Note: Following piece adapted from remarks made at Town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York meeting on August 27.
I feel badly for the Bethel Town Board members, you are confronted with a mess. Environmental zealots, natural gas advocates, second home owners, farmers, the unemployed and others are all tugging at you to take a position. Some tell you natural gas development will destroy the environment, and others tell you it is safe. What do you do? Do you count the votes to see which side will reelect you and go with that group, or do you weigh what is best for the entire town, county, state and nation?
There is no doubt you have a fiduciary responsibility to the Town and you are required to follow local, state and federal laws. If you knowingly act above these laws you can be held personally liable. Bethel is financially strapped. Where will the money come from to repair the roads? Where are the jobs the residents so desperately need? Will it come from those opposing natural gas development or will it come from the gas companies?
White Lake rocks on weekends from June through September, but the rest of the county is dying. Seventy-one percent of the jobs associated with natural gas development in Pennsylvania are held by local people. Would this not benefit Bethel?
Do not act hastily to ban natural gas development. See how litigation is going elsewhere and how it proceeds in the future. Prudence will save the Town a great deal of money, while showing fiduciary responsibility. You are receiving frightening information from those staunchly opposed to natural gas. You are also getting legal advice from groups who oppose it. Seek independent sources. How is it that when New York State DEC Commissioner Martens clearly states drilling is safe if overseen properly, the environmentalists do not accept his word? When he was President of The Open Space Institute and helped form The Catskill Mountainkeeper his word was gospel.
Look at the national picture. Environmental groups have fought to ban windmills in Maine, gas drilling in New York, oil drilling in Montana, desalinization plants in San Diego and turbines off the coast of Florida, and that is just a very small snapshot of their activities. Millions of jobs have been sacrificed and billions of dollars in tax monies denied our states and federal government.
Are these anti-American activities? Is any money being funneled to these groups from outside of the U.S.? There are environmental groups all across our nation fighting to protect the environment, or is there something more serious going on? How long can our nation continue when environmental zealots continually ban the recovery of our natural resources?
Wake up America! There needs to be a balance between saving the environment and seeing to it that our people have jobs and can save their homes as well as their dignity. I strongly believe we can protect the environment and secure our natural resources. We can do it for Bethel. We can do it for our country.
Local environmental groups are well staffed and well paid. They spread fear with partial truths. They know full well that the water faucets in Dimock, Pennsylvania and elsewhere were being lit on fire twenty five years ago but paint it as if it was caused by recent natural gas exploration. They claimed the discharge of millions of gallons of pollution into a Pennsylvania river was caused by natural gas activities when it was proven to be a coal mining incident. Methane gas has been leaching out of the ground in the Dimock area for centuries, yet water wells there are supposedly suddenly contaminated because of drilling.
Environmental groups and their staffs (big time money) have been making real money from natural gas, as every piece of fright e-mail they send has a plea for donations. “Hats off to them” – they have scared the tar out of people. That’s their job! Where will they work when natural gas development becomes a reality?
If a ban is instituted in Bethel lawsuits will follow. The Rural Bethel Coalition won’t be the one doing it as we do solicit for donations to maintain our staff – we’re volunteers. No, the lawsuits will come from groups we have been in contact with who have fought this fight before. There is a better than average chance Bethel will lose. The Town says it has access to “free” legal advice from the Community Environmental Defense Council, but even if these Park Foundation funded attorneys work “pro bono” it may well cost the Town and its board members a staggering amount of money. This is what I mean by fiduciary responsibility.
A great deal of time will be spent on litigation forcing more local people to lose their homes. It will benefit second home and large land buyers such as the Open Space Institute who will scoff-up cheap properties and development rights with no thought to the heartbreak related to their purchase. With no children in these homes, it will result in further decline in enrollments at our area schools. People just cannot remain in Bethel without employment and the environmental groups know that. Is this part of the game?
The Bethel Board is on notice that a ban is illegal and the wheels will be turning. I just do not understand why we cannot solve this situation in a manner that is as reasonable as possible for all concerned. There will never be natural gas exploration in Smallwood, Chapin Estates, around White Lake, Bethel Woods or on anyone’s property who does not want it. Sixty-five percent of the properties are required in a 640 acre drilling unit, for exploration to be permitted. Why can’t the rest of the Bethel residents decide what they want to do with their land? I say to those who oppose natural gas “fine, don’t do it on your land, but don’t tread on our rights!”