Sunday, May 27, 2012
Lisa Robinson Steuben County, NY Dairy Farmer Member, Steuben County Land Owners Coalition What would it mean to this dairy farmer from New York, if natural gas development were to resume? When first asked the above question, many things went through my mind. It would mean so many things for myself, my family and my community, but the word security is what really seemed to stand out to me as the common thread. Right now, a large number of New York dairy farmers are facing dire times, unsure of what the future holds for us. The lack of security we currently feel is frustrating, but most of all its scary. As the clock continues to tick away on upstate New York’s fate when it comes to the Marcellus, it also ticks away at the hope New York dairy farmers have of pulling through this economic crisis. What would it mean to this dairy farmer from New York, if natural gas development were to resume? It would mean having the financial security to be able to make life easier for my family. I could breathe a little easier knowing that further education for our children would be paid for. It would give options to our youth for their futures, meaning they could join the military by choice and not having to feel it is the only way to achieve a higher education. On a larger scale, natural gas development provides security in knowing our country can be energy self-reliant and not have anymore of our family members killed fighting for our freedom from other countries. Natural gas development would provide the security of knowing that much needed repairs and replacement of old equipment would not only make it more efficient to run the farm, it would also give the security of knowing the revenue is going back to the community in which we live and call home. This place we call home has been in our family since 1947 and we are anything but secure right now in our knowledge of it’s fate. For dairy farmers as a whole it can provide the security to know we will be able to operate our farm more efficiently, since those in charge have mysteriously forgotten how much it costs to produce 100 pounds of milk for the average farm here in New York which has 113 cows. The average cost to produce 100 pounds of milk is between $30.00 and $40.00 and the farmers only get paid between $16.00 and $23.00. At those prices, it’s hard to keep your head above water. It will bring the security of knowing that with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) operating to protect the state’s natural resources we can develop this resource that will provide much needed jobs and wealth for our citizens. That is an especially comforting thought considering Steuben County is a leader in unemployment, high poverty levels, and property taxes in New York. This could bring much needed access to health care, as well, and the very reason for health care is to have security that if you or your loved ones becomes ill it does not have to be the end of the world or having to make the choice between food and medicine. We already have the security of knowing this is not a new practice in New York. The first natural gas well developed in New York was in 1821 (and was also the first natural gas well in the country). The first oil well developed in New York was in 1863. The first horizontal well was in 1989. And, hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades. We can feel secure knowing the NYDEC has strict regulations which first went into effect during 1963, were amended in 1981 and 2005, along with the FGEIS which went into effect with a SEQR in 1992. These regulations have done a good job in protecting our land, water, and public health. With the new SGEIS, these regulations have only become more strict in what they will require, adding to our protections. I want the security to know the minerals coming out of my land are not only benefiting our family, but also people in other parts of the state and country. It’s time for the NYDEC and Governor Cuomo to make a decision on the natural gas debate, and hopefully one that will provide a sense of security for generations to come. We’re depending on it.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Neil Vitale Op Ed The issue of whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing as a method of recovering natural gas is, as happens all too often, growing in volume as it shrinks in understanding. Here in Steuben County, we are not in a part of New York which generally draws much attention. From the building of the Erie Canal onward the Southern Tier of New York State has been collectively (and often dismissively) lumped into the massive region known as "Upstate." Now, however, we are the center of attention from a lot of people who often didn’t care one bit about this region before. Our location at the geographic center of the Marcellus shale play in New York, has put us squarely in the center of the national debate over hydraulic fracturing. Those opposed to developing our resources rely on controversy, sensationalism, and skepticism of “big business” to instill fear in our communities. As average workers, neighbors, and citizens, we can’t match the resources anti-gas activists have brought to the region. Dishonest HBO documentaries, disconnected wealthy celebrities looking for a cause and lawyers from wealthy organizations like the Park Foundation will always be able to gain more attention in the media. But we can rely on the judgment of our neighbors. Landowners here - especially owners in rural areas - have a long history of being protective of our land. Myself as an organic farmer, fruit and vegetable farmers, dairy operators, vintners, and every other type of agricultural business are so dependent upon careful use of their land that they simply can't afford to squander their most precious resource. Outside of the agriculture industry, property owners want to see their homes, land values, and community character protected. If there is some "clear and present danger" from which the larger community must be protected, then a case might be made for an infringement on the rights of individual property owners. But a vague, unproven, generalized anxiety over a process that has been shown to be safe for many years in thousands of applications does not meet that test. The reality is that New York’s 70,000 mineral rights landowners want nothing more than to be able to do what their neighbors in Pennsylvania are allowed to do: Lease the mineral rights under their land for the safe and profitable purpose of drilling for natural gas. Unfortunately the new jobs, income, revived Main Streets, and improved schools that would benefit all New Yorkers, are being delayed by a small group of people armed with nothing more than a very big PR machine. This week, in an effort to take back our rights as residents and property owners, The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York unveiled a Declaration of Principles at the Capitol in Albany. This simple two page document asks only that we be allowed to safely develop our property in accordance with the law. It is my hope that every New York resident and elected official will read and consider this straightforward Declaration of Principles that stands up for our rights and our communities. Our state leaders must not allow the voices of a few to paralyze opportunity for so many.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Pro-frackers: Development is a landowner’s right In Capital Confidential Posted on May 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm by Rebecca Melnitsky in Hydrofracking, Tom Libous The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York presented its “Declaration of Rights” today for property owners who wish to drill on their land. They were joined by Republican state Sens. Tom Libous and Tom O’Mara. JLCNY President Dan Fitzsimmons said, “If you own land you can farm it, you can mine it for gravel, you can harvest the timber, you can build on it consistent with local codes. Today, however, there is a movement to deny people the right to develop their land.” “All of us believe that environmentally safe drilling can take place,” said Libous, whose Binghamton district sits in the heart of the Marcellus shale region. “It’s not something that’s going to be determined by politicians, it’s not going to be something that’s going to be determined by lawyers, and quite frankly at the end of the day it’s not going to be determined by landowners. It’s going to be determined by the experts at the DEC — those scientists, doctors, health officials, geologists, those who understand the issue and we support that concept.” “Nothing that the JLC stands for contradicts what we’re trying to do in New York through the DEC,” O’Mara said, “and that is to develop a protocol in New York to provide for responsible and safe drilling in the Marcellus shale in New York State as we’re seeing going on in shale plates across the country.” A member of JLCNY, dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington of Middlefield, said that she signed a gas lease to allow fracking on her land but is currently stopped by her town’s fracking ban. She is now suing her town. With the money from fracking, Huntington said, “We would have updated our anaerobic digester that we installed in 1984. It’s 30 years old, needs to be refinished, refurbished. 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. This would have benefited the entire community. Every dollar that a farmer spends is respent many times in the local economy.” “But we were prevented from doing this by my town,” Huntington added. “So in effect, the town took away my rights.” Here’s the text of JLCNY’s Declaration of Landowner Rights: A Declaration of Landowner Rights Many New York state residents hold valuable mineral rights, including rights to natural gas deposits in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The right to develop one’s property is beholden to the individual and is a fundamental tenet of rights afforded us under the Constitution. As founding father John Adams asserted, “No part of the property can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent.” The state’s current hold on permits for high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing – a technique used to develop natural gas trapped in shale – has severely restricted the rights of property owners to sell, lease, and profit from mineral ownership. We, as residents, taxpayers, and property owners of New York State, have set forth the following “Declaration of Rights” to reclaim ownership of our property and make our voice heard as New York finalizes a plan for allowing shale development that protects our environment and benefits our communities. Be it resolved, that all New York property owners have a right to: •Timely development of private property. State officials must pursue the timely adoption and implementation of sensible development rules. The delays have potentially cost property owners millions of dollars in lease payments and lost income from development of their resources contributing to further direct hardship for many families. •Reasonable and timely expansion of permitted development areas. Restrictions on development should reflect a sound scientific basis and a legitimate regulatory concern. Natural gas drilling can be conducted in a safe and responsible manner when consistently regulated under guidelines based on sound science. We have confidence that after over four years of thorough investigation, New York officials will finalize guidelines that allow permitting of safe development to proceed. • A uniform standard for natural gas development. There must be uniform standards for natural gas development implemented by knowledgeable, trained state regulators. New York’s system cannot be distorted by a confusing legal patchwork that impedes private property rights, hinders progress and limits viable economic opportunity. •Local moratoriums are graying the lines of where and what types of mineral development will be allowed. Legislation has even been proposed that would allow local municipalities to pass additional regulations potentially at odds with state rules. These are not sound governing principles and impede positive economic opportunities. •Redundant and overlapping authority among local governments, state officials, and regional or federal bodies has created a scenario in which the absence of clear authority reduces the potential for economic benefits. Left unaddressed, the current legal uncertainty in New York will continue to impede safe development and take property rights of landowners. These impediments to reasonable development of private property and economic liberties cannot be allowed to stand in direct conflict with our protected rights. •Right to pursue economic opportunities for all citizens of our communities. Landowners inherently are the best environmental and economic stewards of our assets. We stand for protection of our rights, including the protection our land, its natural resources, the surrounding environment and our communities’ interests. It has been proven that job creation, not only in gas development, but in a broad array of locally based businesses has followed the safe development of shale gas. Further, that landowners can structure agreements under clear regulatory guidelines that preserve our property rights, minimize land disruption and protect our air and water. •Transparency and disclosure by well operators. Industry and regulators alike should disclose all information necessary about activity related to our land and minerals to assure and protect the public. For industry, that means continued disclosure of all additives used in the hydraulic fracturing process and the results of water testing near wells, in accordance with state law. •Reasonable protections of our land and water through flexibility in locating wells and well pads. Setbacks from waterways, water wells, and flood plains are reasonable environmental considerations. Landowners want to protect their environment and their communities. Limitations must achieve a commercially viable balance and be based solely on sound science and best practices that reasonably mitigate potential impacts. •Arbitrary setbacks and excessive regulations serve no public interest. Overly restrictive setbacks amount to a taking of private property rights and a ban on development. Where setbacks do not halt development outright, they severely limit landowners’ ability to negotiate or dictate the location of well pads on their own property. The adoption of any setbacks by state guidelines should include a sunset clause for their expiration after a reasonable period of time with development occurring free of major incidents of contamination. •Property owners deserve the flexibility to negotiate their own commercially reasonable terms with gas developers that protect the best interests of their land. Reasonable flexibility in situating well pads benefits property owners, neighbors, and communities alike. The basic property rights outlined above will be the standard by which our 70,000 members measure the success of state officials in balancing the rights of property owners with legitimate issues of public concern. We further encourage our membership, families and businesses in our communities to hold local and state elected officials accountable to these principles by supporting property rights advocates for elected office.
Monday, May 7, 2012
May 7, 2012 To the editor:THE LEADER You can read in recent news reports that New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens has stated that, after the department issues final regulations governing drilling for natural gas using high volume hydraulic fracturing, permits will be issued initially only in those locales which do not oppose such drilling. What does this mean for those of us locally who support drilling? It means that, if we live in a township which has not passed a ban on drilling, we could be first in line. However, if a local township enacts a ban on drilling, yet you have a gas lease, you are out of luck. So is the company which leased your land. This points to the real crux of the entire issue. Who has the authority to allow or ban drilling for natural gas using high volume hydraulic fracturing? More and more NY townships are being approached by out-of-town lawyers affiliated with or hired by anti-drilling organizations. These lawyers attempt to persuade town boards to pass a ban on gas drilling without telling them what could happen if they did. Several have already done so. Others are considering it. More and more landowners are being left out of this debate, especially those who have signed gas leases. When a township passes a ban on drilling, it is saying that they have the right to decide what happens on a land owner’s property, not the landowner. Most of the acreage in a township could be leased, but if the town board passes a ban, then all of the property owners who leased their land lose out. Gas companies could possibly seek to recoup the money already paid to the landowners, perhaps from the townships. Some gas companies have already sued the townships. Some landowners have sued the townships. After the town of Middlefield NY passed a ban, a local dairy farmer with a gas lease on 400 acres sued the town. Dryden, NY, passed a ban and was sued by the gas company who had leased over 22,000 acres within the township. A state Supreme Court judge has ruled in favor of the townships—so far. Both cases are slated to be appealed to the Supreme Court Appellate Division. Both townships are having to pay the substantial legal costs involved to defend their bans in court. If the bans are eventually upheld, the townships and schools are big losers. On top of the local tax money spent on legal costs, they will lose all the potential tax money a gas company would pay once wells were drilled,. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars over the next few years, depending on the number of wells drilled. So if your school or town has budget woes, think about it. The landowners who have gas leases are also big losers--in spite of the fact they decided for themselves whether or not they wanted drilling on their land. So, since the DEC has apparently decided to permit wells only where there are no local land-use agreements banning it, what can we do to make sure they know we are in favor of drilling? I would propose that townships who think they would benefit from such drilling could pass a resolution clearly stating that they support responsible drilling which is carefully regulated and monitored by the DEC. This puts them on the record. If desired, county landowners’ coalitions can help with the wording and assist in sending a copy of the resolution to the DEC. Such a resolution would also indicate to gas companies where it is safe for them to lease land without the fear of having a ban on drilling enacted after they have already signed and paid for leases. We must do something and do it soon. I, for one, am willing to stand up for my individual rights as a landowner. I do not want someone else making decisions which concern my land. Local governments, and all other levels as well, already govern too much and too often. I encourage all local landowners who either have or want a gas lease, to go to their town boards and request they pass such a resolution. If we do not stand up for our rights, they will be taken away from us. Charles M. Franklin Woodhull, NY