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April 20, 2014
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Some thoughts about fracking/gas drilling

Stephen Lundgren

In the course of campaigning for the position of Supervisor of the Town of Delaware, I have frequently been asked if I am “for or against” gas drilling. I submit the following statement of just some of my thoughts and concerns about this complex issue, and invite you to answer the question yourself – are you “for or against” gas drilling?

I have tried to approach the hydrofracking issue with an open mind; my initial response to the claims that we live in an area with enormous potential for harvesting a “clean” source of energy was one of hope for both the local and national economies. However, the more I have researched the subject, the less convinced I am that fracking would prove to be a solution to this region’s economic woes or our nation’s need for an abundant supply of clean energy. Ask yourself: Are you concerned that fracking might pose a serious threat to your health and well-being without providing the benefits claimed by proponents of drilling?

The average citizen hasn’t had adequate time to learn enough about fracking in order to make informed decisions about it; powerful political and economic forces are rushing the process. Ask yourself: Since widespread public discussion about fracking began only 3 years ago, is it unreasonable to request more time to become fully informed about and prepared for a process that is inherently risky and potentially dangerous?

No one really knows how much recoverable natural gas is in the Marcellus shale. The USGS originally estimated these reserves to be adequate to supply the country for about 18 years at current demand rates. The recently revised USGS estimate is about 80% lower than the original estimate, meaning possibly just 3 years of supply at current demand rates. Ask yourself: Should we gamble our natural resources on a bet like this?

I think the gas industry and government should adopt a cautious and conservative approach to hydrofracking and work cooperatively to develop more accurate estimates, safer materials and techniques, and more effective regulations and enforcement procedures. Enforcement is a key issue. Ask yourself: If state and local municipalities cannot afford to hire and train people to monitor and enforce their regulations and ordinances effectively, do you trust the gas industry to police itself?

Remember that the primary responsibility of local government is to protect all of its residents – not to help enrich large landowners or to bail out individuals, businesses, or industries that are struggling. Our Town Board has adopted a policy of “neutrality” in regard to hydrofracking; that’s like being “neutral” about floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis when you live in those zones. The responsible thing to do is to put into place all possible reasonable safeguards before drilling begins - if these safeguards turn out to be unnecessary, no harm has occurred. However, if safeguards are missing, we may be seriously harmed. Ask yourself: Are you more comfortable being over-insured or under-insured?

As far as gas drilling is concerned, needed safeguards include effective and enforceable road use agreements, zoning provisions that regulate, restrict, or prohibit inappropriate and undesirable uses such as “man-camps” (temporary living facilities for transient workers), compressor stations, processing facilities, hazardous wastewater treatment plants, large base yards and storage areas for trucks, heavy equipment, pipes, toxic chemicals, and other potentially hazardous materials. Ask yourself: Do you really think allowing uses like these in our town is going to benefit you?

Your wallets need protection, too, which is why we need financial safeguards such as adequate impact fees and penalties to cover the costs of permit processing, monitoring, and enforcing our ordinances. Ask yourself these questions: Will we need to hire police to enforce the road use laws relating to truck traffic and to keep the peace due to an increase in the number of transient workers living in the Town? Will volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and local hospitals need additional equipment and training in order to protect our lives and property? Who should pay for these additional costs – the taxpayer or the gas industry?

We have heard talk about how signing a gas lease is like “winning the lottery,” and claims that “everyone will benefit by drilling.” Ask yourself: Have you heard anyone back up these claims by publicly pledging to invest all or even a significant portion of their royalties back into the community in any of the following ways?
1. Establishing scholarships for local graduates to study new agriculture methods appropriate to our region, and having them return to the area for a certain period of time to work in the industry
2. Providing venture capital to create new “clean & green” businesses appropriate to this area.
3. Creating non-profits to offer low-interest loans to small and medium local businesses and farms
4. Funding equipment and training for our public safety personnel (volunteer firefighters, EMTs, police, etc.)
5. Creating a local Emergency Management Agency to provide immediate emergency relief and assistance to people whose lives and/or property have been damaged or destroyed by drilling-related activities.
6. Providing grants to local municipalities, schools, charities, civic associations, etc.
I’m not running for office to impose my will on anyone – I am running to represent all of the residents, taxpayers, and landowners in the Town of Delaware. I want to be a leader who listens, so you tell me: are you “for or against” gas drilling?