On Dec. 12, 2013 the Avon Town Board held a public meeting on the new proposed moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The basis of the new moratorium was the Avon Moratorium Committee’s research and subsequent reporting of irrefutable facts. The true facts clearly demonstrate the very real and negative safety, health and community welfare risks that occur wherever the various hydraulic fracturing activities take place. The intent of the new moratorium is to restrict any new, non-existing oil and gas operations from occurring in the town for a one-year period. This gives the town time to review its Comprehensive Plan and make appropriate changes, if needed, “to protect the safety, health and welfare of the community” — the primary duty and obligation of your elected town representatives.
The heart of this meeting was to get town and village residents’ input on whether or not to move forward with enacting the new moratorium. While residents’ comments resulted in the vast majority of visitor attendees supporting the new moratorium, something else in every sense happened.
What took place was a well orchestrated seizure of the meeting by two industry representatives. Not being able to refute the facts, the industry folks got right down to business in rolling out their strategy for impeding citizen participation — a strategy that is now well documented as having been prepared for the industry by a global security risk consulting firm. The playbook is huge and holds many tools.
The first tool used was ‘when you can’t refute facts attack the message.’ John Holko of Lenape Resources spoke and stated that natural gas is the best anti-poverty program going and read an article on how retrofitting city buses to use natural gas helps the poor. He followed that up by saying that essentially if you are against natural gas then you are for poverty. Well that didn’t fly with the vast majority of local residents, so John Holko and Bob Weir, another industry rep, went right to work in interfering with others as they tried to speak and used other antics intended to disrupt the meeting.
Yet, most important to their strategy was to attack the town’s attorney in order to sow confusion — intimidation right out of the playbook. In this respect they feigned ignorance of what some words in a short paragraph in the new proposed moratorium meant. They have lawyers and this was not a meeting for them to attempt to ‘litigate’ their perspective. The paragraph in question is not confusing. It is the basis of allowing the industry to continue to operate existing wells under current permit conditions in effect at the time the moratorium becomes official. It disallows a new permit to drill, deepen, plug back or convert a well, to dump their (or Pennsylvania’s) hydraulic fracturing waste in Avon and any of the other non-drilling infrastructure. Essentially it does not allow expansion of operations, but at the same time it does allow John Holko to perform work that he can do under his current permit conditions to continue production from his wells. This was the intent of the new one-year moratorium that a majority of the Town Board members agreed to move forward.
At this juncture, Councilman Steen interjected that he believed the board needed a second opinion on the town attorney’s interpretation. This was followed by board members’ discussion and ultimately agreement, in one way or another, not to move forward with a vote. With no vote taken, John Holko was given a potential opportunity to insert his ‘wants’ into the language of the new proposed moratorium and to potentially apply for and be granted new permits.
As one local commenter at the meeting said, “Think about it.” That’s what I am asking the citizens of Avon to do. Think about how easily a corporation was able to change a meeting meant for Avon citizens into a referendum on it and its business. Think about how this stole your rights and expectations of “safety, health and welfare” that the Town Board is obligated to protect. Think about how the business of hydraulic fracturing could render the agricultural economic engine of Avon useless when farmers’ water sources are contaminated with methane and hazardous and toxic chemicals. Think about the disdain the industry reps demonstrated for anything but their business. Think about NY State’s signing off last Friday on closing the Akzo brine plant. Think about this statement by Chevron CEO John Watson, “Oil and gas producers must deal with the legitimate concerns that hydraulic fracturing is unsafe.” Think about have you had enough already with corporations telling you to get out of their way? And if you have please write, call, or email your town representatives, sign a petition if its presented to you, stop in at the town hall and ask, no demand, that your concerns be put ahead of a corporation’s, attend the next public meeting on Dec. 30th, print and give this to your family and friends so they can do the same. Time is precious as the holidays approach but please do whatever you can to……….
Stand up tall and strong for this wonderful community!
Chuck Morgan – Avon, NY