Holy Terror Farm is a paradise of sorts on the banks of Terror Creek in the Western Colorado Rockies. Bushels of fresh fruits and vegetables of every sort, species, and color sprout from this soil every season (yes, even winter!). And all the water that irrigates the orchard, garden, and pastures here is siphoned directly from the pristine flows of Terror Creek, a tributary of the Gunnison River.
Since buying the farm in spring 2010, Alison and Jason have doubled the number of trees in the orchard and quadrupled the garden space. They feed the home first, and excess produce is sold online mostly, thru a farmers market called Local Farms First. But the “chemical free” orchards here would no longer be able to make that claim reliably if gas wells were erected on the banks of Terror Creek. Who would want to eat that food anymore?
The farmers in this valley have a great thing going here! And Alison isn’t the only one threatened; the BLM leasing proposal for gas drilling includes parcels that border schools, parks, and orchards all over the valley. It can be taken as a given that these two industries cannot coexist side-by-side. So why is it permissible for one industry to come and kick another out that was here first? That permission is representative of the fact that our federal and state governments, under the direction of industry experts, have put energy production before food production.
There are two main reasons for this jacked up priority order, and the first is pretty simple: we have to move food, among other things, across the nation and overseas to the markets in which they’ll be sold. And movement of goods takes fuel. We’ve got an infrastructure that is far larger than is really sustainable and we don’t want to face that fact. The second reason is more important, and far more discouraging: energy sells for great prices overseas where nations don’t have the technology or reckless abandon necessary to cultivate their own fossil fuels. So how do we address these two issues?
The first we can make serious progress on immediately: grow a garden! By eating locally, working locally, and investing in a localized community this will start to change. The stronger our localities, the less they have to lean on the larger national and international frameworks for their needs. The second issue is tougher to solve, especially in a capitalist society. It’s hard to tell a gas company not to sell its natural gas to Chinese markets for $16 when the unit price domestically is closer to $2.25. There’s not much we can do to make this look like a good business decision. But lifting of the veil has begun; secrets about the failing financial model of shale gas are starting to be exposed to the public. Reserve estimates in the Marcellus and Barnett shale plays, once thought to be huge moneymakers, have been slashed by 80%! As we seek to expose the truth, our foot is in the door.
Education is key here; we need to learn as a public what the problems and conflicts are in this industry so we start making better decisions on a legislative as well as a personal level. One thing I know for sure since starting this project is that the energy industry is a great liar. And since it fills the bank quite well, our political leaders stand idly by or believe the lies themselves. But this film is our little bit of education and we hope stories like it can help raise the knowledge base of the people. We’re learning so much about this conflict as we go along, and we want you to learn with us. Please help us get this film made!
EDITOR: At 7 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2011, in spite of 22,094 comments objecting to this project, 35 bi-partisan Pa. state representatives, 2 state senators, the EPA, the Sierra Club, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, and many other organizations across Pa., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved and granted a certificate to Inergy/CNYOG to begin construction on the MARC-1 Pipeline Project. With this certificate, FERC has granted them the power to exercise eminent domain on private property owners who can not agree to their terms, or simply chose to say No to having a 30″ pipeline run across their property, even if it means the loss of use of that property by the property owner for agriculture, farming, recreation, or simply to have a safe, quiet property where we can raise our families, or pass on to future generations.
To add insult to injury, the environmental protections, setbacks from residential areas, upgraded materials and safety standards have apparently been removed from their application. They will primarily be using “class one” safety standards, which means minimum safety precautions and materials, minimum noise control [if any], and emission/pollution controls.
It will also be the enabler for virtually hundreds of unregulated gathering lines, an unknown number of compressor stations, and turn New Albany, Monroeton, Dushore, Laporte, Lake Mokoma, Sonestown, Muncy Valley, Beech Glen, Glenn Mawr, Picture Rocks, and Hughesville into a drilling corridor for the gas industry. This signals the end of agriculture, tourism, fishing, hunting, new home building, small businesses, as well as our way of life in the Endless Mountains. It will also have a devastating effect on property values, quality of life, public health and safety, while ultimately increasing property taxes to offset the damage to our already fragile infrastructure. Corporate profits will socialize the cost to those who live in the most heavily impacted areas.
This permit, along with HB 1950 and SB 1100 that will remove, and prompt the right of municipalities to enact their own regulations, ordinances, laws, protections, and safety standards regarding oil and gas development in and around our communities.
In short, life as we’ve known it is now over for Bradford, Sullivan and Lycoming counties, and life across rural Pa. This change will not be for the better. A 7- to 10-year “boom/bust” cycle, which we are already 3.5 years into, will leave rural Pa. a toxic and unlivable industrial and economic wasteland when all those “industry jobs” move on.
We owe our children, and our children’s children yet to be born, an apology for leaving this world in far worse shape than we received it, and for the burdensome financial responsibility for it they will inherit.
I’d like to remind everyone to take the opportunity to appropriately thank our obtuse local (Sullivan County Commissioners; Darla Bortz, Betty Reibson, and Bob Getz,) (Bradford County Commissioners John Sullivan and Doug McLinko) and state/federal lawmakers (Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Tom Marino), who went out of their way to “urge FERC to overlook the concerns and interests of local citizens and approve the MARC-1.”
At this point, considering the FERC approval, and the horrific legislation poised to be passed, I no longer see a political solution, legislative remedies, or effective legal recourse to what is being forced upon us by the gas and oil industry with the consent of our elected leaders. Beyond an environmental problem, and a health and public safety problem, the bigger issue is that we have a democracy problem and a leadership problem in Pennsylvania that is bi-partisan.
Our system of government has morphed into a corrupt “corpocracy” whose goal is to control us by taking control of the essential ingredients of our existence: affordable and sustainable energy, pure water, clean air, and our sense of place.
This morning, I awoke in the security of my “home.” Tonight, I will lay down in just a “house” that I happen to own that has not had safe potable water for two months, and may never have again. I no longer have a “sense of place,” or a feeling of “home” here, knowing that I have no voice, no rights as a PA citizen/property owner, and am of no concern to political/corporate the powers that be. I am, as we all are now in Pennsylvania, politically insignificant, and simply “in the way” of the gas industry’s corporate special interests.
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.My response to Peter Applebome’s NYT article, in which I outline 3 major complaints:.1.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..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..2.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..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..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.”.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..3.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..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.’ “.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.”.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.”.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..
From a follow-up interview conducted by e-mail and used with permission:
Thanks for coming up to Ithaca on Friday.
On a separate note, would you mind if I share your experience with fracking with people in Ithaca? If it’s okay with you for me to do so, I’d also like to confirm what you told me:
1. Pollution of your well (two wells?). How did this show up?
Bohlander: We have two wells on the farm (190 acres). We had a detailed baseline water testing done on both before any of the gas activity happened in our area. We subsequently have had another 6 or so tests done on these wells. It is crucial to have certified baseline testing done prior to any activity by gas companies or they will claim there is no proof they are the cause and argue it was a pre-existing condition. We also retained a very competent hydrologist (who has the gas company clients) who was the plaintiffs hydrologist in the Dimock, PA contamination (highlighted in the movie Gasland). The well for the barn/and original farmhouse was so contaminated with methane they thought it would explode so the well pump was disconnected for six months and water was trucked in by the gas companies for the animals, and spring water for the humans!
2. The operations end up being more extensive than anticipated. The “pads” are large, and end up being used for other operations.
Bohlander: Gas companies are major deceivers. They do this many ways. One is using land agents that are not their employees so that they can claim “we never said that ..they did”
Most all the neighbors were told that the gas wells would be drilled, it would take 3 months or so, and then land would be restored to earlier state. In reality this is what happens. They excavate a pad obliterating the natural terrain, hauling in 100’s of trucks of stone, gravel, etc. Once the pad is completed, they only drill 2-4 actual gas wells of what ultimately are likely going to be 12 or so on that pad. They may not frack the drilled wells immediately, but wait sometimes a year. The intention is to refrack over and over the same drilled wells. They are now claiming there is 60 years of gas here. Simultaneously, although not on all pads, they use the pads for other things such as equipment storage, frack water storage, and the worst: frack water recycling which we have three in our neighborhood and 2 are 10 year permits (one is in the review process, 9 days to go). These are REGIONAL frack water recycling operations bringing in dirty radioactive brine from 15 miles away or more, operating 24/7 with extensive noise, lights and traffic. DEP is way behind on enforcement. The neighbors are the enforcers, but it is David vs. Goliath (the gas companies). After four years now, I have not seen one well pad restored back to the original state. The stated plan by the gas companies is that there will be one well pad every 50 acres. If the well pad is 10 acres, 20% of our surface land area will be a perpetual well pad.
3. Extensive light pollution due to 24/7 operation.
Bohlander: Re frack water recycling: They power huge lights that light of the pads for the whole night. They don’t use street electric but generators which contribute to the noise. The trucks have large pumps that due to the volume of 5200 gallons per truck are large motors, the trucks endlessly are using their backup safety beepers, horns for instructions to the ground crew, etc. The three sites in our neighborhood will generate 800 trucks a day, 1600 with return trip passes.
The gas drilling when it goes on makes it almost impossible to sleep. 24/7, 7 days a week.
4. Extensive trucking.
Bohlander: The gas companies make new roads over smaller older roads to accommodate their extensive traffic. The state allows them to exceed the weight limit of the road by paying some fee or posting a bond. The small country road in front of our farm is now elevated 3 feet in the air from normal ground level. Certain roads are used as main arterial roads after they have been rebuilt –this happened to ours. The trucks are hauling huge amounts of gravel, fill, fresh water for fracking and the dirty brine water out, as well as all the equipment for the drilling process. Each well on the pad uses 5 million gallons of water. 60% flows back and is recycled, but removed from the site. Our road was destroyed initially and impassible. The gas companies then closed 10 mile stretches of the road for months at a time as they began rebuilding it. One landowner could only get to and from his property with a four wheeler.
5. Feel free to add any other relevant details.
Bohlander: The gas companies have a very systematic playbook from the years of operating and polluting Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, etc. They have two sides: a friendly neighborly “give $35K to the fire company” and then a ruthless no-holds-barred side. Three times they threatened that in 24 hours they were going to stop trucking in water for the cows in our barn unless we agreed to things. These things include non-disclosure agreements, consent not to sue, etc. Read the book Collateral Damage. A lot of good environmental activist groups with websites and a lot of info. Many have been to our house. We were one of the first contaminated sites in this region from the drilling.
The public does not have any idea how bad the permanent environmental contamination is going to be. There has been major barium and radiation poisoning with some already. One not far from us is a 13-year- old girl with barium poisoning. One of our immediate neighbors’ daughters is having clumps of hair fall out and his dog got sick and parakeet died from drinking his well water. He abuts one of the frack water recycling sites.
Air pollution is the sleeping giant. Each well pad on an ongoing basis emits things into the air (like toluene) as the gas goes through a preliminary filtering process at the well pad. The absolutely worst are the gas compression stations for both noise and air pollution.
As you may know, the gas drilling is exempt from the Clean Water Act — we actually are more apt to be fined if manure is spread on the road, than these major infractions the gas company are doing. The environmental enforcement agencies only slap their wrists with fines. Cost of doing business to gas companies –easier to just pay the fine.