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My response to Peter Applebome’s NYT article, in which I outline 3 major complaints:
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I take issue with the way the article paints a picture of division in our community.  In fact, in my remarks to Peter Applebome, I made the point many times that, if anything, this issue has UNITED our community in the face of the gargantuan and wealthy gas industry and the few individuals who have fallen prey to it.  I was under the impression that Mr. Applebome was doing a story about grassroots efforts to fight fracking in upstate NY and the group I helped start called Middlefield Neighbors.  Middlefield Neighbors, which is the real story in my mind, was not even mentioned in the article.  I spoke with Applebome at length about the evolution of Middlefield Neighbors; the work we have done to educate and inform our town about fracking and gas leases in our area; the survey we conducted in which 84% of respondents were opposed to drilling, and only 6% for it; and the massive outpouring of support our Town Board received when they voted to strengthen our existing zoning laws and Master Plan.
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I also invited 5 other much more educated and articulate members of Middlefield Neighbors and Sustainable Otsego to meet with Applebome in my home, and none of the over two hours of conversation we had made it into the article.  Applebome had his article in mind before he visited Cooperstown, and it is my sincere regret that I ever mentioned the piece of hate mail I received or the angry woman I encountered at the gym when she interrupted a private conversation I was having, because, as I told the reporter, these are in fact anomalies in what has been, in general, an experience of community building and unification, as Middlefield and other towns rise up against corporate greed.  I am ashamed at my naïveté, and that my words have been used to such ends, and I regret any problems this might have caused.
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Furthermore, it seems facile and beneath the reputation of the NY Times to trot out the tired old story that the fracking debate is an argument between wealthy, downstate yuppies and impoverished, native farmers. Peter Applebome should have known better and taken the time to report what is really newsworthy and exciting about the antifracking movement in upstate NY—that it has unified people from all walks of life, from all socio-economic levels, all of whom realize that this is the defining issue of our time.
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I personally am not a wealthy urbanite, although the article would imply that I am, and I am also not a newcomer to Cooperstown.  As I shared with the reporter, my family has been in this area since the turn of the 20th century.  My grandfather was a vet in Cooperstown since the 1940s. My grandmother was the Director of the northern Otsego County chapter of the Red Cross.  My father grew up in the house next door to mine.  I was born at Bassett hospital. I spent summers here with my grandparents my entire life.  On our visits with them, we would swim and fish at Otsego Lake, “help” my grandfather with the cats and dogs in the kennels, drive around from farm to farm with him on house calls, and roam the woods and streams.
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But I really believe that all that is beside the point.  The point is that gas drilling is not going to help poor farmers solve their financial problems, or help anyone at all, really, aside from the executives at Gastem or Cabot or ExxonMobil.  As Ken Jaffe of Slope Farms in Meredith, NY, put it, “He said, she said” misses the story.  It is a story of overwhelming local opposition to hydrofracking. It is a story of gas companies attempting to use state government power to violate local land use regulations and voter sentiment, and impose their will on this region.”
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Native or non-native, rich or poor, EVERYONE will be adversely affected if fracking comes to our area, which is why nearly everyone who lives here opposes it so strongly.  If downstaters and Syracusans don’t oppose it as strongly, it is because Cuomo has protected those watersheds, in a move that clearly demonstrates that he knows high-volume hydrofracking is not safe, but he trusts that city dwellers don’t really care and will still vote for him later on.  Applebome failed to mention this major story, which could have served to fill a gap in New York Times reporting.
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Lastly, the article’s implication that expression of opinions contrary to that held by the minority who want drilling has caused a tension in Cooperstown that might not otherwise be here is absurd.  The tension arrived when the gas men arrived and exploited the economic depression in our area, particularly exploiting the many farmers who signed. The idea expressed in the article that it is somehow unseemly or unladylike or ungentlemanly to cry foul at the situation and to attempt to educate the community about the injustice and the dangers of gas drilling, as experienced in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, smacks of censorship in the interest of preserving a mythical status quo of harmony that exists only in the minds of an elite few.
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My husband, George Hovis, responded to this aspect of the article very well, so I will quote him here: “The article depicts divisiveness over proposed upstate hydrofracking in a mostly negative light, as if any individuals contributing to such discord are enemies of the peace.  I am reminded of the many “moderates” in the U.S. South who cautioned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to discontinue his protests against racial segregation because they felt such protests created tensions within Birmingham and other communities.  Dr. King responded in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with regret that these individuals did not “express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”  Although he “earnestly opposed violent tension,” King argued that there is “a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”  The same might be said about the struggle of residents in Cooperstown and across upstate New York, who are battling the gas industry’s invasion of their communities, awakening in the citizenry a belief that they can participate in democracy and stand up to corporate power.  These citizens have discovered the abiding truth that they can do so not by deferring to politicians but only by speaking out publicly.  I believe the vast majority of upstate New Yorkers who have participated in the opposition to hydrofracking would agree with the injunction: ‘Be civil, but do not be silent.’ “
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I consider myself a person of peace, and I make every effort in my interactions with others to listen to their side and try to understand their point of view, but I will not be silent in the face of this threat to our water and our land.  As I told the reporter, “Fracking is not safe, and I couldn’t live with myself if I just sat back and let it happen here without raising my voice against the gas industry that values profits more than people’s health and the environment. Someday I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I did every possible thing I could to try to save our home.”
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Although I am not writing this letter from the Otsego County jail (my current discomfort merely involves my picture on the front page of the New York Times and shame that I was not savvy enough to avoid being manipulated), you can rest assured that I would if it came to that, and that I will continue to be “civil, but not silent.”
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Thank you all for the good work that you do and for your attention to my response.  I am continually amazed to find myself in the company of such intelligent and creative people, and grateful for your strength and support.
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–Kim Jastremski

An abbreviated version of Kim’s letter was published by the NYT:  Antifracking Movement

For the story to which Kim Jastremski responds, see NYT story:  Drilling Debate in Cooperstown, NY, is Personal



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Pipeline in Dallas, PA

 

 

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Dear Mr. Applebome,

How could a reporter as good as you have missed the actual story of the voter sentiment and the politics surrounding gas drilling in the region you discussed?

With respect, the real story is the overwhelming opposition to gas drilling among the voting population in the region you covered.  Personal conflicts in town disputes concerning land use is not news. This story, based on the facts, is not neighbor verses neighbor, but rather a few large landowners (and the gas industry) against a huge majority of the population and the voters in the region.

Polls consistently show that between 70% and 90% of voters are opposed to gas drilling where local and regional polls have been done—across Otsego, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties. This includes polls done by towns and professional polling companies. Further west when local polls have been done, similar results have occurred.

The story is the overwhelming local opposition, and the plan of governor to ally with the gas companies to act against local voters and their governments, and attempt to  eviscerate local land use regulation that is guaranteed by the NY State Constitution.

Among many recent polls showing voter opposition in Otsego County,  was one done by the government of the Town of Hartwick in Otsego County which  showed overwhelming opposition to gas drilling. (79% opposed, 16% in favor, 3% undecided). Hartwick is definitely not a haven for retirees and second homeowners. Hartwick recently welcomed the building of a large newly completed  USDA slaughterhouse on the main street through town, hardly the type of development that your analysis would expect from local opponents to gas drilling (who you suggest are yuppie nimbys). Yet the people of Hartwick  understand that meat processing capacity is critical to local farming,  and that gas drilling has nothing whatsoever to do with farming. It’ s unrelated investment from which some landowners—including some farmers—would like to profit, at the expense of their neighbor who will be net losers. Hartwick’s town government, which gladly approved the new slaughterhouse,  is now planning a local law to ban gas drilling.  People in farming communities see through the false  claim that gas drilling helps farming, and see through efforts by gas companies to put  farmers up as poster children for a type of industrial development which threatens farming. Farmers know what helps farming.

In a survey this year, specifically of farmers in Meredith—where I live and farm— more farmers listed gas drilling as the largest threat to the future of their farm when given a list of threats (which also included taxes, high fuel costs, labor issues, machinery costs).  The was survey run by the town government as part of a NY State grant to create a farmland protection plan.

This month, a poll by a professional polling company (Pulse Opinion Research) of 500 randomly selected residents in both Sullivan and Delaware County asked two questions.

Do you support natural gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing in your town?

                                      No              Yes            Not sure

Delaware County        72%           27%             1%

Sullivan County           69%            26%            4%  

 

Would you support your town enacting zoning ordinances to restrict natural gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing?

                                      Yes            No              Not sure

Delaware County         69%           27%           4%

Sullivan County            69%           24%           7%

There are numerous other polls with similar results that can be cited.

Again, “he said, she said” misses the story.  It is a story of overwhelming local opposition to hydrofracking. It is a story of  gas companies attempting to use state government power to violate local land use regulations and voter sentiment, and impose their will on this region.

Sincerely,

Ken Jaffe
Slope Farms
Meredith, NY

For the story to which Ken Jaffe responds, see NYT story:  Drilling Debate in Cooperstown, NY, is Personal



Public Comments

Kenneth Jaffe, MD

Meredith, NY

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMMISSION September 15, 2011

 

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission. I want voice my objection to permits to withdraw water, and to address the responsibilities of this commission in the light of new scientific information concerning hydrofracking and drinking water quality. I’ll start by referring to the SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMPACT.

The Compacts Policy and Standard states that the Commission should act “in accordance with the best interests of the people of the basin and the states”  and “the commission may assume jurisdiction whenever it determines…. that the effectuation of the comprehensive plan so requires………  the commission may adopt such rules, regulations,  and water quality standards as may be required to preserve, protect, improve, and develop the quality of the waters of the basin.

What is missing from the agenda today is a discussion of the best interests of the people of the basin in “preserving and protecting water quality standard”  in the light of scientific information that has come to light in the past year concerning the risk of fracking to drinking water.

In August 2010, Dr. Philip Landrigan, nation’s leading authority on environmental health impacts on children, testified before the EPA. Dr. Landrigan is Professor and Chair of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and heads their Center for Children’s Environmental Health.  He told the EPA

“As pediatricians specializing in environmental medicine, we at The Center for Children’s Environmental Health are opposed to the current use of hydraulic fracturing not only due to the multiple known risks to children’s health, but also due to the substantial lack of research into the health effects of this practice. While this particular void in research is prominent and must be addressed, multiple health concerns have already been brought up by a wide range of individuals and groups, from rural communities to political bodies and environmental organizations to public health experts.”

That was a year ago.

The research void pointed out by Dr. Landrigan in August 2010 has been partially filled, making two things clear. First the information shows that fracking pollutes drinking water. Secondly that the void in our knowledge is even more dangerous and deep, that it appeared a year ago.

Days after Dr. Landrigan spoke, the EPA called a meeting in Wyoming where EPA Superfund Investigators, after studying drinking water contamination from gas drilling, spoke to residents of the town of Pavillion. They told the residents to not drink their water. They were told to leave their windows open when they shower or do laundry to avoid explosion. That might seem almost comical in the northeast in the winter, if it was not so meaningful, and disturbing.

In December 2010, the EPA in Texas filed suit against Range Resources under the Emergency Powers Section of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA scientific staff detailed how Range’s gas drilling activities had contaminated drinking water wells with methane, and powerful carcinogens, including benzene.  US Justice Department is enforcing the Emergency Order in federal court.

In May 2011 in PA, after poisoning the drinking water of 16 families in Bradford County, Chesapeake Company was fined almost a million dollars by the PA DEP. Still there has been no systematic government study of ground water contamination in PA.  And numerous reported cases of livestock illness and death associated with surface spills in PA that have gone uninvestigated by PA government.

In April 2011 the National Academy of Science published research led by Osborne at Duke that demonstrating that the contamination of drinking water wells with explosive levels of methane increased the closer the well is to a fracking site. This was a peer reviewed study—-the first peer review study that investigated the relationship between fracking and drinking water contamination. Neither government nor industry has funded any peer reviewed research on this issue. This study was funded by Duke University.

In July, a PA newpaper quoted Professor Terry Engelder of Penn State concerning drinking water contamination even with new triple cased wells, “as long as the state is finding violations,  you can take the next logical step, which is obviously they haven’t solved the problem.”

This month, NY DEC SGEIS acknowledges the fact that gas drilling poses a serious threat to drinking water, by banning drilling in certain surface water systems (NYC and Syracuse) and groundwater systems. They made a policy decision to protect drinking water from primary aquifers but not other sole source aquifers. This distinction is not based on science or law. This rules would protect the health of 300,000 NY users primary aquifers in the Marcellus region, but not over 800,000 users of non-primary aquifers exposed to the same risks. Many of these 800,000 people are in the Susquehanna River Basin.

What have we heard from industry in the past year?  The same story, that there is no problem, that it is impossible for drinking water contamination to occur from fracking.  Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, told Congress:

“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one.”

Given the many episode of aquifer contamination identified by government and academics, we know that Mr. Tillerson’s statement is a shameful falsehood. His statement, echoed, and echoed again by the gas industry, is in the sordid tradition of lead paint manufacturers and tobacco companies that for decades, and with full knowledge of risks, denied those risks, and poisoned people hiding behind  fake science and, more relevant to this discussion, government protection to continue their practices.

Most jarring are statements last month from former EPA officials to the NY Times that hundreds of cases of drinking water contamination were known to industry, but investigators were barred from seeing those records, as court settlements sealed these public health impacts and hid them from officials. This information gives us, and you, a fuller idea of the extent of industry’s knowledge of drinking water contamination, and their use of secrecy to hide the extent of the drinking water pollution from public scrutiny.

With what we have learned in the past year, the scales should fall from your eyes. It is past the time when you could say you do not know that the drinking water quality and the health of the people in SRB are under attack by the current policy on hydrofracking.  You have the facts to tell you this process is not safe.  It is also time to acknowledge that you do not yet know the full extent of the threat.

It is time to stop being so credulous with an industry that has consistently lied to you and the public about safety. Frankly, by maintaining the status quo, the Commission runs the risk appearing as puppets of an industry that acts with a shameless and callous disregard to public health.

You are being asked—-to follow the SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASINCOMPACT’s mandate

“to protect the water quality of the basin in accordance with the best interests of the people of the basin.” You should halt hydrofracking in the SRB, and not entertain resumption until thorough, unimpeded, objective scientific study of drinking water and health impacts is completed.

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