The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 21, 2013

Nimbys, shills and celebs: A morality play for our times

By Dennis Higgins
The Daily Star

---- — As international corporations continue to ship U.S. jobs overseas, privatize water, track internet shopping and buy elections — and argue that this improves our lives — it’s worth looking at how big oil’s push to frack the earth is playing out in Otego.

Oil-company people don’t come here to remind us of the benefits and safety of shale development. There are people right here who are willing to fight a proxy war against their neighbors in the hope of making easy money from their corporate patrons.

They don’t call themselves “industry shills,” but you know who they are. Their scripts come from industry websites and you are right to doubt the veracity of their message. In a recent letter to the editor, a pro-frack writer claimed pollutants could not contaminate ground water because of gravity. He had forgotten it was pressure that got the gas out of the hole in the first place.

Industry tells us that fracking, per se, does not contaminate aquifers. However, they acknowledge groundwater contamination to the extent they pay off complaints with sealed court settlements and have put dozens of water buffaloes in the front yards of Dimock, Pa. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection admitted the same with 160 determination letters to injured citizens.

Industry shills want us to understand that it wasn’t the moment of fracking that caused it — it was a different moment. Maybe when the well casing cracked. Maybe when the truck opened the drain hoses on a field, or when a pipe broke or the containment pond flooded.

Even the gas companies don’t think shale development is safe. The 2010 Form 10-K issued by Chesapeake (as cited in the NYS Bar Association Journal Vol. 83 No. 9 article by Elisabeth Radow) reads:

“There is inherent risk of incurring significant environmental costs and liabilities in our operation due to our generation, handling and disposal of materials, including waste and petroleum hydrocarbons… While we maintain insurance against some, but not all risks described above, our insurance may not be adequate to cover casualty losses or liabilities, and our insurance does not cover penalties or fines that may be assessed by a governmental authority.”

They aren’t covered, and you aren’t either. Neither your homeowner’s insurance nor your mortgage company allow drilling. Quoting again from the NYS Bar Association Journal: “Residential mortgages prohibit borrowers from committing waste, damage or destruction or causing substantial change to the mortgaged property or allowing a third party to do so. This includes operations for gas drilling.”

If you drill, you default on your mortgage. Additionally, “many upstate New York homeowners with gas leases cannot obtain mortgages. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Provident Funding, GMAC, FNCB, Fidelity and First Liberty, First Place Bank, Solvay Bank, Tompkins Trust Company, CFCU Community Credit Union and others are either imposing large buffer zones (too large for many borrowers) around the home as a condition to the loan or not granting a mortgage at all.”

Industry talking points include supposed economic benefits. But Pennsylvania trails the nation in job creation, Harrisburg has a $12 million dollar deficit and the Pennsylvania Department of Education is $300 million in the hole and plans to fire 4,000 teachers and close 23 schools. Median income for target communities in New York is already higher, in all but a couple of cases, than it is in the fracked communities of Pennsylvania, according to peer-reviewed research by economist Dr. Jannette M. Barth.

Penn State is contradicting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s inflated employment numbers. And the folks in Colorado, who ought to know how great fracking is, rejected it when they voted on Nov. 5.

The industry claims that celebrities are driving the opposition to drilling, and that it is funded by green charities. Yoko Ono gets her picture in the paper more than I do, but how many town board meetings have you seen her at? Are environmental organizations somehow funding protests with address labels and calendars?

They are definitely not buying up politicians at the rate the oil companies are. Election results in Colorado are surprising: anti-drill organizations spent $26,000, compared to the corporate millions expended to block frack-ban efforts.

Then, the NIMBY thing. More people oppose fracking than support it, but why do people downstate support shale development? We are still waiting for Siena to ask those people whether they would support fracking if it were in their backyard.

Cornell’s SRI has asked this question several years running, with unsurprising results. Back in 2012, of those with an opinion, two-thirds opposed drilling. Are there more NIMBYs than we thought? 

DENNIS HIGGINS is an Oneonta resident.