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The Catskills Gas Rush


Environmental groups have called for a ban on gas collection until these matters are resolved. Three New York townships have adopted formal moratoria, joined by a vocal group of landowners who find the very idea of gas drilling horrifying. Some are gearing up to battle Big Gas. “I hope to God we can stop this,” says the journalist Jan Goodwin. She bought her weekend home not far from Callicoon in 1982 and was recently planning to leave Manhattan altogether for her wooded retreat. Now those plans are on hold. “We didn’t know about this till January, but the landmen were in there stealthily meeting in bars and cafés with farmers and waving around very large checks. They have no options, and they see this as manna from heaven.”

But others aren’t hungry for the warfare. The artist Christy Rupp, who lives in Bovina, is a veteran of the wind-turbine wars. “I’m not sure we have the energy to do it again,” she said recently as she left a landowners meeting in Delhi, the Delaware County seat. “I think I’m screwed.” Inside, most of the 250 in attendance appeared to welcome the new economic opportunity. In their notebooks, people calculated their potential windfalls. An older woman in the audience wanted to know how she could fast-track her payments. “How can I get in touch with one of these landmen?” she called to the stage. “I haven’t got much time left.”

At a similar meeting in Liberty, I asked Paul Zimmerman, a local councilman from Eldred, New York, if the gas might ignite a deeper division between locals and weekenders. “It already has,” he answered. But he believed that weekenders misunderstand what’s at stake. Mining the gas is an act of national urgency, in his view, one that will help break dependence on foreign energy. “It’s not us against them, the weekenders,” he said, “it’s us against Big Oil.”

Lifelong Eldred resident Dave Jones and his wife, Patrice, have already sold mining rights to their 50-acre home. They’re confident the system will take care of everything and prevent disasters. “If a gas company comes up around Broome County, and if they make an absolute mess out of that, the word is going to get out,” Jones told me. Not coincidentally, state regulators agree. “These things are relatively low-impact,” says Brad Field, director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Mineral Resources Division. “There is a good regulatory program in place.”

Scores of drill pads will probably erupt in the Catskills in another year, Glassmire predicted. “The prospect will change us both,” he told me.

It does seem that Big Gas is unstoppable. The money’s too good, and fossil fuels have federal law driving their momentum. Even if I want nothing to do with drilling, I could still see my land pockmarked. Under law, if 60 percent of my neighbors sign up, I can be forced to lease my land through a provision called “compulsory integration.” Scores of drill pads will probably erupt in the Catskills in another year, Glassmire predicted. “The prospect will change us both,” he told me. “It’s like you and me are walking, and there’s just two footprints in the shale.”

The morning after my arrival, Glassmire was up at dawn to collect his e-mail and communicate with his office, which is based in central Pennsylvania. At 8:30, he called and invited me to his room, saying, “If you want a sense of a landman’s life, now’s the time.” He was in an oxford-cloth shirt, blue dress slacks, and black leather dress shoes when I arrived. Pages of documents were piled in his printer tray.

“The news is bad,” he told me right off, stroking his patchy scalp. “The widow Rozell is signed.” According to a lease register forwarded to him overnight, another Cabot landman had brought her in. Technically, this wasn’t poaching. Rozell’s driveway was actually located just across the boundary in tax map 160, making her a legitimate kill. But it’s put Glassmire out of sorts. “It’s not that I mind,” he said glumly. He took out a yellow marker and filled in the tract, joining north with south and making a clear path for the pipeline.

As a result of this development, the Porter tract may have taken on less significance to Cabot but more to Glassmire. He pinched his contact into his right eye to reread the takeoffs out loud. “ ‘Brothers own various tracts.’ You’ll probably have a bunch of people who need to sign, so it’s going to take forever regardless. ‘Met for breakfast, initially interested. Now refusing offer.’ Who knows when these occasions were. ‘Still dragging feet.’ Very poetic way of putting it.”

He dialed a number he found on The person answering the phone said Robert Porter wasn’t available but connected Glassmire to his brother, who talked his ear off. When he finally folded his phone, Glassmire’s mood had lifted. According to the brother, the Porter family controls 1,700 acres in the area under various corporate umbrellas. Most of their property is outside of Glassmire’s maps, but landman etiquette would allow him to sign it all because some falls on his map. And the Porter family appeared ready.


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