“Drill, Baby, Drill” Comes to Upstate New York, or, Marcellus Shale is Not a Person

By Bill Weber
Pulteney, NY
May 2010

As you suggested, I am writing to you with some details on the latest trials and tribulations encountered as Town Supervisor (similar to Mayor) of  Pulteney, Steuben Co., New York.  Our area is characterized by vineyard covered hillsides leading down to the Finger lakes, in my case Keuka Lake.  Our waters are so pure as to be drinkable with little or no treatment.  My Lake has about 3000 dwellings on 65 miles of shoreline and with high local unemployment and taxes, it has become a haven for retired folks of means from some urban areas of New York, but recently as far away as Florida, Colorado and California.  These people have a tendency to want to keep things as they have recently found them and are opposed to any multiple family dwellings, industry and most recently, natural gas drilling operations, in particular the latest buzz is Marcellus Shale Hydrofracking, which is not yet permitted in NYS, but is practiced in nearby Pennsylvania.

The firestorm I encountered was when Chesapeake Energy applied for an injection well permit to dispose of gas drilling waste water in a depleted gas well in my Town.  These permits are regulated by the State and no local control is permitted for the most part.  Since the proposed well was within 4000 feet of Keuka lake and 6000 feet deep, the waste water containing salt (sodium chloride), surface tension reducers, some NORM (normally occurring radioactive materials) and undisclosed amounts of “pixie dust” (automatically assumed to be toxic), the Townspeople and residents of neighbouring communities immediately assumed the term “toxic waste dump” for the proposed operation and formed committees to fight this plan by the “predator” corporation, CHK.

There was the usual Freedom of Information requests and charges that the Town Supervisor was hiding something. The whole situation culminated in a mass meeting on Super Bowl Sunday where we had the pleasure of our local Congressman, Eric Massa, (recall his name from recent revelations about his sexual orientations and financial needs?), an environmental attorney, a rock scientist from Cornell, a toxicologist from Ithaca, a geologist from the local SUNY and two winery owners.  The winery fellows were OK with their concerns about truck traffic interfering with wine tours and their operations.  The others simply said the world was coming to an end and our Lake would be destroyed forever.  No amount of logic, reason or scientific knowledge had any merit and the protest continued until CHK withdrew their application partly because of a changing process for waste water, the public outcry and some third party intervention at the highest level of CHK.

So it was over… correct?  Not really, because one of the Committees called Citizens for Open Government decided that I had hidden things from the public and was not operating in the best interests of the Town. They claimed to have petition with over 155 signatures demanding my resignation, but never turned them in.  NYS has no provision for the recall of elected officials, so if I am not a convicted felon, there is nothing they can do.

I am still in office and trying to figure out how to get some logic and reason into the Marcellus Shale situation, but with the current attitude of NOPE (not on planet earth) and the attitude of the retired folks who think they love the Lake more than I (my place is currently in its fourth generation of Weber ownership), it appears to be a nearly impossible task.  Considering the fact that our local highway departments spread 8000 tons of salt on the roads each year, there is more radiation in the form of radon in local cellars of homes and the additives to the “fracking” water are not hazardous, one might expect that a well 6000 feet down will not pollute Keuka Lake one wonders how to attack this kind of problem with public perceptions.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

All the best,
Bill Weber

(Bill’s email is bbweb@empacc.net)

Yale '62

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  • Bernie Campbell September 2, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I am in favor of “pope” (please oppose pollution of evironment).According to the scientific literature, which I have reviewed with some prejudice, as a am past president of our Trout Unlimited Chapter,and an active member of several other conservation minded sportsperson’s organiztions, I understand and support the concerns of you constituency, even though I am not in any degree retired from the active practice of law.
    I am a frequent visitor to the Finger Lakes Region as well as other rivers of New York and Pennsylvania.I am not willing to sacrifice the integrity of their ecology to finincial expediency nor should its citizens.The Gulf disaster should be warning enough to proceed with caution. If it goes wrong the fracking process can be a fracking disaster.
    Bernie Campbell

  • Al Chambers May 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    What a nice assignment for a semi-retired guy. Very interesting, Bill, and again we have something in common. My principal semi-retired work these days is in the energy field. Until the Gulf oil spill disaster,l the shale gas drilling and hydrofracking controversies in the Marcellus and other major shale formations were an important part of my monitoring and analysis. Recent shale natural gas discoveries certainly offer the United States an important new way of reducing its dependence on foreign fossil fuels. By coincidence, the excellent peak oil website, theoildrum.com had a feature today on a Marcellus project in Pennsylvania, which I thought you and other classmates might find interesting. http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6488. Good luck with your constituency.

  • Ken Luke May 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Bill,

    I’m sure that the same constituents of yours who want no drilling, will be equally vocal when your town utility has to raise the price of natural gas.

    Ken Luke

  • Steve Buck May 18, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Dear Bill – I loved your dry and very to the point example of NIMBY (Not in my backyard). Sounds to me you could become your area’s Dana Milbank (A Yale grad Washington Post correspondent who writes very much as you do on politics “inside the beltway.” Keep up the good work.

    Best,

    Steve Buck