The July 16, 2012
Town Board Meeting

Dateline: 17 July 2012

All Sempronius town board members were present for the July town board meeting, as was the town attorney, and around ten members of the community (I didn’t make an exact count). 

Prior to the meeting, a woman from our citizen advisory committee passed out a paper to each board member. The paper stated:

"A Majority of the Board-appointed Citizen Committee on investigating Hydraulic Fracturing recommend a moratorium against “Fracking,” starting immediately, and continuing for at least a period of not less than one year after the New York State regulations are in place.”

Shortly after the meeting was officially started, without any discussion, the Supervisor said that he would like to have a vote on whether to have a moratorium on hydrofracking in Sempronius. The vote was two in favor of a moratorium and three against a moratorium. This vote, which is now a matter of public record, was as follows:

In favor of a moratorium:

Herrick Kimball
Joseph Lorah

Opposed to a moratorium:

David Becker
Eric Burhans
Kevin Court

After the vote was taken, our town attorney spoke and told the board that he felt we still have plenty of time to deal with this issue. He further stated that he had read some recent newspaper articles about hydrofracking in New York, and his personal feeling was that hydrofracking was not even going to be allowed in the state because of all the anti-fracking pressure being put on Albany. He also expressed the opinion that he did not think this was as important of an issue as people were making it out to be, and that the town had other more important matters to deal with.

A woman in the audience asked the board if those who voted against a moratorium could explain their rationale for doing so. One man replied that he was opposed to a moratorium because he didn’t think that the gas companies would ever drill in our town.

The woman then asked if the other two board members would give their reasons for voting against the moratorium. At that point, our attorney spoke up and said that town board members are under no legal obligation to answer questions from the audience, and that the audience is not even supposed to ask questions. He said that the board members could answer the question if they wanted to. 

They chose to ignore the woman’s question.

A short while later, a man on the citizen committee asked to speak and addressed the board. He reminded the board that the committee had been tasked at the last board meeting with investigating whether there had been any accidents in New York State with gas wells and pipelines. He replied that he could find no evidence or examples of any such problems ever occurring with gas industry activities in New York State. He then thanked the board for the opportunity to serve on the committee and said he would be available if the board needed him again.

Later in the meeting, Joe Lorah spoke saying that now that the moratorium vote was over, he hoped that those on the board who had stated (in a previous meeting) that there were more important issues to be dealing with in our town would bring those matters up for discussion so we could properly deal with them.

The meeting progressed with usual business. Before the end, a woman on the citizen committee said that she understood that the board had voted, but that, as the board had requested, she had found information related to gas industry problems in New York, and that she would like to share the information with the board.

She stated that she had found information about 270 incidences of problems with gas industry activities in New York State in the past 30 years. A list of these problems was compiled by Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, using the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hazardous substances spills database. They ranged from gas line leaks, to brine spills, and at least one contaminated well. Here is an link I found to a newspaper article about the compiled list of drilling accidents: State Files Show 270 Drilling Accidents in Past 30 Years.

And that pretty much sums up all the hydrofracking-related details of the July meeting.

Some Final Thoughts

I started this web site on January 24 of this year. That was the day after the Sempronius Public Hearing about hydrofracking. I established this web site because a fellow board member stated at that meeting that I had said something at a previous meeting that I never said. And when I politely tried to correct him, he loudly disputed me.

I realized at that  moment that if I was going to have a voice in this discussion I needed to create a forum of my own where I could clearly express my views and concerns about the hydrofracking issue in our town. I also wanted to create a record of events for anyone who was interested in the issue, as well as for future reference. That’s how came to be.

After yesterday’s vote not to proceed with a hydrofracking moratorium in our town, my question has been answered... 

Yes. We do Frack Sempronius. A vote not to proceed with a moratorium is, for all intents and purposes, an invitation to any gas company to come to our town. Whether that will actually ever happen remains to be seen. 

I was asked if, after the vote, I was disappointed that I "lost." Such a question reveals a significant misunderstanding. This was not a win-or-lose situation for me. It was a do-the-right-thing situation.

I did not create this issue in our town. I simply responded to the issue when it was brought before the town board by a group of concerned citizens. I saw it as my responsibility to take the matter seriously, investigate it, and make a decision about it. This web site is a chronicle of what I discovered and the factors that entered into my decision to oppose hydrofracking.

From the beginning, I identified and defined the matter of public safety as the most important issue in my mind. As far as I'm concerned, public safety should trump all other factors. I determined that hydrofracking (as it is now done) has a history of accidents, and that it has harmed innocent people in communities where it has been done. With that in mind, I felt I had a high personal responsibility to protect the people of Sempronius by voting for a moratorium, and then a ban.

I have made my beliefs about this issue perfectly clear on this web site. No one needs to ask me for my rationale for voting for a moratorium (and, for the record, I'll be glad to answer any question from the audience at any monthly board meeting, as the Board has always done in my 12 years as a board member).

As time wore on, my greatest concern with this issue of a hydrofracking moratorium was that it was not going to be properly addressed by the board. That the matter of a moratorium was not going to ever be voted on. That our responsibility was not going to be taken seriously. And I pressed the board to make a decision. Now that it has been voted on, I’m satisfied. I certainly disagree with those who voted against a moratorium, but I’m satisfied that the issue has been addressed and resolved. 

I want to make it clear that, in the course of this months-long debate in our town, I have never responded to the anger and animosity directed at me with anger or animosity. That’s not me. I have no ill will towards anyone who had disagreed with me on this issue.

In the end, it is my great hope that those who say hydrofracking will never be done in Sempronius are right. Because if they’re wrong, that’s when I’m going to be really disappointed.

And that’s when I'll start writing here again.


P.S. I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone on the citizen committee who volunteered to research and advise the board, and who took their responsibilities seriously. 

Road Protection Options
For Sempronius

Dateline: 26 June 2012

Pennsylvania farmer, Mike Bennett, fed up with fracking truck traffic, blockaded the road with his pickup (Read The Story Here). Quote from the article: "People are getting pretty fed up with how these drillers operate.  My neighbor Dick Trithart has gouges in his front yard from the trucks passing by him, and his wife Myrna says the water trucks go by all night and keep her awake. And this stuff is just getting underway here." (P.S. Be sure to read the comments to the article)

Back in March of this year I attended a public meeting in Niles where gas industry advocates gave a presentation (Click Here to read my report on that meeting). I sat next to an old friend of mine who is on the Niles Town Board. After the presentation, during the question and answer time, my friend asked the two speakers if they felt it would be wise for the town to pass some road use laws.

The one speaker hesitated a moment before saying it might be a good idea. Then the other speaker, who is an attorney for the gas industry, immediately spoke up and said that it would be better if the town did not have any road use laws. He advised that the town simply negotiate a road use agreement with the gas company.

After the meeting ended, I told my friend that our town (Sempronius) had two conventional gas wells drilled back in 1999, and the gas company never contacted the town to negotiate a road use agreement. They just came and drilled. The town board had no say or control over the use of our roads, and as far as I know, the gas company had absolutely no responsibility to fix or maintain the roads they might have damaged.

I recall clearly that the Sempronius town board was very concerned about the destructive impact that heavy truck traffic would have on our town roads. I also recall one town resident who lives on the road where the wells were being drilled coming to a meeting and complaining about the traffic and noise.

As it was, damage to the roads was minimal, but it was minimal because the wells were conventional wells—they were not horizontal, hydrofracked wells. There is a world of difference in truck traffic between a conventional well and a pad with multiple hydrofracked wells on it, because each fracked well requires 3,000,000 to 8,000,000 gallons of water, and because fracked wells require additional truck traffic to haul rigs, generators, dragon tanks, and other equipment and chemicals.

The point I was making to my friend at the Niles meeting was that there is no guarantee that a gas company will ever do anything to repair town roads unless there are some sort of road use laws in effect. He replied that he knew that—he just wanted to hear what their answer would be.

This recollection came to me during the Sempronius Town Board meeting of June 18th (Click Here to read Part 1 of my report on the June meeting). When explaining to the board about different road protection measures that a town can take, attorney David Slottje made the comment that gas companies don’t want towns to have road use laws. They would rather just have voluntary road use agreements with a town. Well, that certainly appears to be true.

There has been some other discussion at recent Sempronius Town Board meetings about different road protection options and, frankly, I’ve been confused by the discussion. David Slottje’s explanation at the June meeting brought some clarity to my mind. Here is the gist of what I understand at this point.

According to David Slottje, there are two road protection options that a town can pursue. One is Road Use Laws, and the other is Road Use Agreements....

Road use laws are, essentially, established limits on what can be done on a town road. No baseline studies of town roads (costing $10,000, as discussed at previous town board meetings) are needed to put road use laws into effect. When it comes to a heavy, industrial activity in the town, with enormous amounts of heavy truck traffic (like we would get with horizontal gas drilling and hydrofracking) road use laws would serve to prevent such traffic on the roads and protect the roads from being destroyed. Furthermore, road use laws could serve to funnel the gas companies into a road use agreement with the town.

Without a road use law to steer a gas company into a road use agreement, there is no telling if the gas companies would repair the roads they damaged. The gas companies freely admit that they will ruin the town roads, but they then assure concerned citizens that they’ll fix the roads better than they ever were. Well, that’s real neighborly of them, but I don't think any responsible town board should take their word for it. From what I've heard from residents in hydrofracked Pennsylvania communities, the gas companies don't always do what they say they will when it comes to road repair and maintenance.

A road use agreement would require costly baseline studies of our current roads by an engineering company. And, in order to get the very best road use agreement with a gas company, I am thinking that the town might have to hire the services of an attorney with special expertise in that area. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that a road use agreement with a gas company would be a minefield of possibilities, liabilities and decisions. I’m sure our town attorney would advise us properly in this regard. 

The way it looks to me, if the Town Board does not allow hydrofracking in Sempronius, this whole matter of road protection is a non-issue, and the town will face no additional costs or liabilities.

But if we proceed to allow hydrofracking, we will open up a hornet’s nest of road protection issues. I think this matter of road protection all by itself is reason enough to at least enact a moratorium in our town. As it stands now, it is not clear to me at all where other town board members stand on this matter of road protection options. Hopefully we could get some consensus on this matter during a moratorium period.

Once again, my primary concern boils down to safety of town residents. Roads that are severely damaged, or even impassable as a result of damage from high-volume truck traffic, will present safety issues and may open our town up to litigation. The safety of town roads is no small matter, and the Town Board bears considerable responsibility in this regard. This should be a matter of unanimous concern to the Town Board.

The June 18, 2012
Town Board Meeting
(Part 2)

 Dateline: 20 June 2012

In Part 1 of this report on the Sempronius Town Board meeting of June 18, 2012, I told you about the powerpoint presentation that was given to our town by attorney, David Slottje, of the Community Environmental Defense Council, an organization that has, thus far, assisted 100 municipalities enact protective laws against hydrofracking activity.

As I made clear in my report, Mr. Slottje advised us that a moratorium on hydrofracking is an appropriate action in towns where residents and/or board members are divided in their opinion of hydrofracking. A moratorium law would simply preserve our options. It would not mean that any board members have made up their minds about whether gas drilling is an appropriate use in the town. Also, he made it clear that a moratorium should be enacted before the State DEC begins to issue drilling permits. After that our options to protect the town are significantly diminished, because the town would then be more liable for “takings” litigation.

After Mr. Slottje’s presentation, he left and the matter of moratorium was further discussed. Our 7-member Citizen Committee, which volunteered to advise us on the impact that hydrofracking would have on the Sempronius community, presented the board with six papers from six member of the committee giving their opinion of whether the town should proceed with a moratorium or not. The seventh member voiced his opinion verbally, as I reported in Part 1.

Of the seven people on the committee three were opposed to a moratorium and four were in favor of a moratorium.

The three people opposed to the moratorium seemed to be united in the thought that we don’t need a moratorium because it is unlikely that the gas companies will ever drill in Sempronius. Another reason offered was that a moratorium would likely embroil the town in a lawsuit.

Those who were in favor of a moratorium were unanimous in their concern that hydrofracking as it is now done is potentially dangerous, may lead to polluted water, and may be a health disaster for some people in our community. One person in favor of the moratorium ended his written comments as follows:

Based on this information and the uncertainty of future public health impacts I recommend the following:

1. Put a moratorium in place.
a. start immediately
b. scheduled to end one year following the promulgation of NYS DEC Regulations. (this time frame will allow “bugs” in the DEC Regulations to be identified and corrected.
2. Define the dimensions & directional flow of the aquifer in the Town of Sempronius.
a. Cayuga County prevented RG&E site from becoming a disposal site for nuclear power plant ‘waste” because of the impact it would have on the county’s aquifer.
3. Define those areas of Sempronius where heavy industrial activity is acceptable.

In response to the belief that the gas companies are not going to even drill in Sempronius, I  pointed out that Chesapeake Energy (the gas company that bought most of the leases in our town) sold its Cauyga County leases to Minard Run Oil Company (MROC) a couple months ago. MROC has publicly stated their “3 to 5 year Development Plan” for  the “Finger Lakes District, Cayuga & Seneca Counties.” In the 104,779 undeveloped acres they acquired, they intend to do gas exploration via horizontal drilling (hydrofracking). Here is an exact quote from the MROC  plan:

MROC also feels that the Utica Shale in the region shows potential for exploration of natural gas via horizontal drilling. Pending approval of the NYDEC’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), there is a high probability that MROC may engage in exploration of the Utica Shale.

As noted in previous reports here, Sempronius does not have Marcellus Shale for drilling, but we have Utica Shale under the whole town. Also, while a portion of the town is currently off limits because it falls within the restricted Skaneateles watershed, a good portion of our town is potentially available for hydrofracking. The fact that a State highway goes through our town would, I have to believe, be a bonus when considering where to hydrofrack.

In response to this a board member said that gas drilling is off limits in all the watersheds, not just Skaneateles. That may be technically correct at this time because all of New York currently has a statewide moratorium in effect. But once the moratorium is lifted, the only watersheds in New York that will be protected are those of Skaneateles Lake and New York City. He seemed to think that all watersheds would be off limits, and I said that the whole state consists of watersheds.

In any event, it was getting late and our Supervisor suggested that we get on to other business. I then requested that, before we got to other business, I be allowed to read a short statement that I had put together. And I made a point of requesting that the statement be included in the official minutes of the meeting. The Supervisor agreed and I read the following....

Four Reasons For Passing a Moratorium on Hydrofracking in Sempronius

By: Herrick Kimball

1. There is no clear consensus about the public safety of hydrofracking. Some authorities say it is not a danger to public health, while other authorities say it is. This lack of agreement is, in itself, reason for this board to be concerned and cautious about allowing hydrofracking in our town. The Town Board has a legal right and moral responsibility to protect our town from any industrial activity that will adversely affect the health, safety, and general welfare of those people who live here now, and those who will live here in the generations to come.

2  Many people in our town have expressed to us their sincere and serious concerns about the safety of hydrofracking and how it will impact their lives. These people have asked the board to enact a moratorium or ban. Regardless of how any of us on the board personally feel about hydrofracking, enacting a moratorium at this time is a respectful response to the concerns held by so many of the people we represent.

3.  As a small rural town, we are not well equipped to deal with the numerous changes, expenses, and liabilities that hydrofracking will bring. Faced with these kinds of issues and costs, a moratorium is a logical and financially prudent measure for us to take.

4.  This board has appointed a citizen committee to study the issue of hydrofracking and report to us in one year. The purpose of the committee, as previously discussed in our board meetings, is not to advise us about whether to have a moratorium, but to study and advise us about the potential impact hydrofracking will have on our town, and whether to proceed with a ban, or not. To have such a committee and not give it the “cover” needed by a moratorium is not right.

Once the State of New York begins to issue drilling permits, this town’s ability to protect itself with a moratorium (or ban) will have been lost. If we pass a moratorium or ban after drilling permits are issued, we will be open to, and liable for, “takings” litigation.

Conclusion: Recent news reports indicate that the State is talking of issuing horizontal drilling permits in the Southern Tier. This board has discussed this matter for many months. The window of opportunity for protecting our town is closing. That being the case, I propose that the board have a clear vote tonight to accept the moratorium law that was presented to us at our previous board meeting, and proceed to schedule a public hearing, on the moratorium law, as required by State law. I propose that we have this public hearing before our regularly scheduled July town board meeting, and that this board will then have a final vote for or against the moratorium at the July meeting.

As soon as I read my statement, a town board member who is in favor of gas drilling in our town said, We’re not going to do that!”

Conversation ensued. I said we have a responsibility to deal with this matter. We need to deal with it and move on.

The aforementioned board member stated that two gas companies have said they aren’t going to drill in this town. I asked him if he believes everything the gas companies say. He responded by asking if I believe everything “that guy” (referring to David Slottje) says?

I did not answer. But I tend to believe David Slottje far more than I believe any gas company. The simple fact of the matter is that gas companies are notorious for not telling the truth, or telling partial truths, or saying one thing and doing another. There are plenty of  people (and lawsuits) to testify to this fact. But I’ve yet to see or hear David Slottje do any of those things, and if he did, I'm sure it would be well publicised by the gas industry.. 

I said that if we proceed to the Public Hearing, then the gentleman on the Citizen Committee who took issue with our moratorium law (see Part 1 of this report) could express his objections and concerns, and ask questions of our two attorneys. That's exactly why we are supposed to have a public hearing.

Another board member took offense with me, saying that he didn’t like me deciding how he was going to vote (or something like that). I wasn’t sure what he meant. If any board member is deciding how he is going to vote on this issue, it sure isn’t me. But if he was saying that he didn’t like me pressing this issue of moratorium and asking the board to make a clear decision, then, yes, I’m guilty of that. I’m sorry, but that’s our job as board members.

I asked the major question in my mind: "What’s the downside to a moratorium?" No answer. I asked again: “What’s the downside to a moratorium?" If anyone on the board answered me I didn’t hear it. But I heard a woman in the audience answer it.... “There is none.”

That’s the part about this whole moratorium thing that bothers me the most. There is no downside to proceeding with a moratorium. There is no negative aspect to it. It is an entirely responsible step to take. And yet there is fierce resistance to it. Why?

And here's another question that I'd like to ask: 

Why would anyone in Sempronius who insists that the gas companies are not going to drill in this town have any objection to a moratorium? 

There is no cost to enacting a moratorium. There is virtually no liability. If I truly thought this town was not going to be hydrofracked, but other people in town did, and they wanted a moratorium, and I could see no downside to it for the town, I'd say, "Sure. Go ahead."

Our Supervisor ended the discussion by saying that he wanted our town attorney, Mr. Marangola, to be present when we made a decision. He said that we would make a clear decision on the matter of proceeding with a moratorium, or not, next month, at the July town board meeting. 

Good enough.

So next month (July 16 at 7:00 pm) the Sempronius town board will make a final decision about whether to proceed with a moratorium on hydrofracking, or not.


As an addendum to this report, I would like to say that I read a prepared statement and submitted it to be in the official minutes of the board meeting because I want it to be perfectly clear  exactly how I feel about hydrofracking and doing what is best for the town of Sempronius. Yes, this web site certainly does that, but this web site is not an official document.

I am cognizant of the fact that if hydrofracking comes to our town, and if there are problems, as has been the case elsewhere where hydrofracking has been allowed, there are going to be some very upset people in this town. There will be people wondering how this was allowed when it could have been prevented. There may even be people one day looking back through the official minutes of the meetings to try to understand what board members were thinking, and what was discussed. 

There is no way that I want to ever be associated with allowing hydrofracking in this town. Let there be no mistake about it. I have researched and investigated this hydrofracking technology and I am 100% opposed to it, based entirely on my belief that it may cause great harm to the health, safety, and general welfare of the people in Sempronius.

As for this web site, it will remain online for as many years as I can keep it in place.

The June 18, 2012
Town Board Meeting
(Part 1)

Dateline: 19 June 2012

The entire board was present for the June meeting, as were ten members of the Sempronius community. Also in attendance was attorney David Slottje of the Community Environmental Defense Council. Our town attorney, Mr. Marangola, was scheduled to be at the meeting but was unable to make it.

Attorney Slottje gave a powerpoint presentation to the board. It was titled (as shown in the picture above) Using Local Land Use Authority to Protect Health, Safety, & Community Assets

Mr. Slottje explained that well established state law allows towns to enact laws to protect people and property in the town. It’s called Municipal Home Rule Law and it vests towns with the power to enact laws for the “protection and enhancement of its physical and visual environment” and for the “protection, [...] safety, health and well-being of persons or property therein.”

Beyond the right to enact protective local laws, town boards have an obligation to do so, as stated in this quote from a court case
(Town of Huntington v. Park Shore Country Day Camp, 47 NY2d 61 (1979):
It is a legislature’s right, and, particularly in matters of ... [land use] and planning, it’s obligation as well to anticipate future problems and to enact measures to guard against them, though in fact the anticipated events may never come to pass.” (emphasis added)

David Slottje then made the following recommendation:

Towns which are not certain whether fracking as presently practiced is appropriate for their community—because residents are divided, or members of the Town Board are undecided—should preserve their options by considering the enactment of a specific but common land use law called a moratorium, and in such event the moratorium should be enacted before DEC begins issuing drilling permits.

David further stated:

Town board consideration as to whether a moratorium should be enacted, or a decision to enact a moratorium, does NOT mean that the Board members have made up their minds about whether gas drilling is an appropriate land use in the Town.

Rather, the only thing it means is that they believe that it is in the best interests of the Town—as a whole—to study/gather more information during the moratorium period, to help them make an informed decision.

Attorney Slottje explained that a moratorium is a law with a designated time span. A ban is more permanent, but then emphasized that no law is entirely permanent. Any law can be changed (repealed) at a later date when the situation warrants. For example, if hydrofracking technology becomes safer.

David Slottje said he has worked with 100 municipalities to provide protective laws, either moratoria or bans. Then he discussed the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, which were sued for their protective laws prohibiting hydrofracking. David mentioned that he worked with Dryden to establish their law.

The lawsuit in the Dryden case was brought by a gas company. The Middlefield case was brought by a land owner. Both cases were decided earlier this year and in both instances the town laws were upheld.

A notice of intention to appeal those decisions was filed, but as of three days ago, no papers have been filed to perfect any such appeal. On 6/13/12, the "topgun" gas company attorney, Tom West, stated: It could be “tall order” to prevail after two trial courts have ruled against us. 

He further stated, “The odds are against us.”

David Slottje told the board that he is confident that if an appeal is eventually pursued (and it is questionable if that will happen) the town laws will stand because NY Home Rule Law is so clear in granting protective power to towns.

Attorney Slottje stressed that waiting on a moratorium is not a prudent option for the town to take:

Waiting to pass a moratorium or protective law until after the DEC begins issuing drilling permits deprives the municipality of the single protection for local control that the DEC has built into its draft SGEIS— the right to say that a proposal to frack in the town is “inconsistent with local land use laws.”

The next powerpoint stated...

Moreover, waiting is NOT the ‘fiscally prudent’ thing to do. We believe that waiting to pass a protective law until after permits issue actually exposes the municipality’s taxpayers to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars of potential liability. Liability that does not exist or at least is dramatically lessened if a municipality passes its protective law BEFORE the DEC begins issuing permits.

Mr. Slottje said that if the town of Sempronius adopted a protective law written by him, and was sued, he would defend the town at no cost, just as he is providing his services to our town and others at no cost ( I explained why and how he does this in a previous report—Click Here to read it). He also said that in every single town that has considered a protective law, someone has threatened to sue the town if they do so. That was certainly the case with our town. But this has actually come to pass in only the two towns mentioned, and both towns won their cases. It is doubtful that anyone in our town will actually follow through with the threat (unless they have money to throw away). 

There was, of course, much more discussed than I have reported on here. If you would like a copy of the entire powerpoint presentation, just send me an e-mail request ( and I'll get a pdf copy to you.

After the presentation, David Slottje asked if there were any questions. I think I may have been the only person to ask a question. I asked about road protection options. David answered my questions about the road protection options and his answers brought a lot of clarity, at least to my mind they did. I hope to report on road protection options in a later post here.

After David Slottje left, a member of the 7-person Citizen Committee spoke to the board at length, saying that he had read the moratorium law for our town (as prepared by attorney Slottje and discussed at the last two board meetings) and that he thought it was very poorly written. He used the words “archaic” and "cookie cutter" to describe the law. He said that it was worded so that landowners with leases could be charged with serious crimes. He also disparaged David Slottje, questioning his motives and professional abilities as an attorney. He advised the board to get a more competent lawyer.

In response to this man’s comments, I considered mentioning that he had not been to two previous meetings where the law was discussed. And I wondered why he had not made his comments while attorney Slottje was still in the meeting and taking questions.  Additionally, I considered pointing out that our town attorney, Mr. Marangola, has spoken very highly of David Slottje (and his moratorium law) at two board meetings.

But I held my tongue because I saw no purpose in being argumentative. Besides that, I wanted to get to something else that was on my mind (and in so doing I addressed the man’s comments).  That will all be discussed in part 2 of this report......

Report on The
Moravia Fracking Forum
of May 24, 2012
With Carol French & Carolyn Knapp
(Part 2)

Dateline: 16 June 2012

The original "I Love NY" logo and the whole "I Love NY" campaign celebrated the beautiful natural resources, history, and cultural diversity of our state. This graphic, made by pro-fracking advocates, conveys a much different message. To them, New York is all about natural gas and the opportunity to make a lot of money from extracting that gas. Of course, the gas industry loves hydrofracking Pennsylvania too, but not everyone in PA loves the gas industry, especially those who have suffered harm from the exploiters, as discussed in the following report....

In Part 1 of this report I told you about the presentation at the Moravia Elementary School, where Carol French and Carolyn Knapp, two farmers from Bradford County, Pennsylvania, spoke about the impact of hydrofracking on their rural community—a rural community much like Sempronius. They began the talk by discussing many aspects of gas leasing.

It was clear from the presentation that the gas companies often offer lucrative sign-on bonuses, but they also employ different kinds of misinformation and chicanery to acquire gas leases. They take advantage of landowners who trust them to tell the whole truth. And the average personal attorney is not well equipped to protect the best interests of landowners when it comes to dealing with gas company contracts.

Closely related to the money involved in gas leases is the matter of jobs that are created when hydrofracking comes into a community. According to Carol & Carolyn, most of the jobs created are for truck drivers. So if someone is a truck driver or owns a trucking company, they will benefit from hydrofracking. Carol’s stepson drives a water truck.

The other job most in demand is rig hands. Being a rig hand is a job for younger men, and it is transient work. Rig hands go where the drilling rigs go. Many rig hands are from Texas, Oklahoma, and South America.

There are, of course, also several local businesses that do well when a community is hydrofracked. Restaurants, jewelers and attorneys were mentioned. But such trickle-down prosperity, like the job of a rig hand, is transient.... here today and gone tomorrow.

Along with the jobs comes an incredible amount of truck traffic on town roads. The two women told of how a trip that used to take them 5 minutes ended up taking 45 minutes because of the increased truck traffic. It was more traffic than the roads were made to handle, and the roads were ruined as a result. There was considerable diesel-fume-pollution from all the trucks too.

Carol & Carolyn showed pictures of “sand clouds” coming off a well pad. The sand is silica. I don’t know the purpose of the silica. The women told of the respiratory damage that affected animals and people downwind of the silica clouds.

According to Carol, Bradford County statistics showed an increase in crime after hydrofracking came. Rapes were up significantly during the height of gas drilling activity. Divorces have also happened as a result of hydrofracking coming into the area.

The point is, a community that is “fracked” is a community that experiences significant changes. The ladies explained that no one can really understand the changes that come to a community when it is hydrofracked unless they have lived through it.

But the worst thing of all is what happens to the drinking water. There are numerous homes with ruined water wells in Bradford County. The homeowners now have expensive-to-install-and-maintain water treatment systems (that don’t always work that well), and/or they have water trucked in and stored in big plastic water tanks called “water buffalos.”

Carol brought a sample of water from her well. It was milky white. She said people are getting water of all different colors out of their wells, and with unknown chemicals in it. She expressed frustration with Pennsylvania politicians who, when confronted with contaminated water samples from Bradford County residents, insist that no wells in Bradford County have been contaminated by hydrofracking.

Carol said that she used to believe that elected officials and government agencies would protect her and her family from harm. But she has come to realize that the government is protecting the gas company interests more than they are protecting those who are suffering from the effects of hydrofracking activity.

Carol told the story of her daughter getting sick with flu-like symptoms. Her condition worsened to the point that they took her to the hospital. The hospital sent her home with some antibiotic for a urinary infection. But the sickness persisted. The hospital didn’t know what was wrong. This sort of thing has happened to numerous people in Bradford County since hydrofracking came. Carol’s daughter moved to Tennessee and her medical condition has improved.

Carol told of the red rash she has on her body and held out her arm to show the red blotches. She doesn’t  drink or cook with the contaminated water from her well, but her dairy cows drink it. And the cows have skin ailments too. Carol says the state of PA does not test the milk for chemicals that might be in her milk. She sells it and it goes into the grocery stores. “You’re drinking it,” she said to the audience.

Carolyn said that property values are down 80% to 90% on real estate where the water wells have been ruined, and they gave several examples.

Once the aboveground value of a property is destroyed, the major value becomes the rights to what is under the ground. But it turns out that some gas companies, when they need money, mortgage the underground value of their leased properties (it’s referred to as an “open end mortgage”). Homeowners have no say in the matter and their property is virtually worthless to them as a result.

Much more was discussed at the presentation but the gist of it all is that hydrofracking is not harmless. It can be ugly, destructive, and dangerous.

The question that every town needs to ask itself is if it is worth it. With that thought in mind, I’m persuaded that the potential risks that come with hydrofracking far outweigh the potential benefits.

I’m not a gambler, and I’m especially not a gambler when it comes to protecting the health, safety and general welfare of the community I represent as an elected town board member.

As reported in an earlier post to this web site, another Sempronius town board member publicly stated that I will never be elected to the board again in Sempronius because of my objection to hydrofracking. Well, if I am not elected because I’ve put my responsibilities to protect the people I represent, over and above my own self interests, I can live with that. My conscience will be clear.

The responsibility for protecting innocent people in our town from harm by scheming gas companies with their dangerous drilling technology rests entirely on the town board. I consider it a sacred trust and responsibility to protect the health, safety and general welfare of my town. Until the gas companies have a proven track record of safety, I would never consider allowing them in this town. I only wish all my fellow board members felt the same way.

For the record: I did not create the controversy surrounding hydrofracking in Sempronius. A group of concerned citizens came to our town board and asked for a moratorium. I took their concerns seriously and investigated the matter. What I’ve found (as reported on this web site) has alarmed and concerned me.

Natural gas will still be under Sempronius years from now—when or if the gas industry comes up with a safer technology for extracting it. Until then, I’m against hydrofracking in Sempronius just like I’m against rabid dogs, larceny and mass murderers.

Report on The
Moravia Fracking Forum
of May 24, 2012
With Carol French & Carolyn Knapp
(Part 1)

Dateline: 14 June 2012

Around 150 people from the Moravia area showed up at the elementary school auditorium to hear Carol French and Carolyn Knapp, two dairy farming women from Pennsylvania, speak about the impact hydrofracking has had on their rural community. As I reported here in a previous essay, Carol and Carolyn were invited by a group of concerned local citizens, some of whom are residents of Sempronius.

My wife and I attended the presentation and it was good to see so many people I’ve known for years there, taking an interest in this issue. As far as I could tell, I was the only Sempronius board member in attendance.

Thus far, I have attended and reported here on five presentations about hydrofracking, two of which were put on by gas industry advocates. I’ve listened to attorneys, scientists, health professionals and public relations people in these meetings. I’ve also spent countless hours reading all kinds of articles and reports from different sources (pro fracking and anti fracking). I’ve invested even more hours watching and listening to a vast spectrum of online videos about the hydrofracking issue.

I do not watch television in my home at all, and haven't watched television for years. So I don’t know much of anything about Hollywood celebrities and pop culture, but I know something about hydrofracking, and I’m learning more all the time.

If I’m wrong in my concerns about the safety of hydrofracking technology, it isn’t for lack of effort and time invested in trying to fully understand the issue. Having said that, I’m continually amazed that there are people who think hydrofracking is harmless.  A person has to completely ignore an enormous body of evidence and professional insights to think that hydrofracking is safe.

What I liked about the Moravia presentation by Carol and Carolyn was the firsthand perspective of two property owners who had their land leased to a gas company and who have lived in a community where hydrofracking has been going on for several years.

Both women have lived and farmed in Bradford County, Pennsylvania for a long time. They know what has happened to them, and their neighbors, and their community better than any outside news reporter or gas industry public relations man. If anyone is qualified to testify about what we in Sempronius can expect if hydrofracking comes to our town, it is Carol and Carolyn.

There are people who say they've driven down to Pennsylvania and seen for themselves the impact that hydrofracking has had, and that it's no problem at all. Everything is just great, they say. Well, such people can not and do not know what's going on in a hydrofracked community by simply driving through and looking with their own eyes.  

That kind of observation and analysis is akin to driving past a nice house with beautiful landscaping and a just-mown lawn. It looks like all is well, but out of sight, inside the house, the owner is sick in bed, dying of terminal cancer. Anyone driving by wouldn't know it from outside appearances, but the family in the house knows it, and the neighbors know it.

It’s worth noting that when gas drilling first came to their community, Carol and Carolyn supported it 100%. Carolyn was even so pro-gas-drilling that she bought stock in the gas company that leased her land (Chesapeake Energy). But when they saw what the gas companies with their hydrofracking process did to their families, the land, and their community, their opinion changed.

The presentation began with a much-too-long discussion about how to get a good gas lease if you decide to lease your land to a gas company. The gas companies have a reputation for crafting lease agreements that burden landowners with liabilities and production costs (which are deleted from any royalties). They (the gas companies) are notorious for saying one thing and doing another. There are a lot of landowners in Pennsylvania dealing with unfulfilled expectations and sad realities as a result of gas company deceptions.

According to Carol and Carolyn, the only money a leasing landowner can really count on is the “bonus sign-on money.” years ago, it was typical to get five bucks an acre for signing a lease. By 2006 gas companies were paying $85 an acre in Bradford County. Then, in early 2011 they were paying $6,500 an acre.

I work with a man who has a 250-acre farm in Cato. He refused to sign a gas lease while most all the farms around him have leases. He is 100% against hydrofracking. But I told him that some farmers in PA were getting $6,500 an acre for leasing their land. He did the math.....My friend could get $1,625,000 for leasing his farm!

It’s a rare person (especially a hardworking farmer, struggling to make ends meet) who would not agree to lease their land for that kind of money.

I’m sure such people would be naturally inclined to think the very best of hydrofracking— and the very worst of anyone who objects to hydrofracking.

In addition to bonus sign-on money, landowners may also negotiate for what is known as “damage money” for allowing their land to be used for things like compressor stations and pipelines.

Property owners who lease their land may also receive a 12.5% royalty on gas produced on their property. But there are many landowners who actually receive a pittance (or nothing) because “production costs” are deducted. Production costs amount to things like road repairs, and lawsuit expenses (there are lots of lawsuits that come with hydrofracking). Some landowners in PA received a few royalty payments and then they stopped.

The impression I got from Carol and Carolyn is that once the gas companies have a lease on your land, they can pretty much do what they want. Some landowners consult attorneys about getting a good lease but they are often outlawyered by the slick gas company attorneys. It’s their game and they’re very good at crafting contracts that are in their best interests.

An interesting thing about the gas leases is that gas companies divide and sell the 87.5% share of the land they buy rights to. It turns out that the leases are valuable commodities that are purchased as an investment by numerous companies and individuals all over the world. People leasing their land to a gas company are led to believe it is a patriotic act, but it turns out that their land has been, in effect, purchased by investors in China and other countries far away from America.

Beyond that, gas industry players, like Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, have been implicated in hedging the gas market. As I understand it, hedging the market amounts to betting that gas prices will go down. Then the gas companies can flood the market to make sure the price goes down, and they pocket a considerable profit in so doing.

The way it looks to me, landowners who lease their land to gas companies are unwitting pawns in a moneymaking scheme of tremendous proportions. Yes, some landowners stand to make a lot of money, but many more think they will make a lot, only to discover that it doesn’t pan out like they were led to believe.

That’s bad enough, but what makes it worse is the harm that hydrofracking inflicts on other people in a community— people who have nothing to gain from the industrialization of their community. Such people are not unwitting pawns. They are victims.

In part 2 of this report I’ll tell you the rest of  what Carol French and Carolyn Knapp had to say about the impact hydrofracking has had on their hometown.

The May, 2012
Town Board Meeting
(and why I think we now need a ban on hydrofracking)

Dateline: 24 May 2012

This map shows the Utica Shale "Fairway" (explanation below). Click picture to see an enlarged view.

The Sempronius town board meeting of May 21, 2012 was remarkably subdued and civil compared to previous meetings that I’ve reported on here since hydrofracking became an issue in our town. All board members were present, as were about eight town residents, three of whom are members of our volunteer citizen committee, which is tasked with looking into the impact that hydrofracking may have on our town.

A member of the committee reported to the board that they are not prepared at this time to advise the board about how to proceed regarding a moratorium on hydrofracking.

The same committee member then presented the board with copies of what appears to be a well-researched, 12-page report he compiled, titled “Considerations of Gas Drilling on the Town’s Water Wells and Aquifers.”

The report brings to light several bits of information that I was not aware of. I’ll condense it into four sections, as follows...

According to the report, it is “unlikely” that High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) would be used in the town of Sempronius to drill in either the Marcellus Shale or the Utica Shale. This is due to the fact that the Marcellus shale is too shallow under our town (less than 2,000 feet deep) for drilling. That much I was aware of. But the report states that the Utica shale under our town is outside the “Utica Shale Fairway” which is that area of the deposit determined to be most economical and feasible to drill. The picture at the top of this essay is the one included in the report. It can be viewed along with information pertaining to the Utica Shale deposit in New York at this PDF link:

The report states, based on information supplied by the 1992 NY State Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and the 2011 Revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (RDSGEIS), that hydrofracking is prohibited within 4,000 feet of the Skaneateles Lake watershed. From the map supplied with the report, this prohibited zone would cover almost the entire northeast half of our town, as divided by a diagonal line extending from northwest to southeast.

Many other areas of our town would require a “site specific SEQRA determination of significance” before drilling could take place. SEQRA is the acronym for State Environmental Quality Review Act. The SEQRA study (SEQRA is pronounced as “seeker.”) would be required within 500 feet of a “principal aquifer.” It so happens that a large section of the southwest corner of Sempronius lies over a mapped principal aquifer. Also, any drilling in a designated “Agricultural District” would require a SEQRA study, and a significant section of Sempronius is classified as an agricultural district.

The report further states that all primary and principle aquifers in the town of Sempronius have not been sufficiently mapped, and that, in order for gas drilling to be properly regulated in the town, a USGS hydrology (aquifer) study is necessary. The cost of such a study would be around $250,000. It was suggested that a gas company may be required to pay for such a study as a condition for drilling in the town.

I, for one, greatly appreciate the work that went into this paper. It is exactly the kind of information that our town board needs.

As for my thoughts on the information presented in the paper.... 

First, I sincerely hope that HVHF truly is not a likelihood in our town, and I would be perfectly willing to accept that presumption if it were not for the fact that, from what I’ve been led to believe, gas leases in Sempronius continue to be renewed. Why would a gas company spend money for leases it never intends to utilize? Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for that, but I don’t know what it is. And I have to believe that proper prudence in this matter requires a healthy dose of skepticism, especially when the health, safety, and general welfare of people in our community are concerned. 
And then there is the Trenton and Black River shale deposits under our town (and directly under the Utica shale). Perhaps this is where the gas companies would want to employ hydrofracking technology?

The whole matter of SEQRA is new to me. It was suggested that the Sempronius Town Board an the community may have some role in the SEQRA approval process. I’d like to know more about this aspect of the issue.

As I stated at the board meeting, when the two vertical gas wells (not hydrofracked horizontal wells) were drilled in Sempronius in 2008/2009, our town board played no role in any approval process. I’ve been told that we received a copy of the permits issued by the DEC, but I was on the board at that time and I clearly recall that we had no official interaction with the gas company. The matter was completely out of our hands.


Another pertinent aspect of the May board meeting was a report from our Highway Supervisor who attended a forum on road laws in Cortland on May 8th. An attorney with the New York Sate Association of Towns spoke about options for dealing with heavy truck traffic on town roads.

We have 33 miles of town roads. These roads were not made to handle continuous traffic from heavy trucks.

According to information provided by the Association of Towns speaker, it is estimated that each horizontal gas well will require an average of 178,000 (and as many as 266,000) heavy truck trips in the first five years of operation. When you figure that a single well pad has multiple wells, it adds up to an enormous amount of truck traffic on some local roads. Our town roads have never experienced traffic density anywhere near to that.

Update: I've been told by someone who knows better that the above number of 178,000 truck trips is not correct. The number is lower, but still very high. Maybe the Association of Towns inadvertently added an extra zero and the actual number is 17,800?

Another attorney, Mark Sweeney, from Whiteman, Osteman & Hanna, also spoke at the Cortland forum. And Delta Engineering, of Endwell, N.Y. spoke about the services they offer to towns considering the implementation of road laws.

Delta will, for a cost of $10,000, perform an engineering study of our roads to determine baseline conditions.

No one wants to spend $10,000 on an engineering study that may not be necessary and, engineering study or not, if our town pursues the option of road use laws, it appears to me that we will find ourselves in a quagmire of legal concerns and issues.

Bearing in mind all of what I’ve written thus far, it seems to me that the wisest course of action for our town board to take would be to simply pass a local law banning all hydrofracking activity in Sempronius.

It is clear to me that Sempronius is ill prepared and poorly equipped to handle the industrialization of our rural township. A ban on hydrofracking would put the brakes on this entire issue.

I believe a ban is warranted to protect the health, safety and general welfare of our community (would you want 178,000 heavy trucks driving past your house in the next five years (plus light trucks)? Increased motor vehicle accidents are likely. So hydrofracking itself is not the only safety issue we need to concern ourselves with. An incidental benefit to a ban would be that we avoid the mire of new local road laws and road-use agreements.

The only other option I see in this matter is to completely ignore hydrofracking and road-use laws, and just hope and wish that nothing bad will ever happen. That might work, but it’s a gamble, and I don’t think any town board should gamble when the health, safety, and general welfare of the people in a town are at stake. The responsible course of action, as I see it now, would be a complete ban.

Bans are not permanent. Any town that enacts a ban can, at a later date, undo it. I’ll state it again... 

It is clear to me that Sempronius is ill prepared and poorly equipped to handle the industrialization of our rural township. A ban on hydrofrackingmakes perfect sense to me. As with a moratorium, I see no downside to a ban. Better safe than sorry.