“[Sean] Lennon fancifully likened drilling and gas production to awakening a sleeping dragon. His mother said later of the comparison, ‘That’s beautiful,’ but, thinking on it some more, suggested ‘it’s a sign of a devil, actually. In my mind it’s more like a snake. A dragon is too big; you’re giving too much respect for this thing.’”
– Eric Roston, “On New York Shale Gas, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Say Let It Be,” Bloomberg.com (January 23, 2013).
That’s Sean Lennon and his famous mother, Yoko Ono, speaking to reporters taking a tour of Susquehanna County, Pa., in an effort to highlight the supposed dangers of natural gas development. They were accompanied by Susan Sarandon, Josh Fox (producer of Gasland) and Ghandi’s grandson, not to mention a bevy of local anti-development celebrities.
But the real story was the long list of folks not invited on the tour, which was billed as an “informational” affair but, as you could expect, was anything but.
The luxurious Mercedes bus wasn’t hard to find in the Montrose Price-Chopper parking lot, so a few colleagues and I tagged along behind, watching as entertainment intersected with energy policy. (I’m the “white haired” guy with the nice jacket in the Bloomberg story, and I was accompanied by Rachael Colley, our Field Director, who captured some great video to memorialize the tour and wrote about it.)
A Day to Remember–or Forget
It was an utterly bizarre day, as might be expected when the star of the event is the woman who made “bed-ins” famous, supposedly broke up the Beatles, and has launched a crazy clothing line conceivable only by someone with $500 million of inherited wealth to throw around. (Also of note: these two Beatles beneficiaries live in the famous Dakota building in Manhattan, which is heated by three new natural gas boilers. Apparently, the product is only snake-like if you develop it, not if you consume it – an interesting paradox to be sure.)
It was like that all day. The first stop was a nicely finished well pad near Franklin Forks. Local anti-development personalities have tried – unsuccessfully to date – to suggest one of the wells is causing methane migration a mile away. This stop was apparently intended to reinforce that idea. What wasn’t discussed was the fact that the area is well-known for shallow methane, or that folks have been lighting the next-door famous Salt Springs on fire for over a century, long before any gas company set their sights on the area.
This stop was also an opportunity for uninformed gas opponents to lecture the assembled glitterati that a regular sound they heard on site was methane being released into the atmosphere. Only problem? It’s not. It was the sound of very small quantities of water that come up with the gas being shunted safely into storage tanks.
So goes the education of the entertainment community as they attempted to educate reporters. The body language of more than one reporter indicated they were non-plussed by the artists’ antics.
This was followed a little later by a visit to the home of a family suing a gas company for methane migration, which they allege was caused by the wells visited by the Magical Mercedes Bus earlier in the day. Left out of this story telling was the fact the property had been completely flooded twice in recent years, causing mechanical failures with the well pump that produced the methane releases. This was proven in testing that successfully replicated the problem.
Also left out of the narrative was the refusal of the owners to accept repair of the mechanical problem, despite its lack of liability. When the smell of settlement money is in the air, fixing the problem isn’t the first thing on the agenda, after all. Likewise unmentioned was the failure of any neighbors to experience similar problems – neighbors, by the way, with entirely different stories, and who thus were deliberately not invited on the trip.
Adding to the peculiar nature of the day at this stop was the prominent display of a Cree Indian Prophecy sign on the side of a shed at the water well site. It reads: “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned… only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.” The moral would seem to be that clean water, free of methane building up due to easily repaired malfunctioning water-well equipment, is more important than a lawsuit. But not in the gas fields where companies are inviting targets with deep pockets.
Stranger and Stranger
Nevertheless, nothing was as strange as the last stop of the day, which was at a junkyard, of all places – perhaps an unintended metaphor for the natural endpoint of this deliberate path of unreality.
This particular location – in Dimock, Pa., the faux Mecca of folks ideologically wedded to the idea that shale development is dangerous – is located along a stream and is one of the last holdouts among litigants who sued Cabot Oil & Gas. That was, of course, before the U.S. EPA came on scene and found the water was safe, leading to a collapse of the case.
It’s not unusual to find things like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and naphthalene at auto salvage yards, so the fact the tour had to go to one to make its case tells most of us what we need to know about this whole charade.
Interestingly, the Bloomberg story referenced above doesn’t describe this stop at all, except for a photo and to note FrackNation producer Phelim McAleer was there to question the busload of celebrities, who all avoided answering.
I wonder why? Probably because the tour was a spectacle, nothing more. It was carefully designed to gain some attention for the entertainers involved and to generate some stories sustaining the idea that natural gas development is still controversial in Pennsylvania and, therefore, should be avoided in New York. It was all about using entertainment to impact New York State energy policy.
Entertainment and energy policy did intersect in Dimock, at a junkyard, but the result wasn’t what the promoters wanted. No one paid attention to the caution signs and there was a predictable crash, one of credibility (whatever was left of the opponents’ case, that is).
The entertainers came off as shallow and self-obsessed (who knew?) as they drove off in their two Mercedes vehicles. The promoters (especially videographer Vera Scroggins) embarrassed themselves yet again. Even the reporters who were there simply shook their heads, doing the best they could to polish this junk into a story they likely wish their editors had assigned to someone else.
Back in Reality ….
So it goes here in the Marcellus Shale. The folks’ whose lives have been restored thanks to billions of dollars in new investment, who can pay their mortgages and even retire debt, are overlooked for the shiny object of anti-gas activism.
The facts remain here for anyone interested in finding them, and they are clear to see in every thriving restaurant or small company that has been able to keep its doors open and even expand thanks to increased business from shale development.
They all will tell you the claims of environmental ruin are about headlines, not reality. And that’s exactly what Yoko, her son, and the other attendees of this tour got, though not until after their luxury bus had run all over northeast Pennsylvania – and the truth.
Tom Shepstone, owner of Shepstone Management Company, is Campaign Director for the Northeast Marcellus Initiative, a grass roots effort promoting natural gas development in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York. A gas-region landowner himself, Shepstone has conducted numerous studies of property values in the two states, including analysis of the impacts of Marcellus Shale development on land prices.
His consultancy firm has advised many counties in both New York State and Pennsylvania on economic development strategies, especially as they relate to rural and agricultural areas of the two states, and he has appeared as an expert witness on these various matters in numerous county, state, and Federal courts.