MONTGOMERY & SCHOHARIE COUNTIES — Selling a home in an area prone to flooding can be a difficult task, especially if the home sustained damage during the last major flooding event.
But a new state program aims to make it easier to do that in Montgomery, Schoharie and nine other counties.
People interested in relocating out of the flood plain are being offered money for their homes through the Greater Catskills Flood Remediation Program.
Montgomery and Schoharie counties each have $750,000 earmarked to purchase homes and demolish them, and officials in Montgomery County are gearing up to find eligible homeowners.
“We have 120 days to put the list together,” Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Gary Nestle said Wednesday.
Nestle said he’s sending notices out to all the county’s villages, the town of Florida and the city of Amsterdam to inform officials of the opportunity.
The effort applies only to homes that sustained flood damage since April 1, 2004, according to a news release from the office of Gov. David Paterson.
In order to be eligible, homes have to be the primary residence for the owner and must be appraised for less than $150,000.
Income is also a factor in determining eligibility.
To qualify, homeowners can’t earn more than 150 percent of the “area median income” as defined by the federal government.
For Montgomery County, a single homeowner can earn up to $53,550 and a family of three can earn up to $68,850 and qualify.
To be eligible in Schoharie County, a single homeowner can earn up to $74,130 and a family of three can earn up to $105,900.
Dozens of homes in Montgomery County were inundated with floodwater in late June 2006.
Officials then estimated more than $100 million in damage was inflicted when the Mohawk River, swelled by a week of rain, swamped riverfront communities.
“There was a lot of homes affected,” Nestle said.
Many received assistance to help repair damage and get rid of mold, Nestle said, but “a lot of the houses got mold back in them,” he said.
Numerous structures in the village of Fort Plain in western Montgomery County were affected by the 2006 floods.
“Some are not being lived in at this time,” Mayor Guy Barton said.
“The people cleaned them up and so forth, but there’s a tremendous amount of damage that has to be repaired,” Barton said.
Barton said once he gets information on the program, he intends to start an investigation to “see where we are and which houses have to be razed.”
Schoharie County Senior Planner Shane Nickle said he was reviewing the information with tentative plans to create a list of priority properties that might qualify.
The plan would be presented to the county’s Board of Supervisors, Nickle said. Schoharie County is in the process of purchasing a property through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation program, Nickle said.
The program being offered by the state is seen as more enticing, Nickle said, because it would pay 100 percent of the property’s appraised value. The FEMA program pays 75 percent, he said.
Nickle said though no decision has been made yet to go forward, homeowners who believe they qualify the program can register for consideration by calling the county planning office at 234-3751.
Similar to buyout programs implemented in the past, the goal on the part of the government is to avoid spending money fixing up properties when it’s clear they face a risk of flooding again.
In this case, properties purchased can not be built on again, according to the governor’s office. The properties can be used as only open space, for wetlands or for flood mitigation programs.
This work, according to the state, will help rebuild wetlands, which ultimately help in flood control.
More information is on the Internet at http://www.dhcr.state.ny.us/general/flood/flood00.htm.
link to complete article is here:
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- It's not “Bad News Bears”, but rather bad news for bears. The State Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to expand bear hunting zones, which also include counties in the Southern Tier. Broome, Chenango, and Tioga counties are included in the proposal which aims to limit the population of black bears.
The DEC held its first public meeting in Binghamton to discuss the proposed changes, which they say are proactive.
"As you get more and more bears, you have greater prospects for problems. The number of home break- ins in the Catskills has really been climbing in recent years. Again we're trying to get ahead of things a little bit here, and see if we can contain bears before they get into areas where we really foresee they'll be real problematic," Dave Riehlman with the DEC.
The DEC is holding four more public meetings across the state for the next two days.
ALLABEN - Shandaken Town Board members are putting the finishing touches on the wording of a grant application they hope will bring the town $83,333 to help the local economy.
Some last-minute concerns by Councilman Rob Stanley at a meeting earlier this week called the plan prepared by town Supervisor Peter Di- Sclafani into question, prompting the two to get together with members of the newly formed Economic Development Committee to tweak the language. Stanley argued that DiSclafani's request for funds would not be successful because it falls outside parameters set by the state.
There is not much time, however, to squabble over what the request will say.
DiSclafani said his plan is to use the funds to place new signs along state and county roads at the entrances to the town and its hamlets. He also wants to hire a public relations firm to prepare a marketing plan to attract visitors and to develop a townwide brochure.
The idea, in general, is to "get people interested in Shandaken," the supervisor said.
But Stanley fears DiSclafani may never get the chance.
He said his research shows that efforts like hiring a firm to prepare a plan would be passed over by the state because the grant program is designed to fund "bricks and mortar projects."
Stanley said he communicated directly with the state office administering the grants and was told that Shandaken's plan did not stand a chance. It was agreed that the plan could be salvaged with some last-minute rewording.
"Obviously, I'll make the changes," DiSclafani said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has created a "Central Catskill Park/Mountains Smart Growth Grant" program with a deadline of July 11. The maximum award is $83,333, and several towns between Andes and Olive along the state Route 28 corridor have a chance to get the same amount as Shandaken.
News from Great Western Catskills Tourism Office
For more information contact: Patty Cullen, 866-775-4425
Two New Online Resources for Travelers to the Western Catskills
Official tourism and events websites launch
DELHI, NY (07/11/2008; 1100)(readMedia)-- Delaware County's tourism efforts are getting a fresh look and new label. The Great Western Catskills of Delaware County campaign kicks off with not one, but two new websites, an online email newsletter for tourists, bookmarks, car stickers, a short video, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. These endeavors will bring to the internet the experience of the gentle mountains, farmlands, river valleys that make the western slopes of the Catskill Mountain Range so appealing and welcoming for travelers.
The first website is the official tourism information found at www.greatwesterncatskills.com. Here visitors can find lodging options and stay and play, or discount packages. Recreational businesses, attractions, shopping and dining, and information on the towns can also be found here. The region has been broken down in to smaller parts to make it easier for travelers to find the right corner of the western Catskills for their travel plans. Content on things to do will be constantly developing, such as adding a "36 hours" type itinerary for each of the four areas of the region.
Tourism Director Patty Cullen is pleased to finally have created a new online experience for visitors to the county. "By looking at website statistics for various tourism properties and their most frequently search for terms, looking at various competitive advertising programs, talking to travelers at trade shows, we came to understand there was some confusion in our name and lack of identity as to where we are located. People think we're Delaware State often or that the Delaware Water Gap is here. They don't know we're in the Catskill Mountains and so close to the metro NYC market. We have to market ourselves according to how the traveler looks for information, not how we think of ourselves."
To help expand the online offerings of the tourism program, a second website for events was created. This is at the address www.delawarecountytoday.com and showcases all events that tourists, second home owners and family guests would like to know about. "Events are something we need to promote to everyone, especially people who live in the towns within a one hour drive of us and our growing second homeowner population." stated Ms. Cullen.
The Great Western Catskills campaign is already paying off. Website requests for the annual Travel Guide are coming in stronger, and calls to the office for additional tourism brochures have increased with the new Antique and Art Gallery directory, Catskill Scenic Trail map and Fishing Map leading the way.
The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce is the designated Tourism Promotion Agency for Delaware County, and manages the State's I Love NY Matching Funds program. To contact the tourism program you can email Patty Cullen at [email protected] or call 866-775-4425.
Betting on a bonanza
Energy companies leasing land in Pa. for natural gas.
That is true more than ever because of intense interest in what sits 6,000 feet below the rugged hills: a vast store of natural gas and an undreamed-of chance at wealth.
"This is the biggest energy play in Pennsylvania since Col. Drake struck oil in 1859," said petroleum geologist G. Warfield "Skip" Hobbs IV, who has analyzed natural gas in this part of Pennsylvania for investors.
In a time of relentlessly rising energy prices, industry is after one of the hottest prospects in the United States - gas trapped in the pores of a 365 million-year-old layer of rock called Marcellus shale that stretches from New York through West Virginia. It is especially promising in northeastern Pennsylvania.
And especially troubling to local environmentalists.
Drilling will lead to "contaminated drinking water, carcinogens in the farmland and food chain, torn-up roads, risk of explosions, toxic air pollution, plummeting real estate values, and screeching noise pollution," the group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability warns on its Web site.
Last summer, gas drillers paid $50 an acre to lease the county's forests, hay fields and pastures. That price has skyrocketed to more than $2,000 an acre, with the possibility of millions of dollars more in royalties paid to the landowner if drilling is a big success.
The potential bonanza has come like a shot out of the blue in Wayne County, where the biggest town, Honesdale, has 5,000 people. It's a place in transition, with Branko's Patisserie du Jour sitting across from a Case International Harvester parts dealer on Main Street.
When an agent for Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation's second-largest independent natural-gas producer, knocked on Harold Welch's door here last summer, the dairy farmer on a dirt road was not interested.
"I didn't want this place destroyed," said Welch, who installed 142 birdhouses to attract swallows and bluebirds to the 212-acre farm. Early-morning birdsong resounds on hills where his grandfather spent a lifetime digging out and hauling away rocks.
Welch, with three children who hunt and swim on the farm, came around after talking with neighbors and joining a group that wrote a six-year lease with stronger protections for land and water.
Signing with Chesapeake for $750 an acre in late November, he missed the dramatically higher prices this year. Still, his $159,000 check was enough to put up a sorely needed silo, buy milking equipment, and tithe $16,000 to religious organizations.
The natural-gas industry has long known of the resource beneath Welch's farm. But now the rise in energy prices - the costs of crude oil and natural gas have doubled over the last year - has made it potentially profitable to drill for the hard-to-extract gas.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the State University of New York Fredonia estimated this year that the Marcellus black shale in northern Appalachia contained 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of gas. They said about 10 percent could be retrieved.
To put the trove in context, the United States used 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas last year, according to the federal data. The federal Energy Information Administration says one trillion cubic feet of natural gas is enough to heat 15 million homes for a year.
It will take years for production to reach critical mass because of a shortage of drilling rigs, a lack of pipelines to carry the gas to market, and a recent insistence by authorities that water permits are needed for drilling.
That gives opponents of the drilling, and there are many, time to act. One of them, Pat Carullo, said he would be thrilled for farmers like Welch "to get lots and lots and lots of the profits from the oil industry and the gas industry, but we will challenge the actual permitting process. Maybe they will get to keep their signing bonuses, but there won't be any wells drilled."
The environmental group Carullo cofounded, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, has hired high-profile environmental lawyer Richard J. Lippes - who represented homeowners in the Love Canal toxic-waste case in western New York state in the 1970s - to help in the fight.
Carullo, who kayaks or rafts on the pristine Upper Delaware River whenever he can, said he had fled to Wayne County from the New York area after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "I want to go in the river, and I want the eagles to be OK," he said.
At its best, gas drilling makes harsh marks on the land. Drilling, laying pipes, and building other infrastructure to market the gas could hold hostage for a decade or more the landscape many residents treasure.
Proponents argue it is wrong to always push such disruption off on other parts of the world. And when a well is finished, they say, all that's visible are a few pipes sticking six feet out of the ground.
But before that, roads must be built to get heavy equipment to drilling areas, where four or five acres are cleared of all vegetation.
Drillers dig basins, or impoundments, to hold millions of gallons of water used in the drilling and to store brine and other fluids that come out of the well.
A typical natural-gas well in Wayne County, costing as much as $5 million, is expected to go down more than a mile and then to turn horizontally through the shale, so one well could extract gas from a larger area than a vertical well.
Because the gas is trapped in the shale's pores, allowing only a small amount to reach the well bore, the industry uses a process called fracturing to open cracks that allow more natural gas - created when the Earth's heat cooked organic matter in an ancient seabed - to escape.
To accomplish that, an oil-services company, such as Halliburton, injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the well under high pressure. Most of that fluid is pumped back out. But some remains, and environmentalists worry that it could get into fresh water.
Tom Rathbun, spokesman for the Bureau of Oil and Gas Management in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, minimized the threat. He said that freshwater aquifers were sealed from the well, and that the fracturing took place far below.
But at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, deputy director Tracy Carluccio said runoff from drilling sites was a huge worry. The Delaware River watershed supplies water for millions. "We can't play around with this," she said.
Even landowners pursuing a lease can relate to the environmental concerns. Jo Clearwater, who has 36 acres off a dirt road in the township of Damascus, heard about the gas industry coming to her area last Halloween.
"I panicked," said Clearwater, who raises medicinal herbs and has a dozen goats in the meadow, 100 chickens in the farmyard, and three dogs. "All I have is my land and what I can do, and now it's going to be taken away. It's going to be poisoned."
Instead of being paralyzed, Clearwater got active on environmental issues with the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, which is negotiating with gas companies on behalf of owners of 70,000 acres in Wayne and Susquehanna Counties.
Not far from Clearwater's place, farmer Bill Adams stood at the end of his lane with one leg propped on his neighbor's four-wheeler and talked about gas leasing. He said he was not at all concerned about environmental issues.
Adams, with the leathery skin of a farmer who spent a lifetime mowing hay, leased his 577 acres to Chesapeake, but he would not say for how much. "I didn't get $25" per acre, he assured.
On the other side of the county, Louis Matoushek, who leased his 195 acres to Stone Energy Corp. in August for $125 an acre, consoles himself with the prospect of substantial royalty payments.
"If something comes out of that ground, the lease money isn't going to be much," relatively speaking, said Matoushek, whose farm has the only well that has been drilled in the county and is still far from producing.
Chesapeake, a Stone competitor, estimated that a Marcellus well draining 160 acres could produce two billion cubic feet of natural gas. At current prices, the landowner's royalty checks from such a well could total $2.5 million to $4 million.
Welch, the dairy farmer, said his experience last year taught him to deal differently with the industry.
In late October, he said, the agent for Chesapeake told him that $250 an acre was the top lease price, and that there was nothing to rumors of $500 an acre. A month later, he got three times the supposed $250 limit.
So when Chesapeake approached him recently about leasing land for a pipeline, Welch decided to play tough. "I learned my lesson last fall," he said. "I'm waiting them out this time."
Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker
at 215-854-4651 or [email protected].
A nonprofit rural electric cooperative wants to install hydropower at four Delaware River Basin reservoirs.
The Delaware County Electric Cooperative (DCEC) submitted its license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May. The "Western Catskills Hydro Project" proposes hydroelectric turbines at the Neversink Dam in Sullivan County, the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs in Delaware County and the Gilboa Dam on the Schoharie Reservoir, in Schoharie County.
The reservoirs are owned and operated by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to supply drinking water to New York City.
The DEP is on the fence about the project. "We're trying to determine how we're going to go on this," said Paul Rush, DEP Deputy Commissioner for water supply. There are five hydroelectric power plants already operating on the city's water supply system, including one on the Neversink in Grahamsville. Those plants are located in DEP diversion tunnels, not on the dams, as the DCEC project proposes.
Rush acknowledged the "greener" benefits of hydropower and the public appeal of a nonprofit cooperative. "Rural electricity: That's like mom and pop, apple pie and all those other good things."
DCEC is one of 900 rural electric cooperatives across the country and among four in the State of New York. Customers own shares in the enterprise and elect a board of directors. DCEC draws its 5,100 members from Delaware, Schoharie, Otsego and Chenango counties.
"We purchase our power on a wholesale basis," said CEO Greg Starheim. "Several years ago, we decided to make a conscious effort to explore local renewable developments in electric generation."
The Delhi-based cooperative already buys 75 percent of its electricity from hydropower at Niagara Falls, Starheim said. The rest is primarily natural gas. Tapping into New York's reservoir system would offer another alternative. Its existing power lines are located near the dams. "It would be very easy for us to interconnect those facilities," Starheim said.
The project would generate up to 63 total megawatts of electricity from the sites, producing enough power to keep the lights on in about 20,000 homes, according to DCEC.
Environmental concerns are sure to dog the process, particularly the needs of fish living around the reservoirs. "Temperature of the water is a really big (concern,)" said Rush. "The water has to be released cold."
If the proper precautions are taken, environmental scientists say a small-scale hydropower project should not be controversial. "Any sort of energy project is going to have environmental impacts," said John Rogers, senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Adding hydropower to an existing dam, he said, is one of the lowest-impact alternatives.
The federal application process could take years to flesh out. If approved, DCEC hopes to begin construction in 2012 and start operating by 2013.
Who's going to watch our backs?
That's one of the top questions Sullivan County residents are asking as huge companies plan to drill for natural gas here. With the risk of ground contamination, air pollution and road destruction, residents want to know who's looking out for their health and safety.
Here's a rundown of the federal, state and local regulations — or lack thereof — that will govern gas drilling when it comes to Sullivan.
this is the second of two reports on natural gas drilling coming to Sullivan County. Yesterday: Fear and rejoicing about gas prospecting.
A wash of federal exemptions
Don't look for federal oversight.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 — and statutes before it — exempted gas drilling from standards in the Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Drinking Water and Right-to-Know acts.
As a result, farm towns in western states have the same air quality as America's largest cities. It also means that gas companies are not compelled to reveal the mixture of chemicals that is shot into the ground, shattering subsurface rocks to free the gas.
Some said those chemicals are toxic and carcinogenic. Others said they're pumped so far below the water table that worries are moot. Because the chemicals are secret, it's hard to measure their impact.
The feds might have an iota of power through the Delaware River Basin Commission. Gas rigs would use millions of gallons of water, and some believe they'll try taking it from the Delaware River or its tributaries. The DRBC would have to approve that.
State has enforcement power
Gas companies submit development plans and must obtain a state permit before drilling. They're not required to study environmental impacts, but they have to conform to specifications from a general impact study. Permitting usually takes 20 to 45 days.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation inspects the work site pre-drilling to check setbacks, spacing and road location, said Brad Field, director of the mineral resources division. The DEC secures a $250,000 bond in case the companies leave without plugging wells and reclaiming work sites. In the case of spills or other accidents, the DEC can levy fines of $1,000 a day until the site is cleaned.
The DEC does not monitor air, water or soil quality.
Little authority for locals
Because state laws for drilling supersede local rule, town governments only control two things: assessments and roads.
They have the power to assess each drill site, but even their power to regulate roads is unclear, attorneys have said, because they cannot stop trucks from driving on roads.
Studies in other drilling states have shown that huge gas company trucks have caused 85 percent deterioration to country roads.
"That means you're going to see potholes, digs, cracks and breaks in the pavement," Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Bill Pammer said.
He believes the DEC should require gas companies to sign road improvement bonds before running over Sullivan's streets. Currently, the cost of fixing roads would be borne by towns and villages.
Copyright © 2008 Hudson Valley Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Chris Denton first got a glimpse of his future and that of much of upstate New York back in April 1999 when he got a phone call to his solo-practice law firm from someone he knew in the petroleum industry. “Do you know about the Jimerson well?” Mr. Denton recalled being asked.
He did not.
“Well, you’re going to have to start studying oil and gas law,” Mr. Denton said he was told. “That well came in in excess of 3,500 pounds per square inch bottom hole pressure. It’s like a Texas well. You won’t be able to do real estate law unless you start learning this stuff. There’s going to be a lot of drilling, it’s going to mean a lot of money, and you need to learn it now.”
He began studying the next morning.
Almost a decade later, the 58-year-old Mr. Denton, the son of an Army colonel who taught history at West Point, is still learning it. But he is one of a handful of people who have any grasp of the moving parts as the state lurches toward a new era of natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale formation, which in New York runs from Lake Erie across to the Catskills.
There are no guarantees, of course. Wells that look promising can be duds. Legislators could confound powerful gas industry lobbyists and slam on the brakes. Someone might invent a magic energy machine or a hydrogen fuel cell that could replace the gas sitting under pastures in the Catskills. Pigs could fly.
Far more likely is this: A frenzied land rush that is already making some landowners rich and infuriating others who leased their land too early for too little. Thousands of gas wells drilled upstate, many using more than a million gallons of water laced with dozens of toxic chemicals like hydrochloric acid, benzene, toluene and xylene, to fracture shale thousands of feet underground to release the gas trapped within it. Enormous questions about industrial noise, truck traffic and new roads gouged into hills; about holding ponds created to trap the polluted and spent water used in drilling; about land reclamation; about the effects on the New York watershed.
Mr. Denton has organized perhaps a hundred forums for farmers and landowners about the leasing process, how to protect themselves, what’s at stake. He has also put together several groups of landowners, each group controlling as much as 50,000 acres, so they have some leverage in negotiating economic and environmental issues with national and international energy companies.
He was in the audience at a forum last week, listening to the cautionary tales told by landowners from Wyoming and Colorado, noting the gas industry representatives, none of whom raised their hands when asked to identify themselves at the start of the meeting.
The meeting, organized by the Catskill Mountainkeeper environmental group, included both curious landowners and staunch environmentalists, many of whom wanted not to regulate gas drilling in the state, but to stop it.
“What I’m hearing is that some people have already given up,” said one woman near the front of the century-old Walton Theater here. “And if anybody wants me to make nice to someone who’s going to come and rape my land, that’s not going to happen. I don’t want to live in an industrial zone. I don’t want them here. And that’s what I want to talk about, how to keep them out. Not how to make nice with them.”
Mr. Denton, for what it’s worth, figures that stopping gas development can’t happen, and it shouldn’t.
It can’t because all the planets are lined up for vast gas exploration upstate. The price is high, and many of the people with land to lease are poor and desperate. Gas could be an economic bonanza for individuals and state government. The new horizontal drilling technology is far more sophisticated than ever. A similar formation, the Barnett Shale, has been a huge success in Texas, and gas companies are rushing to be sure they get a piece of the next hot play, which is the Marcellus Shale here.
“The place to put your money now is in the Northeast,” Mr. Denton said. “They’re not shooting for 15 or 20 percent return on equity. They’re looking for 200 or 300 percent every year. You might hit a dry well, but when you hit one, your return can be extraordinary.”
AND, in his view, the goal shouldn’t be to stop the drilling, because if we want our big cars and big houses and urban empires of light in the Northeast, we can’t expect to be an energy consumer and never a producer.
“The Amish are the only people who have any credibility about saying no,” he said. “They live what they espouse. If we want our gas-guzzling cars and S.U.V.’s and all the benefits of modern technological society, it’s a little hard to understand how we say no.”
Instead, the question more likely is: Do we do it right? And can we? Federal energy legislation promoted by the Bush administration in 2005 exempted the gas industry from many clean-air and clean-water regulations. Albany, where the state recently passed legislation that made it easier for the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue permits for horizontal drilling, may not be a great bet to do any better than the federal government.
The smell of money is in the air, and the game is just starting.
Thunder 102 morning show hosts, Mike Sakell and Paul Ciliberto of Sakell & Ciliberto in the Morning, will host a special live on-air forum on natural gas drilling in Sullivan County from 7 - 9 Tuesday night.
Among the guests will be Sullivan County Planning Commissioner William Pammer, Legislator Jody Goodman, Wes Gillingham, program Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper and Peter Gozza, President and CEO for the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.
Listeners can call in questions at (877) 777-1021.
In addition to 102.1 FM, Thunder 102 can also be heard on 94.1 in the Middletown area, 107.7 in the Port Jervis area and 94.9 in Rock Hill.
You could have taken a nostalgic drive through the past on Thursday night, through the dreamy green landscape at the outer edges of the Catskills, past sleepy fishing towns like Roscoe and Downsville, to the lovingly restored Walton Theater, built in 1914 for vaudeville acts, honored guests like Theodore Roosevelt and community events of all shapes and sizes.
And, if you got there, you would have received a distinctly less dreamy glimpse of the future. You would have heard an overheated mix of fear and greed, caution and paranoia, of million-dollar gas leases that could enrich struggling farmers, of polluted wells, pastures turned to industrial sites and ozone pollution at urban levels. You would have heard anguished landowners from Wyoming and Colorado, facing issues now improbably appropriate to the Catskills, present their cautionary view of an environment dominated by huge energy companies where some will get rich while their neighbors might just see a hundredfold increase in truck traffic without much else to show for it.
Such gatherings are being repeated throughout a swath of upstate New York, from Walton to Liberty to New Berlin, as thousands of landowners, many of whom have already signed leases with landmen fanning out across the state, contemplate a new era of gas production now hovering almost inevitably over New York’s horizon.
It’s a development born of new technology, rising energy prices and insatiable demand that is turning the Marcellus Shale formation, which reaches from Ohio to Virginia to New York, into a potential trillion-dollar resource in the gut of the nation’s most populous and energy-hungry region.
Development of the Marcellus has been most advanced in Pennsylvania, but since the beginning of the year, development pressures, land prices and activity by oil and gas firms have increased exponentially across a broad expanse of New York from Lake Erie to the Catskills. “It’s kind of a frenzy here,” said David Hutchison, a retired geology professor who attended the meeting.
Experts say the development will have enormous, barely glimpsed consequences for the upstate economy, the state’s finances and the way of life in quiet rural communities like this one, many of them now heavily influenced by the second-home market. There will be questions about the environmental consequences, especially the potential effect on the upstate reservoirs and watershed that provide New York City’s drinking water.
“This is happening, it’s unstoppable,” said Chris Denton, a lawyer in Elmira who is assembling big blocks of landowners to negotiate with gas companies. “And the question is whether we do it in a way that makes sense or a way that’s irrational and irresponsible.”
The Marcellus Shale has been known to be a potential energy source for a century. But advances in horizontal drilling and soaring energy prices have made it attractive to energy firms. A few years back, farmers could lease their mineral rights for a dollar an acre. This year alone prices in many places have soared to $2,500 an acre from about $200.
So, for example, when Henry Constable, 77, a retired dairy farmer who owns 140 acres outside Walton, left the theater on Thursday night, his head was swimming with alternating visions of financial gain and environmental hazard. He did not quite know what he thought. Would he lease his land?
“It’s definitely a two-sided deal,” he said. “I can’t give you an honest answer. I’ll probably sign something, but I don’t know.”
A stranger listening in offered him a business card and started giving him advice.
“Let me give you fair warning,” he began. “I’m a financial adviser and a landowner, so I’m on both sides of this play. First thing, you need to have a good lawyer, to make sure you have a good lease that gives the right to sue or defend yourself if you’re sued in local court. What these companies want to do is sue you in Minnesota or someplace. And you don’t want to sign a walk-down-the-street lease. You need to be working with an oil and gas attorney.”
The man, who declined to identify himself to a reporter, started adding up how much Mr. Constable’s land could be worth at $2,500 an acre and a minimum of 12.5 percent royalties. “That could be $1.2 million per year for every 40 acres,” he said. “Do the math. Assuming you’re just signing a lease and not some other monkey deal, you’re suddenly J. R. Ewing. You have an estate tax problem. You have an income tax problem. You’ve got to talk to somebody soon.”
Most of the meetings have focused on just such issues of what landowners can do to maximize their return and control. This one, sponsored by the Catskill Mountainkeeper environmental group, featured presentations by landowners and environmental and citizens’ advocates like Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Sheridan, Wyo., and Peggy Utesch of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in New Castle, Colo.
They said those royalty checks came at a huge cost: polluted air and water, industrial noise, well blowouts, toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater and wells and a fracturing of communities. Of paramount importance, many said, would be protecting the New York City watershed, an issue that could touch off regulatory and environmental disputes.
The first wells in New York, which have the required state permits, are already being drilled, and the process could play out over 40 years.
“There are problems and challenges that people haven’t even conceived of,” Ms. Morrison said. “And I can tell you that those of us who have gone through it know it has consumed the last 10 or 15 years of people’s lives. I can’t express enough the profound impacts this will have on people’s lives, on land, water, air, wildlife. You need to do an enormous amount of planning to get out in front of it, because this is the richest industry in the world, and they’re going to come whether you want them or not.”