Dan Hust | Democrat
NELSON HECTOR, FIFTH generation dairy farmy and head of the Sullivan County Farm Bureau.
Farmer wants drilling - just
not on his land
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.
For five generations, the Hector family has been raising dairy cattle, and Nelson and Susan Hector both graduates of SUNY Delhi’s ag school continue that proud tradition with daughter Trina, 21.
Nelson, who serves as president of the Sullivan County Farm Bureau, owns 166 acres of hilltops and valleys and rents another 200, all in the vicinity of White Sulphur Springs.
He represents a rarely-voiced but perhaps not-so-unique viewpoint: go ahead and drill, just not on my land. Nevertheless, his farm is a member of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, which is seeking to obtain gas leases for more than 67,000 acres.
Here’s his way of putting it:
Q: What do you think of gas drilling coming to the area?
A: As a general rule, I would have to say I think I’m for it in that the nation itself, we need to seek energy independence somehow, and I think that’s a step towards doing it. So I guess in that respect I would say that I was for it.
To get specific, the way I kind of look at it ... (and it’s especially pertinent, I guess, in this instance with the horizontal drilling aspect of it) coupled with the farmland preservation thing that we’re trying to get worked out is a no-surface disturbance clause.
And what that means is that we could lease to a gas company, and they could essentially pull the gas out from underneath us horizontally, but if we would go with this farmland preservation thing, they couldn’t actively drill here.
And I guess, to put it bluntly and maybe I’m not being fair… I welcome the influx of capital, but I would just as soon not have the drilling rig here.
If they want to drill on my neighbor’s [land] and suck the gas out from underneath and give me the royalties and the whole deal, that’s fine, but I would prefer not to have a drilling rig right here next door.
But having said that, certainly I’m not against it. I’m not saying I’m just gung-ho for it particularly either, but I do think New York State maybe is almost a little ahead of the curve.… The DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] and so on maybe is a little more on top of it than Pennsylvania or where they seem to have taken off quicker.
Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re not right on the forefront of it, I guess. It’s given them a little bit of time maybe to attempt to get their ducks in a row, so to speak.
... I think, done correctly and overseen correctly and everything else, I think it could be a good thing.
If you want to talk locally, it could be a good thing for the local economy, really.
There’s going to be pros and cons, and I know the argument like the town roads, the truck traffic to a drill site and everything and the effects it could have. I understand that, and I agree with some of those problems… we’ve got to iron [them] out a little bit.
Q: So there are concerns you feel that need to be addressed?
A: Oh yeah. I think that anybody that gives it a hint of thought, there’s got to be some things that have to be worked out. You can’t just go willy-nilly ahead and devil-may-care, so to speak. You can’t go down that route.
There’s definitely some things that need to be worked out and done correctly… but I have no doubt it can be done that way.
Q: And are you confident it will be done that way?
A: Yeah, I am. I really think it will be. Time will tell.
... We don’t live in a perfect world. As much as we like to hope that it is, it’s not. Is this whole thing going to be perfect? No, but I think if we kind of go at it correctly, I think it can all be done correctly and come out to benefit everyone.
… If it is done right, I think it could be a win-win for everyone, not just me, not just the gas company.
Q: Have you been approached to lease your land?
A: There was one gas landman ... that did stop here. I think it was more of a fishing expedition, actually. He didn’t mention any numbers. He just kind of wanted to know if anybody else had stopped.… This was several months ago, and we haven’t seen anything since.
... The big talk now is that the gas companies have all pulled out ... but I think that’s part of their game.
... Of course, the economy might have a little something to do with that as well.
Q: Should you be approached, would you be willing to allow drill rigs on your land?
A: I got to be honest there. I’m not against it, but I guess if push came to shove, maybe I would do it. I guess I would prefer not to have it drilled here.
Q: Why would you prefer not to have them drill on your property?
A: I don’t know that I can specifically put my finger on one specific point of why I definitely wouldn’t want it that way other than, with the PDR [Purchase of Development Rights, which is part of the farmland preservation program] ... that’s kind of a stipulation of that. This non-surface disturbance clause would [have to] be part of a gas lease.
And I guess I never had really thought that much about it till we got talking about it at greater length ... and then it just kind of got me thinking a little more about maybe I wouldn’t necessarily want them to be actively drilling right there.
Q: What if they wanted to drill in a far corner of your property?
A: I guess ... it would depend on where that far corner was located. If it was in the back corner someplace that wasn’t going to bother me particularly, I don’t know that I would be gravely opposed to it.
... In this instance, it gets kind of hard to keep straddling the fence, if you will, in that you don’t want to go too far to jeopardize this [farmland preservation grant] and you don’t want to go too far to jeopardize the possibilities of that [gas drilling] either.
The bottom line is, this farm is no different than any other farm in Sullivan County or anywhere else: we could use an influx of capital.
... I’ve got some neighbors ... who say to me, “Nelson, what difference does it make? If they’re going to find gas, let them drill in the middle of the barn! Who cares?”
I guess if I’m concerned with preserving the farm and the farmland and I don’t want to see it developed I don’t want to see a housing development on these fields then you probably have to look at that from the standpoint also that you need to step back maybe just a half a step from the gas drilling issue and say, “Well, I’m not against it, but maybe we need to proceed a little bit cautiously to protect things.”
Q: So what do you think of the DEC further regulating the gas industry?
A: They have been known to go too far with things, but having said that, they do certainly serve a necessary [purpose]. They’re good.
There are times that maybe things get overstepped a little bit [by the gas industry] and go too far I’m not going to argue that point.
Does it need to be overregulated? No, but I do think it needs to be paid enough attention to so that things remain protected. It seems like that has been taking place like in the Southern Tier and the western part of the state where they have been drilling.
It seems to have been successfully done, and there hasn’t been any grievous problems. It seems to have went along well, and everybody seems to be happy.
Q: Have any of your neighbors been approached for leasing, other than farmers?
A: Not that I know of.
... I don’t want to do this necessarily at the expense of my neighbors.
It’s no different, in a sense, than like spreading manure. I try to be the best neighbor that I can possibly be. I would hope my neighbors would, if they’re going to have a party or something, please call me, and I’ll work around it.
I just feel like we’re all in this together … and I think we kind of need to address it that way.
Next week: chatting with farmer (and Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association co-founder) Bill Graby