EARTHWORKS

DISH, Texas Mayor's message to drilling-impacted communities of the Marcellus Shale

Alan Septoff's avatar
By Alan Septoff

February 24, 2010

Because of his experience exposing the industry's malfeasance, and the public health impacts associated with it (and his success in moving state government to respond),  DISH, Texas Mayor Calvin Tillman was invited up to the Marcellus region in New York and Pennsylvania to share his wisdom -- and to get to know the experiences of other gas industry impacted communities.

After a week "up north" he wrote the following message:

My new friends in the Marcellus,

As I return from almost a full week touring the Marcellus, I reflect on all the people I met for the first time.  Many of these people had spoke via phone or email with me on several occasions; however, most had never met me in person.  These folks welcomed me into their homes as though I was a lifelong friend or family member, not a complete stranger, who lived thousands of miles away.  I was impressed with the genuine values that my new friends possessed.  I could not begin to try to thank everyone individually, so I will just say thank you to everyone I met on this trip.

Although I was invited, and a few worked extremely hard coordinating my packed schedule, this really was a vacation for me.  My new friends just gave me a reason to see this new land, like I had not seen it before.  It had been burning inside of me to see how other gas shale plays were being accepted, and if the companies acted better there than they did here in DISH, TX.  Although, I spoke at a dozen events during this tour, meeting new people and sharing their experiences was the real joy.

It was purely amazing at how many people traveled across snow-packed roads, and got up early on Saturday morning to let me share our story.  Also, there were dozens of public officials who opened their minds to listen to me speak.  During five days of speaking, almost 2,000 people came to hear the story of DISH, TX.  What further amazed me was that no matter where the event, the seats were full.  Whether, the church in Oneonta, school in Downsville, or the movie theater in Elmira, the seats were pretty much full, all the way until my last talk in Callicoon, that was standing room only.  It amazes me, that this many people came to share our stories.  The crowds continued to grow, and I reached almost 1,000 people on Saturday alone.

What was even more amazing was that even those who did not share my views were respectful and courteous.  Some of my friends in the industry had went to great lengths to create a hostile environment for me in the Marcellus, and that simple did not happen.  Even those who asked the hard questions, which I welcomed, were respectful.

I was further impressed by the convictions of my new friends to their cause.  Many had turned down the opportunity for vast fortunes, and chose not to climb into to bed with the energy company landman.  When approached with these prospects, they simply said "no".  I am not sure that I have ever met such a large group of unselfish people in my life.  Willing to forgo money to hang on to their way of life.  I am not sure how to describe the respect I now have for my new friends.

My main purpose for this trip was to let people know that there was more to natural gas exploration than a signing bonus, and a monthly royalty check.  It had been my hope to allow folks to make a decision with their eyes wide open, not their eyes wide shut.  I think there were many that began to think about this for the first time after listening to the story of the town that was sacrificed for the good of the shale.  There are some that will never listen, and only look for the one thing that can give them a reason to say "it won't happen here".  For those, it would not have mattered what I would have said, their minds would not be clouded with the facts, it was already made up.

Another reason for wanting to take this tour, was to see for my own eyes how others were being affected by the shale boom.  I have been trying to get stricter regulations here in TX and urged my new friends in the Marcellus to pursue the same.  If this extraction of natural gas is going to take place, it must be tightly regulated.  

However, some of my new friends don't believe that it is possible to perform this safely, even with the tightest regulations.  After visiting Dimock, PA, it was hard to argue with their logic.  I got to meet the lady whose water well exploded, and tears filled my eyes when I heard the story told by another lady whose children would get sick after drinking the water from their once clean water well.  I saw the tainted water from another poisoned well, and frankly, was not prepared for the emotions felt when we delivered fresh water to a family that had been refused this right by the drilling company.  Some were getting water delivered by the company who poisoned the water, but a few were denied one of the simple rights that we should all expect as hard working Americans.  Cabot Oil and Gas, has essentially turned this small neighborhood into a third world country, and won't even show those they are poisoning the courtesy of delivering water to them.  These families would have surely been better off, if the shale had passed them by.

In DISH we have dealt with the air toxins, but unfortunately we have not given the water much thought.  There certainly have been issues with water here in the Barnett Shale, but nothing like water wells exploding.  However, that does not mean that we do not have water quality issues, it just means we don't know it if we do.  

No one knew six months ago that we had toxic levels of chemicals in the air surrounding several natural gas wells and production facilities, and therefore, we should think about our water here as well.  This trip made me think about issues that I not previously thought about, and that was the greatest gift I received.

I have never been to a place where I received such a warm reception, and on some days I was passed through several people.  By the end of the week, you would have thought, I had lived there my entire life.  I even got to see the local hero Josh Fox, who put me in his now famous documentary GasLand.  Some even went as far as to declare that I had been adopted as their own mayor.  And though I missed my family something terrible, I was saddened to have to leave such a clean and beautiful place, and return to the dirty ole town.  I can now see why my new friends want to maintain their clean air and clean water, and I hope to help them do it.  

I am glad to announce that I will be returning to the Marcellus Shale in April, to complete my tour, and see my new friends again.  Thanks again for accepting that crazy mayor from Texas into you homes and lives.  I hope it was a good for you as it was for me.  Please post this on your blogs or pass on to your mailing groups.

Calvin Tillman
Mayor, DISH, TX

"Those who say it can not be done, should get out of the way of those that are doing it"

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Tagged with: texas, mayor tillman, marcellus shale, dish

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