By Dick Downey
Raise the curtain on the second act of Gas Wars.
The SGEIS allows access to 85 percent of the shale gas beneath our state. The hardcore environmental lobby has lost to the science and the multi-state research of the three-year study by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. All that is left is the hoopla surrounding the 60-day comment period. The DEC then presents the final document to the governor for release. Then gas development begins in New York.
The development will start in Broome and Tioga counties, the natural geographical progression from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The proximity to the Millenium Pipeline gives easy access to the Northeast markets. In the development, there will be spills and accidents. The accidents will be remedied; the spills, cleaned up. New Yorkers will see that the world as we know it will not come to an end.
Slowly, as the money from sign-on bonuses and royalties filters into the communities, as good-paying jobs support young families, as tax rates are tamped down and tax revenues bumped up with the infusion of money from productive wells, and as individuals and institutions take advantage of new opportunities, the Southern Tier will finally begin to recover and prosper. At last, that talk will start to become a reality.
But don't expect any of this anytime soon in Otsego County. Two reasons: one economic and one based on the politics of fear.
On the economic side, since development depends on access to markets, infrastructure needs to be built. Also, the much-studied and prolific Marcellus formation is shallow in Otsego County, thus more economically difficult to extract and possibly excluded by regulation in the northern parts of the county. The Utica shale will be the main target formation. Its potential is largely an unknown.
Politically, those opposed to drilling in Otsego, with the help of a friendly press, have painted a picture of a nightmare industrial wasteland of poisoned water, ruined roads, plummeting property values, etc. An organized and dedicated core following believes this scenario.
Gas companies aren't stupid. What company wants a posting on YouTube of some retiree in Lands End gear and Gucci loafers handcuffing himself to its rig? What company wants to go to court to argue over restrictive ordinances a la Cherry Valley?
There are other areas in the Southern Tier with equal reward and fewer hassles. Drillers will eventually develop Otsego after the fear subsides and the lawsuits are over, but for some folks who are just hanging on, that will be too late.
Most people opposed to drilling are sincere. However, they are largely unaware of the exaggerations, the tactics and the agenda of their leaders. The opposition of some of these leaders to drilling stems from their fear that this newly abundant, cheap natural gas will delay the adoption of wind and solar energy. Their aversion to fossil fuels impels them to attack natural gas even if these attacks help bolster coal in the near term and continues our dependence on foreign energy. Natural gas, the game-changer, is the big threat to their larger agenda.
Adrian Kuzminski of Sustainable Otsego asks, "Is natural gas a transition fuel until renewables are economically competitive? Hardly. In fact, it's a big roadblock to our future; it perpetuates our polluting habits, externalizes its costs onto society and taxpayers, and sucks up investment capital that should be going to renewables instead."
Let me ask a question. With 97 percent of our transportation powered by fossil fuel, how does Mr. Kuzminski suggest we get ourselves and our goods around? What is the replacement for diesel, which powers the bulk of our truck, rail and ship traffic? Where is the renewable-powered substitute for the turbine engines that make commercial air traffic possible? What do we do while we wait for these replacements? Walk? Swim? Paraglide? Ride a mule?
And that's just transportation. How do we power our industries and our homes, which support our way of life, which, in turn, is the economic engine for much of the rest of the world? We live in the real world, Mr. Kuzminski, not a theoretical one. If we go to renewable energy, there has to be a transition. Shale gas must be part of the mix leading to that transition.
With shale gas, we have an opportunity to have local energy serve local needs, an opportunity for our region and our state to emerge from the economic doldrums, and an opportunity for our nation to become less dependent on foreign oil. Gas development is a jump-start for New York. And some day, it WILL come to Otsego County.
Dick Downey of Otego is a founding member of the Unatego Area Landowners Association.