Nov. 25, 2009: Companies great at public relations


To The Editor:
Anyone who read “Chesapeake Energy won’t drill for gas in NYC watershed” (11/4 to 11/10), ought to be concerned about what was not said in this informative article. According to Chesapeake’s spokesperson, the company’s response to environmental pressures against drilling was a “business decision.” Chesapeake’s comment was transparent and admirable. Did you think this was the end of it?
If the company decided to fight city hall, and if litigation seemed likely, you can bet that Chesapeake would be less than transparent. According to the article, “Gas companies have said that the combination of chemicals used in the drilling process is proprietary and most of the chemical names have not been named.”
This is why Chesapeake backed off: it was not an environmental decision, which they admitted, but the need to conceal the identity of the chemical cocktail used to force the “natural” gas to the surface. You can bet that this information would be made public in the courtroom.
Also unsaid is what future plans Chesapeake has: “The company said it wouldn’t develop the leases it has signed with watershed residents and will not pursue additional leases in the watershed.”
This company is enormous: headquartered in Oklahoma City, with drilling operations in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and now the Marcellus Shale Play from West Virginia to Southern New York State. It can wait. It can wait for a more accommodating federal administration that would give them the green light. The feds did exactly that: “The gas drilling industry was exempted from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act…in 2005.” Was Wall Street disappointed?
Like any corporation this size, it spends millions in public relations to create a positive image. Its Web site talks about the company’s “beautiful campus setting,” “state-of-the-art facility,” and “cutting edge technology.” The text in their Web page talks about drilling, but the photo shows a newly-painted red barn tucked into a green hillside in farmland. It could easily be the Catskills, our home.
It reminds me of those TV commercials crafted by the drug companies, telling you about how wonderful their pill is. But then the final seconds of the ad tacks on a string of warnings, including death. American companies, if they are good at anything, are good at packaging. Chesapeake is no exception.
The reality is that we need to explore alternate sources of energy in this nation. However, we’d better not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let’s protect what could be permanently destroyed. This includes not merely our natural beauty in the Catskills, but something of far greater value: our water.
Chesapeake understands that wells do not need to be drilled vertically. Their technique of drilling horizontally using their chemical cocktail, and thereby exposing land and private wells to possible contamination, is at the heart of the matter.
Mark Twain reportedly quipped: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” It’s a funny remark but one that should be remembered in dealing with any business enterprises that want to take more than they give. The Catskills are not for the taking. Period. Visit here. Live here. Spend money here. Enjoy the wonders of the Catskills. But take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Charles Scott,
West Babylon