July 3, 2008
Quest for natural gas can produce some nasty side-effects
By David Orzel
I'm writing in response to what I've been reading lately online concerning natural gas development in Tioga and Broome counties. I currently live in Sublette County, Wyoming, which lies in the heart of gas and oil development country in western Wyoming. I grew up in Apalachin and hope to someday move back and enjoy the surrounding area and to be closer to my family.
Let me tell you a little bit about Sublette County. We have fantastic views of the Wind River Mountains, the highest peaks in Wyoming. We have trophy hunting of mule deer, moose, elk and bighorn sheep. We have fishing for native cutthroat trout available out our doorsteps. Most of the county is public land, which means that you can hike, bike, and enjoy the scenery all you like for free.
We have brand new county buildings, libraries, schools, subdivisions and visitor centers. We have some of the highest-paid teachers and public servants in the nation. We have some of the lowest tax rates in the country. We have water so pure in Fremont Lake that the town uses it as its municipal supply untreated. Sounds like a great place to live, right?
What most people see as "progress" comes at a price. We are now seeing ozone levels in the atmosphere around the county rival that of big cities like Denver and Los Angeles (we only have about 7,000 residents in the entire county, and we don't have a single stop light).
We are seeing increasing rates of respiratory problems in the young and old. We are finding traces of benzene, a carcinogen, in the ground and surface waters. Property has skyrocketed, with a small house in town going for $300,000. The clear views of the mountains are no more, with particulates in the air blocking them out.
Animal migration routes are being blocked by gas field development. Wildlife is disappearing. The roads are dangerous (hit and runs are common). A transitory population of "roughnecks" and "roustabouts" now hang out in town. I could go on and on, but it depresses me.
All of this started to occur about five years ago, right when the natural gas development really began to ramp up. It doesn't take a degree in geology (which I have, by the way) to see that the two are linked.
People now are beginning to realize that all of those gas leases and mineral rights that were sold over to the big producers (Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, etc.) are not worth the percentage that they're earning. What good is a royalty check if your children have to play in the shadow of a gas rig?
Wait until they start "fracking" the bedrock to get at hard-to-reach gas reserves (here's a hint -- you can hear and feel it at night). Wait until they start "flaring" the rigs, filling the sky with black smoke (the EPA can't do a thing, because rigs are exempt). The companies build roads everywhere and access them 24/7 with loud diesel trucks.
They don't care because you've already signed on the dotted line. And don't bother with your lawyers, because they have 10 others ready to fight back at the drop of a hat.
I'd urge all of the citizens of Broome and Tioga counties to think very carefully how much their quality of lives are worth. Please proceed slowly and think this development through. Think beyond the short-term payments and consider what this place will be like after the gas companies leave.
Their goal is to generate revenue at any cost to the environment and the local population. Look through the smoke and mirrors. They won't be around to clean up after the extraction is through. You, however, will be.