For NY farmers, fracking means salvation _ or ruin

May 20, 2012, 5:28 PM

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – When Dan Fitzsimmons looks across the Susquehanna River and sees the flares of Pennsylvania gas wells, he thinks bitterly of the riches beneath his own land locked up by the heated debate that has kept hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of New York.

“I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land,” said Fitzsimmons, a Binghamton landowner who heads the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. “We’d like to do that too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms.”

While New York state has had a moratorium on shale gas development for four years while the Department of Environmental Conservation completes an environmental impact review, thousands of wells have gone into production in Pennsylvania. Both states, along with Ohio and West Virginia, overlie the vast Marcellus Shale deposit, which has been made productive by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking.

In the middle of the debate over whether the gas unlocked by fracking is worth the risks of drinking water contamination and adverse health effects are the landowners who must decide whether to sell their mineral rights. Many are dairy farmers and many struggle under heavy debt.

While Fitzsimmons and others in his coalition look south and see the land of milk and honey, other farmers point to Pennsylvania as a case history for how the shale gas boom can be disastrous to agriculture.

Pennsylvania dairy farmers Carol French and Carolyn Knapp travel to other shale gas states giving talks on gas drilling. They tell of methane-contaminated wells; contractors destroying valuable timber for access roads; pipelines making cropland inaccessible; years of agricultural production lost and uncompensated; road damage that isolates families for weeks.

“I never in my wildest dreams envisioned the industrialization that comes along with this process,” Knapp told an audience in Pittsboro, N.C.

Siobhan Griffin, who raises grass-fed cows in Westville, N.Y. and sells organic cheese, doesn’t see gas as the answer. Rather, she fears for her cows if drilling comes to neighboring leased land. She points to Pennsylvania, where 28 cows were quarantined from sale after they drank wastewater, and Louisiana, where 17 cows died after drinking contaminated water.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators cited East Resources with a violation in 2010 in connection with the state Agriculture Department’s quarantine. Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality fined Chesapeake Energy and Schlumberger Technology $22,000 each in connection with the 2010 cow deaths.

“I can’t blame dairy farmers for signing,” Griffin said, “because of the cheap food policy in this country. Farmers are stuck in the middle. They don’t make enough margin to pay their bills.”

While conventional dairy farms struggle, sustainable agriculture is growing, thanks to demand from New York City. Ken Jaffe raises grass-fed beef in the western Catskills and sells it to co-ops and high-end restaurants in the city, 160 miles to the southeast. He said gas drilling could destroy the livelihood of thousands of small farmers who cater to that market.

The Park Slope Food Cooperative, which buys upward of $3 million worth of products from upstate farms, has told farmers its members won’t buy products from any area that allows fracking, because they fear contamination. Chefs for the Marcellus, a group of restaurateurs, is calling for a ban on fracking.

Members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York passed a resolution in January calling for a ban on fracking.

But the 30,000-member New York Farm Bureau supports natural gas development “as long as it can be done safely,” said spokesman Jeff Williams. “We’ve been working with DEC to get them to craft the strongest regulations in the nation.”

Landowner coalitions say they’re not relying solely on the state to protect their land, but have built extensive protections into their leases.

“I turned down an offer of $700,000 because the lease was really bad,” said Jim Worden, who raises cows, corn, soybeans and oats near Binghamton. “We won’t sign a lease that jeopardizes our family’s future. It’s not so much about money as about protecting yourself and the environment.”

Fitzsimmons and other coalition members traveled to Albany recently to proclaim the rights of landowners to profit from their mineral resources and seek a halt to a growing movement of local drilling bans.

Dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington in Otsego County sued the town of Middlefield over one such ban because it prevented a planned conventional gas well on her land. A judge upheld the ban but Huntington plans to appeal.

“We would have used the royalties to update the anaerobic digester that we installed in 1984,” Huntington said, referring to technology that produces methane fuel from manure. “We would have purchased a better oil seed press to more efficiently press soybeans for biodiesel. We would have invested in our farm, our land, and our employees.”

With gas prices at record lows, Worden doesn’t expect drilling to expand rapidly in New York even if the DEC decides to allow fracking. If he can’t profit from gas, he said he’ll find another way to make ends meet.

“It’s a struggle, you know, but you just do what you need to do,” Worden said. “You sell some trees, do firewood, or do some work for somebody else. Same as we always have.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Amtrak train collides with dump truck, derails in Missouri

MENDON, Mo. (AP) — A passenger train derailed in Missouri on Monday afternoon and initial reports are that some people aboard were injured, Amtrak said. The Southwest Chief was carrying about 243 passengers when it collided with a dump truck in Mendon at 1:42 p.m., Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said. The train was traveling from […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

MSNBC appoints Alex Wagner as 4-night prime-time anchor

NEW YORK (AP) — MSNBC on Monday solidified its prime-time lineup by appointing Alex Wagner to fill Rachel Maddow’s time slot four nights a week, Tuesday through Friday. Wagner, who has worked at CBS News, as a co-host of Showtime’s “The Circus” and as an editor at The Atlantic, is on her second stint at […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Feds seize websites after probe of pirated Latin music

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal authorities have seized six websites that prosecutors say were illegally distributing copyrighted music to millions of users. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced the seizures Monday of the websites that primarily targeted Latin music. According to an affidavit, agents began investigating the websites in April […]
13 hours ago
FILE - The North Lawn of the White House is seen from a newly reopened section of Pennsylvania Aven...
Associated Press

White House to resume its full tour schedule next month

WASHINGTON (AP) — Public tours of the White House will return to a full operating schedule next month, after nearly a year and a half of disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Free tours of the executive mansion were suspended when President Joe Biden took office, as officials tightened virus protocols in line with guidance […]
13 hours ago
FILE - Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson speaks during a news conference after an NFL footb...
Associated Press

Lawsuit: Texans ‘turned a blind eye’ to QB Watson’s actions

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans had been told that their former quarterback Deshaun Watson was sexually assaulting and harassing women during massage sessions, but instead of trying to stop him, the team provided him with resources to enable his actions and “turned a blind eye” to his behavior, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. […]
13 hours ago
FILE - A health worker administers a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic...
Associated Press

Court revives block of vaccine mandate for federal workers

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a reversal for President Joe Biden, a federal appeals court in New Orleans on Monday agreed to reconsider its own April ruling that allowed the administration to require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The new order from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans vacates […]
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
For NY farmers, fracking means salvation _ or ruin