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The Catskills Gas Rush

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Through the short span of his career, Glassmire has signed 8,000 acres in all. Adding the Porter properties would increase his tally by nearly 20 percent. He bent to tie his shoe. “I might take them all—as long as I get the ones I’m after.”

Through the afternoon, I accompanied him as he visited his other contacts. Our first stop was on map 142: the Lavigne household, a raised ranch next to a vegetable patch on 12.16 acres, owned by retired Long Island transplants. They had wanted to add a few amendments to the lease affecting the way royalties are paid out, and Glassmire secured permission to accept a few of them. Pleased, the Lavignes read over the contract one last time, with big plans for their $30,000 signing bonus. Glassmire fiddled with a jar on the kitchen table. “Wow, is this honey in there?” he interrupted.

“Buckwheat honey.”

“Wow, that’s serious. If we had some of that, we’d be roaming through the woods picking dandelions.” He snorted. “Just sign over your name, Mr. Lavigne. Any place you see your name.”

On the way out the door, Glassmire asked the Lavignes to keep their amendments a secret. “I’m going to ask a favor. I know you don’t tell other people your business. This is a smart thing to ask for, it’s basically fine. But I ask you to not tell your neighbors about this. I mean, we’ll give it to them if they ask, but only if they ask.”

In the car, he rejoiced in his own momentum. He put My Morning Jacket on the satellite radio. “This is my fifth lease. From the 11th to today, five leases.” This was in stark contrast to his experience in my valley, he said. He admitted he worked there for six weeks without filing one signature. “It’s supposedly the hardest prospect for a landman, Delaware,” he said. Instead of people like Lavigne, he was chasing names like Kelsey Grammer, Harrison Ford, and Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox slugger. “You’ve got landowners who live in Malibu. They’re extremely unincentivized.”

Despite traveling around the region to the primary homes of Delaware landowners, he still failed to execute a lease, he said.

I asked him where he’d traveled, and he said, “I was at your apartment.”

I was momentarily stunned. “My apartment in New York City?”

“East-something,” he nodded. The Caesars’ “Jerk It Out” came on the radio. “Thirteenth Street? Eleventh Street? Something like that. You weren’t there either time—I went twice.”

I felt utterly violated by this intrusion. Who besides a Witness for Jehovah buzzes a doorbell uninvited? I pictured him standing in my lobby, stroking down to my name on the buzzer box; I pictured him picturing me as a pawn in his territorial military theory.

But I also felt somehow bonded to him as a result. His having stalked me to a forgotten street in the East Village was really not too different from my having followed him to an unnamed motel in Binghamton. We were drawn together by the Marcellus Shale to see how far this prospect could take us. That night, we toasted the big shale stone with Jack on the rocks. “We watched the prospect shiver and molecularize a little today,” Glassmire said, sipping. “A night to celebrate.”

I had to admit I was no closer to knowing what to do the next time a landman offered us a lease. It’s just not possible to turn away all those millions, I told him. But it seems just as impossible to take those risks with the environment. “My one hope is that the city will rule out drilling in the watershed—that would take the whole matter out of our hands,” I said. It was the chicken’s route. Half the state’s population relies on the watershed for its drinking water—1.2 billion unfiltered gallons reach the city every day, nearly all of it propelled only by gravity. It is the largest unfiltered surface-supply water system in the U.S. It seems inconceivable that anybody will allow drill bits and mystery fracing chemicals to pass through the aquifer in the hunt for gas. The environmental groups Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper have demanded an all-out ban above the city’s watershed. At a special hearing on the issue two weeks ago called by City Councilman James Gennaro, Speaker Christine Quinn expressed alarm. “We can’t allow drilling to proceed until we know what the consequences will be,” she said. “We should not move forward at this time.”

But it’s unclear whether the city’s Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to stop the drilling, much less the inclination. A few weeks ago, a letter was leaked from the DEP that proposed a no-drill zone. But the limits were much smaller than some had hoped. Rather than ban drilling in the entire watershed, the DEP letter suggested a moratorium within a mile of any of the nineteen reservoirs in the system. Unfortunately for me, or fortunately, we live about seven miles from the Pepacton Reservoir.

I looked Glassmire in the eye. “What would you do? Would you take the money?”

“Oh,” he said. The question left him momentarily speechless. “I’d want to see some producing wells. I’d want to see the maturation of the addendums, stuff like that. I’d wait till the fall.” He thought some more. “I’d be kind of closing onto doing it, sort of biding my time.”

Over the following days, Glassmire scooped up one lease after another. He even made progress on Robert Porter and his brother. They talked on the phone and met a couple of times. “For all intents and purposes, you can call that the Porter Pocket if you wanted to,” Glassmire told him. “You’re pretty much the biggest deal there is.” But the Porter brothers ran hot and cold, so Glassmire’s mood surged and crashed. Late one afternoon, he left an update on my voice mail. “I know I’m bothering you with these messages, these warped diatribes, these negotiated pitfalls,” he said. “But the thing is, these Porters are lingering in front of me.” He suspected another landman was making this deal even more difficult, but he wasn’t sure. And he wasn’t giving up. “It’s hard to tell exactly what sort of unnerving thing is going to happen. I’m positive about it. I wish it would kind of go to the concrete. But it’s more exciting in some ways to be in this frenzy.”


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