Download a PDF copy of the New Franklin Register Issue #19 (3.3MB) by clicking on the image. See the index of this issue, and links to all previous issues, on the index page.
Issue #19, Vol. VII No. 1, Spring 2013
By Carole Marner
In the spring of 2012, we began to hear about the Constitution Pipeline. People in Sidney were alerted first and the word soon spread. In northern Pennsylvania the population around Montrose began to realize that a new compressor was being added to their community. Doing some research, they discovered that it was to be the starting point for the Constitution Pipeline. This was denied by the industry for a while, but not anymore.
In May, the Delaware County Cooperative Extension sponsored a public meeting in Franklin Central School with pipeline company representatives as well as forestry, soil and water experts who would be working with the DEC to enforce regulations. The last speaker was a lawyer offering to negotiate for landowners, explaining why and how they needed him to help them.
The meeting was described as “informational,” but it seemed more about facilitating the process, as in: “This is what is coming and this is how you can deal with it.” Local legislators were not on the schedule to explain how and why they could help their constituents. Instead of acting as a buffer between the citizen and the industry, Delaware County officialdom preferred to regard the pipeline as a matter between the landowner through whose property the pipeline was to be routed and the pipeline company – as if an entire community were not impacted by an interstate pipeline. If politicians showed any interest at all, it was in a potential town income source. As a result, many who received letters from Constitution requesting access to their land felt abandoned by their fellow citizens. They were on their own, each man or woman on their piece of land, having to make the best deal they could with the most powerful industry in the nation. Of course, there were those enterprising lawyers ready to jump in and say “you need me to help you do that.”
So in June, Howard Hannum of Trout Creek, a member of Sustainable Sidney, a farmer and Postmaster of Sidney Center, decided to call a meeting at the Maywood Center so that those who do not want the pipeline would not have to fight alone. Community groups joined in, and over 250 people from Schoharie to Pennsylvania showed up. Stop the Pipeline (STP) was formed. We voted for a Steering Committee, put up a website and got to work. Our politicians got a lot of mail from us. We researched everything about gas pipelines, and the more we found out, the more determined we became to stop the pipeline.
In August, STP got a big boost. One of the founding members, Anne Marie Garti, Delhi born and bred, is now a student at Pace University School of Law and a legal intern at the famed Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic (PELC). She discussed our situation with faculty members and PELC, which was founded by Pace Professor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, who still operates it with Professors Karl S. Coplan and Daniel E. Estrin, and a team of ten eager third-year law students. This past fall, STP was honored to be invited to retain PELC as its legal counsel.
In September, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced that its first public hearings on the pipeline would be held in October in New Milford, PA, Afton and Schoharie, we were ready to testify. Our speakers outnumbered the pipeline supporters by thirty and forty to one.
State and federal level politicians now took notice and tried to get us off the industry’s back with a proposed route along the I-88 corridor. None of us who had been researching pipelines believed that this was a serious proposal – too much of a planning and tactical nightmare – but legislators in Otsego County jumped at it, hoping to cash in on some industry handouts.
Now, that route is ancient history. A third route has been announced which does not touch Otsego County. It is very much like the first route but it differs in an interesting way. More on that to follow.
In October, after STP protested that more public comment hearings should be held along the route, FERC added a hearing at Foothills in Oneonta. Stop the Pipeline reached out again to other groups and together we got hundreds of people from Pennsylvania to Schoharie to rally outside Foothills before the meeting, and 800 people to pack the auditorium to capacity. Nearly a hundred made official comments. Of these, a mere handful – five people including the Mayor of Oneonta – spoke in support of the pipeline.
When FERC invited comments about the pipeline on its website, once again hundreds of people responded. STP reached out to assist affected landowners with making comments on the FERC website and with sending letters to the Constitution Pipeline refusing to allow pipeline employees access to their land.
And the interesting thing mentioned before is that when the third and latest Constitution pipeline route was announced, most of those property owners who had denied them access, found that they were no longer on it.
STP is still reaching out to help anyone whose properties are on the route and to encourage landowners to submit letters denying access.
Advocacy works. Join us. Find us at: www.stopthepipeline.org
By Eugene Marner
When discussion about drilling for natural gas in our neighborhood began a few years ago, many understandably saw dollar signs in their future. But it turns out that, along with the environmental dangers, there are many financial perils that come with fracking. These were far from clear when the landmen first showed up at our doors, and they might make the whole enterprise a lot less attractive if it ever gets going here.
In Bradford County, Pennsylvania, for example, hundreds of farms and other properties are reported to be encumbered with Mechanic’s Liens. This resulted when many of the drillers developed financial problems due to the low price of gas. They end up operating at a loss. As drillers go broke, some local contractors and suppliers don’t get paid, so they seek and get Mechanic’s Liens on the assets of the drilling companies. Those assets include their gas leases. Suddenly, the landowners, who were looking for gas royalties to supplement their incomes, find themselves without clear titles to their properties. Now, if they should want to sell the farm, the drilling company’s creditors will be first in line to collect on their debts, and the landowners could conceivably end up with nothing.
The unsettled state of the insurance market threatens landowners with other unanticipated liabilities. For example, if you lease your land and the driller is faced with civil or criminal penalties for environmental damages or a gas explosion, as owner of the property, you may be considered responsible for damages. Your Homeowner’s or Farmowner’s insurance will not cover such heavy industrial activities. Insurers like Nationwide and State Farm have said that their policies do not cover damages caused by fracking.
Even if you haven’t signed a lease, you may be liable for damages. In the dead of night several years ago, the New York State Legislature passed a compulsory integration law. If 60% of the acreage in a drilling unit (up to a square mile) is leased, the remaining unleased landowners may be legally obliged to participate in the drilling unit. The companies may drill under your property and take your gas (and pay you a lot less than they will pay the leased landowners). If, in the course of drilling operations, an aquifer is penetrated and water contaminated, you may be liable for damages as a participant in the drilling unit, even if you never signed a lease and never wanted the drilling at all. Both leased and compulsorily integrated landowners in a drilling unit may also be liable for the cost of processing gas and the construction of gathering pipelines to take the gas to market. So those costs will be deducted from your share of the well’s revenue before you ever see a dime.
Farmers have good reason to worry about the future of their livelihoods should fracking come to New York. Dairy production has fallen in the Pennsylvania counties at the center of fracking activity. Last December The Nation carried an article by Elizabeth Royte called Fracking our Food Supply.
Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first (and, so far, only) peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals. The authors compiled case studies of twenty-four farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems. Exposed either accidentally or incidentally to fracking chemicals in the water or air, scores of animals have died….In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately seventy cows died; the remainder produced eleven calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead. The following year’s animal births were sexually skewed, with ten females and two males, instead of the usual 50-50 or 60-40 split….Bamberger and Oswald consider these animals sentinels for human health. “They’re outdoors all day long, so they’re constantly exposed to air, soil and groundwater, with no break to go to work or the supermarket,” Bamberger says. “And they have more frequent reproductive cycles, so we can see toxic effects much sooner than with humans.”
For many property owners along the proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline, their homes and acreage are much of their net worth. Along the swath cut by the pipeline, property values will fall dramatically, and net worths will drop accordingly. Don’t forget, that steel pipe will have been purchased from the lowest bidder. In the event of a pipeline explosion (so common that we read of them weekly), a 30-inch pipeline like the Constitution, operating at the pressure that Cabot/Williams has proposed, has a kill radius of 3,500 feet. That’s a circle of fire, death and destruction nearly a mile and a half across. What will the market value be of a property within that circle? Will the Pipeline offer enough for an easement to make up for the owners’ financial loss?
For the full text of the article in The Nation, go to: http://www.thenation.com/article/171504/fracking-our-food-supply#
By Charlie Bremer
being swallowed whole
in the dark of night around her beautiful circular vessels
gives flight to all of us
Art is about transformation. We witness alchemy as the body and muscle of another person transmutes raw physical materials – clay, pigment, wood, metal, stirred with animated frequencies of light, sound, text, emotion, saturated with the elements: heat, air, water – and ultimately reshapes them with such grace and power as to transpose our sense of space and time. Through art we rise up, we take notice, we fall in love, we remember, we are moved to act, we join together, and we again recognize what and that we understand. We mark our place.
In the summer of 1961 at the edge of a roadside parking lot in western Wyoming, I encountered the most beautiful valley I had ever seen. I was eight years old, almost nine, and our family had traveled west camping for three long months over the summer. We were south of Yellowstone and just east of the Grand Teton Mountain Range with Jackson Hole Lake before us. On my lap was a blank sketch pad, in my hand a drawing pencil, and my mother had placed a box of American Crayon Company pastels at close reach. What followed, for the first time in my conscious life, I can only describe as being swallowed whole by the landscape before me. More than half a century later I can precisely recall the weightlessness of my body as I perceived myself floating foreword into an extra-dimensional space, the enormous valley floor between where I sat and the magnificent distant range of mountains beyond. The more I concentrated on visual artistic perceptions, the further and faster I levitated into the vast immense air. Shapes of trees, textures on the low hills, hues of green and umber in earthen vegetation grew completely sharp with light as I hovered optically over the earth. This out-of-body experience seemed like a trick the mountains themselves had conjured to combine with my youth and my intense concentration of artistic observation. Whatever it was, I loved it. The act of drawing had guided me to look closely, and the power of that moment through art was for me a luminous birth. Had I not been looking with the specific determination to draw and sketch, I believe I would never have experienced the Tetons Range so deeply that, to this day, I can see that valley clearly, in every detail.
From Jackson Hole, our family continued south and west that summer, crossing into Utah, traversing the plains of the Great Salt Lake, visiting ancient Anasazi cliff houses and passing through Four Corners, where we entered Navajo territory in present day New Mexico. One morning we broke camp outside of Santa Fe and drove to Pueblo San Ildefonso, arriving close to noon at the home of potter Maria Martinez. She was somewhere in her mid-seventies and reminded me of an ancient juniper, growing above tree line on a western plateau. I am fairly certain I never spoke a word to anyone that day. I just watched as this remarkable woman demonstrated her clay work, served us some lunch and tended a firing of pots which appeared as a big smoldering pile of dried animal dung and sticks nearby on the ground. She polished her simple plates and bowls with smooth stones and then painted each of them with a clay slip as smooth as cream. As a young boy I was completely in love with clay, and still am. What Maria did for me with this refined earth was pure magic: she gave it wings both literally and figuratively, with black on black creation. Her work space and art gave life to my seeing beauty in a hand-made object, and her wings, in every sense and meaning of the word, took their flight in the dark of night around her beautiful circular vessels.
Diversity and a prevalence of art have always testified to the health and well-being of a culture. The island of Bali, as recently as the mid twentieth century, had close to 85 percent of its population involved in some form of art, be it music, painting, sculpture or dance. Anthropologists have credited its centuries of security in semi-isolation, with abundant fresh water and a developed agriculture, as the catalyst for its remarkable artistic embrace. Likewise, the Mimbre Indian culture of southwestern New Mexico inhabited a very small narrow fertile valley for almost one thousand years of peaceful existence, and produced some of the most remarkable graphic black and white designs on pottery the world has ever known.
Last weekend, on a beautifully mild Sunday in late February, Martha and I stood on a lowland rise along the western shore of the Hudson River. The snow-capped mountains of the Catskills rose majestically to our west and geese gathered in the calm estuaries at the water’s edge. We were there in this quiet, semi-remote reach of land between mountain and river at the request of a friend, to offer suggestions towards the design and construction of a remarkable organic structure to be built on the site during this coming year. A sound temple, with walls of woven white oak, will rise like a sacred flower along the river. An architectural vessel of acoustic vision, honoring the art of handwork. A form for the future by a group of young artists who have arrived at the helm of this boat just as their time takes to a new light. This, like all art, is hard to contain or describe with words beyond its own remarkable skin. A pulsating heart that gives life to form and brings color to blood gives flight to all of us.
otego, new york
Photos by the author
By Brian Brock
The rural landscape of Franklin could soon be crisscrossed with construction zones for several major infrastructure projects.
The Leatherstocking Gas Company LLC distribution line would tap into the Constitution Pipeline near the top of the Otego Road, and run 4.6 or 9.9 miles through Franklin on route to Delhi, then west on Route 10 to Fraser. At the tap in Franklin, Constitution would supply the tee, shut-off valve, and blow-off valve while Leatherstockng would build facilities for metering, reducing pressure, and odorizing. Initial users of gas would be commercial and institutional. Construction would not begin until the Constitution Project was completed.
By Carla Nordstrom
I picked one of the worst late February days to drive to Barlow’s General Store to visit with owners Rachel and Glen Gaetano. It was pouring rain as I drove along County Route 14; the pavement was full of puddles with streams sliding down each hill. Just as I arrived, the rain turned to snow and I began to worry about the drive home. Walking into Barlow’s quieted my nerves and helped me remember that spring is on the way.
Rachel and Glen became the new owners of Barlow’s General Store in January of 2012. Barlow’s has been in continuous operation since 1841 and was not closed for renovations when the new owners took over. Not that there haven’t been changes and additions to the store. A full kitchen was added, as well as a deli section and a restroom. Tables, chairs, even a checkerboard perched on a barrel, are scattered throughout so that patrons can enjoy delicious homemade food and conversation over cups of locally processed coffee and tea. The decor is airy and pleasing, providing a boost of hope on a gray and wintry day.
They also serve homemade chili and soups. The cakes, cookies, and brownies are all baked on the premises. On Fridays, fresh baked goods from Bread Fellows Bakery of Bovina are delivered. Breakfast sandwiches and brunch specials such as sausage and biscuits are served on weekends. Also, if you have a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss the donuts and cupcakes. Rachel made a compelling point about satisfying a craving for sweets: if you are lusting for cake and you bake one, you have to figure out what to do with the rest of the cake once you’ve had your slice. Barlow’s baked delicacies offer a chance for sensible portion control.
Groceries are available from chips and traditional staples such as canned goods to Red Mill flours, local honey, and maple syrup. Milk, eggs, cheese, fresh produce, and beer can be found in the refrigerator. A huge freezer case stands at the back of the store filled with locally grown meat, pasta, pesto, and breads from Tribeca Ovens. After a long day at work or a drive up from the city, when you know that your refrigerator at home is empty, you can pick up the makings for a delicious meal of salad, chili, soup, or pasta, and bread. Lots of the products that are featured at Barlow’s are a result of customer requests. Rachel and Glen will do their best to carry what you want. They also cater parties or events with cold cut platters and salads
Barlow’s has an eclectic selection of items for sale throughout the store. The hardware section is in an alcove off to the right. Nails or saw blades can be purchased. If you are in the middle of a home repair job in Treadwell and run out of something, there is a good chance you can pick it up at Barlow’s. Locally made crafts such as pottery, candles, and birdhouses are available. Wally’s Wood Shop has a table with rectangular and oval cutting boards. Just like Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Woebegone, if you can’t find it at Barlow’s, you can probably do without it.
A number of years ago when students still went to the old Treadwell School, a barber came to Barlow’s once a week and boys would be dismissed early to get their hair cut. The local mailman brought the barber to town because he didn’t drive. Barlow’s has always been a meeting place and a community resource at the crossroads of County Routes 14 and 16. Rachel and Glen are committed to continuing this tradition. They have lots of ideas of ways to serve the needs of the Treadwell community. Artists Over Easy meets for Saturday morning breakfasts. There are plans to renovate the rooms upstairs and create a community space for meetings and classes.
Among other services available at Barlow’s are a community bulletin board, an ATM, and copy and fax machines.
Who knows, soon you may be able to get your hair cut again at Barlow’s.
Support local producers. Shop at a local store. Stop by at Barlow’s General Store.Barlow’s General Store
by Richard A. Lacey and Irving Wesley Hall
On February 5th, our Oxford Village Board voted 4 to 1 – a super-majority – to pass an amendment to its zoning laws, prohibiting industrial activities within the village.
That fourth “yes!” vote meant that Oxford Village has banned fracking – a decision that under New York State’s Constitutional principle of Home Rule cannot be overturned. Oxford Village celebrated its historic decision to become the first municipality in Chenango County to create a No Frack zone.
Unfortunately gas industry operatives who read the Norwich Evening Sun saw no cause to celebrate.
Settled in 1789 by American Revolution veterans, rural Oxford village and town straddles the Chenango River and boasts idyllic lakes, streams, and farmland. The current village population is 1584; the town 3992. Village residents elect their own government; village and town voters jointly choose the Town Board.
The February vote triggered an unexpected chain reaction that pits the pro-gas Town Board against the anti-gas Village. Legally, there’s little room for compromise.
This conflict has significance for Chenango County, New York State, the future of gas drilling, and the fate of the planet.
It all began last summer, when Village Mayor Terry Stark and Town Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox organized Vision Plan workshops that engaged the community in visualizing Oxford‘s future and planning for decades. Faculty and graduate students from SUNY in Syracuse facilitated the Vision Planning Project. That name inspired some participants to call ourselves The Oxford Visionaries.
The mayor’s and supervisor‘s goal was a new Comprehensive Plan for the town and village because the last joint plan was created in 1970. The collective energy flowed freely into the meetings and hearings of the Village Board, Village Planning Board and even the Town Planning Board…but not Supervisor Wilcox‘s Town Board.
The other three boards tried to implement the Vision Plan. They welcomed the community to their meetings, set goals, maintained order, stayed on task, listened critically to all sides, did their homework, discussed options, and took action responsibly.
Wilcox’s approach to public meetings is grudgingly to grant six citizens five minutes each per meeting. Usually all five board members spend the next half hour staring silently like glum school boys.
Future battle lines were drawn early but remained hidden until the village vote.
In late summer, fracking opponents mailed everyone in the village and town a copy of the Flowback newspaper, reliable information about troubling issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing. The Visionaries and their supporters collected 350 letters for Mayor Stark recommending a moratorium, and submitted more than 1000 signatures opposed to hydraulic fracturing to the Town Board.
Under Mayor Stark’s leadership, the village’s courageous and patient quest for truth helped its Planning Board propose a nine-month moratorium to enable the village to revise its zoning regulations and preserve the traditional, rural and healthful character beloved by the overwhelming majority of its residents.
Then lightning struck our village!
At the final December 11th village Board hearing, a landowner from the town blocked the moratorium effort and threatened to sue the Board – and each individual member – if it approved the moratorium. The board unanimously tabled the moratorium.
Nevertheless, the Village Board refused to give up. In another fascinating turn, Mayor Stark reviewed its regulations with Community Environmental Defense Council attorney David Slottje – leading to the February 5th 4 to 1 vote to approve a measure prohibiting any industrial activity not currently permitted within its boundaries.
But our sigh of relief was premature.
Disregarding the super-majority vote, the pro-gas Chenango County Planning Board rejected the proposed amendment, provoking the present conflict between Mayor Stark’s Village Board and Supervisor Wilcox’s Town Board. The county reminded us that New York State law requires both village and town to reconcile the village’s new 2013 anti-gas law and the town’s 2007 pro-gas law. Both must be in accord with a new joint Comprehensive Plan.
The Oxford Vision Plan returns! But the stakes have risen dramatically. Chenango County has been working closely with gas industry lobbyists for years, and Town Supervisor Wilcox has a gas lease with bankrupt Norse Energy. He is also the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors! The county pro-gas advocates expect Wilcox‘s pro-gas position to win over the Village‘s new law, but the community – especially the thousand anti-fracking signatories – has other ideas. Another powerful force – young people – has yet to enter the fray. They were conspicuously absent from last year‘s Vision workshops planning their future. Stay tuned, for the Oxford Visionaries aim to bring their voices into the conversation!
(Follow updates of this story on OxfordVisionaries.org.)
by Norm Farwell
Sometimes doing the right thing costs less too. Utility bills are a case in point. If you want your electricity cheap and clean and green, you have two options: install solar PV panels yourself, or sign up for a green “energy supply company” (ESCO for short) so that the power you buy over the grid comes from renewable sources. The first option is more complicated, but will probably save you more in the long run. The second option takes only a phone call or a few minutes online.
Until 1996, NYSEG billed customers for generating the power and also for transporting it. With deregulation, customers pay NYSEG for transmission but can choose from a range of energy suppliers. Most power suppliers buy from a mix of sources: coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, etc. Some ESCOs, like Energy Cooperative of NY-Renewables, offers customers 100% renewable energy produced from wind, biomass, and hydroelectric sources and sell it at rates below what NYSEG charges for the fossil fuel version.
This might seem like a useless bit of paperwork, except for one thing– generating electricity is really dirty business. About two thirds of the energy used to generate electricity from fossil fuel is lost before it even gets to anyone’s house – up the smokestack, through the wires, etc. This means that your 95% efficient water heater is probably less than 30% efficient when you consider the big picture. So it makes sense to put in those curly light bulbs, buy energy star appliances, plug electronics into a smart power strip, and generally use as little of the precious stuff as possible.
After you’ve done all that, you can unplug from the dirty grid and switch to renewable electricity. For Energy Cooperative of NY-Renewables, go to www.ecny.org or call them at 716- 842-1697 and switch to the “renewable electric” program. There are other green energy suppliers as well – the list is at www.askpsc.com. Look for the link to New York’s Green Power Program.
If you have long presumed, as this writer did, that geothermal heating and cooling were practical only for vast industrial complexes or newly constructed McMansions, think again.
“The house was always cold, even with the electric heaters on,” says Bryan Babcock, co-owner with his wife Betsy of Handsome Brook Farm and Bed & Breakfast on East Handsome Brook Road in Franklin. “Now the house is always warm.”
In the spring of 2012, the Babcocks had a geothermal system installed. It was up and running in just over a week.
“And in the summer,” Betsy adds, “it’s always cool.”
Keeping faith with their goal of a sustainable life style, the Babcocks attended a clean energy conference in Syracuse. They researched wind and solar home systems, but found the payback on the initial investment to be way too long.
But their home is also their business. Bed & breakfast guests, Bryan says, “demand a comfortably warm house in winter and a comfortably cool one in the summer.” Their oil-hungry furnace and their power-gobbling air conditioners were sending energy costs sky-high, with only increases in sight. “We wanted low energy costs by the time we retire at least, not sometime long aft”
But geothermal looked interesting.
They applied to NYSERDA for a free home energy audit. The authorized inspector came from Kool-Temp in Cocksackie, NY, a general heating and cooling contractor. He did a comprehensive audit of their premises, then supplied a list of recommendations – mostly closing up gaps along the building sill in the laid-stone basement with spray insulation – and a plan if they wanted to consider geothermal.
The Babcocks did the calculation: with NYSERDA’s 3% financing and a federal energy tax credit that’s a one-time break but is, Bryan notes, “substantial,” they could see their way to a seven year payback of the upfront installation cost of $25,000. Quite a ways before retirement.
They said yes to geothermal.
Kool-Temp got all the work done at the same time: the new insulation, replacement of air ducts from the 1960s, removal of the oil furnace, the drilling, the laying of pipe and the installation of the heat pump and a new electrical box. The heat pump moved into the space once occupied by the oil furnace, taking up a 4’ x 6’ area and suspended from the floor joists to keep it above flood level. The drilling could have been done anywhere – the only issue was logistical: getting the truck in to drill. In the end, they drilled right in the front lawn, but the only sign left is a patch of disturbed soil that will grow grass when the weather warms.
The hole was about a foot across and the 350 feet of depth required to reach an even ground temperature of around 55 degrees. (Here, Bryan mentioned one “hidden cost:” the drill-hole casings, at $10 a foot, must be left in the ground, so that cost is not recoverable.)
Flexible tubing was then looped up and down in the shaft, to be filled with a refrigerant that equalizes with the 55o ground temperature. Cooled, it circulates up through a heat pump in the basement. In the summer, a fan blows air across coils cooled by this solution, and an air handler sends it into the house ducts. Voila, air conditioning. Room temperatures are controlled by how long the blower works.
How the heating works is a bit more complicated – Bryan referred to it as “magic” – but it involves the heat pump compressing the 55o refrigerant, which heats it substantially. The hot vapor is circulated within an the air handler, and warm air is sent into the house. Voila, heating. The compression process and the fans require electricity, so electric bills do go up. But this rise is more than compensated for by an absence of fuel costs.
Look at it this way: a gas furnace heats cold, outside air to interior comfort level. A heat pump starts at 55 degrees and heats to comfort level. Less energy is expended, and the colder it is outside, the greater a heat pump’s advantage. According to Max Alexander of THIS OLD HOUSE on line, “Geothermal systems are twice as efficient as the top-rated air conditioners and almost fifty percent more efficient than the best gas furnaces, all year round.”
At Handsome Brook Farm, a new back-up propane furnace sits ready in case of a problem with the heat pump. But Bryan says the only maintenance needed so far is to change an air filter every six months. The system has been problem-free. But since electricity is required to run it, the Babcocks keep their wood stoves in place to get them through power outages. So far this winter, Betsy says, they haven’t used them once.
“We’re delighted,” Bryan grins. “Even surprised at how warm we are. And the savings have been exactly as projected.”
And how do those savings line up?
“Our heating costs have been reduced by 75%. No oil deliveries! And in the summer, the AC is basically free. Our monthly electric bill was averaging around $300. Now it’s around $400, with the heat pump. On the whole, we’ll be saving about $3000 a year.”
Would they recommend geothermal to their Franklin neighbors?
“If you’re building new, it’s a no-brainer. The upfront cost is daunting and retrofitting a system to an older house like ours adds to the costs, but the incentives help a lot. On the balance, I’d say, definitely. Let the earth do the work for you.”
Photos by the author
In the last 30 years or so, there have been dozens of reports of oil, gas, or brine polluting the water and air in New York State. But the Division of Mineral Resources (DMN) has failed to find the oil and gas industry responsible for a single incident of subsurface pollution, except for one malfunction and one operator error, both during drilling. Can the exploration and production of petroleum in New York be that immaculate?
For virtually all of these reported incidents, the determinations by DMN are poorly documented, and therefore their work cannot be methodically reviewed. The exception is gas pollution of the Short family homestead, hamlet of Levant, Town of Poland, Chautauqua County. During the 1980s, investigations of this pollution produced several reports.
In the early fall of 1983, the Shorts noticed changes in their well water, such as “cloudiness, bubbling and high pressure.” On the morning of November 1st, the wood-plank cover of their underground well house blew apart. The responding fire department notified the county fire coordinator, who notified the DEC. Staff was on the scene by the afternoon of the 3rd.
Examination of the property found gas coming out of the cellar’s dirt floor and the lawn. Within two days, the local distributer of natural gas, National Fuel Gas, determined that this gas chemistry did not match theirs.
DMN began their investigation by reviewing the paperwork of several gas wells in the hills above. [See map below.] Finding it in order, they looked around the well heads. One small leak was found, which was venting into the air. This took a week.
View Levant, Town of Poland, Chautauqua County, NY in a larger map
In the map above, polluted water wells (pushpins) are clustered in the valley, whereas gas wells are distributed throughout the hills above. Click on link below map to see details of water and gas wells.
Having “exhausted its resources,” the DMN wrote to Mr. Short on November 23rd that “the natural gas being released from the ground is either a naturally occurring phenomenon (swamp gas due to surrounding swamps, or shallow gas – a naturally occurring natural gas formation in Chautauqua County) or a product of some other physical means outside the experience of this office.” (They meant “marsh,” not “swamp.”) DMN seems to be a division of few resources and little experience.
Like most DMN investigations, this one might have ended there except for exceptional coincidences. Mr. Short was wholly unsatisfied by their response and complained loud and long at many venues that winter. Eventually, it became clear that more than a dozen homes and businesses in Levant were also polluted. Levant is on the edge of Jamestown, and that city was concerned about pollution of their aquifers, one of which is in the Town of Poland. Chautauqua County had a long-running dispute with DMN over gas pollution. Mr. Short hired a hydrologist to investigate his pollution. And the NYS Attorney General became involved.
In the spring of 1984, DMN reopened their investigation. New work included sampling gas from Mr. Short’s property and nearby gas wells, a magnetic survey for buried abandoned wells, and listening at well heads for the sound of leaks.
In May, the DEC report confirmed the conclusion of their initial letter: “The ebullient gas is more marsh-like in chemical composition than production gas,” even though the gas contained minor amounts of ethane and propane, which are found in petroleum gas but not in marsh gas.
And that “other than minor casing head leaks at the surface, the well-bores have maintained their integrity.” Even though contact microphones might pick up leaks through the upper hundreds of feet of cased well-bore, but not leaks though the lower thousands of feet of uncased well-bore.
To explain the sudden appearance of gas at the Shorts’, DEC wrote: “Three weeks prior [to the explosion] … New York experienced the largest earthquake in 40 years…the earthquake may have opened fissures permitting the contained gas to escape.” Never mind that the epicenter of the Blue Mountain Lake earthquake was in the Adirondacks over 270 miles away.
In July, the Shorts’ consultant Dr. Harrison concluded that “the gas causing the problem in the Levant area could not be swamp gas,” and that “it is extremely unlikely that a recent earthquake caused a release of Devonian shale gas or Medina gas.” Instead the pollution was “caused by activities associated with gas well drilling and production,” specifically because these wells were not cased in cement for most of their length, so gas built up in the shaft and leaked into the bedrock.
With the gas wells in the hills above Levant, the downward flow of ground water could carry the gas from their uncased lengths to the sands and gravels beneath Levant, where it could then rise toward the surface [See cross section below].
That August, DMN ordered the two operators, Bounty Oil & Gas and Union Drilling, to vent to the atmosphere the space between the pipe carrying the gas up from depths and the wall of the well-bore.
Dr. Harrison proposed to Assistant Attorney General Moore a joint investigation to resolve their disagreements. It began in February of 1985 with contributions from DMN staff, Peter Skinner of the Attorney General’s office, Henry Baily of the NYS Geological Survey, and Harrison himself.
Roger Waller from US Geological Survey proposed using carbon isotopic dating. Samples collected by Mr. Skinner were analyzed by Krueger Enterprise of Cambridge MA. Results showed that the gas was too old to date by this method – over 40,000 years old. Therefore, it could not be marsh gas.
Dr. Harrison built devices to measure the volume of gas vented from water wells and installed them in four homes. The volume of gas in the Shorts’ well decreased after the wells were vented, suggesting that one or more of those wells were the source of the gas.
Despite the accumulated evidence, in March 1986, DMN concluded that “Conflicting trends in a deficient collection of data have not produced conclusive evidence to pinpoint the source of the gas” and that “it may ultimately prove impossible to pinpoint the source of the gas.”
The DMN investigated for two more years, with further analyses of gas and water and measurements of the depths of gas-bearing layers (mud-logging) in a new gas well. With the release of the final report in May 1989, Director Sovas of the DMN said, “All the work we have done suggests that gas exists in the area, but I can’t say one thing is causing it or not.”
While DMN conceded that the polluting gas is petroleum, it did not confirm that gas came from any gas well, let alone identify a particular well. What is more, DMN continued to promote an Adirondack earthquake as the cause of the onset of pollution rather than the drilling of local gas wells.
The tenacity of Mr. Short, the scientist that he hired, and government officials at all levels pressured DMN into producing hundreds of pages of reports. Yet in over five years of investigations, DMN failed to identify the source of pollution.
Given the mountain of evidence concerning the shale gas pollution of the Levant aquifer, if not there, where and when will the DMN ever hold the oil and gas industry accountable?
NOTE: In May of 1984, Tim and Debbie Short along with their three sons moved out of their home and into a trailer in Ellery, 13 miles away. Their polluted house remained unsold for many years, gradually decaying. After spending several thousand dollars on a consultant and a lawyer, the Shorts filed a lawsuit in 1986, but ultimately did not take their suit to trial.
For full details of our request for more information, see Freedom of Information Law request – FOIL 11-1415.