Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Horseheads Village approves Schlumberger project despite citizen protest

In the Southern Tier of NY, the message that “gas drilling will bring jobs” is heard so much that some folks have come to believe it. And it’s not just the drilling that will bring jobs, but the support industries. Like Schlumberger Technology – a huge multi-national corporation that supplies natural gas drilling sites with explosives, fracking chemicals and more.

For the past several months the good folk of Horseheads, NY have been wraslin’ with the issue of whether or not to let Schlumberger Technology build a warehousing and trucking facility at the industrial center. For Schlumberger it makes sense: they’d be able to service drilling operations in NY, PA, OH and WV.

For the folks in Horseheads – well, for some of them – it makes sense, too. Schlumberger would transform vacant land at the industrial center into a taxable entity, and (according to the slick color brochures) they’ll provide about 400 jobs for the locals. In a depressed economy in an even more depressed state, who wouldn’t be for jobs?

The thing you have to know about Horseheads is that it’s a small historical village located north of Elmira and south of Seneca Lake. The industrial center, also known as the Center at Horseheads, is located close to the center of town, and the Schlumberger building site is bordered by residential areas and an elementary school.

Some folks in town like the idea of having Schlumberger as their next-door neighbor. Others don’t. And then there’s a third group who wouldn’t mind having Schlumberger move in – as long as they don’t mess up the water or pollute the air. Or blow things up in the middle of the night.

The other thing you need to know is that the Village board of trustees took on the task of being lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review for the proposed Schlumberger project. They read through stacks and stacks (well, at least a 6-inch high pile) of documents and held a few public meetings and even a hearing or two about the project.

What the village elders didn’t do is ask Schlumberger to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement. Instead, they relied on a 20-question “Environmental Assessment Form” and, despite public concern about environmental issues, gave Schlumberger the green light for the project.

Two days after a contentious public hearing the Horseheads Village Board of Trustees approved the site plans. Of course, Schlumberger has to meet a short list of conditions – like making sure they get their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) approved and meet the village building codes…

But some folks think that’s not enough. They want the village board to do their job and require Schlumberger to conduct a full environmental review. They feel the board rushed to judgment when, as one woman said during the hearing on October 13, “We don’t know enough.”

What bothers folks? The number of trucks that will be hauling toxic fracking chemicals around their neighborhoods. The diesel and other air pollution from idling trucks at the facility. Water from the truck wash flooding into the wetland just over the road, and contaminating the local aquifer which lies two feet below the surface, not to mention polluting the streams and the lake.

What bothers folks? The potential for a chemical spill at the facility. The potential for a truck accident that would result in a surface spill of chemicals. The potential for endocrine-disruptors and carcinogens to get into their drinking water. The potential for an accidental release of toxic fumes or an explosion at the industrial center.

But what really bothers folks is that the whole thing seemed like a “done deal” way back in July; that the board was just going through the motions of public meetings and hearings because they were on the SEQRA checklist. Most telling indication: when the village attorney, clearly frustrated by the continued focus on environmental issues, shouted, “It’s my public hearing!”

“No it’s not,” said the folk. “We’re the public; it’s our hearing.”

What the village board and those favoring the project seem to have forgotten is that the issue is more that one of being for or against economic growth. “Being concerned about environmental and health issues is not trying to stop a company or stop people from getting jobs,” one person pointed out. “It’s about keeping every one safe.”

To read more about the Schlumberger project in Horseheads go to


  1. Excellent blog! Keep up the good reporting, Sue!

  2. really fine post... it gives such a clear feeling of the conflicts confounding folks when dealing with the power of self interest and unreason...

    looking forward to more insightful articles!