Monday, October 24, 2011
I attended a meeting on Friday night at the Danby Town Hall. The featured speaker was Ruth Tonachel, a resident of Bradford County, just across the line from New York, and one of the most intensively gas drilled regions of Pennsylvania.
Like a lot of folks around here, I've been very skeptical of the rush to frack. But as a resident of the City of Ithaca, my concerns have been more grounded in a sense of environmental and public interest, than a sense of immediate self-interest. In truth, I felt I would be somewhat insulated from the process's effects. I don't think that anymore.
Somewhat surprisingly, to me anyway, when asked the main problem generated by fracking, Ruth said it was the noise. Gas drilling creates a constant din in the areas in which it operates. The noise comes largely from an army of very large trucks that now populate the roadways of the county. Twenty trucks a day used to run through the borough of Towanda. Now it's over seven hundred.
Noise is also generated from blasting operations, drilling operations, and helicopter traffic. And the trucks don't just bring noise. The also generate larges amounts of dust, as mud falls from their tires, and diesel fumes. Residents of Ithaca will not escape these impacts.
Beyond that, the economic and social life of the area has been transformed. Two new hotels have been built. A third, now under construction, is booked three years in advance. These provide housing for the gas industry workers, who come in primarily from Oklahoma and Texas.
Local bars are now crammed late into the night. Drunk driving incidents have increased astronomically. There has been a general increase in crime. Divorce rates have risen. Horrendous accidents have occurred on local roadways. Sometimes these are reported in the local paper, sometimes not. Ruth described being a virtual prisoner in her house.
Bradford County, is, in other words, in the midst of a natural gas boom. Most of the problems created from it would have occurred whatever method of extraction was used to get at the gas. Vertical drilling and fracking just intensify them. Ruth compared her situation to a military occupation, one that industry officials project will last 50 years.
Ithaca is college town. Where will alums stay during Homecoming? Or where will parents stay during Parents' Weekend, not to mention graduation, if all the hotels in town are booked into the indefinite future for industry employees? Rents have tripled in Bradford County. Will student renters in Ithaca be displaced by industry employees?
Will parents, considering Ithaca College or Cornell University, be dissuaded from sending their children here, when, on the drive in, they are surrounded by a flank of gas mining trucks? Will college officials still be able to promote the area as a idyllic educational setting, when the peaceful countryside has been turned in to an industrial mining zone? Will faculty still find this an attractive place to settle and raise their families?
And, in the end, who will benefit from this? New York Sate has no severance tax, so will experience no direct gain in revenues. Moreover, in Bradford County, only a handful of wells are actually operating. The vast majority have been capped, because no pipeline infrastructure exists. Obtaining land rights has proved much more difficult than originally anticipated. Leaseholders, needless to say, are not paid unless the gas is actually pumped.
The economic lifeblood of much of upstate New York, especially since deindustrialization, has been agriculture, education and tourism. All are now under extreme threat by an invasion from a destructive gas industry that offers few tangible economic benefits in return.