Partnership 'on the fence' on gas drilling
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development was one of the first groups in the area to endorse gas drilling.
Some looked at that as alarmingly premature. Others saw a comforting reaffirmation.
Tim McCausland recognizes both sides, but he wasn’t president of the Partnership when that press release was issued.
Now he is, and while the Partnership plans to support responsible gas drilling in the area, it’s stayed out of the sometimes heated debates about the issue.
That’s perhaps due in part to a nearly 200-strong membership that not only spans the county but spans opinions on gas drilling. The Partnership also features a 28-member board. Together with past leadership, McCausland calls them the organization’s “collective consciousness.”
Here’s what has emerged from that consciousness:
Q: How do you define the Partnership’s stance on gas drilling in the community?
A: It’s really neutral at this point. It’s not really positive or negative. It’s for the most part neutral to this extent: there’s a big, big condition in front of it.
We as an organization in our mission statement… talk about the fact that the environment is important to the Partnership and the business leaders that are in this community because it’s obvious that we live in a beautiful place and we want to have that front-of-mind for everything that we do.
Our big, big, big condition in front of the whole gas drilling issue is that we are reasonably satisfied that the environmental issues/safeguards are in place to efficiently and safely and, with the least amount of impact, conduct gas drilling.
… We need to have a real comfort level that the DEC [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] and generally I do is capable of looking at these issues and making sure that every safeguard is in place before the fracking and the horizontal drilling takes place.
And once we are convinced that that’s the case, then I think we will support it on a measured, thoughtful approach that doesn’t negatively affect the county as a whole. That’s the last thing we want.
We’re not business advocates at all costs. We’re not; we never have been.
We need to have those kind of comforts before we say one way or the other. If, for example, it came out that… the DEC doesn’t have the capability or the laws aren’t in place to really truly make everybody be comfortable, then I don’t know how we would.
But there’s no doubt about the fact that the pipeline work… has been a big economic boost in the western part of the county as far as lodging, restaurants, and sundries.… And I can only imagine that those type of things would also be enhanced if there was widespread gas drilling within the county.
And then, of course, you get to the effect it would have on the landowners and residents and their income and net worth and their ability to spend in the county.
Because I know that there’s no local gas companies. They’re all out-of-state that are coming in. They do subcontract out for a lot of the work they do, especially at the drill site.
Once that work is done, the local impact of gas drilling does generally go away. Once they drill and leave and there’s just a wellhead there, there’s probably some maintenance involved, but it’s not like it’s anywhere near the capital infusion that it costs to drill in the first place.
… So we’re aware of all those things, and we’re still in the learning phase like everybody else really, trying to get a handle on what it’s all about.
Q: How do you handle disagreement within the Partnership regarding gas drilling?
A: Our organization is basically a democratically-run organization.… We try to adhere to parliamentary procedure… in our governance and in the way we operate.
… But, on the other hand, we have to stand for something. We’re an organization that’s devoted to a task, and that is business advocacy.
And then that’s where leadership comes from. When you have leaders that you’ve chosen, you have to rely on them whether it be your board of directors, your executive committee and your president to take a stand on things, and this is one of the things I’d like to take a position on, whether it be waving a flag or being cautious or whatever it happens to be.
We’re still learning, seeing how that goes. So you’re right: we won’t get 193 people to say, “We support gas drilling come hell or high water.” That’ll never happen, and I’d be afraid if it did happen.
We try to assess the general tenor of where we think our membership is, and then that obviously floats up to the board and to me, and so it comes that way.
Now what I’ve tried to do to address those concerns is I’ve reached out to the NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council]. ... I’m hoping that as I continue a dialogue with that organization I’ll get information from them as well.
Q: Have you taken any kind of membership poll or board vote regarding drilling?
A: No. There was no vote. There was no poll. We did discuss it at a board meeting.
… The press piece that came out was intended to highlight and kind of espouse what I just said before: we need to make sure the environmental issues are taken care of, and then it’s something we would tend to want to bring out and talk to people about.
It didn’t sound that way. It sounded like we were pro, pro, pro. So I think that was a little bit of a misread on our earlier position.
It was discussed, but it wasn’t voted on. The only thing that we’ve ever really taken a poll on, that I recall that we’ve sent out to membership and physically sought responses to, was the gambling issue several years ago.
Q: Any plans to do that with gas drilling?
A: Not at this point.
… It is a broad enough countywide issue even though it’s still kind of flavored in the western edge of the county that it is something the board wants to weigh in on.
… That has been made clear to me that it’s not my role really to take that kind of stand as opposed to, say, if I was supporting the location of a five-employee [business].
… The gas issue is something that would be a generational thing for people, so the board clearly wants to have a virtual consensus on how it’s approached.
See the conclusion of this interview in Friday’s edition.