Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dish, Texas mayor shares cautionary tale about natural gas drilling

By Jason Whong •
February 20, 2010

ELMIRA HEIGHTS -- Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish, Texas, says New York is in a unique position when it comes to getting natural gas.

"What I'm proposing is you look at the negative impacts we've had and do it better here," Tillman told a crowd that packed the Heights Theater on Saturday morning for his address.

Tillman says he does not oppose drilling for natural gas. Rather, he supports using gas production and distribution methods that have minimal environmental impact.

"We have air quality issues in Dish," Tillman said before the presentation. "There's a lot of things that can be put in place ... that would eliminate a lot of those problems."

Tillman said the older technology compressor stations in and around Dish, which compress natural gas and remove impurities for transport through pipelines, would pollute less if they were updated.


A recent environmental study of Dish shows excessive levels of benzene and other carcinogens and neurotixins in the air, as well as chemicals associated with natural gas production in the water.

Tillman told reporters what he would do with natural gas in Texas if he could do it all over again:

"I would probably do what New York's doing and I would frankly just slow things down quite a bit and think about things and make sure that everything was done in a responsible, respectful and safe manner," Tillman said.

"We did the 'ready, fire, aim.' We didn't take our time and look at the whole process."

Tillman had many suggestions for what New York and Pennsylvania might consider as gas exploration increases.

Tillman said New York and Pennsylvania are the only two of the 32 states that have had gas exploration but do not charge a severance tax -- which measures the gas and taxes it when it is brought above ground.

Tillman said such a tax could generate funds to pay for road maintenance and hire regulators to watch the industry. Gov. David Paterson proposed such a tax this year.

Tillman recommended strong environmental regulations that mandate the latest green technology in all aspects of drilling and transporting natural gas.

He said stricter regulations likely will not chase away the gas companies.

Tillman also recommended taking the power to permit drilling away from the state, favoring local decision-makers instead.

"The further you go up in government, the less attached officials are," Tillman said.

"Your local officials don't need to ask for (permitting authority); they need to demand it."


Noel Sylvester, 62, of Cameron Mills, who has a gas lease agreement with Fortuna Energy, said he wanted to hear about Tillman's experiences in person.

Sylvester said he doesn't oppose drilling for natural gas if it can be done cleanly.

"If we think there's going to be an impact in the next generation or two, there's something wrong with the process. It should be cleaner than that and better than that."

Sylvester said he makes about $500 a year from his gas lease.

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