Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin Runs Wall-to-Wall Coverage of Marcellus Drilling Debate

The Sunday, March 28 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Broome County, NY) devoted a number of pages to the issue of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The chief writer for the P&SB on these matters, Tom Wilbur, is anti-drilling, and it shows in his articles. As people on the anti-drilling side of the debate often do, they resort to unsubstantiated “facts” and vague nightmare scenarios. Today’s articles were no exception.

On the front page we have the following articles:

Marcellus Shale: Is it safe to drill?
An abridged (and mostly one-sided) history of the shale gas drilling debate in the Southern Tier region of New York and Northeastern PA. Wilbur identifies some of the issues being debated, with the obligatory mention of Dimock, PA and the the isolated (only?) case of a driller who didn’t follow procedure and methane (not chemicals, but natural gas) migrated into drinking water supplies for 12 families. Dimock is the rallying cry for many who oppose drilling. He ends the article with the vague threat that anti-drillers will tie up the right to drill with legal harassment for as long as they possibly can. I believe him on that one.

Landowners face fight over NYC watershed
Politicians in New York City are making political hay out of the prospect of drilling with statements that drilling anywhere in the Catskill watershed area must be prevented at all costs because if the water supply for NYC is contaminated, they would have to install filters costing into the billions. The politicians from NYC want horizontal drilling banned in New York State as a preventative measure. And they’re threatening to tie up drilling with lawsuits. No one wants to pollute the City’s water supply! And no one will. What’s conveniently left out of the story by Wilbur is the fact that there is only one company, Chesapeake Energy, with any leases signed in the watershed, and that’s for 5,000 acres. Oh, and Chesapeake voluntarily said they would not drill in the watershed.

On the inside pages, we have the following articles and sidebars:

Job projections vary widely
A short article about the types of jobs, and estimates on the numbers of jobs, that might find their way to Broome County if and when drilling begins. MDN points out that one of the experts quoted in the article, Larry Michael from the Pennsylvania College of Technology, has developed a formula that is quite accurate in this regard. According to a study co-authored by Michael, every well drilled results in 12 full-time jobs. That means if, on the low end, 2,000 wells are drilled in Broome County, NY, that would mean 24,000 new jobs. And if the number swells to 4,000 wells, that’s 48,000 new jobs. An independent study commissioned by Broome County last year estimates no fewer than 16,000 new jobs would be created. By anyone’s estimations, when drilling starts, there will be a lot of jobs to fill. No wonder Barbara Fiala, Broome County Executive (and a Democrat, surprisingly), is pro-drilling.

Tompkins sees drilling in far different light
Dominated by two large colleges (Ithaca College and Cornell University), Tomkins County, NY officials are anti-drilling. No surprise given their constituents. This short article explains their opposition.

Key Players (PDF file)
A roundup of 24 Southern Tier area “movers and shakers” who are influencing the debate about drilling in the Marcellus. It tells who they are, what their viewpoint on drilling is and their predictions about the future of drilling in New York State.

Finally, on the op-ed page we are treated to two “viewpoint” articles by two different professors, one anti-driling, the other pro-drilling. The anti-drilling prof uses the same worn-out rhetoric and scare tactics with no supporting facts, and the pro-drilling prof is armed to the teeth with facts and figures and proof of the safety of drilling. It’s one of the best contrasts I’ve seen between the two sides of this debate. You really owe it to yourself to read both of these articles.

Gas and drilling not clean choices
Robert Howarth is a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University in Ithaca. He opens his article with the view that natural gas is not as “clean” as everyone says it is. Worse even than carbon dioxide according to Prof Howarth. (Carbon dioxide, you may recall from elementary school, is the stuff you exhale every time you breathe.) He talks about truck traffic, chemicals going in to the ground, and many legitimate issues people are concerned about. But he truly discredits himself with his closing remarks, which include this: “We can be independent of fossil fuels within 20 years and rely on renewable green technologies, such as wind and solar. The constraints on this are mostly political, not technical.” Yes—political—as in, if the politicians would force us back to the stone ages and eliminate all automobiles, we wouldn’t need to use all that energy. That’s the only way any modern society on planet earth will not be using fossil fuels for at least the next 50-100 years. I haven’t heard a whopper this big since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth slide show.

Unfounded fears obscure facts
Donald Siegel, professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University, in sharp contrast to Professor Howarth, actually uses science and facts, not innuendo and emotion. He talks about the water needed to frack a well, the chemicals, the flowback, radioactive shale cuttings and more. This article is a keeper. In particular, I want to highlight his remarks on drilling and risk. He says this: “Nobody wants well failures or locally spilled chemicals, and these incidents need to be minimized. However, no industry has ever been held to the standard of being perfectly risk-free, be it bridge building or road paving. Neither should the hydro-carbon industry.” Well said Professor Siegel.

  • Robert Howarth

    As a research scientist, I regularly base my logic on detailed fact, either from my own research or from those of other respected scientists. When writing an guest opinion piece, such as the one criticized above, I would expect most readers to understand there is little room for providing the supporting details. For those truly interested in energy futures, though, I very strongly recommend that you read the great article that came out in Scientific American last fall by Jacobson & Delucchi entitled “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” volume 301, pages 58-65. This was intended for an intelligent lay audience. There are also many technical papers and reports that support the view, by these authors and others. The take-home message: We can indeed gain energy independence in 20 years if we have the political will.

  • Jim

    Thank you for commenting Prof. Howarth. I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. I will be sure to look up that article and read it.


  • Will Stewart

    “That’s the only way any modern society on planet earth will not be using fossil fuels for at least the next 50-100 years. I haven’t heard a whopper this big since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth slide show.”

    You may not be aware of the tools we have at our disposal, the amount of energy we currently waste, and the steps we can take to reduce said waste.

    As an electro-mechanical engineer, I designed my home to be passive solar, very well insulated, and powered by solar PV. For those days when the sun doesn’t shine, I purchase my electricity through a 100% renewable energy option. I carpool to work in my 68mpg Honda Insight, so in effect achieve close to 130+mpg.

    Interstate freight transport could easily be shifted to electrified trains (as portions once were).

    So it would be easy to come close to fully powering our needs via renewable energy by 2020.

    And there was, in actuality, very little in An Inconvenient Truth that wasn’t spot on. I’d be happy to debunk the rest if you really believe what you say.

    The link to a related Scientific American article is at

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