Group takes no stand on gas drilling
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Tim McCausland is actively monitoring the potential for gas drilling in the area.
Here is the continuation of his comments from the Q&A that began in this past Tuesday’s issue:
Q: Do you regret the publication of the press release about gas drilling?
A: No, I don’t regret it. I can’t regret things like that because there’s no sense in it.
What I’m glad about is that it’s clear that we are looking at it. The Partnership came out as an organization that was seriously and we are seriously looking at the issue.
And I don’t think it surprised many people that the tone was such that we supported gas drilling.
... It hasn’t complicated anything. And that was a different person at the helm, too. The intended message may be the same, but the message that comes through, from my perspective sitting here today, should be that we are looking at it openly, honestly, with an idea that it would be an economic benefit if done the right way ... aesthetically, environmentally and all the rest.
Q: Has the membership been talking to you about it, or is it more of a board discussion at this point?
A: More of a board discussion, and members do chime in every once in a while.
... Frankly, with the price of natural gas going down so much in the last two-three months, that activity has decreased a little bit because I think the activity has generally decreased a little bit out there with Chesapeake pulling out for the most part or announcing that they’re going to pull out.
... It has quieted down a bit. I don’t think it will for long, because we’re entering a heating season, and prices probably will go up, and that will create more buzz.
Q: Does this remind you of the time 30 years ago when gas leases were being signed in the area?
A: I wasn’t old enough to experience what it was like in the ’70s when they ran around and were getting gas leases in the county.
I don’t think it was anything near what they were doing now, only because the technology ... wasn’t in place and the sophistication level of people wasn’t as great with regard to this, I don’t think. You didn’t have the Internet, and it just wasn’t on people’s minds.
Q: But you feel this time is different?
A: Yes. ... It is, as you’ve seen a million times, the perfect storm. You have the Marcellus Shale underneath, and you have the [Millennium] pipeline being expanded over in the Delaware corridor.
Now it’s curious, because if that pipeline weren’t there, would we have this activity? I don’t know probably not, because you have to be pretty near a pipeline to get the gas [to market].
... It’s an interesting time. But price will have everything to do with it.
I know that out in the West, out in the Rockies, you can’t give natural gas away, it’s so cheap, because they have an oversupply.
... For a while they were paying people to take it because they had to get rid of the supply.
... I know there’s a pipeline from the Rockies coming east. Last I read, it should be in Ohio by next year [or] 2010. What if that pipeline keeps coming east? I don’t know. I don’t know how that affects the inclination to drill in something that’s never really been proven to be a “gusher,” as it were.
Q: What does the Partnership think will be the disadvantages of gas drilling in the area?
A: The concerns obviously are the environmental impact. That could be generational in nature and expense-wise, beyond what anybody could imagine if the water tables were affected negatively.
Infrastructure damage the and need to pay for having upgraded roads [are also concerns]. Even telecommunications, underground and overhead, could be affected the cost to repair them or upgrade them, if need be, without contribution from the gas companies.
Tax assessments [could be] so high that people, even if they get gas royalties, may not be able to afford or want to pay that.
... And then the aesthetics, beyond the environmental. Huge swaths of forest and mountaintops being carved out not so much for the well site ... but getting from that well site to the pipeline, you have to lay pipe in the ground. ... That could be an ugly-looking thing.
And then the truck traffic obviously would be something that would affect quality of life.
Q: And the positives?
A: Talk about tax assessment towns would have money in their coffers to do things, maybe enough where it’s not just fixing the roads to support the well drilling but maybe to build better municipal infrastructure: roads [in] other places that have been neglected for a long time, municipal buildings, municipal common areas, parks, schools, things that have not really had attention for a long time and deferred maintenance issues that towns ... have struggled with over the years.
There may be ways to exact licensing or franchise payments out of the gas companies to help pay for some of these things.
... Others, of course, are the straight-to-pocketbook income increases that will come to some of the people who are lucky enough to have gas under their property and get the royalty payments and can pay off debt and do things that they wanted to do in life. That could be a wonderful thing for people.
And then the economic impact it would have indirectly to all the people that would be working here during that timeframe and the stores that they would frequent and the meals they would buy and maybe the houses they would buy and the like.
It’s really just a matter of saying, “OK, we’re going to throw a lot of dollars into a community, and where does it all go? It’s going to go for all the things you need to live, and people who are in those businesses are going to benefit.”
Q: And what role does the Partnership play in all this?
A: First and foremost, I think it would be education. I’ve reached out to some of the trade organizations that are involved in gas drilling to get information. Some are more forthcoming with it than others.
I’ve spoken to equivalent people in other areas of the country that have faced the same thing. For example, I spoke to the president of the Lycoming/ Williamsport Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania, and they’ve seen a significant amount of drilling in their area [for the past four years].
And by his account, he sees it as a net positive, a real net positive ... a big net positive. ... And I asked him to share with me, and I do have some of the economic impact reports ... that show it as a real positive economic impact.
Again, you can do a study to look any way you want, but here’s somebody who’s in a business advocacy position like myself, and from experience he says it’s been a positive.
... So I think my job is to let people know that other people have experienced positives.
... I know people who come from out West, and I think it is a different issue, it’s just a different extraction method, it’s a different product, it’s a little different than the people who have been here.
But I have no problem letting people know about the real negatives that come about or have occurred other places.
I’m not one to really predict what can happen I’d rather get real-life stories from people and see how things have gone, an apples-to-apples look at it than to get just anybody who had a bad experience to come out and say, “It’s bad, bad, bad don’t even think about it.” Because I don’t think that’s helpful.
We would seek to if the time is right, and the prospect is right and the climate is right support ... an organization like we do others that come to us and ask for help with planning boards, town boards, PR [public relations], as a clearinghouse for learning who’s the best ... able to help us, the company, wade through the process of doing business in the county.
... It’s like a referral clearinghouse, and that’s why people are members of this organization.
... I look at the Partnership as an investment banker without money. Our job is to go out, source deals, find deals, keep the momentum going, keep all the parties talking to each other, make sure that it all makes sense, and then close the deal.
For more information on the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, log on to www.scpartnership.com or call 794-1110.