Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Killing Science: New York Establishment Births a Modern Dark Age

"...encourages and facilitates basic and applied research for the purpose of the creation and dissemination of knowledge vital for continued human, scientific, technological and economic advancement..."

Terrible news yesterday for New York State's academic freedom, public education, subject matter expertise, informed public policy, and a clear-minded approach to objective reality:  Brass at the SUNY University at Buffalo have reacted to howls of emotional protest, growing out of the fracking question, by yanking the rug out from under its nascent Shale Resources and Society Institute.

Probably no one but me statewide will say so, but this act is the modern-day American equivalent of the Vatican putting the screws to Galileo.

It is not so much the burning of witches, as it is — in parallel with the treatment throughout most of 2011 of New York State Geologist Dr. Langhorne "Taury" Smith — the muzzling of legitimate expertise.

It is a retreat from what is known and knowable, and an embrace instead of fear, feeling, and simply not wanting to know.  In this sort of Modern Dark Age, New York's educational institutions have flinched from their job of meaningfully informing the public, and training future expertise, with all that is necessary and proper for running and revising a modern society. 

SUNY has effectively said —
screw the mission of our founding and our purpose — we just don't want to get into it.  We are too afraid to get involved in any balanced way in the modern era of exploitation of oil and gas resources.  There is public controversy here, and most of the press seems bad, and so we flee from all that.

It might be a little late to be bringing this up, but, in New York State, "The Man" — that is, "The Powers That Be," or "The Establishment" — no longer seeks to value or balance development and enterprise with science, regulation,
or wisdom.

Instead, "The Man" in New York is a loose cabal of Anti-Development Activists and associated Appearance Jockeys — sensitive to gut persuasion, far more than rational substance — that simply doesn't want to know about such things, and is, in fact, afraid of knowledge, and the power it brings.

To me, it is very much like the official, simian crumpling of a paper airplane in a scene from the 1968 film "Planet of the Apes."  For some, knowledge is dangerous, and must be suppressed by any means necessary.

In September 2011, in Pennsylvania, after the passage of an over-tolerant year or so, the University of Pittsburgh killed off its activist-funded, activist-inspired FracTracker database, and associated exhortations.  Academic leaders said quite rightly their institution was not for sale — not to anyone, including the Heinz Foundation, which was outrageously open in its disappointment that its millions of dollars ultimately failed to buy the maximum amount of academically imprinted, anti-shale gas activism.  Heinz vowed to shop around for a replacement mouthpiece, but, to my knowledge, no one but the student newspaper felt compelled by duty to shed any alarming light on the underlying motives.

Now, in November 2012, in New York, just seven months after starting out, UB amputates its own shale gas policy research wing, without even any attempt at re-balance. 
Activists and media are celebrating the news statewide, like the rolling out of a guillotine before a righteous mob.  The experts involved are doomed for having previously done their work directly or indirectly through industry dollars, and for holding to the mainstream, professional premise that hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuel resources can and should be done in a regulated way.

Are both these muzzlings the same thing in reverse?

They are not.

By stated mission, right from its legislative origins, SUNY is host to a number of academic institutions that can be historically witnessed as relevant to, and supportive of, the generalized fields of — openly stated — resource extraction.  All are free to fight this, even while it is necessary work to support their lifestyles, but such enterprises represent a fact of modern life.  Without controversy or question, money flows from the public, and from vested interests, to support this work.  Sometimes the public, and these vested interests, get the answers they want to hear.  And sometimes they don't.

Science has been, and will be, like that, always.  It is in the nature of evolution of knowledge.  The ongoing generation of new, reliable, objective information is something that society can only flee, suppress, or crumple at its peril.

My graduate alma mater, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, was, in fact, initiated as the State Forestry College.  That school is most decidedly not devoted to the emotional proposition that all cutting of trees is "bad."  Sun, soil, water, and trees form the basis for a multitude of values, including values to exploitive industries, to consumers, and to the economy generally.

In Ithaca, Cornell University hosts the SUNY College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and numerous other programs statewide are similarly aligned with expertly guiding the fates of farming.  These schools are most decidedly not devoted to the emotional proposition that all human manipulation of the environment for the purpose of food production is "bad."  Sun, soil, water, and crops form the basis for a multitude of values, including values to exploitive industries, to consumers, and to the economy generally.



SUNY formerly stood for the proposition that only idiots prefer to engage the modern world in such uninformed, such simple-minded, ways.

Now, as for fossil fuels extraction generally, and as for the particular technological advent of extracting unconventional resources, SUNY stands for the proposition that public controversy trumps all.

It's a dark day dawning in New York, and I am shocked and ashamed to be living so powerlessly in this state's new era — as a native, as a resident, as a citizen, and as a SUNY alum.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New York's Referendum on Fracking:
Ummm... Now for the Wool-Gathering

NY anti-fracking candidates fared poorly at polls

MARY ESCH, Associated Press

Updated 2:37 a.m., Thursday, November 8, 2012

Anti-fracking sentiment in the Southern Tier was felt at the polls this week when candidates opposed to drilling were beaten up and down the ballot after intense campaigns, some that were framed as referendums on shale gas development.
This lead paragraph reminds me of a great line from the Watergate Era's All The President's Menan explanation for Bob Woodward's terrible rookie copy:

Wags around the office water-cooler were said to joke that English was not his native language.

Here, let's break it down: 

Anti-fracking sentiment was felt...  as the anti-fracking candidates consistently lost their races...?

Maybe Esch meant such sentiment was gauged at the polls, but found to be weak? 
Wanting?  Over-hyped?  Under-sized?  Lackluster?  Tepid?  Flaccid?

Anti-fracking groups focused their post-election comments on races in other parts of the state where winning candidates had taken a stand against fracking while not making it a central theme.

Sue Rapp of Vestal Residents for Safe Energy, which opposes fracking, said pro-fracking groups should not take the election results as a referendum in favor of drilling.

"All these election results mean is that big money is still a big factor in our electoral process," said Rapp, who said the gas industry and related businesses supported Preston and other drilling boosters. "We believe that the majority of residents understand that we are not ready for fracking anywhere in New York state."

I just love these guys.

Anti-drillers, in other words, tout the vote as a referendum on drilling — but only if they had won.

We see a lot of this kind of wishful, one-way logic going unchallenged in New York's shale gas debate:

• Home Rule is a great concept — but not for Upstate towns ready already for the drilling to begin.

• The federal EPA should uniformly regulate shale gas production nationwide — but they better not try handing out any drilling permits in New York.

• Academic studies on the hydraulic fracturing issue should be burned as heresy, if they're traced in any way to industry dollars — but celebrated as gospel, if they're funded with activist and not-for-profit dollars.

The larger question regarding New York's ongoing shale gas saga is whether there is a consistent story-selection (or angle-selection) bias with in-state media outlets. 

I mean — can we talk? 

To me, it doesn't get any clearer than this already researched and written (though apparently not already edited) thing from the AP — landing like a turd within New York. 

Though I realize it's still early in the day today, this might prove to be another one of those even-handed, New York-relevant stories — datelined from the state capitol — that runs virtually nowhere in New York State.

Looking for it a number of different ways, Google News at the time of this posting is showing Mary Esch's story sits solely on web pages traced to the San Francisco Chronicle and Bloomberg Business Week.

Maybe everybody else is still kerflummoxed by the lead.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

EmKey, Successor to Part of Norse, Planning Broome-Chenango-Madison Natgas Pipeline

Map depicting the north end of the sequence of already-inked pipeline easements,
originally collected over a number of years by Norse, and now in EmKey's hands.
This and the map which follows, depicting the south end, were put of public record in
October 2012 in Broome County, NY (and probably also in Chenango and Madison counties),
as an exhibit within the suite of documents necessary for setting down the transfer. 
Map depicting the south end. 

[First draft Nov. 5. Updated with some additional detail.]

Another pipeline!

Word is trickling out from both pro- and anti-drilling sources regarding a plan from EmKey Resources to significantly expand upon a sequence of on-paper natural gas pipeline easements originally pulled together by predecessor Norse Energy.  The points of expansion include longer length, potential throughput interconnections, fatter diameter, and therefore, bigger transport volumes. 

As will always be the case, not all those affected, or potentially affected, have yet been fully informed about the ultimate plan, or have gotten on board with it.

Who should be paying close attention?  The route as initially proposed runs north to Morrisville from Windsor — so citizens of, and officials in, and media who do their best to cover, the Townships of Eaton and Lebanon in Madison County; Smyrna, Plymouth, Preston, Smithville, Oxford, Coventry, and Afton in Chenango County; and Colesville and Windsor in Broome County. 

Needless to say, folks in the larger universe of New York's ongoing shale gas battle — those who say "no" versus those who say "grow" — are also likely to see this development as another good place to jump in and start spinning.

I've embedded between paragraphs here a copy of the developer's preliminary Point And Click Show (there's another map on page 5) announcing this project.  I'm told Chenango County leaders first quietly glimpsed it just last week.  I got my hands on it through my non-resident connection with some of the most resourceful landowners in all of Upstate — those who participate in the CNY Landowners' Coalition Discussion Forum, and who are committed to the free flow of useful information (even when it inevitably leads to yet more controversy).
Proposed EmKey Resources Pipeline — Color Version Questions:

How big?  The developer says 24 inches in diameter, which is not as big as Constitution (30 inches), but still a big job.  The biggest project Norse or EmKey has previously officially put forth
was an 8-mile, 16-inch gathering pipeline, but without any potential south-to-north throughput connection.  I interpret Norse-to-EmKey transfer documents already filed with the New York State Public Service Commission as indicating that the digging on that project hasn't started yet.  EmKey appears to believe the enlarged scheme will not take the already green-lighted 16-inch plan back to Square One with state officials, though I do kinda wonder about that.

How long?  The route was described
(at the point in time of the Norse-to-EmKey transfer) as running 75 miles measured from the Tennessee Pipeline on the north to the Millennium on the south.  Current project summaries indicate that's still the number.

How much?  I heard second-hand the developer is putting out the figure of $135 million, about half of which will be in search of other investment sources.

Timing?  Notification to landowners
by the end of the month (October or November?), and survey work possibly to begin soon after.  Preparation of an application to lead agency NYS PSC by the first or second quarter of 2013.

it big enough to set the stage for another round of ideological, political and land-rights conflict within the ordinarily dull, decision-making process established by the NYS PSC?  I'm sorry to say I expect it is.

Does the pipeline mean consumption-level natural gas service might be on the horizon for those unserved residents, businesses, and public institutions
nearby that have especially large needs, or which occupy areas that are already pretty well densely settled?  That would sure seem like a promising possibility to me if I lived out in that area, hustling firewood, or paying the bills for trucked-in fuel.

Local property tax impact?  Jobs impact?  Better not get me started on that stuff.

What inter-connects does this pipeline intend to connect?  I'm seeing potential for connections to both the only-proposed Constitution and the already-built Millennium at the south end, and for connections to the already-built Tennesee and Dominion on the north end.  Near the middle, there's a previously obvious crossing with an 8-inch NYSEG line which already feeds such select, built-up areas as Oneonta, Norwich, and Oxford.  (Another edgy scenario where some folks pre-disposed to work against such a project happen to live in a situation where they "already got theirs.")

Does the developer intend to build this thing, regardless of whether New York State is ever able to see the pragmatic, non-hypocritical wisdom of making way for local landowners to make deals with drillers to help feed this supply with their own indigenous shale gas?  EmKey is saying no — the plan is another developmental carrot that's dependent upon New York State finally resolving to put its tortured shale gas environmental review to bed, and to open itself up for drilling.  To me, the alternate scenario would be a little bit like state and local government approving private sector construction of a yogurt plant — where all the milk is supplied from out of state.  But this is New York, after all.

Other sources out there so far:

Word from the Lebanon Town Board, led by a more-contentious-than-average Supervisor, that they have scheduled
Stephen Keyes of EmKey to come meet with them Nov. 12.

A conversation among mostly Chenango County landowners which may be enlarged upon in the days ahead.

EmKey's existing north-south system in Central New York (though, at this point,
I am unable to vouch for this being already fully built at the already green-lighted sizes). 
The map has been borrowed from one of many investor-oriented documents put out there
by leading area leaseholder Norse Energy, which initiated the pipeline development work
before transfer to EmKey.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Constitution Raises Stakes in Poker Game with Pipeline NIMBY's: Natural Gas, Anyone?

Copied and pasted below, this announcement came out this morning — a local, consumer-level, natural gas supply framework between the developer of the interstate Constitution Pipeline, and Leatherstocking Gas, a new, Binghamton, NY-based partnership between a traditional upstate utility, and a company known largely for delivering fuel oil and propane by truck.

What this does is it ups the ante for localized benefits to rural NY and PA communities that have been targeted as ground zero (negative spin), or chosen as hosts (positive spin), for this proposed, 120-mile, 30-inch interstate natural gas pipeline.  The Constitution project was originally pushed into public view by the actions of a competitor in April February 2012, and it has of course already devolved into the realm of New York's all-too-familiar, fracking-enhanced Enviro-NIMBY Versus Economic Growth debate.

Politically, today's announcement works like this:  It takes the legs out from under opponents by challenging their fundamental hypocrisy — on grounds of both ideology and economic self-interest.  After all, lots of folks — who prefer to consider themselves well-informed, well-meaning, and righteous — are already caught in the trap of railing against fossil fuels, while they at the same time directly or indirectly burn the stuff daily.  This announcement invites many thousands more New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians to ultimately jump into the Pool of the Pragmatically Conflicted.  What side would you be on in this pipeline battle, if you foresaw the potential for this kind of fuel choice in your small town?

It brings the question much closer to the doorsteps and basements of rural homes, schools, businesses, and other institutions.

It asks this:  Whatever New York State ultimately decides to do — drill-wise and frack-wise — would you rather burn this stuff, partly mostly fracked out of Pennsylvania and elsewhere — or keep on keeping on with your trucked-in fuel oil (partly fracked and partly OPEC), propane (partly fracked), or electric (based on sources largely partly fracked, partly nuclear, and partly coal)? 

Even if you've already invested in private setups to capture energy from firewood, solar, wind, or geothermal (good for you, in my book, by the way, and I really mean that), would you like to have methane by metered pipe as a backup, and as a choice?  (The reflexively frackophobic college town of Hamilton, in Madison County, NY, has already, by village referendum, answered a very similar question in the affirmative.)  Would you rather your community had this kind of choice?  What's really better for your planet?  What's really better for your budget?  Have you run the numbers lately?

I'm going to make a prediction now:  Upstate media outlets, especially the Oneonta and Binghamton newspapers, will go out of their way to ignore this Leatherstocking development, or to find a way to under-cover it, or to re-spin it entirely.  Some news is just too psychologically painful to report straight-forwardly, honestly, and independently — and both organs have already lost all reliability and credibility on these scores.  Reporters and editors are at least partly human; it happens.

But, here, I'll make it easy for these guys, and find that alternate angle for a slick re-spin:  Though nifty Cooperstown's own Otsego County is on the Constitution developer's alternate routing for this pipeline, that area is not on Leatherstocking's list of future supply areas!  Nor is the pipeline's interconnect endpoint of Schoharie County!  What's that about?  Is that an oversight, or extortion, or what?  That ought to piss somebody off, which is all that local news consists of, these days, anymore.  Mad about the pipeline — and, at the same time, mad about getting screwed out of local supply — sure, it makes no logical sense.  But it is good copy.

(Should there be any free-thinking journalists left in Upstate, in the alternative, I see that there is, between the lines, a story inside the story here:  Even if the Constitution Pipeline ultimately dies another politically charged death at the hands of the ever-hostile New York mob, Leatherstocking claims to already have Summer 2013 construction plans for serving a number of unnamed, previously un-served, communities.  I wonder what areas are on that list.  If I was paying fuel oil bills in Great Bend or Hallstead, PA, or Windsor or Bainbridge or Sidney, NY, that would sure seem like news to me.)
Nov. 2, 2012

Constitution Pipeline Agrees to Work with Local Gas Provider

Rural communities in PA, NY could have access to natural gas in the future

Constitution Pipeline Company and Leatherstocking Gas Company, LLC have signed an agreement to work in good faith to pursue agreements for the design, construction and operation of delivery interconnects along Constitution’s proposed pipeline route.

If constructed, the Constitution Pipeline would be classified as an “open access pipeline,” meaning that local municipalities or public utilities like Leatherstocking Gas Company, LLC could potentially tap the line in the future to provide residential, commercial and industrial natural gas service.

“Leatherstocking’s plan is to provide lower cost, clean burning, abundant, domestic natural gas to rural communities,” said Leatherstocking CEO, Mike German. “Tapping into the Constitution Pipeline would help us achieve that goal.”

Leatherstocking’s vision is the development of natural gas local distribution systems within Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Madison Counties in New York State and Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania in locations currently without natural gas service.  The company plans to begin constructing portions of its natural gas distribution networks not dependent upon Constitution Pipeline in the summer of 2013.

Constitution Pipeline Project Manager Matt Swift says the possibility that local communities, who currently don’t have access to natural gas, might be able to take advantage of the resource is very exciting.

“We believe working with Leatherstocking is a great opportunity for the Constitution Pipeline to potentially facilitate a direct, tangible benefit for communities along the pipeline route,” added Swift.

Leatherstocking believes providing one of the area’s most abundant natural resources to the people living in the region makes good business and environmental sense.

“Our goal is to provide a lower cost, cleaner burning energy source to the people of the region than what they currently utilize,” said Leatherstocking Secretary, Lindsay Meehan.  “That is very exciting.”