One of the few fun things about lawsuits is that the accusers have to tell a bit of a story about themselves to prove that they have standing to bring the case. In the Anschutz lawsuit against the Town of Dryden, we learn that they spent $4.7 million to purchase leases on 22,000 acres:
Beginning in or around December 2006, Anschutz, through its predecessor Ansbro Petroleum Company ("Ansbro"), began acquiring oil and gas leases in the Town. Id. at ¶ 6. Currently, Anschutz is the owner of oil and gas leases covering approximately 22,000 acres in the Town. Id. at ¶ 7. Anschutz has invested approximately $ 4,700,000.00 in acquiring its leasehold position in the Town. Id. at ¶ 10. And, in pursuit of its plans to develop the oil and gas... Anschutz has conducted certain geological assessments, including seismic evaluations, which have cost Anschutz over $400,000. (page 18, "FACTS")
That $4.7 million in speculative lease investment comes to $213.63 per acre, less than 1/14th the valuation of $3000 that the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition used to come up with their utterly bogus claim of $175 million dollars in value lost by a ban. I already tore that number down for a lot of reasons, but now that we have an actual price paid for the acreage, it looks even more pathetic.
Worse, they continue to use that value - their front page still mutters about:
Assume you are a farmer with 100 acres of land. As vacant land, they are worth about $2,500 an acre, less if you have used an agricultural tax break. Your land is worth $250,000. But, the mineral rights alone are worth $300,000, more than the total vacant land value.
That big false number was good for two things: to make people think they might get rich if there wasn't a ban, and to make the possible costs of a lawsuit seem that much scarier.
$4.7 million isn't a small number overall, but $213.63/acre has a very different "emotional" impact than the $3000/acre the supposedly "rational" DSEC folks have been pushing. They should be ashamed of themselves for pushing it.
I mostly enjoyed the first 35 pages of the hydrofracking SGEIS chapter on geology. Then I hit page 4-35. It rapidly became clear that while there's some information where the oil and gas companies' approach - and apparently that of the geologists the DEC hired - has some serious limitations. There's not that much controversial to questions like where the gas might be hiding or what seismic activity there is in this part of New York.
Unfortunately, the last two sections of the geology chapter are about risks of drilling, and don't really convince me that the DEC knows that much about what's down there.
Section 4.6 is "Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Marcellus Shale". The key piece of information it reports is that:
The Marcellus is known to contain concentrations of NORM such as uranium-238 and radium-226 at higher levels than surrounding rock formations.
Section 188.8.131.52 reports on tests of Marcellus samples from New York and Pennsylvania, concluding that:
"the results, which indicate levels of radioactivity that are essentially equal to background values, do not indicate an exposure concern for workers or the general public associated with Marcellus cuttings."
This leaves me wondering whether radiation conditions at the surface are higher than they are in most rock formations except the Marcellus.
Both of these sections, though, left me with a basic question: does the Utica Shale have similar radiation issues? It seems like someone must have tested it, and omitting that from a document which claims to be laying the groundwork for both Marcellus and Utica Shale exploration seems like a bad idea.
The next section, 5.2.5, discusses containing those cuttings and drilling fluids at the site.
Section 6.7, "Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Marcellus Shale", explains more about the challenges that do come with that radiation:
Gas wells can bring NORM to the surface in the cuttings, flowback fluid and production brine, and NORM can accumulate in pipes and tanks (pipe scale and sludge.) Based upon currently available information it is anticipated that flowback water will not contain levels of NORM of significance, whereas production brine is known to contain elevated NORM levels. Radium-226 is the primary radionuclide of concern from the Marcellus.
Elevated levels of NORM in production brine (measured in picocuries/liter or pCi/L) may result in the buildup of pipe scale containing elevated levels of radium (measured in pCi/g). The amount and concentration of radium in the pipe scale would depend on many conditions, including pressures and temperatures of operation, amount of available radium in the formation, chemical properties, etc. Because the concentration of radium in the pipe scale cannot be measured without removing or disconnecting the pipe, a surrogate method is employed, conducting a radiation survey of the pipe exterior. A high concentration of radium in the scale would result in an elevated radiation exposure level at the pipe's exterior surface (measured in mR/hr) and can be detected with a commonly used survey instrument...
the build-up of NORM in pipes and equipment (pipe scale and sludge) has the potential to expose workers handling (cleaning or maintenance) the pipe to increased radiation levels. Also wastes from the treatment of production brines may contain concentrated NORM and therefore may require controls to limit radiation exposure to workers handling this material as well as to ensure that this material is disposed of in accordance with 6 NYCRR § 380.4....
the disposal of NORM-contaminated [exploration and production] E&P wastes is a major component of the oil and gas NORM issue.
That sounds mostly good, though it reminds me of another issue they don't address. Steel pipes can change, generally becoming more brittle, when exposed to radiation. Maybe it's just one more corrosive effect among many, but I wish the SGEIS addressed it.
Chapter 7 on mitigation addresses some of these issues. 184.108.40.206 requires tracking wastes - "record-keeping requirements and level of detail would be similar to what is presently required for medical waste". 220.127.116.11 talks about spreading brine liquids on roads, as is already happening at a farm in Dryden and on state highways. However:
the data available to date associated with NORM concentrations in Marcellus Shale production brine is insufficient to allow road spreading under a BUD. As more data becomes available, it is anticipated that petitions for such use will be evaluated by the Department.
So that's an open question, for now - one I'm guessing will largely be dependent on geiger counter results.
There's also a section, 7.7, devoted specifically to "Mitigating NORM impacts". Some of it seems to repeat material from earlier in the document or report on how existing practices might work with NORM:
The discharge of licensed radioactive material and processed and concentrated NORM (such as waste filters, sludges, or backwash from the treatment of flowback water or production brine) into the environment is regulated by the Department. NORM contained in flowback water or production brine may be subject to applicable SPDES permit conditions.
Figuring out how to respond to NORM will require testing along the way:
Existing data from drilling in the Marcellus Formation in other States, and from within New York for wells that were not hydraulically fractured, shows significant variability in NORM content. This variability appears to occur both between wells in different portions of the formation and at a given well over time. This makes it important that samples from wells in different locations within New York State are used to assess the extent of this variability. During the initial Marcellus development efforts, sampling and analysis would be undertaken in order to assess this variability. These data would be used to determine whether additional mitigation is necessary to adequately protect workers, the general public, and environment of the State of New York....
The Department proposes to require, via permit condition and/or regulation, that radiation surveys be conducted at specified time intervals for Marcellus wells developed by high-volume hydraulic fracturing completion methods on all accessible well piping, tanks, or other equipment that could contain NORM scale buildup. The surveys would be required to be conducted for as long as the facility remains in active use. Once taken out of use no increases in dose rate are to be expected. Therefore, surveys may stop until either the site again becomes active or equipment is planned to be removed from the site. If equipment is to be removed, radiation surveys would be performed to ensure appropriate disposal of the pipes and equipment.
Their closing statement, of course, is pretty much "we can handle it":
The Department finds that existing regulations, in conjunction with the proposed requirements for radiation surveys, would fully mitigate any potential significant impacts from NORM.
Is it a calming report? It really depends on how much you trust the DEC to execute it.
The last section, on methane, seems a lot worse to me, though. I'll get to that in a separate article.
TC3's Green Energy Technology courses are about to start up for the fall with a series of solar photovoltaic design and installation classes. There's also a broad Introduction to Renewable Energy class, and in the spring they'll have solar thermal, math, and clean energy entrepreneurship classes.
I'm pretty completely buried in work right now, and it'll be a little while before I manage to write something coherent here. In the meantime, though, I'm glad to see some sane responses on tax cap and economic development issues from people I don't generally agree with. First, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards on tax caps as the latest Albany blame-shifting scam, and then State Senator Greg Ball questioning efforts to purchase economic development.
I don't always agree with these guys, but sometimes they're right.
Because if AccuWeather is close to right, it's going to be somewhere between "Worst of Winter Cold & Snow" and "Stormy & Cold".
"For areas north and west of the Appalachians, however, snowfall for the season is expected to be much higher. An early, heavy lake-effect snow season will put northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York into the zone of winter's worst snow and cold, according to the team."
I guess I'll hope for merely "Stormy & Cold".
If it was, I'd have 6-point-something votes, but it doesn't work that way and shouldn't work that way.
Marie McRae's letter last week really sums up the politics around gas drilling in Dryden for me:
According to publicly available statistics, 7 percent of the adult residents of Dryden have signed contracts with gas companies for extraction of methane gas (a.k.a. natural gas) from under the land. A mere 7 percent!
One hundred percent of Dryden residents will be affected if heavy industry comes to Dryden. Make no mistake — gas drilling is a very heavy-duty industrial process.
I understand the importance of protecting minority rights, and I understand the importance of protecting property rights. I don't believe, though, that we should protect only the property rights of a small group of people who hope to make a lot of money against the property rights of a much larger number of people who live here.
That's not protecting a minority from the majority, nor is it protecting property rights. Allowing hydrofracking here would be granting a privilege to damage the entire town in ways that will only benefit a few.
I'll be cooking tomorrow at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road, as we serve a pancake breakfast from 8:00am to noon. We'll have pancakes, french toast, bacon, sausages, potatoes, scrambled eggs, a fruit tray, cakes, orange juice, and, of course coffee.
Also in Varna, the Freese Road bridge will be closed Tuesday from 7:00am to 3:30pm for "emergency bridge repairs".
Once again, I've fallen behind.
The main Dryden-centric piece of the past week was Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk, which included a few events that have already happened and many that haven't. She opens by discussing various projects to help Owego, Apalachin, and other flooded areas.
Just to the west of the Town line, it looks like we'll have yet another unlovely cell tower providing better coverage to an area that already had coverage.
Tompkins County was the first county to actually pass a tax cap override, though others are on their way.
In gas drilling news, Dominion, which runs the gas pipeline through Dryden and the E.M. Borger Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, makes it clear that gas drilling isn't especially about energy independence with its plans to export Marcellus Shale gas from a facility in Maryland. Meanwhile, the Syracuse Post-Standard notices the prospects for Utica Shale drilling, extending to parts of the state that may not have been paying attention to the Marcellus conversation. Meanwhile, hunters may want to pay attention to the drilling conversation.
(See this for more on where the different shale formations and their fairways are.)
In campaign season (and out), the New York State Board of Elections financial disclosure pages for Dryden are interesting. Last Friday was a deadline for a filing 32 days before the November 8th election, and I see two mysteries:
The "locally grown" Schickel's donations include $250 each from local truckers Dennis and Nathan Mix, and $175 from four people outside of Dryden.
You can also find the Dryden Democrats' reports there: receipts of $6714, expenses of $2295, and a closing balance of $5796..
I still haven't managed to read the draft zoning law posted last month, but I noted that the subdivision law had been separated and was missing. The subdivision law apparently went up last week (504KB PDF), but discussion at last night's Town Board agenda meeting made it pretty clear it's not cooked yet.
I'm still not pleased by key parts of the zoning law itself, but the subdivision law is at the heart of a lot of complaints about this project. The density calculations remain a lot more complex than they should be, and I've never liked the idea of completely removing "constrained land" from calculations. (§ 1001.1) I'm not thrilled that the Planning Board can require conservation subdivision on any Rural Residential or Rural Agricultural area it decides. (§ 502.4)
I'll try to find time to write more about this - it's been interesting lately. It sounded like the Town Board might introduce the zoning law next week and schedule a public hearing, with the subdivision law to get another (needed) look before its introduction.
You can read the article and hear the audio at their website. (I've also heard Fox News had a piece on the lawsuit, but haven't seen it turn up.)
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. -Alice Waters
I've had too many conversations with people who seemed deeply convinced that there was nothing they could do about issues that seemed incredibly important to them - involving government at all levels, as well as schools, churches, businesses.
Up until recently, that sense of personal hopelessness just seemed to keep accelerating, fueled by cycles of hope and disappointment that left too many people thinking the game was rigged on too many levels.
The game is rigged, in favor of various people with various kinds of power. That's what having power means. However, the game is not over.
If you want to address large issues - like tackling climate change, abolishing fiat money, making millionaires pay their fair share, or replacing the tax system with a flat tax - there are two challenges. The first is that there are established interests opposing all of those positions, and the second is that there are so many voices in the conversation. Before you even get to deal with the established interests, you have to make your voice heard.
The same is true of smaller issues. Schools, neighborhoods, villages, cities, towns, and counties are far easier to reach than federal and state governments, but it still takes time to figure them out, get them to know who you are, and work on behalf of things that matter to you.
This keeps coming up all over the world. In May, I stumbled across a piece on "enraged citizens" working outside established German political structures, and a more recent article on people frustrated that voting by itself seems to make little difference.
Voting is great - please show up and vote - but there is much more you can do.
So what to do?
All of these are most easily done with other people, but you can certainly get started by yourself.
Really listening is really hard, but it's the place to start. Listening helps you figure out:
what the situation is,
what needs to change (or stay the same),
who can help you,
who can hurt you,
why people hold their beliefs,
how you can help.
Listening in this sense is a lot more than hearing. It can mean reading or watching, and it always means thinking.
Listening isn't magic. Every now and then, someone tells me that "if people just listened, we could all agree on a solution," and I wince. Everyone hears things in a different context, and even if people hear the same things, they take them different directions.
What listening does most, however, is equip you to work with other people. It helps you understand the situation and connect with people who care.
Finding friends is often the most important part of getting involved, the heart of "getting organized". You won't agree on everything - that's a good thing - but finding people with similar interests and concerns makes it much much easier to keep going. It's much easier to sustain momentum when working together than when working alone.
There are, of course, some perils. Friendships built on interests in issues often work differently than "classic" solid friendships built over years of knowing people. They're often more volatile, often involve people you might not otherwise ever have known, and sometimes - certainly not always - come and go with the interests.
One key thing to remember is that friends can come with different levels of commitment. Some people may be ready to work 100 hours a week on a project, while others will only sign a petition or forward an email. Some people may focus squarely on one issue, while others try to address a wide variety of issues.
So where can you find friends? They may be friends you already have. They may be people you find online. If there are events about issues - whether supporting 'your' position or not - you may find new friends there. Meetings may sound dreadful, but they're a good place to find real people.
While it's easy to think "they won't want me", pretty much everyone is looking for more friends.
Even if you can only sign a petition, write a check, or put a sign in your yard, though, you can help friends who can help you get things done. You can come back later and do more with them when you can, too.
Talking can be part of listening, but often it breaks free of the conversation to tell a story by itself. Some people focus on talking from the beginning, while others never really get around to it. You need to decide how loud or quiet you should be to be effective.
Do you want to be up on a soapbox? Do you want to be in a crowd protesting together? Do you want to be the quiet support for other people doing that? Do you want to write articles and letters to the editor? Are you willing to put your real name on the conversation?
Some people say "but I'm not any good at talking". I rarely find this is true. Different people are often better or worse at different kinds of talking. They all take practice. I know people who are convincing in person and terrible in writing, and vice-versa. I know people who best express themselves by collecting ideas from lots of other people and assembling them into a new story. I know people with voices made for radio and people with voices made for newspapers.
Find a way to talk that makes you comfortable. Friends can help.
Yes, this is last, though these pieces all mingle. Sometimes just getting out and doing something breaks the barriers that made it hard to listen, find friends, and talk. Sometimes it takes years of listening to be ready to talk with friends, and more years to go out and do.
Doing can be lots of things. It could be running for office, but it might be cleaning up litter in a park, it might be adding insulation to your house, it might be sending donations. It might be driving more slowly. It might be bringing food to people, or hosting a party. It might be putting signs in front of your house or flying the flag. It might be assembling a mailing or writing for friends or the public. It might be camping, or it might be voting. It might be analyzing vast quantities of data or collecting key stories. It might be partisan, non-partisan, or non-political. Even tiny things can make a difference.
It's easy to look at the world and get overwhelmed. It happens to me every single day. Let that feeling wash over you, then listen, find friends, talk, and do. There's a lot to do, but that's only more reason to get started.
I need to write a piece unpacking the various strange claims Republicans make here, but it'll take a while.
I trust you - go read and listen to it yourself.
(And if you're catching up, here's the earlier piece they did.)
One of the stranger complaints I heard about the gas drilling ban was that "no one talked about this at the last election." Now, I recognize that not everyone made it to the Dryden Grange's Meet the Candidate event, but I had a fair number of people ask my opinion about the issue while I was running.
Here's nine minutes of audio from the Meet the Candidates event. None of us yet had heard about the court precedents that suggested towns could ban (but not otherwise regulate) operations the state insisted only it could regulate, so our proposals were weaker than they might otherwise have been.
Two candidates - Deb Shigley (R) for Town Board and Jim Crawford (R) for County Legislature - talked primarily about who was going to pay for oversight and wanted to make sure it wouldn't be the Town or the County. The rest of us - myself and Jason Leifer (D) for Town Board, Mike Lane (D) for County Legislature, and Steve Stelick (R) for Town Board - expressed much greater interest in regulating and controlling what was seen even then as a threat to the Town.
Both Deb and Jim came in last in their respective races. I also lost in the Town Board race, to Jason and Steve - both of whom voted for the ban. It was a fairly quiet election, and hydrofracking wasn't as critical an issue as it is today, but that's still pretty striking.
National Geographic takes a look at the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania. As always, they take better pictures than I do.
When I first got involved in Dryden town politics, one of the perpetual battles was over recreation. Projects that benefited the east side often received attention and funding from the Republican Town Board, while other possibilities used more by west side residents, notably the Recreation Partnership (with other towns and the county) came in for criticism and threats of departure. The Republican board bought the present Town Hall property, which a few friends of mine joke is really in Virgil, with all kinds of muttered but not official plans to build a major east side recreation facility.
Now, it's the mostly west-side Democratic Town Board's turn to unveil major recreation facility plans, and - what's that?
Residents can voice their opinion on the proposed design of a large community park in the Town of Dryden during a meeting set for 3 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Town Hall.
The proposed site of the community park will be on town-owned property at the Town Hall. The meeting will not include detailed timelines or cost estimates, according to a new release from the town.
Maybe the old east-west tensions have simmered down a little, or maybe this Town Board is just willing to serve the whole town.
There were a lot of strange Republican claims in the recent Innovation Trail piece at WSKG, but I think the one that really hit it out of the park was this:
Schickel is critical of town Democrats for putting Dryden out ahead of the push to ban fracking.
"They essentially put a target on their backs, saying sue us first," he says.
That last word - first - is what makes this complete and utter nonsense. The legal arguments around the ban are complicated because this isn't settled law, and I think everyone involved has agreed that settling this will mean a journey that starts at the local State Supreme Court and winds its way up to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. (Though possibly the legislature could intervene.)
Dryden was not, however, the first town to pass a ban. Bans and moratoria have been going up across the state. Dryden is, for example, number 22 on this list.
So how did we end up with the target on our backs?
Well, if you visit the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition web page, the first thing you'll see is a piece called "Leaders Attend No Ban Conference":
Several municipalities in New York State have adopted bans on energy development, including the City of Buffalo, and the towns of Dryden, Ithaca, Ulysses, and Middlefield.
In response, about sixty leaders came together on August 22 at a Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC) sponsored, by invitation only, meeting in Binghamton to discuss legal strategies for pushing back against, and legally combating, local ordinances banning safe, regulated, energy development and taking landowner property unjustly without compensation. Key speaker at the conference was noted New York and Pennsylvania oil and gas attorney and geologist Michael P. Joy.
Conference participants attending included an array of leaders from local, regional, and statewide landowner coalitions throughout upstate New York as well as leaders of farm and industry groups such as the Farm Bureau, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and Energy in Depth. DSEC moderator Henry S. Kramer said, "We are bringing together landowners, farmers, and industry in common cause to overturn bans and unpaid takings."
"We have knowledge that a test case challenging a ban is already getting underway in State Supreme Court that could set definitive precedent for New York State...."
Henry Kramer said from the outset that a ban would bring a suit, and then, guess what? He started a group that sponsored an "invitation-only" meeting of local gas industry supporters and gas industry legal firepower. Somehow, out of that meeting, a "test case" emerged, in - guess where? Dryden.
There are several other fun pieces to the "test case". It was filed just as election season was getting started, giving the Republicans who were, at least then, clear opponents of the ban, maximum ammunition. It was filed in a town that's definitely possible for Republicans to capture - why bother with Ulysses or Ithaca?
It's not just that the DSEC leadership overlaps the Dryden Republican Committee substantially - it's that the "super lawyer" running the case can't seem to help himself telling the story of their hopes in the lawsuit. He dodges a little at the beginning (38:00), but then gives it up, entirely voluntarily, later in the interview:
ARBETTER: There are other communities in New York State that are also going down this Dryden route of wanting to insulate themselves from fracking. Why did you pick Dryden?
WEST: Well, we picked Dryden because our client, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, has 22,200 acres under lease in the Town...
WEST: [47:25] ...we annexed the lease to our litigation papers, but I guess we'll find out in November, right?
ARBETTER: Right, November 4th.
WEST: No, no, I think we're going to find out actually the second Tuesday of November, the first Tuesday, whatever it is - Election Day. Because that's when the Town Board and Town Supervisor are up for election. I understand three of the seats are up for election.
ARBETTER: Oh, I see.
WEST: So we'll find out whether a majority of people in the Town are in favor of drilling, or not, because those elections are going to decide the fate of that issue.
ARBETTER: Are you - Is the industry getting involved in this local race?
WEST: No, we're just watching it. We've seen this - we've seen it in other contexts, I've seen it in the context of landfills and all where you see town boards flip flop over time for against a particular facility or particular type of activity.
You know, this really doesn't even begin to add up to the Town Board painting a target on Dryden. It adds up to a local group opposed to the ban that encouraged industry to come sue Dryden in particular in the hope that they could flip the ban and the election.
Schickel spun this one way too hard.
Sorry for the late notice, but if you can make it, this should be great:
On October 19, 2011 at 7 pm, Dryden Historical Society will present a program about "The 1981 Flood: 30 Years Ago"
Mike Lane was mayor of Dryden at the time of the 1981 Flood and will be the speaker. He will tell about the flood that devastated the area thirty years ago in 1981.
The vast Virgil Creek Watershed dam in the town of Dryden was constructed as a result of the flooding, and proved effective this past month in moderating the damage to local areas. We invite everyone with an interest in Dryden history and in the the recent high water and flooding from the many streams and surrounding high hills to attend.
We invite all to bring stories and photographs about the great 1981 Flood to share. Programs are recorded and the information then becomes part of the historical collection and accessible to the public.
The program will be held at the Dryden Village Hall at the corner of South and George Streets, Dryden.
Program begins at 7pm, the doors open at 6:30 pm. Please come early to visit and look at displays.
There is elevator access and plenty of parking.
Dryden Historical Society programs are FREE and OPEN TO ALL.
I've always wanted to write a headline like that, and I can thank the Town of Dryden Republican Committee for giving me the opportunity.
Why? Because they wrote this in their Shopper insert:
Negatitve effects of the proposed Zoning and Subdivision law:
...Cutting trees over 6" in diameter will sometimes be controlled by the Planning Board.
Now, I wrote earlier that I don't love the draft subdivision law, and when I saw this, my eyes popped out of my head. I imagined a different headline, "Provision suggests clearcut before subdivision", because the only time the Planning Board has that "sometimes" is while a property owner has a proposal in for subdivision.
However, Craig Anderson and I talked with Town Planner Dan Kwasnowski while we were al locked out of the executive session at last week's meeting, and he said he was pretty sure it was a direct inclusion from the previous version of the subdivision law (10.4MB PDF, page 32, section 7-F.), the one that's been in effect for at least twenty years. "Trees were a big deal back then", he said, or something similar. This is current law, even if I think it's an overreach.
So yes, I'd like to see that clause removed, but it doesn't come from an overzealous Democratic Town Board. It comes from some long past Republican Town Board, whose influence is still felt both in current laws and in draft laws that no one's really read yet.
The Varna Volunteer Fire Company will be having an open house this Sunday, October 23rd, at their firehouse at 14 Turkey Hill Road from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. Come see the station, the trucks, the equipment, and most of all the people who keep Varna safe!
Update: More from the VVFC - "truly an open house, showing the bunkhouse, trucks and station . We will have light refreshments, stuff for the kids, and will be looking for volunteers to sign up." I'll be bringing my kids by!
The New York Times has an extended article today about conflicts between mortgages and gas drilling agreements - basically stating that by signing a gas lease (with surface rights), you're making the property ineligible for most mortgages, especially the "Uniform" mortgages used by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others:
But bankers and real estate executives, especially in New York, are starting to pay closer attention to the fine print and are raising provocative questions, such as: What happens if they lend money for a piece of land that ends up storing the equivalent of an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with toxic wastewater from drilling?
Fearful of just such a possibility, some banks have become reluctant to grant mortgages on properties leased for gas drilling. At least eight local or national banks do not typically issue mortgages on such properties, lenders say...
More generally, bankers are concerned because many leases allow drillers to operate in ways that violate rules in landowners' mortgages. These rulesalso require homeowners to get permission from their mortgage banker before they sign a lease -- a fact that most landowners do not know. ...
Lenders predict that the conflicts between leases and mortgage rules are not likely to cause foreclosures, nor have they resulted in broad litigation or legislation. But many of the leases do constitute "technical defaults" on the mortgages, lenders say, and will likely result in new rules from local banks and additional hurdles to getting a home loan or refinancing a mortgage.
I remember when I bought my house, my mortgage came with an entertaining flyer (which I now can't find) outlining the many things I couldn't do on my property. Nuclear experiments were the most memorable, disposing of gasoline and motor oil the most likely. Here's language from my 2003 mortgage:
21. Continuation of Borrower's Obligations to Maintain and Protect the Property. environmental protection are called "Environmental Law." Environmental Law classifies certain substances as toxic or hazardous. There are other substances that are considered hazardous for purposes of this Section 21. These substances are gasoline, kerosene, other flammable or toxic petroleum products, toxic pesticides and herbicides, volatile solvents, materials containing asbestos or formaldehyde, and radioactive materials. The substances defined as toxic or hazardous by Environmental Law and the substances considered hazardous for purposes of this Section 21 are called "Hazardous Substances." "Environmental Cleanup" includes any response action, remedial action, or removal action, as defined in Environmental Law.
An "Environmental Condition" means a condition that can cause, contribute to, or otherwise trigger an Environmental Cleanup.
I will not do anything affecting the Property that violates Environmental Law, and I will not allow anyone else to do so. I will not cause or permit Hazardous Substances to be present on the Property. I will not use or store Hazardous Substances on the Property. I also will not dispose of Hazardous Substances on the Property, or release any Hazardous Substance on the Property, and I will not allow anyone else to do so. I also will not do, nor allow anyone else to do, anything affecting the Property that: (a) is in violation of any Environmental Law; (b) creates an Environmental Condition; or (c) which, due to the presence, use, or release of a Hazardous Substance, creates a condition that adversely affects the value of the Property. The promises in this paragraph do not apply to the presence, use, or storage on the Property of small quantities of Hazardous Substances that are generally recognized as appropriate for normal residential use and maintenance of the Property (including, but not limited to, Hazardous Substances in consumer products). I may use or store these small quantities on the Property. In addition, unless Environmental Law requires removal or other action, the buildings, the improvements and the fixtures on the Property are permitted to contain asbestos and asbestos-containing materials if the asbestos and asbestos-containing materials are undisturbed and "non-friable" (that is, not easily crumbled by hand pressure).
I will promptly give Lender written notice of: (a) any investigation, claim, demand, lawsuit or other action by any governmental or regulatory agency or private party involving the Property and any Hazardous Substance or Environmental Law of which I have actual knowledge; (b) any Environmental Condition, including but not limited to, any spilling, leaking, discharge, release or threat of release of any Hazardous Substance; and (c) any condition caused by the presence, use or release of a Hazardous Substance which adversely affects the value of the Property. If I learn, or any governmental or regulatory authority, or any private party, notifies me that any removal or other remediation of any Hazardous Substance affecting the Property is necessary, I will promptly take all necessary remedial actions in accordance with Environmental Law.
Nothing in this Security Instrument creates an obligation on Lender for an Environmental Cleanup. (Form 3033, italics added)
Obviously this doesn't apply to places that don't have a mortgage, and language may vary from bank to bank, especially for banks that keep their mortgages in-house. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac apparently don't (yet) have a formal policy on this.
The funniest - or saddest - piece in the article comes, as usual, from an industry attorney. These attorneys who insist that the absolute letter of the law as they interpret it must be followed just can't be bothered by someone else's agreements:
"The leases have not created any practical conflict or issue with mortgages," said Adam J. Schultz, a lawyer in Syracuse, adding that there are thousands of gas leases on mortgaged properties in New York and Pennsylvania and that state environmental regulations helped protect property values.
As always, the view from the oil and gas folks seems to be that you can do what you want with your property if and only if it's compatible with what the oil and gas companies want to do with it..
Update: WHCU has a podcast on this with Greg May, vice-president of residential mortgages at Tompkins Trust.
Fox News paid a visit to Dryden a few weeks ago to talk with Marie McRae and a few others about gas leases. They've released their report in at least two forms.
The first one, "Landowners Express Concern Over Fracking", seemed surprisingly sympathetic to landowners who feel they were misled, while the second one seems like more typical Fox News framing, at least to me.
I don't think the camera crews could have done a better job of capturing the contrast between McRae's farm and Attorney Tom West's office, though.
Thanks to the 2010 census, it's time to re-examine our county legislature districts. I'm happy that the county created an independent commission instead of New York State's grotesque approach of letting legislators draw their own districts.
Want to take a look? They now have a website.
The Ithaca Journal prints brief statements from the four candidates running for the two Town Board seats this November 8th:
I have a certain sympathy for doom-sayers. I've been called a Cassandra myself, for example.
Henry Kramer, though, is a prophet of a different sort. Cassandra was a prophet of doom, yes, but one who was always ignored, always powerless to change the situation, and always right.
Kramer seems only to think that he's always right. His voice certainly echoes through local media, and he's working very hard to make sure his prophecies actually come true.
Kramer, a leader of the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition, a member of the Dryden Republican Committee, and Tompkins County Republican Party counsel, is making the rounds of the papers this week. He turned up first in Tompkins Weekly and then the Journal In Tompkins Weekly, he complains:
Henry Kramer, spokesperson of the pro-drilling group Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC), says that Dryden could have avoided the cost of a lawsuit if it had postponed passing the ban. "As no permits for hydraulic fracturing are currently being issued by the DEC, and none are expected before mid- to late-2012, the board invited the suit by taking the point and acting prematurely to ban something that hasn't happened yet and which they could have deferred and acted on later. The board knowingly dared lawsuit lightning and now it has struck," he says.
Kramer, of course, can't be troubled to mention that he and the DSEC worked with the gas industry before the suit was filed, effectively putting up a huge lightning rod in Dryden.
Why just wait for things to happen, when you can encourage your prophecies to come true?
Kramer also notes the possible costs involved with defending such a lawsuit. "Even assuming the board successfully defends the ban, DSEC anticipates Anschutz will then sue for $5 million in damages, while landowners may file yet a third suit and seek $100 million to $200 million dollars in damages. Each suit will cost the town's taxpayers $100,000 to $200,000 apiece to defend," says Kramer.
"DSEC anticipates" ?? I don't think so. This time he's celebrating the giant lightning rod, and hoping residents will be suitably terrified.
Meanwhile, in the Journal, he tries to suggest that we should have let Middlefield take all of the heat:
Because of a similar lawsuit brought against the Town of Middlefield, N.Y., Dryden should have waited to see the outcome of that case before committing to a ban and the possibility of lawsuits, Kramer said.
"It didn't need to happen, we could have gotten the answer to the legal question by watching Middlefield," he said.
Kramer somehow forgets that the Middlefield and Dryden cases are both test cases, each meant to explore a different aspect of the issue. The Middlefield suit is a landowner suing their municipality about the supposed loss of their gas leasing values. The Dryden suit is a gas company suing over a prohibition on their drilling. Dryden should certainly pay attention to the Middlefield suit, but it's actually addressing a very different question. (And for PR purposes, it's nicer for the gas companies to have them in different parts of the state.)
Kramer has been shouting that the Town would get sued from the beginning of this conversation. It's a lot easier to make your prophecies of a lawsuit come true, though, when you do things like:
DSEC moderator Henry S. Kramer said, "We are bringing together landowners, farmers, and industry in common cause to overturn bans and unpaid takings."
Personally, I think Kramer's a lousy prophet who badly overplays his hand. His recent interviews and public statements are pretty much an endless campaign to terrify town residents into submission to the gas companies. I don't think that's either great political strategy or the powerful moral stance Kramer seems to think it is.
Some wisdom from departing Town Board member David Makar about standing up for the Town.
And the Journal also has pieces from the Supervisor candidates:
The Ithaca Journal reports on the upcoming candidates forums, but oddly leaves out the date of the second one.
The Dryden Democrats and Dryden Republicans will jointly sponsor debates on October 26th (Dryden Fire Station) and November 1st (Varna Community Center), both running from 7:30pm to 9:00pm. Jean McPheeters, President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, will moderate the first debate, while Bruce Estes, Managing Editor of the Ithaca Journal, will moderate the second.
Hope to see you there!
over the last ten years or so of rapid decline, here's a a broad overview of the industry with Gannett, the parent company, as an example, and a detailed look at changes in Gannett.
Not a pretty story.
Here are all the pieces of the Town of Dryden's reply to the Anschutz lawsuit, file number 2011-0902 at the Tompkins County Courthouse.
There's a lot here, but the key pieces are the Verified Answer, a paragraph-by-paragraph reply to the suit (which you'll need the complaint to make sense of), and the Memorandum of Law, a broader look at the case.
Filing Index (33KB PDF)
Affidavit of Service (41KB PDF)
Verified Answer (242KB PDF)
Notice of Motion (49KB PDF)
Affidavit of Mahlon R. Perkins (Town Attorney) (4.7MB PDF)
Affidavit of Mary Ann Sumner (Town Supervisor) (123KB PDF)
Affidavit of Sibley Stewart (Retired Zoning Officer) (66KB PDF)
Affidavit of Henry M. Slater (Retired Zoning Officer) (82KB PDF)
Affidavit of Bambi L. Avery (Town Clerk) (61KB PDF)
Memorandum of Law (352KB PDF)
What's next? The notice of motion reports that:
the Respondents-Defendants will move this Court at the Tompkins County Courthouse, Ithaca, New York, on the 4th day of November, 2011 at 9:30 a.m., or as soon thereafter as counsel may be heard, for judgment dismissing that part of the Verified Petition which seeks relief pursuant to CPLR Article 78 and for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212 on the grounds there are no material issues of fact and that the causes of action in the Verified Petition and Complaint have no merit, and further relief as to the Court may deem just and proper.
If you want all of it, I've posted a huge (18.8MB) zip file of all of this PDF content.
(Thanks to Liz Smith at the Tompkins County Courthouse for getting me these documents, and to Bambi Avery, Dryden Town Clerk, for pointing me her way.)
Cortland Produce held its grand opening yesterday at its new Johnson Road facility, celebrating 82 years of business.
(They're in the former Ithaca Produce warehouse, a reminder of how Dryden is in between the two cities, with businesses looking both directions.)
One minor point - I'm pretty irritated with Dave Vieser for badly summarizing this piece, and making it easy for Schickel to dismiss. I know it's hard to squash a written story with quotes into a radio-length question, but that was terrible.
It's not all politics and hydrofracking in Dryden...
Dryden Community Center Cafe's 5th Annual Chili Cook-off and Apple Pie Contest will be held on SATURDAY, October 29, 11:00 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Come sample some awesome chili and pies, enjoy live music, raise a little money for the cafe and hang out with your friends and neighbors!
...and should you be in the mood for a throwdown, keep reading:
APPLE PIE CONTEST
Have an apple pie that puts Mom to shame? Tell it to the judges! Bring your best already-made pie to the Cafe no later than 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, 10/29. Beginning at 11:00 a.m. Our special guest "pie panel" of judges will rate the pies on appearance, taste and texture. There is no pre-registration required for pie entries. Just show up with your potential prize winner!
Back by popular demand: Kids Pie Category (16 and under).
Does someone in your organization have an awesome chili recipe? Take it to the people! Bring already-made chili in a warm crock pot no later than 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, 10/29. People's Choice secret ballot voting will take place between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Chili entries must be pre-registered.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of tonight's candidate forum at the Dryden Fire Station was the turnout. I'm guessing that 200 people were there, far far more than came out to the forum two years ago. Yes, a large group of them seemed to be high school students there for an assignment, but even they seemed mostly interested.
The format made things a little quieter than they'd been in 2007 or even 2009. Running all questions on cards through moderator Jean McPheeters took a lot of the back and forth with the audience out of it.
The fracking section, which came first, clearly had the most fireworks, or at least dog whistles, with the Republicans blaming the Democrats for passing a ban and cheering on New York State regulators, who have been much friendlier to the gas companies than the Town. The Democrats were proud of having passed the ban in response to public request, and Linda Lavine described it as a defense of the billion dollars in Dryden property, especially the three-quarters of that which is houses.
Here are the three hydrofracking questions. Apologies for the lousy second row handheld tiny video camera effect, and no, there weren't actually earthquakes during the forum. I'll point to better video when it becomes available.
Balancing hydrofracking with other uses, priorities.
Candidates' takes on the Anschutz lawsuit.
If extraction becomes safer in a decade, what then?.
The zoning and budget sections were Republicans attacking while Democrats were proud of their work. While I have complaints about the zoning, I think the Republicans, and especially Bruno Schickel, seemed stuck on talking points. On the budget, I spent much of my time wondering why Democrats hadn't gone this crazy on Republicans for spending down the fund balance in 2005 and 2007, and remembering that we hadn't done that because the arguments didn't make much more sense now than they do today.
The Town's gigantic fund balance (now shifted toward more specifically targeted reserves) has been a buffer, but trying to pick out fluctuations in that buffer and blast them as deficit spending is political fiction. Blasting efforts to further stabilize that fund by shifting money to reserve funds just seems crazy to me, and I'm not sure what they wanted the Town to do when New York State delayed its funding of the Purchase of Development Rights for Lew-Lin Farm.
The general section was a lot of pieces about recreation, safety, and more. I was sort of impressed and sort of amused that Republicans seem to have turned against plans to build recreation facilities at the new Town Hall that had been at the heart of their Republican predecessors' enthusiasm for buying that property, and their major enthusiasm for trails. Jim Drew suggested a traffic light at the intersection of 366 and Turkey Hill Road, and while I'd like one there for the fire station traffic, I wonder if the original question about a light by Dryden High School was more important. Even on 366, I suspect that the Freese/Mount Pleasant/366 intersection is more dangerous, though traffic is now going (somewhat) slower there.
Mary Ann Sumner did ask early on how many people didn't know her or Bruno Schickel before this event, and not a lot of hands went up. While it was a good forum, I can't help but wonder - as usual - how many people came whose votes aren't already settled.
In which the Democrats support the Town's efforts to regulate hydrofracking, and the Republicans can't imagine anyone but the state regulating it.
Do the Republicans say they won't defend the lawsuit or that they'd repeal the ban? Not quite, though they sure don't sound pleased by it. It's too bad the question wasn't asked in such a way as to make that explicit.
(Sorry for the delay. The Journal's web site kept showing Caroline candidates on the Dryden page.)
Today's Ithaca Journal front page has lots of Dryden.
Dominating the page is a great picture of 5-year-old Brock Reed:
Thursday night, Brock had a surprise party -- he thought he was going grocery shopping -- at the Ithaca Central Fire Station thrown by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Brock's wish that was granted: A trip to Disney World.
At the bottom of the page, the Dryden candidates forum gets coverage. It does a great job of capturing the back and forth, but I still dream of a world in which newspapers actually do fact checking.
Why wait for Time-Warner Cable to call you back with answers it's pretty clear they don't actually want to give?
Claire Perez stopped in at their offices to find out what was up. They still weren't helpful, but they sure made it clear why they can't bother to be useful.
I guess the Republicans have realized that their stance on hydrofracking has backfired horribly and that their stance on zoning isn't reaching much beyond their base, so it's time to double down on a distortion.
From its opening reflections on Buffalo through its looks at the impact of New York State's political and economic dynamics on education, this is one of the best pieces I've seen on the strange and difficult (though wonderful) world that is Upstate New York.
When I think about the possible impact of shale gas drilling on my own neighborhood, I certainly worry about the potential environmental impact of a well pad up the hill from my house. For most of Varna, though, that well is at least fairly far away, and more likely to be served by trucks using Route 13 rather than coming up through the Cornell campus. (You never know, but odds seem good.)
There's another side effect, though, a very human side. The Pennsylvania experience makes me think that living four doors down from a bar, even one I generally like, could get a whole lot more interesting in ways that aren't much fun. Given the rental situation and development proposals active in Varna, that area might see human difficulties much more than they see the direct environmental impact, too.
The Ithaca Journal ran viewpoint pieces from both candidates for Dryden Town Supervisor, asking them the fairly generic: "What is your assessment of the actions the Town of Dryden has taken or should take to regulate gas exploration within its borders?"
There's also a nicely different piece on zoning, drilling and related issues from Joe LaQuatra, "vice chair of the Town of Dryden Planning Board".
These are the counts of voter registered to vote this November 8th.
|Party||Number (May 2011)||Number (October 2011)||Change|
* - lost ballot status
Most of that looks quiet, except that Liberal and Right-to-Life have lost their official ballot lines, and are now globbed in as "Other". Apart from that filing shift, Blank, Green, Independence, and Working Families grew a bit, and both major parties shrank a little.
(And under those peaceful-looking numbers, 435 voters seem to have departed and another 447 arrived. That's around 5% of voters. Next year will be much much busier as the Presidential race drives new registrations.)