More Problems With Fracking
Landowner’s Rights & Wrongs
Pro-Frackers virtually always stand to directly gain economically such as; landowners with leases or those who hope to be, their lawyers and those doing the Fracking. They argue that landowner’s rights to profit are being thwarted and claim that their profits will in no way economically harm their neighbors, adjacent or otherwise.
My response is; compulsory integration! This NYS law says that if 60% of the land in an area, which the Frackers define as a “space”, is leased, then the adjacent 40% of the land in said “space” can be drilled under and Fracked; regardless of the wishes of the landowners of that 40%. Those landowners have no right to decide to not allow their property to be Fracked; do not get any upfront compensation; and a smaller royalty than leasing landowners. Unfortunately that is not the worst of what can happen to the owners of property adjacent to land leased for Fracking.
At least one national mortgage company has recently decided to not give a mortgage on un-leased property adjacent to land that is leased. Other lenders, including some local NYS banks are also considering such a policy. If you can’t sell your property because a potential buyer can’t get a mortgage, what is your property worth; perhaps nothing? One can understand a lender’s not wanting to mortgage a property that might be Fracked due to compulsory integration and/or the fear of many dangers that can befall property next to or near a Fracking sight.
Despite claims of safety, there have been many incidents of; water contamination, road damage, spills, explosions and other accidents. All of these can adversely affect the value of property in an area being Fracked. Since those pushing hard for Fracking give assurances that the process is “safe”; shouldn’t they be willing and able to offer a substantial escrowed fund or bond to cover all the costs of the damages that could befall their neighbors? If the process is as safe as claimed; shouldn’t it be all but guaranteed the Frackers or their insurance companies have no chance of actually having to pay out any damages? So why don’t they put their money where their mouths are and make insurance part of their guarantee to area property owners and municipalities? Do Fracking companies and their insurers feel the same as some banks; Fracking is way too risky to put their money up against all the potential damages? The Frackers strategy is to claim problems are not their fault, point the finger of blame at trucking, cement or pipe sub-contractors or even not report problems or accidents at all. Neighbors, who already have had their rights abrogated, now are left with no simple redress; only the prospect of a long, expensive court battle against an army of experienced Houston litigators.
So when comes to landowner’s rights, how about if 60% of a community defined “space” is against Fracking; the other 40% of the space cannot be Fracked?
This Land Is Who’s Land?
NYS Governor Cuomo has developed a plan to sacrifice five counties in NYS to the risks of fracking, even before he knows if the process, as now practiced, is safe. Over 70 members of the NYS Legislature say the current DEC’s SGEIS review doesn’t address some of the key safety issues such as health impact and toxic waste disposal. State Senator Libous says he has 30,000 landowner’s (not necessarily residents) whose rights shouldn’t be ignored. That leaves the other 380,000 citizens of those five counties (over 90%) without their right’s to clean air and safe drinking water protected, as are the water supplies of NYC and Syracuse are protected.
These are some of the obvious facts that forces looking at the wisdom and fairness of having the Southern Tier as a “demonstration zone”. The Southern Tier is being sacrificed because it’s the potentially most lucrative part of the Marcellus. The population being less than 5% of the state and “red” counties that the Governor won’t get in any election just makes it politically easier. Being ignored is that fracking has never been done in an area with such a dense population or the proximity of so many private water wells. The promised low number (50) wells in the first year reflects the record low price of natural gas and the not yet completed pipelines to ports for export, rather than any concept of caution.
The accommodations and considerations given other parts of NYS in making the Southern Tier the sacrificial demonstration zone, clearly underlines acknowledgement of the multiple known risks of fracking. And those many risks have already been demonstrated. The dangers of fracking fluid and/or methane contamination of water supplies, air pollution from gas extraction and distribution, earthquakes, explosions, spills, illegal dumping, the inability to remove toxic waste and radiation by current facilities, decreased property values and infrastructure destruction have each occurred from Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas to Ohio, West Virginia and neighboring Pennsylvania.
A real demonstration of the claimed safety of fracking would be a comprehensive ten year study of areas where fracking is already occurring; showing no incidents of the dangers or health and safety risks to the citizens of these areas and their environment. That would show that the claims that all the necessary procedures, techniques, tests, etc. have been truly been perfected and implemented, versus the current bold assertions, which have many known examples of being inaccurate. But that would be just the opposite of what studies of fracking currently show; an ever increasing volume of evidence of the dangers from respected scientists, health organizations and environmental groups.
If fracking demonstrations in half a dozen states have already shown an unacceptable level of risk; why should the vast majority of residents of the Southern Tier, who have nothing to really gain and everything to lose, be asked to sacrifice their health, safety and property values, so that a small minority can make some money and a few politicians gain the backing of Big Gas & Oil?
The Fate of Fracking Home Rule
The idea of allowing it only in some parts of NYS and only in some places where it is “welcome” creates many more problems and conflicts in the already contentious issues concerning fracking.
First; what does “welcome” mean? When a town council member says “we” want fracking, they may mean 3 out of 5 council members (some of whom may stand to make a lot of money). They certainly can’t know if a true majority of a town’s citizens would vote for “welcome”, since there hasn’t been a referendum on it. And there can’t be a vote on it because the DEC hasn’t finished the SGEIS and it hasn’t been subject to public scrutiny and legislative review. A town’s citizens can’t be expected to defer to a small number of officials who were elected before the Governor had granted them the extraordinary power to decide an issue has such a plethora of evidence against and such a preponderance of money in favor of. At a minimum each and every local official charged with making such a momentous decision much come up for election again in light of their new power. However a true democratic measure of “welcome” can only be achieved by a referendum.
Next; would any local “not welcome” be made moot by the use of compulsorily integration which would allow fracking to occur under and into towns where the citizens have voted against it? Furthermore would the “not welcome” decision be entirely invalidated statewide by the invocation of eminent domain to allow swaths of pipeline construction and compressor stations to be built wherever the frackers wanted them? And would a “not welcome” also be apply to the trafficking of trucks loaded with toxic fracking fluid or toxic waste through towns that don’t want any part of fracking to adversely affect them?
Then; property values would still decline substantially even if the property were “safely” in a “not welcome” town, but fracking could be seen, heard and smelled nearby in a “welcome” town. Most importantly the flow of fracking fluid, methane, toxic waste and spills does not stop at town lines; but follows the laws of physics, regardless of a neighboring town’s wishes.
So before turning town against town, citizens against board members and creating more enmity, resentment and laws suits than NYS should have to deal with; perhaps the Governor should re-think the plan (which he denies he already has) of creating a Balkanized NYS. That is unless the real unacknowledged plan is to throw a gigantic monkey wrench into the statewide fracking decision while making it look like he is trying to helping the frackers. If Cuomo is really trying to dodge the blame for, while delaying fracking a least beyond his next election and maybe even beyond 2016 by creating an almost endless path through elections, referendums and the state and even Federal courts; he deserves admiration and accolades as a truly masterfully clever political performer.