Thursday, September 29, 2011

Husbanding Floyd: NIMBY

Michael and I just got back from 7 days spent on the Pennsylvania-upstate New York border.  The area is about an hour and a half north of where I was raised and where Michael and I lived for two years while he worked in Corning, NY.  It's very pretty country often referred to as the "Gateway to the Finger Lakes".  It's also an area that abounds in natural gas and when we bought a house there it was my introduction to mineral rights.  If there's something valuable under the ground, like natural gas, your ownership of what's under the ground may or may not convey to you when you buy that property.  For example, it may already have been bought by a gas company from a previous owner.  Or the owner you're negotiating with may want to keep the mineral rights but sell the property.  Or some other sort of configuration.  Anyway, there's a lot of natural gas in that area.  And that means a technique of mining it called fracking.  And laying pipeline to move it.  Miles and miles of pipeline being laid in wide swathes of clear cut forest and across farmland and your backyard.

Now I don't know a lot about this fracking procedure.  Both pro- and anti- fracking groups are very good at putting out propaganda supporting their views and we normal people have the daunting job of sifting out the facts and educating ourselves in order to have an informed opinion and do the right thing.  It is hugely overwhelming and confusing.  While we lived in NY we didn't see any fracking operations but in the three years we've been back in Floyd the gas companies in NY seem to have gone wild.  Our first hint was being unable to book a room anywhere for our stay.  We thought maybe there was some NASCAR thing at Watkins Glen but nope, it was because every single hotel, motel, B&B, camp, shack, tent, and lean-to was booked and occupied by gas workers.  From Williamsport, PA to Ithaca, NY.  Unbelievable.  We found a room in a B&B southwest of Elmira, NY in the sticks for 2 nights.  From there I drove Michael up to Corning for a business meeting and we got our first look at the devastation in the area.  Miles of felled timber and troughed pasture land in the process of being filled with pipeline.  I know that once the pipe line is buried eventually stuff will grow over it but it will never be the same.  It'll look like those places where the power lines run through the mountains.  I know that people need energy sources but I gotta tell ya, that squicked me out.

It got worse when we stayed at our friends cottage on Pine Creek.

There we could actually see a fracking operation.  A clear cut area the size of two football fields on top of a mountain, the trees left to rot instead of being hauled out and used. A giant cement pad with a tower that is lit at night and visible for miles.  Below the mountain are four gigantic silos that hold the sand for the operation.  On a railroad siding are hundreds of train cars holding more sand.  Maybe they'll get 25 years worth of gas out of there.  Maybe they won't.  Maybe they'll get 5 years worth.  Maybe 2.  Seems there's no real way to confirm how much actual gas is there.  And when all the gas is extracted and the operation shut down the cement pad, the skeleton of the tower, the sand and gravel will remain making it impossible to replant and reforest that area.

And what's happening under the ground?  I don't know.  I'm still wading through the propaganda.  But I have the uncomfortable feeling that it can't be good.  While we were returning from dinner one evening after dark we could see the lit tower and one of our friends remarked, "Yeah baby, keep drilling and send out those checks!"  It was a bite-your-tongue moment as I thought about how the cottage had been in that family for at least 3 generations of stories and traditions.  It's beautiful situation in a hardwood forest above a pristine creek.  But what about the fracking operation on the mountain above it and the unknown effects it was going to have on the environment.  Would there be anything left to pass on when the time came or would the land be blighted and the creek a mess?  Is a hefty short term payout a fair exchange for what might be long term destruction of beautiful forest and a child's and grandchild's memories and heritage?

Mining for natural gas is something that we in Floyd are facing and fracking is the operation they will be using here.  We really do need to educate ourselves on this issue now, before we are faced with a last minute decision.  Yeah buddy, there's some mighty fine looking hefty checks involved for a few people and employment for a lot of people.  But that's temporary.  When the gas is gone, the companies are gone, the jobs are gone, and the money's gone.  The mess will be left behind.

I don't want fracking in my back yard.  I definitely don't want uranium mining in my back yard.  I don't want coal mining in my back yard. But people must have their energy so if I have to have something in my back yard, well, wind farming and those wind turbines are starting to look pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. Here here!!! I'm right there with you. Short sightedness rarely makes people happy in the long run. But those big checks are hard to argue against for some people, especially if they're being convinced by slick corporate salesmen who doesn't really care what happens to the land.

    Too bad you don't have any photos of the change! A before/after would be great emotional leverage.