Catskill Mountainkeeper Action Alert
October 30, 2009
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On Wednesday October 28th, the morning before the first gas drilling hearing in Loch Sheldrake (see below), Chesapeake Energy strategically announced that they intend to not drill in the New York City Watershed.  While this is good news and no doubt was influenced by pressure from community groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, there appears to be considerably more to Chesapeake's strategy than being "good guys". 
First, it appears as if the announcement was timed right before the high profile DEC hearing to minimize the public outcry against gas drilling and influence the tone of the public comments.  Second, it looks like this announcement was made to try to neutralize 8,000,000 New Yorkers plus NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Third, it appears that Chesapeake is shrewdly attempting to set up an exchange of the New York City Watershed for the rest of New York State.
NYC WatershedThe bottom line is that Chesapeake's announcement is not legally binding and does not guarantee that Chesapeake or any other gas company will not drill in the New York City Watershed.  The only way to assure that there will be no drilling in the New York City Watershed is for the DEC to ban any gas drilling there. 
Chesapeake Spokesman Scott Rotruck testifying at the Loch Sheldrake meeting on Wednesday night said that while the company made this move for "business reasons", the company is against a ban on drilling in the watershed. That clearly means they are leaving open the possibility of drilling there in the future.
Catskill Mountainkeeper wants to make sure that no one who cares about this issue becomes any less concerned or motivated based on this statement. While we respect Chesapeake's public relations acumen, the announcement has "no teeth" and the New York City Watershed is still vulnerable.
This story was first reported in the New York Times on Wednesday October 28, 2009. For full text of the article, click here and a follow up story in the Times on October 30, 2009 click here.
WAMC radioThe Seelig Theater at Sullivan County Community College was standing room only as the first public hearing for the Draft SGEIS report concerning the rules proposed for natural gas drilling in New York State got underway.   The vast majority of people who testified spoke eloquently about their concerns about gas drilling in the Catskills. Catskill Mountainkeeper was represented by a cadre of people and testified on the many ways that the Draft Report is dramatically deficient.
There were many repeated calls to extend the public comment period for reviewing the 800+ page report from 60 days to a minimum of 120 days.
People spoke about the danger to land, wildlife, farm animals and people's health. 
Many people decried the total absence of cumulative impact requirements in the draft and Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper said, "The DEC has said that they couldn't put cumulative impact requirements into the Draft document because they didn't know how to do it.  If they can't do a cumulative impact assessment we question whether they should be in the business of regulating gas drilling in the first place."
One of the few people who spoke for gas drilling blasted the other attendees as being radical environmentalists.  An opponent to gas drilling countered, "There is nothing radical about wanting clean water and air."
The few advocates for gas drilling talked about its potential economic benefits to the region, but those against it spelled out how the environmental and social costs would dramatically offset any revenue stream for the state government. One person said, "The cost of environmental cleanup is far more expensive than the cost of environmental protection."
Lazarus Boutis, a second home owner in the Catskills quoted a former Vice President of the World Bank Ismail Serageldin who said in 1995, "If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water."  Mr. Boutis said, "This strikes me as being particularly ironic in this latest rush for gas.  Water is much more valuable than the gas that lies beneath it.  Yet we're certainly not acting as if it is."
Luiz Aragon, the Commissioner of Planning for Sullivan County requested a ban within flood plains, that high volume fracing fluids be stored at well sites rather than be continually transported on county roads creating risk of dangerous accidents, that there be a ban on open pits, that local governments should have the right to issue laws and ordinances governing drilling operations and that all townships should be notified in advance of applications so that they are able to review them.
Several people testified that there is no provision for a health impact study in the draft document and that it is urgently needed. 
One person summed it up - "Gas has been here for 300 million years.  Until we can bring it out safely, it should stay there."
There are three more public hearings scheduled.  If you are able, please attend and let you voice be heard.
Tuesday, November 10, Stuyvesant High School, High School Auditorium, 345 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10282.
Thursday, November 12, Chenango Valley High School, High School Auditorium, 221 Chenango Bridge Rd., Chenango Bridge, NY 13901.
Wednesday, November 18, Corning East High School Auditorium, 201 Cantigny Street, Corning, NY 14830.
What's Next?
The Chesapeake Announcement - getting Chesapeake to announce their intention not to drill in the NYC watershed is an important achievement.  But it is far from winning this battle, let alone the war.  The fact is that the DEC should have put the watershed off limits.  The DEC should have put the Delaware River Watershed off limits.  The DEC should have put the Catskill Park off limits.  The DEC should have put every municipal and local water supply off limits.  The DEC should have put all the special areas in the Catskills off limits.  Instead the DEC document says drill here, drill now, drill everywhere and don't worry about us.  Nobody in the State of New York should be sacrificed by the gas companies or by the DEC but guess what?  That is exactly what they have set us up for.
The DEC - based on how they have handled every phase of the gas drilling crisis, the DEC has shown us what we can expect.  They will conduct hearings in a polite and conciliatory manner. They will ultimately issue a final EIS report with a few new cosmetic improvements but will move toward the commencement of drilling that will devastate the Catskills region. Unfortunately the only thing the DEC and the Governor will respond to is overwhelming pressure and public opinion. 
What will Catskill Mountainkeeper do?  We are committed to pressuring and fighting the industry, the DEC and the Governor every step of the way to protect all of our watersheds, our Catskill Park and our region from the unparalleled damage gas drilling will cause if implemented as planned. This means testifying at every opportunity, mobilizing the citizens of our region, working with local, regional and national press, working with other like-minded organizations and keeping you informed. It also means keeping channels of communication open with elected officials so that they understand all of the ramifications of each action or inaction that the industry and DEC takes. We will not rest until the Catskills are properly protected.
What can you do? -  
Stay informed, have an educated opinion and be involved.
Talk to your neighbors and friends, write letters to the editors of newspapers, call and write your elected officials, come to the public hearings and testify.
Donate money to Catskill Mountainkeeper so we have the resources to continue to fight for you.
Most of all, take it personally. This is a direct threat on your way of life, your health and your property.  
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It has become all too clear that the fight against gas drilling has become a marathon.  In order to continue to work on behalf of the Catskills we need your support. 

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For more information about the gas drilling threat, please go to our website or you can call our office at 845.482.5400

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About Catskill Mountainkeeper
Catskill Mountainkeeper is a member based advocacy organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the long term health of the six counties of the Catskill Region.  As a representative face of the Catskills, we strive to be  the eyes, ears and voice that look at issues, listen to concerns and speak on behalf of people who live, work, and recreate here.  Recognizing strength in numbers, we organize concerned citizens to protect existing jobs and industry, take care of abundant but exceedingly vulnerable natural resources, and help to utilize available and often unclaimed local, state, and national funds to prevent and cushion the impact of natural disasters. 
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Ramsay Adams
Executive Director
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Wes Gillingham
Program Director