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industries based on gas drilling. “One Sunday I got a call from Norse Energy to help their surveying crew site a road, and I asked where the crew was from. They said Pennsylvania and Buffalo. I said no, not until you get a local crew, and I gave them the names and numbers of local surveyors. That’s how you create local jobs.” Palmatier has been trying to get SUNY

Morrisville’s Norwich campus to begin train- ing programs for people in the natural gas industry, and is working with the county to recruit industries that see proximity to natural gas as a cost saver. He figures to create six jobs for every well drilled, and, he says, that’s just the start. While he believes in the promise of natural

gas, Palmatier doesn’t want to see his communi- ty treated like some of the places he’s witnessed in northern Pennsylvania. To that end he orga- nized a field trip for local residents and officials from Chenango County to Dimock, Penn. In the tiny township of Dimock, a stretch of

Rossi has been coaching his friend and

colleague Laura Brazak on this bullet point communication strategy. Together with fund- raiser and consultant Julie Benzo they have developed a Facebook page called “You Can’t Drink Money.” The page has nearly 3,400 fans, making it quite possibly the most widely viewed forum on the subject of hydrofracking anywhere. The trio has also formed a not-for- profit corporation, the Upstate Sustainability Alliance (USA), and is currently raising money to help grass-roots organizations seek- ing to ban hydrofracking. “When I first heard of it I was sputtering,”

says Brazak of the practice. “I called George and screamed, ‘We have to do something!’” Let Rossi and Brazak go on long enough and they will make comparisons to the banking crisis, the thalidomide scandal of the 1950s, and the involvement of Halliburton in Iraq. A number of chemicals used in hydrofracking are, in fact, produced by Halliburton. Brazak is the face and the voice of You

Can’t Drink Money. On a regular basis she posts video clips of herself staring into the camera, keeping her Facebook followers abreast of news and views related to the cause. A longtime photographer whose favored sub- jects include rock bands and exotic dancers, she has been, by her own telling, completely obsessed with the dangers of hydrofracking since late last year. She seethes with anger at the gas companies and the government, and spends her free time sounding the alarm. Brazak wants hydrofracking out of the

state’s hands and under control of the federal government. “This whole process was designed to be an end run,” she says, referring to the draft supplemental. “It’s kind of a miracle that we haven’t had a disaster yet. They are tak- ing New Jersey levels of industrialization and bringing them into Central New York, with smog coming up over the hills into Syracuse. What happens if a truck overturns into a feeder stream? Or one of the cement casings leaks into Skaneateles Lake? These endocrine disruptors that are being injected and coming back up—one truck of fluid overturns, and we wouldn’t know the impact for 30 years! This is a nightmare waiting to happen: Do you want to wait until we have babies with flippers?” That’s the kind of question that leaves Don

Siegel and David Palmerton shaking their heads with frustration. Speaking to the Syra- cuse New Times after a forum on the topic held at the SUNY College of Environmental


Science and Forestry, where he is a professor of geology, Siegel says that failed wells are caused by poor cementing, not hydrofracking. He believes that New York’s proposed regula- tions are sufficient to protect the groundwater. In a letter to the editor, Palmerton compared the anti-frack arguments to phrenology, or pseudo science, a reference he now attributes to frustration. Rossi responds by calling Palm- erton a tool of gas company interests. “I’m not saying ban hydrofracking,”

insists Rossi. “I use natural gas. I don’t want to freeze. What we want to do is throw sand in the machine, slow it down. We will lose nothing if we wait. This rush, don’t ask, hit the accelerator, is bad public policy. The fact that the rush is there means that something is wrong,” he says suspiciously. “They are hid- ing something. There’s a veil of secrecy.” One of the things Rossi and Brazak find

most undemocratic is the legal tenet known as “compulsory integration.” As Sinding describes it, landowners who chose not to sign a lease can be forced to give up their mineral rights if 60 percent of their neighbors sign up. “These holdout landowners or ‘non-voluntary’ lessors can be forced into leases. They get royalty pay- ments,” she says, “but a lesser amount.”


Steve Palmatier of Chenango County

found that his property had been compulsorily integrated into a drilling project run by Norse Energy to fish for gas in the Herkimer sand- stone. This involved only vertical drilling, and low-volume hydrofracking using 70,000 gal- lons of water. Nonetheless, Palmatier, a semi- retired machine shop operator with a back- ground in mechanical engineering, wanted to keep an eye on things. “I spent 12 hours a day for eight days

watching and observing as they drilled,” he claims. He had been told that the frack water would come back highly acidic, so he person- ally tested the pH of the water as it came out. His finding: “the limestone under the ground neutralized it.” In the process he became convinced that the dangerous aspects of hydro- fracking can be dealt with through regulation and technology, and began his own odyssey as a promoter of natural gas drilling in the region. “I didn’t want to get rolled over,” he says. He has now signed on as a consultant for Chenango County, to help develop jobs and

road is referred to as ground zero by fracktiv- ists. The term “ground zero” has never been trademarked; originally it was used for the place where the atomic bomb landed in Hiroshima, and nine years ago it became the accepted term for the resting place of the World Trade Center. Currently it is used to describe Carter Road off Route 29 in Dimock, a township less than an hour’s drive from Binghamton. Sitting in the shadow of a well rig operated

by Cabot Oil and Gas is a nicely decorated trail- er owned by Jean and Ron Carter. In late Octo- ber 2008, their well water turned bad, just after Cabot had vertically fracked the nearby well. A few months later a strong odor of gas came into the house when they opened their faucets. In December 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shut down their wells, and ordered Cabot to supply them with fresh water and bottled drinking water. The company has complied, but never accepted responsibility. Since then DEP has fined Cabot $250,000 and insisted that the company shut three of its gas wells. The Carters are one of 14 families whose

wells Cabot’s drilling practices ruined. Although often used to illustrate the dangers of hydrofracking, the damage in this case was done by wells that were neither horizontal nor high-volume fracked. The problem, according to the Carters, Palmatier and others who have looked into the case, was the cementing and the well casing. Ron Carter, who has been on a disability retirement since 1991 and gets sub- stantial checks from Cabot, says he might well sign a lease again if he had the opportunity, “but there would be a lot more stipulations.” Fracktivists point to the case of Cabot’s oper-

ations in Dimock as evidence of hydrofracking’s inevitable risks. Palmerton says they are an example of “bad operators” within the industry, those who need greater oversight. Pennsylva- nia’s head of environmental protection, John Hanger, echoes this view, referring in published reports to what happened in Dimock as “a black eye for the industry.” In the past two years Penn- sylvania has more than doubled the number of staff dedicated to enforcing drilling regulations and raised permit fees to cover the cost. The Ground Water Protection Council, a

nonprofit organization of state environmental officials, has concluded that “state oil and gas regulations are adequately designed” to protect groundwater.” Environmentalists are hard pressed to explain scientifically how gas can migrate through the thousands of feet of rock that separate groundwater from shale, but

nonetheless the fears are real.


What got Palmatier most upset was the

condition of the local roads while Cabot was drilling. Mark Scheuermann, general counsel for the Calgary-based Talisman Energy, con- cedes that the worst impact on a community is during the six weeks when the hydrofrack- ing operation is installed. “We have a Good Neighbor program,” says Scheuermann. “We coordinate with the communities. That’s six weeks and the life of the well is 25 years. We have probably dug 150 sites in the Trenton- Black River shale, and I defy you to find one of them without a guide and a compass” Although many have complained of the

noise of the trucks going by and the noise of well drilling, it didn’t seem to bother the Cart- ers much. “We slept,” says Ron. “The dog?” He slept too. The bluebird houses in the front of their yard were shaken by the trucks, but one spring later a healthy crop of humming- birds and cardinals has returned to nest in their yard. An uncovered swimming pool, 500 feet from the well head, appears clean. In the hydrofracking debate a large num-

ber of people get most of their information through social media, which is to say from passionate people with whom they agree. Some of the most important decision makers, the landowners, get most of their information from companies who are in a position to write them checks in life-transforming amounts. Is there any real chance of a debate on the

facts and merits of the issue? Numerous public forums on hydrofracking have been character- ized by audience disdain for those with whom they disagree. Letters from pro-frack parties like Palmerton accuse drilling opponents of being willfully ignorant, and some fracktivists lump those who would drill for gas in the shale with Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill” call for drilling oil near our ocean beaches. Each side can find enough reasons to

advance its position, but how do we create a public forum to decide an issue so complex it took the DEC 800 pages to outline it? Prominent environmentalists who believe

the green advantage of gas over coal and oil makes hydrofracking worth considering are afraid to say so in public. They make the case that 85 percent of U.S. energy use still comes from fossil fuels; natural gas accounts for 22 percent of energy use in domestic homes and businesses. If the most conservative esti- mates of Marcellus shale gas are accurate, the United States will have enough homegrown energy to heat and light the Northeast for decades, which is the timeframe when experts believe renewables might claim a majority share of power generation. The suspicion of government, on the anti-

frack side, and the frustration with the slow pace of government on the industry side, bears a striking similarity to the Tea Party movement. But maybe it’s not about the envi- ronment after all. Maybe it’s about something deeper than the shale. “It’s a culture war,” says Rossi. “I don’t think it’s all about the science. I

think this is about people’s philosophical feel- ings about hydrocarbons,” says Scheuerman. “It’s the usual capitalistic, militaristic way

of seeing the world,” charges Vera Scroggins, an activist in Montrose, Penn., where the natural gas industry in the Marcellus shale is growing year by year. “Some people want to

Syracuse New Times June 2 - 9, 2010

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