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Leases seen as conflict of interest at NYS towns training


January 18, 2012

ALBANY, NY — The consensus of opinion at an ethics course at the recent NYS Association of Towns training for newly elected officials was that it is a conflict of interest for town officials who have signed natural gas leases to make land-use decisions related to natural gas drilling in their towns.

The event, which took place on January 11 through 13, was attended by local officials from a variety of local towns including Tusten, Highland and Lumberland. Newly elected Tusten Councilman Tony Ritter asked the lecturer, James Cole, Esq. of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, “What would your opinion be if you had a few town officials who had signed gas leases—and the town board is responsible for legislation of land-use planning—would that be a conflict of interest, knowing that a few people on the board had already signed a contract with a specific company?” Cole repeated the question to the crowd of approximately 300 people, and then asked the room at large, “How many people think it’s a problem?” After virtually every hand in the room shot up, Cole said, “There’s your answer.”
For an MP3 of the interchange, click here.

Liars, and pen names

George Wythe is a pen name of a lessor, that is assumed by an individual, so that he may avoid responsiblity for the opinions that he expresses. MarjHBates is TheHick, a man who lives in the Susquehanna River Basin, an anonymous lessor, who thinks that throwing stink bombs is fun, since he too, never has to pay for the words he writes. Of course, this is only my experienced opinion, after writing opposite such sad examples of human beings these past several years.

TRR is a newspaper that has a stated policy that such pen names will not be allowed to post, and yet, here they are.

God bless Jennifer Canfield for taking up the slack against such sorry examples of human beings.

But, why bother to read people who begin every post with a lie?
Does anyone feel the same person will follow with truth? Why bother to respond?

Seriously, TRR, where are you?

Enough is enough

James Barfh's post is a personal attack on other users. Since he cannot verify my address he insists my name is fictitious and I should not be allowed to express my opinions here. Only someone who has malicious intent would be so obsessed with where a writer lives. Since my posts state facts about the shale gas issue and the mis-information campaign currently being waged against drilling and fraccing in this area by himself and others, to which he offers no verifiable replies, he chooses to attack personally those would dare to disagree with his narrow minded view of the issue. In my posts I strive to present verifiable facts and reason in a courteous and civil tone even to such a querulous individual such as him. If Barth believes all my posts start with lies why does he resort to insults rather than counter them with his own confirmable facts? If James Barth doesn't feel my posts are worth a response, why does he? I certainly won't miss his opines. What are his intentions here? Is it to avoid having the truth about this gas drilling issue come to light, which might actually change the minds of some people who's opinions have been formed by the hyperbole he promotes?
This forum is supposed to be for "courteous exchange of ideas related to the issues at hand in the article commented on, not personal attacks on other users" Barth's attacks on myself and a few other writers here are constant and irrelevant to the articles. TRR, he should not be allowed to continue with this type of attack.

A 'conflict of interest' is

A 'conflict of interest' is not limited to financial matters. However, if it is insisted that it applies to a supervisor who has a gas lease than it should equally apply to someone who has expressed opposition for their own self-serving reasons, such as, members of DCS who have filed lawsuits attempting to stop drilling. In their minds they have as much at stake in this conflict as the lessors do and should be held to the same standards. Even though they falsely claim to have no financial interest, they use 'protection of property values, promotion of alternative energy, etc.' in their 'non'-financial argument.
The elected officials are the people who have to vote on these issues as the representatives of their constituents. The people who hold these positions are there because they won the vote, hence they are representing the majority, no matter how loud the minority screams and hollers.

Making assumptions causes more conflict

It seems you'd like the "minority" to just go away. But that's not how America works. You make way too many assumptions to be taken seriously. Not all anti-drillers scream and holler. It is ludicrous to assume that some "falsely" claim they have no financial interest. You can't posibly know that for a fact. Many only want protection from harm with nothing to gain other than freedom from negative impact by poorly made choices and ill advised coerced decisions.My first hand experience with some neighbors who have signed leases is actually hearing them admit to that. If you are referring to the recent election in Damascus Township, regardless of how it was won or how people voted, the state mandate to the supervisors remains "Protect the General Welfare". If the supervisors are not changing oridnances based on their own financial interests, as you seem to be claiming,then they should have no problem with upholding the mandate. And, please refrain from categorizing those who have sound reservations about the drilling industry as "self-serving". You obviously can't possibly know how very wrong you are.

Agree we dis-agree

The minority has to accept the will of the majority, that's democracy. The supervisors mandate to 'protect the general welfare' is being met. The rights of landowners are being protected. Claims of widespread certain environmental destruction are unsubstantiated, unproven claims. The supervisors don't have to protect from 'theories'.
Your kidding yourself if you don't think some anti-drillers don't have financial interest. In your earlier post you stated "protection of property values" as one of your "pursuits" isn't that a financial interest? How about Joshing Fox who charges a minimum of $5,000. + expenses every time he flaps his lip? Or the Slottje's who go around 'pro-bono' trying to convince towns to open themselves up to expensive court battles while cashing their Park Foundation paychecks? Or the hundreds of paid professional activists who's job description includes 'civil disobedience' and who's mission is to disrupt official meetings and functions? You're 100% correct, all people against gas don't scream and holler, some just want to be sure it's done safely, as everyone does, especially the pro gas people.

It's a two way street.

I'll answer both comments here. Granted the minority has to abide by the majority rule. In a perfect world, and nothing here is perfect, the majority rule should be based on hard facts, scientific evidence (provided it's not biased and this will always remain unattainable in my opinion)and consideration for the potential negative impact on people who have done nothing to bring about changes to the way they choose to live their lives. Truthfully, I haven't seen a very pro-active agenda on the part of the state, the counties or the townships to aggressively seek to protect wetlands and watersheds from sedimentation and soil erosion by designating much more restrictive setbacks in sensitive areas. Perhaps this would quell some of the real concerns for the water resources. The whole underlying issue is the cost of oversight. I personally know of situations where wetlands and sensitive areas were violated in the past by various activities and development operations and the answers were always, "We just don't have the manpower, even if the laws are being broken." So, I try to think in terms of solutions to all of this dissent and this is one area that really needs more attention. Also, whoever you are or wherever you live or wherever you vote, both sides of this issue have the potential for changing opinions. This is not solely the domain of those who are against drilling.
Also, I have no way of knowing who is gaining financially from the anti-fracking movement. Nor, do I care to know. My own situation is that I have firsthand knowledge pertaining to loss of property values. I've said it many times and I'll say it again: I fielded call upon call from potential buyers who refused to even consider investing in this area once it was made known that the industry of drilling was imminent. Even in a declining economy, many still had sufficient money to invest here for retirement, for recreation and for transition out of more populated areas. Say what you will, but in times past, all of these people supported our local economy. Try selling homes and properties now for the same dollars. Ask any realtor. It's just not happening. Those buyers I'm referring to always had plenty of money,still do. They're just not spending it here. I do take specific offense to your characterization of my desire to protect something I spent a lifetime with, something I labored many hours to continually improve within my means and something I personally believe is the real "treasure beneath the stone" as my "financial interest". Not wanting to see it negatively impacted is a far cry from getting paid to lease it to outside interests and then hoping for even more return by actually seeing it compromised by industrial activity and storage of waste by- products. As I said in my former reply, I truly hope the technology is changing, improving and our officials will be providing adequate oversight.

Look west

Jennifer, have you investigated any property values in the counties where drilling is actually under way? Susquehanna, Bradford, counties in the northern tier which are the crux of the shale gas boom. Visit them, see first hand what they look like. You won't find any 'industrial' areas, but rather old businesses thriving and new businesses starting, dozens of 'help wanted' signs but almost no 'for sale' signs, many restored farms and homes, plenty of agriculture and livestock, clear flowing streams and green fields, in general an area with renewed wealth and hope for people who have lived there for generations and are now able to pass on something stable and good to their children rather than just memories of the family homestead.
Well sites are very busy places until the well is completed, a year after the first tree is cut all will be quiet and the grasses will take back over save a small area around the actual wellhead. Horizontal drilling has eliminated the need for wells closely spaced and one well head can service as much as two square miles of land. If you go there and look around you'll probably have a hard time even finding one that is complete, but they are there.
Property values all over the country have taken a dive, except in areas drilling for gas, there prices have doubled. If potential buyers are claiming the gas industry is the reason they don't want to buy here then they are seriously mis-informed, for that you can thank groups like Catskill Mountainkeeper, DCS, NYRAD and the rest like them who exploit any oppurtunity they can seize to vilify an entire industry who's product they use daily. I won't defend PA's environmental laws or enforcement of them because I agree historically PA has allowed damaging practices in the pursuit of profits, I hope they will change that. My property is on the NY side and I am confident the NY DEC has addressed the situation thoroughly. Possibly even over-compensating for other states omissions. The technology is changing and improving every day and no one, not the gas companies, nor the lessors want to see any harm come to our environment.

Point well taken

I appreciate your tone and the offer to go take a look around. To be honest, I haven't.I will put it on my list of "things to do". I take it you can, in turn, appreciate my concern for what was historically a deficiency in the link between laws and enforcement. I often think PA needs to catch up in more ways than one. When I brought some of these issues up to a blogger who was former head of the PA DEP, he didn't have answers for me. So, as before, I am glad we can share this respectful dialogue.

By this logic wouldn't being

By this logic wouldn't being emphatically "anti-drilling" also be a conflict of interest? One would have to have absolutely no opinion, agenda, or finances of any sort in order to fill this job correctly, would they not? Maybe we could let the voters decide?

Strange but revealing question.

How very interesting that you don't seem to comprehend that governing with a financial interest solidified by a signed financial instrument is not the same as governing with personally held opinions or values with NO prospect for financial gain. What you seem to be missing is that the so-called "anti-drillers" are not seeking remuneration. They are seeking freedom from harm. In your world, it seems that pursuit of money should be allowed to rule and pursuit of safety, protection of property values and freedom from corporate power over local government is somehow invalid. Please remember that not all "anti-drillers" are the same. Some only advise more caution and qualified oversight, some only request more responsibility and disclosure and yes, some are totally against the process in favor of alternative energy or product that can not be sold overseas. Recusal is the proper thing to do. Otherwise the door is wide open for malfeasance,non-feasance or mis-feasance.

As I wrote below,

Only an anonymous lessor,such as MarjTheHickBates, would willfully distort, the meaning of a "conflict of interest", by comparing supervisors who have already received payment for leasing to drill, and who would stand to receive more money from the production phase of the lease, if drilling were to occur, to a supervisor who has a strong opinion about the issue, or any issue, for that matter, and where payment to, and receipt of, money, directly related to, and dependent upon, that opinion, on that activity, does not play a role.

Then, to suggest that voting should be the determining factor by which to judge, or remedy, such a conflict of interest, throws yet another irrelevance into the equation.

The inherent conflict of interest is there for all to see. It was compounded by the rezoning effort taken by the Damascus Township supervisors, which can only be seen as a quid pro quo action, taken by the supervisors, to satisfy their own financial interests.

Investopedia explains 'Quid Pro Quo'
"Quid pro quo agreements are sometimes viewed negatively. For example, in a quid pro quo agreement between a large financial house and a company, the financial house might alter poor stock ratings in exchange for company business. In response to these potential occurrences, the NASD has issued rules in order to ensure that firms put customers’ interests before their own."

In the case of Damascus Township, the lessor-supervisors, and the lessor-lawyer, did not "alter poor stock ratings in exchange for company business", they altered existing zoning regulations that would have restricted this heavy industrial activity, and by this rezoning, have made it easier for the drillers to proceed in areas that they had previously been more restricted from drilling. This rezoning served their own self interest, the interests of the members of their group, NWPOA, and not the Damascus Township community as a whole.

So, not only have they been paid, through a contract, to allow drilling and frac'ing, they have also acted, in their capacity as supervisors, in a manner that clearly satisfies their own self interest, by changing the zoning regulations to help the drilling company achieve that end.

Voting is irrelevant? If the

Voting is irrelevant? If the supervisors were DCS members, would they not restrict any and all industry to protect the all important tourist industry that they perceive to be so vital to their financial interests and property values while large landowners suffered? Would this not also in turn be a conflict of interest? Call me crazy, but I think the resident population has spoken for better or worse.

Voting

Voting is only as good as the government that stands behind it. And that government should be one that obeys the law of the land and adhere's to its mandate to protect the general welfare, not the welfare of its own pockets and the welfare of those whose pressures and actions contain within them the potential for harm to others as well as the environment.And why single out DCS members? They are only one faction that understands the risks along with what we've already lost. Are you a member of the resident voting population? If not, you may not have invested a lifetime of good stewardship in Damascus Township as many of those with concerns have done. And, if not, then what's your beef? And, what's your problem with a tourist industry providing a sound economic base? That particular industry was what the State of PA officials were trying to promote before drilling came along. We were poised to reap the benefits of agri- and eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture. Benefits that included stable not transient jobs. Dairy farms were beginning to understand the changing trends and made the switch over to organic production. It wasn't just tourism we were losing. It was our potential to grow our economy without the potential conflict and harm from "proprietary" toxic blends being injected into the layers of earth, the same layers that carry our water. You seem like you have a lot to gain from the gas leases. Otherwise you would not be overlooking all of these other dynamics.

Now I understand. You were

Now I understand. You were "poised" and then drilling got in the way. How inconvenient.

Inconvenience for whom?

It seems as if anyone objecting to your agenda is an inconvenience for you. You're confusing my observations based on business experience, perhaps a facet of this subject with which you have no firsthand knowledge, with my own situation. I was not poised for anything. Just the facts please.

Fact: You used the term

Fact: You used the term "poised". Your real estate business is suffering. You seem to blame drilling. Other real estate people blame the economy and no lending to speak of. Real estate in Bradford County near active gas fields is trading at $17,000 per acre. I struggle to understand how realtors dividing large properties up into home lots that leach sewage and RoundUp into the river trumps maintaining large parcels financed by natural gas wells that may or may not have an adverse effect.

A joke?

"a tourist industry providing a sound economic base" your kidding right? How many canoes and campgrounds can we have? If PA was trying to promote it as a viable industry before drilling came along it was only because there was nothing else. Tourism is probably the most disrupting, invasive industry we have ever suffered from. Every year hoards of city dwellers crowd our roads and river for the benefit of a few who's business is fleecing them for 3 or 4 months out of the year. If gas drilling kills the tourist industry it will be another benefit. Stabile jobs from tourism? Like what? Fetching canoes and shuttling tourists for minimum wages? Educate us, what stable year-round employment which will provide income even equal the poverty level does the tourist industry provide? Or farms changing trends to "switch over to organic production"? Do you mean like $8/½ gal fresh milk? Or organic vegetables which are twice as expensive and a fraction of the quality? Good luck with that.
But what really prompted my response was your promotion of the same lie that's been told by the 'anti' crowd over and over, ""...proprietary" toxic blends being injected into the layers of earth, the same layers that carry our water." If your really that ignorant as to how the fracing process is performed and the laws and regulations associated with it, try reading this article instead of the the hyperbole you are subscribing to now.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2012/01/24/dont-frack-me-up-cor...

Mr. Wythe, how do you get

Mr. Wythe, how do you get your words italicized or in bold face? That's pretty cool. Are you copying and pasting?

Under the box you type your

Under the box you type your comment in you will find this link,

"More information about formatting options"

Forbes

BTW, I read the Forbes article and I sincerely hope the picture it paints is verifiably true. Truly, I do. One thing no one seems to mention though is: "When and if this abundance of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is finally harvested, do the corporations then get to stockpile it, sell it to the highest bidder including foreign interests, trade it on the open market? Or, will it be patriotically reserved and sold to the American public at prices we can afford thereby reducing our dependency on behemoth corporations? A long time ago a very wise man warned me that if this great nation were ever to be taken down, it would come from within.

"Just the facts ma'm"

All the info in that article is easily verifiable although it will take some time to do. The gas will stay in the ground until it's needed and yes, it is a commodity and will probably go to the highest bidder. Will the situation arise where gas company greed causes the prices to become un-affordable? It's doubtful, first there are many companies producing gas here and they will compete just like gas stations on the same street corner. We are not dealing with a consortium like OPEC here. This is also true in the international market, overseas delivery requires shipping on specialized vessels as there are no pipelines. When you add this to the cost of the gas it's going to be tough to compete with a country like Russia who also has an abundance of natural gas and can ship all over their continent via pipelines. The bottom line is, shale gas makes an enormous amount of the cleanest fossil fuel energy available at a time when there are no other viable alternatives.
Supplies of natural gas are high and this has already caused the prices to the consumer to drop to 10 year lows. In NJ one gas company is giving back $76. to every customer. http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20120125/NJBIZ/301250017/NJ-Natural-Gas-hands-out-76-credit?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Apparently not well traveled

Perhaps you've never been to places that thrive on all facets of well rounded tourist activities way beyond the silly list you mention. So I won't waste my time educating you or itemizing them for you. If you are so upset living with roads "crowded" with canoers and campers, I can only imagine your frustration when the trucks laden with water, fluids and drilling equipment start to pour in. As for the toxicity of the chemicals, I suppose you also have a degree enabling you to tell us all about the compounds. Ask soil conservation to give you the same little demonstration we were given a few short years ago and then ask them why it wasn't safe to spill even a quart of oil or dump a battery then, but it's safe to inject carcinogens now. As if you don't already know, water rises and seeks its own level...now who's joking?

"water rises and seeks its own level" ???!!!

Are you actually trying to tell us that water will rise up from over a mile underground into our aquifer? You can't be serious. Underground? Through solid earth and rock? Ground water is supplied by the downward percolation of surface water, via a force called 'gravity', the only time water rises without help is by evaporation and that's not going to happen deep underground, at least not around here, maybe in Iceland. As for the toxic compounds a degree is not needed, all you have to do is read the MSDS and it will tell everything you need to know.
Since you refuse to give any examples of full time good paying jobs relating to tourism in our area I will assume you can't, for the simple reason that there are none. Since this isn't Orlando or the Yellowstone Park or the likes and there are no big attractions here, river activities and some quaint B&B's are about it save a few small wineries, no giant employers or money makers. Perhaps if some of the no casino NIMBY's would disappear some year round jobs might be created in NY but otherwise it's pretty limited as far as tourist attractions go.
I would much rather see our roads crowded with gas workers who benefit every segment of our economy than a bunch of half drunk/drugged out nit-wits wandering around staring at an eagle or deer that benefit only a few businesses.

The potential was here.

You are right, we are not Orlando or anything near that. Nor, did I think we should aspire to be. Because in the past I attended conferences and workshops for township and planning officals, I understood how population bases and trends were shifting based on improvements in technology. People then were looking for ways to leave urban hubs either full time or part time. Before those people make decisions, they travel, explore, recreate with an eye toward their future.What we had to offer was the potential for agri-tourisn, which was just being promoted by the state, eco-tourism (not all eagle watchers are drunks), outdoor adventures and hiking were becoming more popular, retirement communities and golf courses were being built, conservation subdivision development was being promoted by the state, etc. I am not saying this would have happened overnight, nor that everyone would suddenly become rich. What we still had to offer was the unspoiled Upper Delaware River Basin, the Delaware River Highlands, the clean branches and main stem of the Delaware River itself, plus all of its tributaries. The natural integrity of the area at that particular place in time was the main attraction. We will probably never know how far we could have reached or how much we could have achieved had drilling not come along. Very obviously, the changes were happening too slowly for many like yourself and others. Most probably they would never have happened in my lifetime. In the world we live in today, I'm not even certain that any of these ideals would have been embraced by people the way they used to be. It gets some lip service, but the reality is that people are way too stressed and distracted to prioritize making such big changes, on both ends. I will not argue with you about the technology and the way water travels. Your explanation differs from demonstrations I've seen in the past. But I do know that we have to factor in human error and greed. I feel, one mistake, one negligent act can cause loss of irreparable proportions. Once it's gone, it's gone forever.

Say goodbye to yesterday

The potentials which may or may not have been viable in the past are gone, but not because of gas. The financial collapse changed everything, working class people who may have looked in our area to retire, even as just a summer residence saw their savings evaporate overnight, savings which took their working lifetime to accumulate, savings which they will probably never be able to replace. Retirement communities? Ever been to south Florida? Do we really want that? Golf Courses are some of the biggest polluters and water users that exist. Not to mention the acres of clear-cut trees but the tons of fertilizers and chemicals used to keep the grass green which can cause all kinds of ground water pollution. If we had commuter rail west of Port Jervis we may see development of bedroom communities like Bushkill and that area, but do we really want that?
In my view gas is by far our best opportunity. Sure it will be an inconvenience during the drilling and infrastructure phase, traffic and activity will increase but it's not that bad. Nothing like driving in NJ at any hour of the day. And when that's over life here will be as quiet as it ever was, except there will be royalty money to spend for the next generation. Who knows what opportunities they will come up with for our area. BTW, your partly correct, water does seek it's own level, it will saturate any permeable strata until it is 'level', I suspect it's 'elevation' your not clear on. It varies but the earth is pretty much impermeable after about 1,000 feet deep and our aqufers are on top of that. Water takes the 'path of least resistance' and anything forced down the well pipe will either stay down in the fracced layer or come back up that pipe before it goes anywhere else.

Thank-you

I agree with the things we didn't want here. I don't think it would ever have gotten to that level and yes, I am well acquainted with the potential for harm from chemicals used on golf courses. Although, I'm guilty myself of playing a round or two now and then. As for the development that the "Marj" is talking about, what was performed in the years I was active was what was prescribed by state regulations and none of it came even close to over development. I never pushed for it, never hoped for it. But I did try to provide my planning commission with the best information out there, whatever was being generated by the state, so that they be prepared in the event that subdivisions increased.
Thanks for clarifying the water issue.

If tourism was providing such

If tourism was providing such a sound economic base, why are so many people losing their homes..... to tourists?

Losing homes to tourists???

Tourists buy homes? I thought they came, enjoyed and left?
Do you mean the people who came,saw an area that had retained its environmental integrity, paid premium prices, invested heavily, hired a wide variety of local contractors, supported the building industry,used local attorneys,opened accounts in local banks, shopped in local stores and restaurants, paid for services, paid taxes including transfer taxes all mostly without even enrolling children in schools here?
People are losing their homes to tourists? Please enlighten me.

Enlightening you would be a

Enlightening you would be a monumental task, I think. All I know is my husband and I got a steal of a deal on a foreclosure that some poor local couldn't hang on to any more no matter how many toilets he cleaned at the local tourist trap.

Oh I see...

You were one of the "tourists" who bought?

More of a vulture. But I'm

More of a vulture. But I'm here now and that's all that matters, not the locals. Right, Ms. Realtor?

Are you making a point?

I think you've gone off on some sort of tangent. But if it matters to you, which apparently it does: I have no reservations about having had a respectable career as a broker. I retired from real estate two years ago. One door closed another opened. No regrets. My concerns have centered around former customers who became my friends and neighbors and they were both local and newly local...but again, I don't see your point and you seem to be on some sort of personally motivated offensive.
All to the good. It's best to get it out there. However, my dialogue with you seems to be unproductive in sharp contrast to the one with Mr. Wythe. Bye.

Toodles!

Toodles!

Absolutely a conflict of interest

Except, of course, to those anonymous lessors who religiously deny any and all reality that is an inconvenient contradiction to their goal. This is just another reason for TRR to enforce its own policy, of no posting under pen names, be they "TheNatural", "TheHick", "MarjHBates", or "George Wythe".

People are encouraged to state outrageous BS opinion, without responsibility, or consequence, under assumed names.

When one lives in a village, one likes to know who the misinformers, and the true "obstructionists", are.

Come on, TRR, what good is regulation, without enforcement?

Precisely!

This was my point when Damascus Township decided to amend its ordinances to facilitate drilling in districts where industry was not originally permitted. To move this industrial use from "Special Exceptions" to "Conditional Uses" where formerly prohibited, took jurisdiction away from the Zoning Hearing Board, a much more restrictive governing body,with stringent criteria for "need" or "necessity" and placed it in the hands of the Planning Commission and the Supervisors with the Solicitor advising, ALL of whom had signed leases...way to go Damascus. I'm glad some one is paying attention to this obvious conflict even if it is across the river.