Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gas Talk Turns Fractious

Shale isn’t the only thing that’s getting fractured in this region. Communities are too, as last night’s talk at the Vestal American Legion illustrated. Pulteney (NY) farmers-turned-filmmakers Jeff and Jodi Andrysick have been presenting a traveling roadshow in the Marcellus region - a program of stories from those living in the Colorado drill zone.

Huge pickups plastered with banners thanking drilling supporters for “being American” lined the driveway, and members of the Joint Landowners Coalition stood about holding “Friends of Natural Gas” signs. The stories of contamination are just lies and belong in tabloids alongside tales of alien encounters, they insist. Inside the Legion Hall they settled onto folding chairs behind equally passionate residents holding “no frack” signs and hand-lettered posters declaring their need for water, not gas.

Weston Wilson spoke first. He's the environmental engineer who blew the whistle on the EPA for whitewashing the 2004 hydraulic fracturing study. The problem, he says, is that the oil and gas industry enjoys a great many exemptions from regulations. Take the Safe Drinking Water Act –  Congress specifically exempted the practice of injecting fracturing fluids during drilling from the SDWA. It’s telling that the exemption doesn’t extend to cases in which they inject those same fluids into disposal wells.

Wilson listed some of the problems with wells: faulty cement casing, spills, and mismanagement of returned fluids. The National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane accidents, he said. We need something similar for the oil and gas industry.

Tara Meixsell, author of Collateral Damage said the gas boom changed her life. Colorado law allows drilling as close as 150 feet to homes, a distance that exposes families to dust and chemicals. Some of those chemicals, such as 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE), are carcinogenic. Meixsell shared stories about friends and neighbors who suffered ill health from exposure.

Drilling is about more than gas – it’s about money and people’s lives, Meixsell said. Citing a confrontation earlier that evening in the parking lot, she implored people to be civil to one another. Respect each other’s opinions, she said. “You have to remain neighbors… at the end of the day you’re all breathing the same air and drinking the same water.”

Colorado rancher Rick Roles told how drilling affected his horses and goats. He leased his land because he thought it would bring the ranch much-needed income. Now he’s got 19 "holes" on his land and another 100 wells within a mile of his home – plus three compressor stations and a water treatment plant within a mile and a half.

He listed numerous problems: mares aborting foals, studs becoming sterile, goats having stillbirths, and his own health problems.  He also spoke of how spills were covered up with dirt instead of reported, and a persistently leaking condensate tank. When Roles finally got a toxicology screen he discovered high levels of benzene, toluene, xylene and a long list of related chemicals in his blood.

“Sure, we earned a little money,” Roles said. “But our property was ruined.”

The goal of last evening’s program was to allow those suffering negative impacts of gas to share their stories. But it was clear that some people, a minority to be sure, came with no intention of listening to what the speakers had to say. When the question-and-answer session grew contentious [“frack-tious” one person called it] moderator Don Glauber reminded people to be civil.

“I don’t know how many of you came here with your minds made up, or with anger in your hearts, but that’s not why we’re here tonight,” he said. Referring to acrimonious comments Glauber said, “This is why we have had so much trouble talking openly, honestly and safely.”


  1. Accurate coverage of what happened; I was there and spoke to some of the pro-gas people and I was shocked and dismayed to hear that they don't believe us and see us as liars-- what has happened in Susquehanna Co. and elsewhere in Pa. is just a lie to them-- very sad; hope to have a public dialogue one day and see if we can actually hear each other without dismissing our experiences.

  2. It'd be nice if all the reports of contamination, industrialization and human and animal health problems were false -- I'd sleep better at night. Sadly, I fear they are mostly true. I suspect it's a safe bet that, if/when fracking comes to New York, many of its supporters here will end up feeling buyer's remorse, as has happened in other states.

    Bringing in people like Rick Roles is probably the best hope for getting the message out, as he works the land, has first-hand experience with fracking, and can't be easily marginalized as an "elite environmentalist" or some such. It may also pay to remind people of the old saw that "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

    Jim H.

  3. This militant group that supports drilling known as the Joint landowners colilition of New York, normaly uses direct action type of protest when attending NYRAD events with speakers. They show up disrupt the event and then after NYRAD came out with the clean water signs they bought a bunch of them and placed JLCNY stickers over the NYRAD website printed on the sign. The funny thing was this was the second time at a NYRAD event where the Vestal Police had to show up due the militant type of protest the JLCNY seams to favor. This group seems to have a type of rabies that makes it imposiable to have a dialogue with them.

    Councillor, Great Bend Borough

  4. Yes, I was there too.

    The thing I found noteworthy is not so much that the pro-gas crowd is getting afraid and hostile. This is completely predictable as the true numbers of the opposition movement becomes manifest: 90:10 or more.

    What I find noteworthy that some people on the "clean air and water" side think they best way to deal with them is by shouting louder than they do.

    Yes, there are people who believe one can conquer violence with more violence. I am not such a person.

    My experience has shown me there is a way to fully experience our own grief, sadness, fear, anger, and despair; yet reflect in our actions a compassion for all living things, even for those we perceive as "the opposition".

    I thought it was a very profound presentation. I observed many pro-gas people in attendance through much of it. I think there were many people moved in that room last night.

  5. Seeing is believing. Disbelievers need to go to those shale drilling zones to see it for themselves.

  6. The comment from BrettJ is intriguing to me in the use of such loaded persuasive imagery as "militant," "disruptive," and "direct action" -- to describe the fact that pro-drilling landowners organized themselves in order to essentially protest the anti-drilling protest.

    If you are committed to the traditions of protest and free speech -- as I believe most anti-drilling people are (or would be, if reminded) -- then you must accept the fact that ordinary people are sometimes also going to strongly disagree with you -- occasionally in noticeable, dramatic (and, yes, even somewhat disruptive) ways.

    No, I was not at this meeting. But — frankly, judging from the pictures, and from what I've read about it elsewhere, and from the pro-gas landowners I have met — many of these people are the very same sort of folks as you'd find at a fireman's pancake breakfast anywhere within upstate.

    I don't believe taking it to the streets is much a part of their tradition, or part of their fate. (But -- the way things are going -- who the hell knows.)

    But look how quickly the word choices demonize.

  7. NY Shale Gas Now raises a good point - and at most meetings I've been to the landowner group folks are civil and interested in discourse. But at this particular meeting there were a few who were indeed belligerent and wouldn't recognized civility if it hit them upside the head. Unfortunately, they give the JLC a bad name....