told us are most important...  We will be focusing more on topics you've told us you're passionate about: revitalization of the Triple Cities area, economic development and new opportunities for better jobs...  We believe that, as a business, we can no longer give away our unique and valuable content on the Web. The business model is changing, but we will continue our mission: serving the greater good of our community for many, many more years to come."
Isn't that choice?

This is the same paper that's systematically led the transformation of Upstate's Shale Gas Opportunity — and there's no place richer in natural gas from Marcellus shale than virtually every single acre traipsed by the God-forsaken carriers delivering that publication — into some kind of Freaky Cataclysmic Demon.

I don't know what, in particular, has finally triggered this avowed journalistic turn-around (nor will I believe it, until I see it).  Could be the well-publicized stumblings of the parent corporation, or the now-obvious poverty of its readership area, once called the Valley of Opportunity, an epithet that's now wholly sarcastic.

If it were up to me, though, heads would be positively rolling at that publication!

It is not enough to give readers a non-apology for years of ignoring their complaints of outrageous bias — and then to vow to finally cover what the people really care about, in a tolerable style of wide-angled perspective, and even-handed professionalism.

I don't care what kind of Woodward and Bernstein Dream World you live in.  But you don't earn a living, or win prizes, economically hurting your own people.  And that's exactly what the Binghamton Press has done for too long.

For that, I hope future readers — even if they have to pay for the privilege — never forget, and never forgive.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More Great Quotes From Upstate's Frack War

“No one denies the economic benefits are happening.”
— Pioneer anti-frack journalist Abrahm Lustgarten at an April 9, 2012, forum put on by ProPublica, the left-leaning investigative reporting collective that laundered funds to pay for all his early work.

"So the whole scheme shapes up to be an uneconomic structure whose primary purpose is to game the reg's to prove that some acreage might have uneconomic dry gas.  Sounds like a real propane commie clusterfrack, don’t  it?"
— Cooperstown, NY, anti-frack zealot James "Chip" Northrup in an April 5, 2012, posting — opposed to a landowner-brokered, Tioga County, NY, proposal, designed in part to appease environmentalists by substituting much smaller quantities of liquid propane for water as the medium of fracking.

"Fossil fuels are just so dangerously yesterday."
Ruth S. Young of Horseheads, NY, in an April 11, 2012, letter to the editor of the Binghamton Press, opposed to the same plan.

"I wonder if you haven't got your elephants ass-backwards. Given the volume of media attention toward drilling as the assumed culprit behind everything that's in Dimock water, it hardly qualifies. The true elephant in the room is the very real possibility that this water has returned to its pre-methane migration background state — some gassy, some with salts or minerals, but not toxic, and not anything that thousands of rural homeowners in PA and NY haven't long lived with."
Andy Leahy (NY Shale Gas Now), taking to task anti-frack reporter (and now anti-frack book author) Tom Wilber for his self-serving journalistic assumption to the effect that drilling impact on domestic water in Dimock, PA, represents some kind of "elephant in the room" in that long-running saga.

"Unfortunately, my clients cannot afford to pay me to travel to Albany to attend the conference.  It is our position that my clients have been dragged into this investigation for no meritorious or legitimate reason.  Although it is our position that this investigation is, in fact, frivolous, I am not avoiding the conference because of disrespect or irreverence to the tribunaL  Again, my clients simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer to represent them in Albany, NY."
— Dec. 6, 2011 letter from Robert J. Madigan, Jr. (a lawyer with Binghamton firm Coughlin & Gerhart), to the New York State Public Service Commission, while representing a land-owning couple in the Town of Sanford, Broome County, NY.  This had to do with a state inquiry against the developers of the so-called Bluestone Pipeline — but allegedly triggered by the actions of landowners, who harvested their trees along their portions of the anticipated route, far in advance of final project approval.

"Marcellus Land With House:  30 Acres of Marcellus shale with renovated & fully furnished home.  Great investment potential for gas royalties & lucrative rental income.  MLS #182006.  $199,900."
— From a print-only Exit Realty ad in a Binghamton Press insert, April 7, 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

SUNY (Finally) Sticks Its Neck Out On Shale Gas; Anti's (Undoubtedly) Sharpen Cynicism

From a SUNY University at Buffalo press release, April 5, 2012 (and only noted by opposition press so far):

Shale Resources and Society Institute to Analyze Shale’s Potential as an Energy Resource

New institute will provide policymakers and other stakeholders with research-based information on the development of shale

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new Shale Resources and Society Institute based in the University at Buffalo Department of Geology will serve as a resource to help the public, policymakers and other stakeholders understand shale’s potential as an energy resource.

The goal of the institute is to provide accurate, research-based information on the development of shale and other unconventional resources, said John P. Martin, the institute’s director.

Specifically, the institute will conduct and disseminate peer-reviewed research that can help guide policymakers on issues relating to hydraulic fracturing and the development of energy resources. The institute will also educate students and provide the public with accurate information.

The institute’s work will draw on the expertise and perspectives of external research partners and UB faculty members in disciplines ranging from engineering to law and the social sciences. Activities will focus on four areas relating to shale development: fractures, fluids and migration; groundwater and surface environmental impacts; societal impacts; and policy and regulation.

“We’re really trying to provide fact-based, objective information,” Martin said. “We’re guided by science.”

“Many people in New York State have a strong opinion on this issue,” said Robert Jacobi, the center’s co-director and a longtime UB professor of geology. “We want to become a valuable community resource where anyone can come and read about current research, outreach and education, and have a feeling that they can trust these data.”

Martin said the institute plans to seek funding from sources including industry and individuals, as well as agencies that support scientific research relating to energy. Future plans include establishing a management committee for the institute that includes the voices of environmental organizations and other stakeholders.

In addition to serving as director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, Martin is the founder and principal consultant of JPMartin Energy Strategy LLC, which provides strategic planning, resource evaluation and other services to the energy industry, academic institutions and governments.

Prior to forming the consultancy in 2011, Martin spent 17 years working on energy research and policy issues at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and developed a series of projects targeting oil and gas resources, renewable energy development and environmental mitigation. He holds a PhD in Urban and Environmental Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Jacobi, a field and lab geoscientist, has extensive experience in academia and industry. A member of UB’s faculty since 1980, he has over 30 years of experience teaching the structure, tectonics and evolution of North America, marine geology and geophysics, sedimentology and stratigraphy.

His present research focus includes identifying, understanding and predicting the trends of faults, fractures and folds in black shales. In addition to his work at UB, Jacobi is senior geology advisor for EQT Production, a Pittsburgh-based energy company. He recently consulted for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation concerning hydraulic fracturing, with respect to faults and potential seismic activity. He holds a PhD in geology from Columbia University.

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Below, I'm going to try to embed a 24-frame PowerPoint by Dr. Martin — presented at an overseas conference, Feb. 6, 2012.  This is likely representative of the quasi-technical, academic, non-partisan, but-generally-pro-regulated-enterprise stylings of the institute's future work — which will undoubtedly be rejected as Funding-Source-Biased by the anti-drilling side, and tossed aside as Too Colossally Dull by most mainstream media.

But I guess we'll have to see.

Presentation by John Martin 2-6-2012