Gas Drilling in Paradise

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Gas drilling in paradise

ELDRED, NY — The Eldred Preserve is known for luring visitors to the area to catch fish from the stocked ponds, such as this one, that are located on the facility. But soon the preserve may also become known for hosting gas wells that will seek to tap into the Marcellus Shale. According to a lease filed in the Sullivan County clerk’s office, the Eldred Preserve has signed an agreement with a gas company to allow for the extraction of gas. A spokesman for the preserve did not return a call seeking comment.

This is a list of six property owners in Sullivan County that had recorded gas leases with the county clerks offce as of July 28. There is a lag between the time leases are signed and the time they are recorded with the clerk’s office, so other leases may have already been signed.

• Eldred Preserve, Route 55 in Highland, with Cabot Oil & Gas, 1,736 acres, signed on June 5, 2008.

• Excelsior Hunt Club, Route 55 in Highland and Bethel, with Cabot Oil & Gas, 1,747 acres, signed on May 10, 2008.

• Steven Campfield, Skipperene Rd., Tusten, with Cabot Oil & Gas, 55 acres, signed on May 31, 2008.

• Carlton Sutcliff, Johns Rd. and County Route 116, Cochecton, with Cabot Oil & Gas, 93 acres, signed on March 17, 2008.

• Kenneth Peters, Peters Rd. and W. Killie Rd., Fremont, with Chesapeake Appalachia, 650 acres, signed December 1, 2007.

• John Baden, Simmon Rd., Fremont, with Chesapeake Appalachia, same area, 68 acres, signed December 3, 2007.


TRR photo by Fritz Mayer  
A pond at the Eldred Preserve, which has signed a lease to allow gas drilling on its acreage. (Click for larger version)

August 4, 2008, The Greene County Daily Mail, Invasive fish travels on land and in water

Invasive fish travels on land and in water

By Dick Nelson

There seems to be no end to the number of invasive species threatening state fisheries. The discovery of didymo aka “rock snot” in both the East and West Branch of the Delaware River as well as the Batten Kill in Washington County, is but one of many invasive species the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has to deal with, up to and including the Northern snakehead, which was discovered in both Ridgebury Lake and Catlin Creek in Waywayanda (Orange County) last May.

An aggressive predator fish, the Northern snakehead, which is as comfortable on land as it is in the water, has the potential to prey on and compete with native fishes throughout the state. In an effort to eradicate the species, and to protect clean water and restore a healthy and productive fishery and natural community, the DEC plans to treat both Ridgebury Lake and Catlin Creek with an aquatic pesticide in the coming weeks.

The agency realizes its actions will result in a temporary loss of fish populations, but according to DEC Regional Director Willie Janeway, it has already made a commitment to restocking and restoring the impacted waters.

“Specifically, DEC will selectively remove and hold some fish — other than Northern snakeheads — collected from Ridgebury Lake prior to treatment and return them shortly after treatment, when the water is safe for the fish. The reintroduction of these fish will help accelerate natural restoration processes,” Janeway said.

Ridgebury Lake and Catlin Creek are essential to protect native fish populations, natural communities and multiple clean water bodies including the Wallkill and Hudson Rivers.

Native to Asia, the Northern snakehead can disrupt an ecosystem and have devastating and unanticipated impacts. Snakeheads are predatory, consuming microscopic zooplankton and crustaceans as juveniles, and fish, insects and crustaceans as adults.

This, according to Janeway, can severely alter the feeding habits, food availability and behaviors of other members of an ecosystem.

Also, snakeheads can survive in water with very low oxygen, giving them a competitive advantage over other species, such as trout, pike and bass that require more oxygen in the water.

If you think you’ve caught a snakehead, the DEC recommends that you kill it, freeze it (double bag), and notify the agency at either 518-607-652-7366 in Region 4, or 845-256-3018 in Region 3, making note of the exact location of where it was caught.

This is important for determining the distribution of the species and the potential application of control and management strategies.

Invasive species have caused many problems in the past, are causing problems now, and pose threats to our future. A wide variety of species are problematic in many regions of the state, including aquatic plant species such as Brazilian waterweed, Curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian water milfoil, European frog-bit, Fanwort, Starry stonewort, Water chestnut and Water primrose; Riparian plant species such as Japanese Knotweed and Giant hogweed; and Wetland plant species such as the Common reed, Flowering rush and Purple loosestrife.

But it is the aquatic animal species that cause the greatest harm to fisheries, and they include the Asiatic clam, Fishhook water flea, Northern snakehead, Quagga mussel, Round goby, Rusty crayfish, Spiny waterflea, Tench and Zebra mussels.


August 1, 2008 Oneonta Daily Star: More than 1,500 sign gas leases

The Oneonta Daily Star

List of signed leases in Otsego, Delaware counties

By Tom Grace

Cooperstown News Bureau

COOPERSTOWN _ The gas rush continues.

More than 1,500 property owners in Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties have agreed to let firms prospect for natural gas on their land, even as calls come from some quarters for a moratorium on drilling.

The excitement comes as geologists predict that much of the central New York area is sitting on rich gas deposits, trapped in shale deep in the ground.

Gas has been found in Springfield, and firms are betting big money they’ll find it throughout the area, as they have in northern Pennsylvania.

Two months ago, New York state geologist Richard Nyahay told a crowd of 700 at Unadilla Valley Central School in New Berlin that on a scale where 1.00 is an ideal drilling prospect, this area rates ``.98 or .99.’’ Last month, Nyahay quit his state job to go to work for GasTem USA, a Montreal-based firm that plans to drill in upstate New York, according to the Reuters News Service.

The boom has been building for a few years. At first, landowners typically were offered $2 an acre to sign leases that would permit wells to be drilled. State law guarantees landowners a 12.5 percent royalty on producing wells, and with this incentive, some signed up.

In the interim, energy prices spiked, drilling techniques improved, and the dollars per acre shot up.

About three months ago, Fred and Anna Schoellig of New Lisbon leased 800 acres for $50 an acre.

But on Wednesday, Elmira attorney Christopher Denton, who represents the landowners’ cooperative Central New York, said it’s not uncommon now for land in the Southern Tier to be leased for more than $1,000 an acre.

When leases are recorded in county clerks’ offices, the amounts paid to landowners often are not included. Companies that acquire the drilling rights are free to assign them to a different entity, usually a drilling firm.

For example, on July 21, the Elexco Group, which has been active in Otsego County, transferred many of its leases to Covalent Energy of Arlington, Va., a firm that has drilled wells in Cherry Valley, Springfield and plans to drill soon in Maryland.

According to records, more than 150 leases to drill have been signed in Otsego County, and in Delaware County, where activity is concentrated on the Pennsylvania border, the number tops 200.

Otsego County Clerk Kathy Gardner said Tuesday, ``The rate these leases are coming in is unprecedented in my experience.’’

About 35 miles away in Norwich, the sign-up rate has been faster, and one firm, Nornew, has already acquired nearly 1,300 leases in Chenango County. Records indicate Nornew and other firms have been concentrating on the western half of the county and have few leases yet in New Berlin, Columbus or Guilford.

``Those people are holding our for big bucks,’’ a Chenango County Clerk’s Office employee said Wednesday.

Far bigger bucks will be involved if the wells produce, but costs to municipalities will soar as well, according to Ramsay Adams, executive director of the Catskill Mountainkeeper.

In late June, the environmental group held a hearing in Walton, where people from Colorado and Wyoming talked about contaminated wells, roads ruined by 30-ton rigs, and areas scarred by drilling.

On Wednesday, Adams said his group favors a statewide moratorium on new permits for drilling until the Department of Environmental Conservation rewrites its generic environmental impact statement, or GEIS, to reflect the consequences of modern drilling. The agency was ordered provide a supplement to include such technologies as horizontal drilling last week by Gov. David Paterson.

``We’re worried about what will happen between now and next spring, when we’re supposed to have the new GEIS,’’ Adams said. ``The answer is have a moratorium on new permits to drill until we know the state is ready to protect our interests.’’

In Otsego County, the environmental group Sustainable Otsego plans to ask the county board to institute a county-wide moratorium on new drilling, according to member Adrian Kuzminski of Fly Creek.

However, county attorney James Konstanty said Otsego cannot comply.

``I know of no legal authority for the county to pass a moratorium on gas drilling,’’ he said Wednesday.

``You can’t put a moratorium on free enterprise.’’

Gas drilling is regulated by the state DEC, not the county, Konstanty said.

Afton attorney Mary Jo Long disagreed, saying that she has found cases where counties have imposed moratoria.

Long, a former Green Party candidate for state attorney general and a current member of the Afton Town Board, said she will attend Wednesday’s county board meeting to ask representatives to impose a moratorium on drilling.

``Municipalities have to be able to protect themselves, and a moratorium is a way to help do that,’’ she said.

On Thursday, James Powers, Otsego County Board chairman, said he will oppose the measure.

``I don’t think we need a moratorium,” he said, “and I don’t want to see one.’’

Energy companies seeking leases in this area

Covalent Energy, (703) 899-7325 or

Nornew Inc., (800) 217-3342 or

XTO Energy Inc., (800) 299-2800 or

Chesapeake Appalachia, (405) 848-8000 or

Penn Virginia Corp., (610) 687-8900 or

East Resources Inc., (724) 772-8600 or



July 30, 2008, Ithaca Times: "East Coast Gas Rush?"

East Coast Gas Rush?
On Wednesday, July 23, Gov. David A. Paterson signed a bill that permits additional natural gas wells and drilling activity in New York State and allows for new and under-researched methods. The Environmental Conservation Law had previously established requirements for a spacing unit (the area of land from which a well recovers oil or gas) and set back measurements (the distance between the well and the boundaries of the spacing unit), but Paterson's pen changed that: the legislation passed Wednesday reduces required well spacing from 640 acres per well to 25.
This change is significant, and potentially devastating to the Finger Lakes region, as the Southern Tier of New York has been discovered as the Mother Lode of Marcellus Shale, a rock layer that some geologists predict could meet the nation's natural gas needs for more than two years. Three companies in the natural gas industry have submitted drilling applications for gas wells in Chenango, Tioga, and Chemung Counties in New York. On his Web site, the Governor claimed that "natural gas exploration has the potential to increase domestic supplies of natural gas, create jobs, expand the tax base and benefit the upstate economy." But because of New York's geological formation and the techniques required to reach the desired resources, Paterson's decision has created anger among locals who understand the potential consequences.
      What is Marcellus Shale, exactly? It is a Devonian-age black, low density, carbonaceous (organic-rich) shale that occurs beneath much of New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Marcellus Shale is said to have "favorable mineralogy" in that it is a lower-density rock with more porosity, which means it may be filled with more free gas. In its 2002 Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Appalachian Basin Province, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) calculated that the Marcellus Shale contained an estimated undiscovered resource of about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas.
      In early 2008, Terry Englander, a geo-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, and Gary Lash, a geology professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia, estimated that the Marcellus might contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 10 percent of which is considered recoverable and hence a potential resource. The technology required to recover these 50 trillion cubic feet of gas - almost 70 percent more than the current annual US production of gas - is a horizontal drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (also known as "fracking" or "hydrofracking").
Writer Abrahm Lustgarten has described the recoverable gas in the Marcellus Shale as being held like bubbles in a brick of Swiss cheese. However, the grains in shale fit together so tightly that there is little movement of water or gas, and in order to extract the gas, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is shot into the earth with such force that it fractures the rock, releasing the bubbles to the surface. This is hydrofracking. According to Lustgarten, the gas then bubbles to the surface, as does the water, full of natural toxins from the shale, along with suspected cancer-causing compounds. Some of the injected fluids remain trapped underground, but a number of these fluids qualify as hazardous materials and carcinogens, and are toxic enough to contaminate groundwater resources. Englander said Marcellus is considered to be a highly radioactive shale, containing materials such as uranium and thorium. Roy Lackner, a Cornell graduate working in construction landscaping in Binghamton, has been investigating the issue and says these elements would seep right into local aquifers.

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Potential local impact

There was a caveat to Paterson's decision: Along with ordering a study of the effects of the drilling sites, he demanded that the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) provide a more thorough and detailed environmental statement for each site. Currently, drilling applications will be reviewed on a case by case basis, without regard to the effects on the entire region. Still, New York State candidate for the 51st Senate District Don Barber (D & WFP-Caroline) said this directive to the DEC is a "de facto moratorium" on gas drilling, and has called numerous times for the DEC to put proper regulations in place before issuing drilling permits. "We should extract the natural gas under us because it burns cleaner than oil and coal, and can be a part of New York's energy independence strategy," Barber stated. "But it must be extracted in an environmentally responsible way." Barber mentioned the potential effects on local land, noting that the new law allows for more than one well every square mile. "Tompkins County isn't equipped to deal with the wastewater, and I want to know what measures will be taken to keep it out of the aquifers," he said. "And when that water is taken away in big, heavy trucks, it will destroy local roads and leave tax payers to fix the damage with no revenue."
Of this, Paterson seems sure. "This new law will ensure greater efficiency in the processing of requests to permit oil and gas wells, while maintaining environmental and public health safeguards," he said. "My administration is committed to working with the public and local governments to ensure that if the drilling goes forward, it takes place in the most environmentally responsible way possible."
DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said the legislation appropriately addresses the issue of how oil and gas wells will be spaced without compromising the environmental oversight. "The DEC will be vigilant in ensuring environmental safeguards. Water protection will be a top priority. As the issue of potential natural gas drilling develops, Governor Paterson and DEC are committed to exercising its authority to protect New Yorkers and their environment," he said.
Others were less sure. On Friday, eight environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, the Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Riverkeeper, sent Paterson a letter seeking a moratorium on drilling activity until the environmental impact statement is adopted. "Natural gas development is progressing across the country at a scale and pace that no one ever envisioned," the letter said. "Let New York State be a model of how to do this right."
Judith Enck, the governor's environmental adviser said the goal is "not to have a bunch of permits scoot through before the environmental impact statement is done." Enck predicted that the review will not be completed until the spring. The DEC announced Friday that it has initiated a public process featuring a series of public meetings across the Southern Tier and Catskills to supplement the generic environmental review. The regulatory update will focus on the impact on groundwater, surface water, wetlands, air quality, aesthetics, noise, traffic and community character.
Still, gas companies have already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in leasing fees to landowners in the New York City watershed, pressing area residents to bombard OGAP with questions ranging from the difference between deep and shallow gas drilling to how to negotiate mineral leases, surface use and damage agreements, to how to organize to what kind of regulations and laws exist to protect water and air quality. As writer Peter Applebome put it, "they didn't pay the money without expecting to drill on the land. They can argue that gas is a far more palatable energy source than alternatives like oil from the Middle East, nuclear power or coal. And as the economy sputters, the economic lure has never been stronger for individuals, communities and the state."
In fact, drilling companies have been interested in leasing property as close as Caroline, New York, where Michael Ludgate manages a locally popular natural food store called Ludgate Farms. "Multiple different companies have come to try to get us to sign a lease for at least a year, and they finally stopped recently because I told them I don't want to be bothered," Ludgate said. But with financial restrictions that afflict the vast majority of Americans, Ludgate said the prospect of leasing his land is "becoming more tempting." Ludgate owns 40 acres that border Hammond Hill State Forest and says several of his neighbors have already signed agreements after being offered "huge amounts of money."
One such resident who owns 108 acres in Spencer, 90 of which are in a gas drilling unit, blogged in an online forum started by Ludgate about signing on his land for the drilling: "Gas started production about a month ago, and I start getting royalties in September. It's a Trenton-Black River well, which is much less nasty than Marcellus Shale. Once a driller has leases on 60% of the land in the unit, they can force everyone to participate," also known as compulsory integration. "You get 12.5% royalties by default, or you can put up your share of drilling costs and get 100% royalties. I signed a lease with a 3rd party who put up the $900K, and offered me $250 an acre up front and 18.75% royalty, and accepted a lease blocking all surface activities."
A source indicated that this resident didn't want to sign, but had to, because 60% of the land in his unit had been leased, meaning all his neighbors already had signed, and that gas was already being pulled from underneath his land. Meanwhile, Barber's Communications Director Micheal Blaine said these farmers were all being ripped off: they were being paid $250 an acre, while the actual worth of the land is closer to $2500 an acre.

Environmental assessment

The Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), which was founded in 1999 to work with communities to prevent and reduce the impacts caused by oil and gas development, published a June report on potential oil and gas development in the Marcellus Shale formation in southeastern New York and northeastern Pennsylvania. OGAP aims to expose the health, environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts of irresponsible mineral development, and their report indicated that the pollution from oil and gas exploration and production has involved known carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, and other toxic chemicals like arsenic, hydrogen sulfide, mercury and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene and xylene. According to the report, there is almost no information on the amount of water used by companies drilling the Marcellus Shale. A Chief Oil and Gas representative stated that the company expected to use about 800,000 gallons of water and 250,000 pounds of sand to fracture a vertical well in Barnett Shale, and that a horizontal well would require much more water and sand.
"The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) have a very rigorous system for issuing drilling permits," said William Kappel, a hydrologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Ithaca. The Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC), which controls the Great Lakes area, however, is much more lenient. The drilling companies will get water anywhere they can, Kappel said. "Instead of midnight dumpers, we'll have midnight pumpers. There needs to be some coordination with the use and transport of water," he said, to avoid illegal inter-basin water transfer.
According to Lustgarten, the DEC says it does not track how drillers dispose of the produced water waste. The U.S. Department of Energy lists produced water from gas drilling as among the most toxic of any oil industry byproduct. Most drilling states inject the tainted water back into the ground in areas where solid rock layers keep it isolated from drinking water, but the geology in New York and Pennsylvania makes that impossible. DEC officials said the water would be shipped to Pennsylvania for treatment. But Paul Hart, an executive for three of five qualified Pennsylvania plants, said he had not been contacted about that plan, nor do plants there have capacity for the wastewater.

Drilling technology developed under Cheney

According to OGAP, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not currently regulate the injection of fracturing fluids under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Additionally, the oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject hazardous materials - unchecked - directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. In 2000, the EPA initiated a study to assess the potential for fracturing to contaminate underground drinking water supplies.
An October 2004 article in the L.A. Times cited that, in the first four years of the millennia, the Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney's office backed a series of measures favoring the lucrative technology, developed by Halliburton Co. Cheney himself was elected chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, and six years later the then-VP convened a task force to devise a national energy policy. The 2001 national energy policy report, written under the direction of the vice president's office, cited the value of hydraulic fracturing but did not mention concerns raised by staff members at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The June 2004 EPA study concluded that fracturing "poses little or no threat" to drinking water. The EPA also concluded that no further study of hydraulic fracturing was necessary. Some EPA employees, however, complained internally about the study before its completion, according to the L.A. Times. One of them, environmental engineer and 30-year EPA veteran Weston Wilson, blew the whistle with a letter to the agency's inspector general and members of Congress. The statement alleged that the study's findings were premature and were approved by an industry-dominated review panel that included a current Halliburton employee. "EPA produced a final report [...] that I believe is scientifically unsound and contrary to the purposes of the law," Wilson wrote.
A week after receipt of the letter, EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said the agency was reviewing Wilson's statement but did not "believe that any of the concerns raised by his analysis would lead us to a different conclusion." In March of 2005, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley found enough evidence of potential mishandling of the EPA hydraulic fracturing study to justify a review of Wilson's complaints.
Lackner highlights the seeming favoritism diluting government policies. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, sponsored by V.P. Cheney, exempts the oil and gas industry from the "most basic environmental protections," Lackner said, such as The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, The Safe Drinking Water Act, The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and The Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

Community Mobilization

The Citizen's Energy Alliance (CEA) of Spencer will hold its third meeting at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 30 at the Spencer Grange. Lisa Ann Wright, a resident of Cayuga Heights, plans to attend this meeting, but she is also wondering when public information sessions will be held in Ithaca to discuss the potential impact of natural gas drilling on the community. "In an agricultural area like upstate New York, how will our diverted water supplies impact our crops and farms?" she asked. "What kind of pollution are we going to realistically see? Are the horror stories from places like Washington, Pennsylvania true?"
Law A11606 is pending in the NYS Assembly to prohibit the use of toxic fracking solutions during hydraulic fracturing - a practice that is currently legal. Bill A11527 is also pending. It would require an immediate two-year moratorium on this type of gas exploration. Meanwhile, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, at, provides videos, first-hand accounts, and more information on getting organized and informed about the issues surrounding oil and gas development.

(Danielle Winterton contributed to the reporting in this article.)

©Ithaca Times 2008

July 27, 2008, The New York Times: "The Light is Green and Yellow, on Drilling"

July 27, 2008
Our Towns

The Light Is Green, and Yellow, on Drilling

It wasn’t the kind of bill to set metropolitan toes to tapping — a measure to extend New York State’s uniform well spacing system to allow additional gas wells and energy production, including intensive horizontal drilling.

But when Gov. David A. Paterson signed a measure on Wednesday essentially ushering in a new era of energy production upstate, it was hard to be sure what mattered more, the green light or the yellow one he added. Either way, the quandary was the same: the economic rewards from thousands of new gas wells, or the risk that they could be drilled in some of the most scenic parts of the state and at the doorstep of New York City’s water supply.

Sometimes big issues coalesce with people barely seeing them. That’s exactly what has happened over the past six months as an upstate land rush, important new legislation and belated environmental awareness converged at the same time over the prospects of extensive gas drilling upstate.

“This new law will ensure greater efficiency in the processing of requests to permit oil and gas wells, while maintaining environmental and public health safeguards,” Mr. Paterson said in a statement.

Or, as his deputy secretary for the environment, Judith Enck, said later: “We’re not Wyoming, no offense to Wyoming.”

Which is to say that New York can tap into trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in the Catskills and the state’s Southern Tier without suffering some of the environmental degradation you find out West, or in Louisiana or even next door in Pennsylvania. We shall see.

The green light was the new State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations that make it far easier for gas companies to dig wells using sophisticated horizontal drilling. The process uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water to crack shale formations thousands of feet underground and release the gas within them. The regulations were needed to allow gas companies to proceed expeditiously with drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, the gigantic field running through Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and much of southern and western New York.

But at the same time, Mr. Paterson ordered the environmental conservation agency to come up with a tougher generic environmental impact statement that addresses the water-intensive drilling known as hydrofracking. The environmental review would include hearings across the southern and western parts of the state in September and October and a subsequent analysis that would aim for the new permit statements by next spring or summer.

For now, drilling applications will be required to undergo an ad hoc review reflecting broader environmental concerns, particularly those posed by the enormous water needs of the extraction process — including where to get the water; how to treat it; how to store, handle and dispose of it; and how to be sure water supplies are not tainted. Mr. Paterson also called for a study of the potential cumulative effects of multiple drilling sites on air quality, aesthetics, noise, traffic and community character.

That was enough of a cautionary yellow light to placate some of those deeply worried about the environmental consequences of drilling. Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, a Democrat who represents a district around Binghamton and voted against the bill, said Mr. Paterson clearly heard and responded to the environmental concerns.

Others were less sure. On Friday, eight environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, the Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Riverkeeper, sent Mr. Paterson a letter seeking a moratorium on drilling activity until the environmental impact statement is adopted.

“Natural gas development is progressing across the country at a scale and pace that no one ever envisioned,” the letter said. “Let New York State be a model of how to do this right.”

Still, gas companies have already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in leasing fees to landowners, some of them in the New York City watershed. They didn’t pay the money without expecting to drill on the land. They can argue that gas is a far more palatable energy source than alternatives like oil from the Middle East, nuclear power or coal. And as the economy sputters, the economic lure has never been stronger for individuals, communities and the state.

“You’re talking about people who are barely eking out an existence suddenly getting a real source of revenue, which is huge for an economically challenged part of the state,” said Thomas West, a lawyer who represents the gas industry. “If this play gets off the ground, and you always have to qualify it with an if, companies could be spending a billion dollars in the state. This is not an industry asking for an economic handout like most others attracted to New York State. It’s risk capital that could be spent somewhere else, which is another reason you don’t want a moratorium.”

Whether the light is green or yellow, everyone agrees that New York, now with 19 environmental conservation officials to inspect state wells, is not remotely prepared for full-bore exploration.

“They need to get up to speed fast,” said David M. Hutchison, a retired geology professor from Oneonta who has followed the upstate land rush. “This whole concept of fracking is all new for New York State. You really need well-trained people; it’s not like looking at raccoons in the woods.”


July 30, 2008, Kingston Daily Freeman "Session will examine benefits of Scenic Byway for Route 28"

ARKVILLE - The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development tonight will host Nancy Alexander, a landscape architect with the state Department of Transportation, who will speak on the merits of designating state Route 28 a scenic byway.

The session begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.

Alexander is the program manager for the state's Scenic Byways Program and is responsible for assisting local byway groups with the development of corridor management plans and designation nominations.

In other parts of the state, Alexander has giver her talk - "The Road You Want to Travel: How Scenic Byways Can Help Build Local Economies" -to teach how communities have used byway designations to foster economic development that benefits tourists and locals alike while enhancing and revitalizing community assets.

The state Scenic Byways Program, created in 1992 by the state Legislature, is said to encourage both economic development and resource conservation.

On Monday, the Catskill Center's Peter Manning said the set up tonight's event after a newly formed group called the Central Catskills Collaborative told him its wanted to hear more about the possibility of making the Route 28 corridor a scenic byway.

The collaborative, assembled at the request of the Catskill Center, is a group of representatives from six communities along the Route 28 corridor, from Andes to Olive, who are exploring ways to protect and promote the corridor's unique resources. Last month, all the communities applied for a portion of $500,000 offered by the state to enhance the area, and Manning says the scenic byway designation could lead to more funding from both the state and federal governments.

The guidelines of New York state's Scenic Byway Program are flexible. Local, county and state roads are eligible, and each byway involves multiple communities. A byway is organized around at least one theme based on related resources located along the byway corridor. These resources can be things like landmarks, buildings, mountains, vistas, businesses, parks or historical sites - nearly anything of interest or value than is visible from, adjacent to, accessed by or associated with the road.

TYPICAL themes include:

* Scenic, including natural or cultural landscape elements that provide an unusually appealing or memorable visual experience. Examples include landforms, water bodies, vegetation patterns or structures.

* Natural, which might include distinctive geologic formations, topography, climate, hydrologic features (i.e., rivers, lakes, wetlands and oceans) or habitats for wildlife.

* Recreational, which can be based on both active and passive recreational features. Examples include state and local parks, reforestation areas, hiking trails, ski areas, water access points or indoor recreation facilities.

* Cultural, based on elements that have been significant in the course of human events. Examples might include churches, museums, educational institutions or other civic facilities. Cultural themes also may be based on sites of ethnic importance, or working landscapes, such as those related to farming, forestry or working waterfronts.

* Historical (including Archaeological), based on significant historical sites, districts or structures. They might be based on locations where pivotal historic events took place, even if there is no remaining physical evidence of those events. They also may be based on locations associated with an individual or group that impacted history. Roads themselves may hold some historical significance. Archaeological resources might consist of evidence or artifacts from farms, hunting and gathering areas, burial sites, settlements or buildings.

There is neither a minimum nor a maximum length for a byway. It only needs to be long enough to tell its story.

Link to original article is here:


Catskills to Appalachia: Trailer Talk travels

Sabrina Artel discovers a shared sense of concern at the true costs of energy extraction


UPPER DELAWARE REGION — When Sabrina Artel towed her vintage 1965 Beeline trailer 1,300 miles roundtrip from Liberty, NY to Kayford Mountain, KY to attend the Mountain Keepers Music Festival and witness what has happened there in the process of energy extraction, she was not prepared for the question her host, Larry Gibson, had for her. “He asked, looking me directly in the eye, ‘what in my life do I hold so dear that I’d die protecting it?’”

The answer for activist Gibson is the 50 acres that he and his family have lived on for 230 years.

Kayford Mountain is one of the last mountains remaining in an area decimated by coal extraction in a process known as mountaintop removal (MTR), which has resulted in the destruction of people’s homes and the ruination of their lives.

What lingers in Artel’s mind are the parallels she began to see between events in Kentucky and those occurring in the Upper Delaware region related to natural gas and oil speculation.

The connection first occurred closer to home, when Artel traveled to the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Dingmans Ferry, PA to conduct interviews for “Trailer Talk,” an initiative she describes as “a live performance, a community event and a radio broadcast.”

At PEEC, Artel was covering an event organized by The Homestead School, a Montessori elementary school located in Glen Spey, NY, which had invited Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation ((, to share his experiences, after students from the school began to understand how their electrical consumption ultimately impacts the lives of people in faraway places like Appalachia.

Following an interview with Gibson inside the cozy confines of her trailer, the MTR activist invited Artel to bring her trailer to his family’s land and the coalfields surrounding Kayford Mountain, 33 miles south of Charleston, WV for a first-hand look at MTR over the Independence Day weekend. To make the trip possible, Homestead students made and sold bracelets, weavings, homegrown painted gourds and other items on Artel’s behalf. “That kind of direct action and engaged education was heartening,” Artel said.

Artel was eager to attend the gathering, also a family reunion, where citizen activists and environmental groups celebrated on the threatened mountaintop. Learning about mountain culture and its history, which is interwoven with the coal companies, presented an opportunity to learn about the coal industry, energy companies and Artel’s connection to it all.

Once there, she found a certain resonance with an issue closer to home—the gas drilling speculation that has swept the once-peaceable rural communities on both sides of the Upper Delaware River and stirred intense controversy.

Before departing for Appalachia, Artel took her trailer to talk with people attending a gas drilling forum in Liberty conducted by Catskill Mountainkeeper. “Catskills residents shared their fear, their concern and their frustration at being faced with a sense of inevitability about the presence of gas wells,” said Artel.

“I heard some landowners share that they felt they had no choice because they need the money or they believe that nothing harmful will be done and that legally they’ll be protected. Visiting the coalfields of West Virginia was proof that the energy companies will do what it takes to profit, so it’s up to us to protect our land, and thereby our future. Kayford Mountain was a reminder that we need to stick together, and not allow the energy companies to divide us.”

In Kayford, Artel interviewed activists, a former Massey Energy company employee turned anti-MTR activist and Gibson’s family members, who shared stories about growing up on the mountain, their lives as coal miners, fear of the future and the need to make a living.

“Larry’s home is encircled by the MTR. I didn’t understand what that really meant until he took me to the edge between his vibrant, albeit threatened and damaged property (toxic coal dust, explosives, flying boulders, damaged water table, destroyed wildlife corridors and habitat) and I looked out over the miles of flattened mountains,” said Artel. “Seeing the dozers and trucks hauling away the mountain and extracting what seems like bits of coal compared to the vastness of what’s been destroyed, was, and still is, overwhelming. It was in actually being there on the edge between life and death, the living and the destroyed that I have begun to understand the true cost of our energy consumption.”

The devastation has resulted in the destruction of 450 mountains and numerous impacts to water, air and the health of residents. “The fight of the concerned citizens to save their homes, their history, their lives and the mountains that give them life is monumental, heartbreaking and an outrage,” said Artel. “I saw how a personal battle against MTR has become a larger movement to find renewable energy and a more sustainable way of living. I saw how concern, advocacy and compassion intersect when truth is being spoken. I also saw the toll it’s taking on them and how much we really all do need to work together as citizens to protect our lives from the corporations who show no regard for us.”

Hear Artel explore the true costs of energy extraction and our connection to it during the Trailer Talk conversations to be broadcast on WJFF Radio Catskill and by Podcast. Visit for more information.



Contributed photo by Donna Binder  
Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain, KY is interviewed by Sabrina Artel of Liberty, NY as they survey the ruined landscape surrounding Gibson’s home due to mountaintop removal practices related to coal extraction. (Click for larger version)

July 18, 2008, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin: Drilling Regulation May Needed

Drilling regulation may be needed

Protecting water quality is crucial, says governor's aid

By Tom Wilber • Press & Sun-Bulletin • July 18, 2008

State officials may summon more legal power to regulate drilling for natural gas under the Southern Tier, the governor's top environmental adviser said Thursday night.

Judith Enck, deputy secretary for the environment, said protecting water quality is the top environmental concern as energy companies use a process called hydrofracturing to crack open bedrock and extract gas a mile deep in the ground. The process uses millions of gallons for each well and produces waste, raising questions about where the water comes from and how the waste is handled.

"The thing that stands out the most is the need to have a very comprehensive mechanism to protect ground water and surface water," she said. "We're examining whether or not DEC has enough legal authority to do that. If they don't, we will go to the state legislature and get that authority." She added that the agency would need resources to provide oversight.

Enck spoke before entering the auditorium of Greene High School, where more than 600 residents gathered to hear Department of Environmental Conservation officials talk about natural gas development.

Energy companies are leasing land throughout the Southern Tier to tap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation. While the economic consequences are promising, fears persist over the environmental impact.

Gov. David Paterson is considering a controversial bill, passed by lawmakers, that would speed up well development by streamlining the permitting process. DEC officials say current permitting regulations are too cumbersome to deal with large horizontal wells needed to tap the Marcellus.

"He will only sign it if he is sure it's in the public interest and won't make the situation worse," Enck said. "The DEC is going back and doing its homework."

She told the audience that Paterson wants to ensure environmental questions are answered before drilling proceeds.

"I'm sure you will hold our feet to the fire and make sure it gets done," she said.

link to complete article here


July 16, 2008, Kingston Daily Freeman "Belleayre Issue Gets Attention"

Belleayre issue gets attention

CATSKILL - Greene County lawmakers are considering a resolution urging the governor to sign a bill establishing an independent commission to examine competition in the outdoor recreation industry.

If the bill is signed by the governor, a Blue Ribbon Commission would be formed to examine the extent of advantages state-owned outdoor recreational facilities have over privately owned businesses, according to Greene County's resolution. The commission would also make recommendations to the governor and the state Legislature regarding methods to promote fair competition in the outdoor recreation industry, the resolution states.

The resolution was adopted Monday by the Greene County Legislature's Government Operations Committee. It will go to a vote of the full Legislature this evening.

"It's my understanding that the bill is going to the governor this week," interim county Administrator Dan Frank said Tuesday.

The bill establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission was unanimously adopted in the state Senate and adopted in a 134-2 vote by the state Assembly.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, introduced the bill. In a press release last month he said the commission would begin leveling the playing field for private owners of recreational facilities who compete with state attractions. Seward said the commission would look at state-owned golf, ski, camping and other recreation businesses and how they compete with privately owned facilities.

The state-owned recreation facilities do not have to turn a profit, pay workers' compensation or unemployment insurance, Seward said. He said those businesses are funded with tax dollars, buy equipment using state contracts, pay no sales taxes and are often exempt from state health or environmental regulations that raise costs for private industries.

In the past, Greene lawmakers have adopted resolutions calling on the state to perform a financial audit of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the Ulster County town of Shandaken. They have also adopted resolutions calling for a full accounting of Belleayre and a moratorium on all state-owned ski area expansions until an independent economic analysis could be done. Greene lawmakers have said Belleayre, which the state is planning to expand, is operating at an economic advantage over the privately owned ski resorts in Hunter and Windham.

"We're not in the least bit opposed to Belleayre," Frank said. He said the county understands the positive economic impact the resort has on the state Route 28 corridor. Frank added, though, that it is unfair for Belleayre to target Greene County's skiers as a way to increase their business.

Frank said Greene officials do not want Belleayre to close. He said Greene lawmakers want the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages Belleayre, to be more sensitive to Greene County's needs.

Last month, Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson called on local residents to boycott events at Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl and Windham Mountain in response to what he called attacks on Belleayre Mountain by Greene's ski resorts and lawmakers.

link to complete article:


Kingston Daily Freeman, July 7, 2008, "Can't We all Get Along? Editorial about tourism

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Can't we all get along?
WHEN it comes to tourism, some lawmakers seem to forget that a rising tide will list all boats. For a time in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, it was every county for itself. Tourism directors, under the gun from the elected officials who hired them, pretty much did their own thing, promoted parochially and viewed the county just over the border (or across the river) as competition.

That began to change in the '90s, when IBM's significant exodus from the valley prompted the Cuomo administration to explore economic alternatives, tourism key among them. Regional cooperation began to grow.

But that didn't mean there was no more "we" and "them" in regional tourism, witness the on-going squabble between Ulster and Greene counties regarding Belleayre Ski Center.

It started in Greene, where owners of privately owned ski resorts Hunter and Windham were getting antsy as the state poured resources into its ski center at Belleayre in neighboring Ulster. That got the attention of Greene lawmakers and they screamed foul, claiming Belleayre was at an unfair advantage. That, in turn, motivated state legislators to carry a bill calling for the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to study the impact of state-run outdoor recreational facilities (skiing and golf among them) on the private sector. The legislation awaits Gov. Paterson's signature.

Not to be outdone, Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson, D-Kingston, told Greene (and the state) to back off. He went so far as to call on Ulster residents to boycott Hunter and Windham's summer activities - and maybe even wintertime skiing, as well.

"I say we need to take a stance here in Ulster County," Donaldson declared. "We need to stick together and defend Belleayre against these unjust criticisms."

Sounds a little like Davy Crockett protecting the Alamo.

LET'S TRY to sort this thing out:

*Providing low-cost public facilities is part of what governments do. New York has a network of ski resorts and golf courses. Those without the wherewithal or opportunity to recreate at private facilities have a less-expensive alternative.

*It wasn't all that long ago when Belleayre was in serious trouble, its infrastructure in significant need of repair. A grass roots coalition formed, led by the tireless Joseph Kelly of Long Island, and Belleayre's plight found its way to Albany's radar screens. Pushed by state lawmakers - perhaps most prominently, Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope - Belleayre has improved dramatically. And other upgrades to the area could be on the way, particularly if any part of private sector developer Dean Gitter's vision ever becomes reality.

*Ironically (given his aforementioned support of Belleayre),

Bonacic and Senate colleague William Larkin, R-Cornwall, also are under fire from Donaldson for supporting the bill pending in Albany: "You need to protect the residents you actually represent," Donaldson said.

HERE'S where Donaldson loses us:

"If this legislation becomes law, it calls into question the state's right to provide low-cost recreation for its citizens," he said. Are they going to study the impact of Jones Beach? Bethpage Golf Course? State campgrounds? And how about local parks, pools and the like that receive state funding? When they finish studying the impact of state recreation outdoors, will they then study the impact of the state university system on private colleges?"

Could be. But so what? What's wrong with some scholarly analysis?

"We have absolute faith that, not only will Belleayre come out smelling like a rose, but that maybe it will teach the Democrats, who have ignored it, the importance of it," said Bonacic spokesman Langdon Chapman.

We agree with that, at least the first part. We're confident Belleayre can withstand the scrutiny. As for the politics, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, haven't exactly been strangers to Belleayre. But this is an election year, and Donaldson did target only two Republicans, although all Democrats in the Assembly (save for two, Cahill one of them) voted in favor of the blue-ribbon commission.

BUT HERE'S the real point - and it takes us back to where we started in bemoaning parochial approaches to tourism.

In Langdon's words, Belleayre is "a driver for the economic and skiing vitality in the whole (emphasis ours) Catskill region."

There's plenty of room for Belleayre, Hunter and Windham to thrive. There's room for visitors to Ulster to find their way to Greene and the other way around.

Boycotts of one county or the other are ill-advised.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Link to full article is here:

©Daily Freeman 2008

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