Drilling opposition group shows film to spark debate

By Matthew J. Perry
Despite the fact that drilling for natural gas is months away, if not years, debate is now concentrating on whether New Yorkers can get their gas—assuming the Marcellus Shale is indeed filled with it—at a cost the land can sustain. Meanwhile, disturbing reports from the west, where shale plays have been underway for several years, have stoked fears of wells on tightly-spaced units and the creation of an industrial zone in the Catskills.
Albany, primarily through the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), claims these concerns are overblown. More than one official has declared that unlike western states, New York’s stringent, effective regulation can insure that drilling proceeds without blighting landscapes treasured by tourists and locals alike.
Watchdog groups are not so certain, and the same goes for many residents of rural counties whose mineral rights are coveted by gas companies. On Thursday night in Walton, one organization hosted an event and showed two movies to push the argument that indeed industrial blight can happen here, and will without active resistance.
Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas (CDOG) is a loose affiliation of approximately 12 individuals who met at an informational meeting in June. The group has no stated objective beyond stimulating discussion about the risks of gas drilling. To that end, they screened “Rural Impact” and “A Land Out Of Time,” two documentaries that detail the aftermath of successful plays and the resistance to others that are anticipated.
Both films included aerial shots of what looked like moonscapes but were in fact acres filleted by access roads, drill rigs and compressors. They told stories of ranchers no longer able to sustain a living, government agencies with mandates to expedite drilling, and quiet communities without infrastructure to support a heavy influx of industrial workers.
“A Land Out Of Time” also profiles citizens who succeeded in blocking gas plays in their communities, and who formed unlikely opposition alliances comprised of hunters, hikers, lawyers and bureaucrats.
The screening drew a crowd of perhaps 100 people, many of whom took a turn at a microphone during the discussion period that followed. They came from as far away as Ithaca, and included landowners, a lawyer, and representatives of the Sierra Club and Green Party. Some voiced hope that public oversight of government agencies could result in a compromise between the demands for energy and preservation interests. “We can do this right,” said the Sierra Club member. “It doesn’t have to become a mess like out west.”
“The gas industry uses divide and conquer tactics; they’ll leave eventually but we’ll remain neighbors,” said Laurie Spaeth, who owns 189 acres in Downsville and has rejected a gas lease she received in the mail. “You need to get out there and talk about this, especially with people who disagree with you.”
Mary Jo Long, an attorney from Chenango County, used her turn to exhort citizens to press their town councils to issue moratoriums on drilling permits. “Many municipal attorneys will say you can’t issue moratoriums, but it’s not true,” she said. While towns are not able to pass laws invalidating leases that have been signed or to prohibit drilling indefinitely, she said, moratoriums can be passed to give communities time to study drilling and accumulate information that can protect its interests.
CDOG member David Cyr voiced opposition to all regulatory agencies, even New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which by mandate protects the city’s watershed and has made recent statements in favor of banning drilling near reservoirs.
“I don’t trust the DEC and I don’t trust New York City, either,” Cyr said. “They’re concerned about their water, not your water.” He also implied that the city, which is a steady customer for natural gas, might be more in favor of drilling than the press releases have indicated.
When a member of the audience asked what could be done to reach others, in particular landowners considering gas leases, several CDOG members pitched ideas. “Call your supervisor.” “Talk to everyone you meet about gas drilling.” “Order your own copy of the film and show it at your community center or firehouse.” “Get informed.”
Afterwards, one CDOG member expressed disappointment that no drilling advocates had chosen to speak up, if in fact any had attended. “It was preaching to the choir, somewhat,” she said. Absent from the gathering, for instance, were any outdoorsmen, such as a Colorado hunter, interviewed at length in “A Land Out Of Time”, who expressed amazement over the friendships he had formed over opposition to unrestricted drilling.
“A Land Out Of Time” can be purchased or previewed at alandoutoftime.com