Dan Hust | Democrat
HOLSTEINS GRAZE IN Stefan and Cindy Geiger's bucolic Jeffersonville field during the last warm days of the fall.
Jeffersonville farm family hopes drilling doesn't come
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY It’s easy to believe Sullivan County’s farmers land-rich and cash-poor are monolithic in their support of gas drilling.
It’s also wrong.
Judging by a representative sample of dairy farmers in the region, the opinions are all over the cow pasture. Just like those who aren’t working the fields 24/7, these men and women hold a variety of beliefs on whether drilling for natural gas will be a boon or bane to the area.
And since they own thousands of acres throughout the county, their opinions certainly count as gas drilling draws ever closer.
Stefan and Cindy Gieger run a 130-acre dairy farm near Jeffersonville, with another 100 acres leased from neighbors.
After graduating from SUNY Delhi, Stefan plied the family farm with his dad, taking it over 14 years ago. And he’s not about to give up even an acre to a gas driller.
Q: What keeps you farming when so many others have not?
SG: I enjoy the work, and I enjoy the family life. I have four children three boys and a girl and they all work with me on the farm. ... They do quite a job helping me out.
Q: So are you leasing your land for gas drilling or have been approached to do so?
SG: We weren’t approached, and we’re not leasing, and we’re not interested.
I think what’s foremost in my mind is this is our private property, and we value that greatly. I think if we had signed a lease, that would turn our property over to someone else’s hands for the time of the lease.
We have four children that use our farm property and walk around it, and we hunt and we use it. ... I just wouldn’t want another company working on it and there are people on the property that I don’t know who they are or what their backgrounds are.
And then I also got a farming operation going on. ... They’d pick out probably the easiest place to go into the ground, and that would be probably right where we’re doing our farming, and this could tie up our land for years. That’s our occupation. That’s what we’re focused on, and we’re not interested in working around somebody with some other project.
... That’s I think probably, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest thing that I don’t want to be bothered with: somebody else on my land, not knowing what they’re going to be capable of doing to my property. I just don’t know, no matter how much they would tell me, if [what they promise] is what happens.
... The issue about water quality is a big deal on the farm. We use thousands of gallons a day for watering our animals. ... If that happened to be disturbed or ruined, I’d be out of business.
They’ve got to go through the water table to get to this gas. Now maybe they can do it without disturbing it, but I’m not willing to take a chance.
And then the issue of the chemicals I’ve heard of them using I don’t know much about it, but there again, Cindy and I are not willing to take a chance. We’ve got real good water here. It tastes real good, and we have to be concerned about that. So we’re not willing to compromise on chemicals being on our property like that.
CG: Even stored. If they’re going to store it in open ponds of water, it’s chemically treated. It could evaporate and rain down on us.
... As a farm, he can’t store even animal medications here without having them locked up.
We’re chemical conscious, and that disturbs us, too.
SG: I don’t like the thought of it, even a tank or open pit of water. I don’t like the idea of that on the property with the animals.
... We use [chemicals] just where we think it’s absolutely necessary.
... And we’re also looking a little bit more towards renewable energy. We’re going to put the solar panels up on the barn [as part of a state pilot program].
CG: ... We don’t want the money from the natural gas drilling to be an issue for us. A lot of people look at the money and say, “We don’t care, as long as they pay us the money!” But we’re looking at it more environmentally consciously and saying, “If we use the solar system, there’s no chemicals involved, there’s no harm to the environment whatsoever and [it] can reduce our costs on the farm that way. We don’t have to be so dependent on natural gas money.”
SG: And then I hear the talk about if you were to lease your property, that you better get a lawyer and look this over.
And I think that right there means a big “no.” I’m not going to get involved in getting a lawyer to look something over that I don’t understand anything about [only] to get myself involved in something I don’t know about.
It’s just another big question mark that’s not worth it.
Q: How have you reached these conclusions?
SG: Mostly by what I’ve read. We have some friends that are pretty knowledgeable about it.
Nobody’s convinced me that it’s perfectly safe.
Q: Are you worried then about gas drilling coming to the rest of the community?
SG: I would rather not see it. I am concerned about the pollution and definitely the trucks on the roads.
... Everybody’s got private property. Their issues about having people on their own properties, that’s their problem.
... [But] I have a feeling I can’t protect my own water on my 130 acres by refusing to lease my land, ‘cause if the nearby neighbors would be leasing it, chances are the water table could be changed.
I don’t know. It’s an unknown.
Q: Do you have any neighbors planning to lease?
SG: I don’t know of anybody that’s leased in this area.
... We know of people who’ve leased, but not in the Jeffersonville area.
Q: Are you heartened by the state’s increased focus on regulating the gas drilling industry environmentally?
SG: I think we’ve talked to the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] person one time, and our answer was very disturbing.
CG: It was scary very hands-off.
SG: It didn’t settle our minds one bit.
Now they’re talking about maybe reviewing the regulations, but I’m not too excited about them coming to help us out.
Q: So do you think there is any solution to this that could help allay your concerns?
SG: We can only protect our own land by not leasing. But if it comes into the county and we’re surrounded by it, the water quality is going to be the one that’s going to be our great concern, because all the other issues I have with it, I won’t have to deal with.
Q: Do you think these concerns are shared in the community?
CG: We’ve talked to both sides. It seems like the reason why the natural gas companies came in with the dollar signs was to get the people to sign on, because I believe most people can be bought.
If you look at most of the names of the people in the paper that signed on the leases, a lot of them were from out of the area, so they were doing it in somebody else’s backyard.
We have to live here. We don’t plan on moving out we want to stay.
And like Stefan said, we realize that we have to do something. We can’t be dependent on this foreign oil.
We realize that it’s coming, but that’s why we got involved with this solar project, because it seems so much safer for our future environment.
... My brother has MS [Multiple Sclerosis] in the Township of Liberty. He lived there most of his life. An autoimmune disease is in the Township of Liberty, and they call it “an environmental pocket area.”
My brother went to six different MS research centers, and when they saw his address, they said, “Not another case of autoimmune in Sullivan County!”
... Well, guess what Liberty has? MTBE [a now-banned gasoline additive that leached years ago into Liberty’s municipal drinking water system].
... So I know all about that chemical exposure, and if they tell us that the chemicals are safe or that they’re going to bring in their own water and take it out, I don’t trust it.