December 21, 2014

Research Shows that Fracking is Shrinking the PA Dairy Industry

Open letter to the NY Farm Bureau — Time to protect NY farming
By Ken Jaffe, Slope Farms, April 1, 2013

An Open Letter to New York Farm Bureau,

We now know that gas drilling is shrinking the Pennsylvania dairy industry.  Two recent studies by researchers at Cornell and Penn State independently show these negative impacts.  But last year, in written comments to the NY State DEC, the New York Farm Bureau supported gas drilling in NY State, citing the Bureau’s belief that fracking would expand farming businesses. The research in Pennsylvania shows the opposite to be true. Farm Bureau advocated a policy that we now know will reduce herd size and milk production.

As a Farm Bureau member, I’m asking Farm Bureau’s to reappraise its policy based on this new objective information. The Bureau should adopt a policy against fracking that would actually support farming and farmers.  There are enough forces already working against dairy farmers. We don’t need Farm Bureau advocating positions that will drive people out of the business of farming.

Let’s review what we know, and NY Farm Bureau’s current position.

A study titled Marcellus Shale Drilling’s Impact on the Dairy Industry in Pennsylvania: A Descriptive Report, was published in February 2013 in the peer review journal New Solutions. The authors are researchers at Cornell, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and Hunter College. See pages 189 to 202 at http://tinyurl.com/bl5fg8b

The authors compared dairy farms in the PA counties with the most wells drilled (average 620 well) to adjacent counties with under 100 wells (average 38). They measured changes in dairy herd size and milk production between 2007 (when horizontal hydrofracking became active) and 2011. Farm data came from the USDA Ag Census (The National Agricultural Statistics Service). Drilling data came from the PA DEP.

The counties with the most wells were Bradford, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Washington. The adjacent counties with under 100 wells were Beaver, Clinton, Lackawanna, Potter, Somerset, and Sullivan).

During the period of fracking expansion (2007-2011) the most heavily drilled counties experienced a 30% loss of milk cows compared to a 3% loss in counties with fewer than 100 wells. Milk production dropped 23% in the heavily drilled counties and 1% in counties with under 100 wells. (Table 1)

Table 1. Percent Change In Number of Milk Cows, Total Milk Production
and Number of Wells Drilled by County 2007-2011

Counties with most wells drilled
percent change in number of
milk cows
percent change in total milk production (pounds)
wells drilled 2007-2011
Bradford

-26

-21

955

Tioga

-18

-17

690

Washington

-47

-29

536

Lycoming

-36

-27

466

Susquehanna

-25

-24

454

Average

-30

-23

620

Adjacent counties with fewer than 100 wells drilled
percent change in number of milk cows
percent change in total milk production (pounds)
wells drilled       2007-2011
Sullivan

-5

-3

41

Clinton

0

1

88

Potter

12

9

72

Lackawanna

0

10

2

Somerset

-12

-11

19

Beaver

-11

-10

7

average

-3

-1

38

from Table 1,  Marcellus Shale Drilling’s Impact on The Dairy Industry in PA, New Solutions, vol 23(1) 189-201, 2013

A second study done at Penn State looked at all counties across Pennsylvania from 2007-2010. The study is online at http://extension.psu.edu/pubs/ee0020
The authors, lead by Timothy W. Kelsey, professor of agricultural economics, stated

“Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells. “The NASS and Department of Environmental Protection data suggest that increases in the number of Marcellus shale wells are associated with declines in cow numbers and milk production.”

Here is NY Farm Bureau’s 2012 explanation of the basis for its current position in support of hydrofracking:

“For farms, development of the Marcellus Shale formation means the ability to again invest in farm infrastructure; building new barns, adding cows to allow the next generation to stay on the farm and purchasing a new tractor to replace the 40-year-old model.These on-farm investments will ripple through the local economy and grow community businesses – from the general contractor to the livestock auction or the farm machinery salesman and seed dealer. The importance of revitalizing these communities and local economies cannot be overstated.”

If only this were true. It’s a year later, and we now know it was a false hope. We know that gas drilling shrinks dairy farms, and lowers milk production. And this shrinkage will “ripple through the local economy” in the opposite direction that the NY Bureau predicted in 2012, causing contraction to businesses beyond the farms.

There are many farming issues missed in the NY Bureau’s letter to the DEC, including fracking impact in farm family health, animal health, crop yields, and consumer acceptance of NY farm products.  But the economics of farming was at the heart of the Bureau’s position.

A very wise man said, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Many New York farmers, including me, are now asking NY Farm Bureau to look at this new information and protect NY farmers against fracking. Specifically NY Farm Bureau should

1) Withdraw the 2012 comments to the DEC in support of fracking, now that the basis        for that support is shown to be in error.
2) Support a ban on fracking in NY State and further study of economic impact drilling      on farm businesses.

Sincerely,

Ken Jaffe
Slope Farms
Meredith, NY

20 Responses to Open letter to the NY Farm Bureau—Research shows that fracking is shrinking the PA dairy industry. Time to protect NY farming.

  1. Eugene Marner says:

    Well said. Furthermore, I have read that hundreds of Bradford County landowners now have Mechanic’s Liens on their properties. Drilling companies went out of business or simply failed to pay local contractors and suppliers. The leases of the deadbeat drilling companies were the only assets available so the creditors were legally able to place liens on the properties that had been leased. Now landowners who thought they were going to become rich from gas may be deprived of the value of their properties. If they sell, the lien holders will be first in line to collect. Not a good deal for Pennsylvania landowners including many farmers.

    • Cindy McGahee says:

      That is terrible. Having been hit with two mechanic’s liens (for a total of $20,000) after the construction of our house I can attest to the helpless feeling paying for someone else’s debt.

      Fantastic letter Ken.

    • Lij Lij Briggy says:

      Wow, this is great information. You should get more of this out to the public. Thank you

  2. Krys Cail says:

    Thanks for issuing this challenge to Farm Bureau. Now, we will see whether they are, in fact, what they claim to be (a farm organization set up to benefit farmers and farming), or just a thinly-veiled club for right-wing business owners to use to lobby state government.

    • kenjaffe says:

      Thanks Krys. I do hope there is a substantive response to the new knowledge that fracking harms the farming industry.

      I’ve sent the letter to Jeff Williams who signed Farm Bureaus doc to NY DEC supporting gas drilling. He referred me back to the county reps. I’ve sent my letter to my Delaware County rep, and to several others.

      I’d encourage people to reach out their county Farm Bureau reps to inform them that FB is advocating a position on fracking that hurts farming.

  3. Brewery Ommegang supports Slope Farms’ position. We have been a member of the NY Farm Bureau and its pro-fracking position confounds us. An organization that exists to further agriculture and farming should not be working instead to industrialize our rural and farm lands. The simple fact is if there were no pie-in-the promises of big gas paydays, the bureau and most farmers would be among the most fervent opponents of fracking. The gas companies are quite good at manipulating the hopes and fears of those who live above the resources they want to extract: they’ve had years of experience and are good at the hollow promise and the ommitted fact.

  4. Karen London says:

    Excellent letter, Ken. Might you also send your letter to the Sullivan County representative of the Farm Bureau? They have a large billboard on Route 17 proclaiming their support of “safe” gas drilling. This might be important information for them to reconsider their position.
    Thanks!

  5. Lone Bear says:

    If anyone in NY Sullivan County wants to join in to stop fracking please contact Rep. Cindy Geiger she is also a REAL DAIRY FARMER!!! Her office is in Monticello on North Street I dont have the number but she is in the same building that has the DMV so please call and support her!

  6. Kathleen A. Reynolds says:

    It is a mystery how an agricultural organization could ever have thought fracking would be good for agriculture, even without the factual evidence we now see. Thank goodness for this study. Now just hope that the NYS DEC and the Farm Bureau change their tune.

  7. Martha Goodsell says:

    Good luck with getting the NYFB to change its position. I left the Tioga County Farm Bureau because they were so “brainwashed” by gas industry promoters. The county board was infiltrated and some became official “NYFB Spokesmen” on the issues. I’d rather spend my time promoting and working with the National Farmers Union, who years back, took the position against HVHHF and have values much more in line with family farmers.

    • kenjaffe says:

      Martha,

      No doubt changing Farm Bureau policy on gas drilling will be a tough.

      Mostly I want to get the word out to farmers that we now have evidence that fracking leads to shrinkage of the farming industry. It seemed pretty obvious to many of us, but there wasn’t clear data to support our position. Now there is. Fracking hurts the farming industry.

      The myth of fracking benefiting farmers looms large in industry p.r., and we know it influences the debate. There are farmers and others, inside Farm Bureau and out, who in good faith believed the myth. And some of those will be influenced by new information to re-examine their position. Repeating the myth of fracking helping the farming industry is now repeating a lie.

      And Farm Bureau does have a mission to advance the farming industry. There are many members, perhaps naively, who believe that mission will determine policy. It’s certainly going to require an interesting explanation on the part of FB to continue supporting gas drilling when in the real world fracking shrinks the farming industry.

      Ken

  8. NY Farm Bureau says:

    NY Farm Bureau’s policy process is completely farmer driven. The grassroots policy process starts at the local level and works its way up to the state delegate body made up of more than 100 farmers representing every commodity and type of farm across across the state who vote on dozens of policy resolutions every year. If members are opposed to any policy, it is well within their right to voice their opinion and work to persuade their fellow farmer members through the democratic process. This is a big reason why people passionate about all aspects of farming should become members of NY Farm Bureau. Below is Jeff Williams’ reply to Ken Jaffe’s concerns.

    “Thanks for your e-mail. As you may know, our policy on issues are developed through a grassroots process completely led by our farmer-members. The opinions referenced in your letter stem from a policy in our policy book, stating “We support drilling for natural gas in New York State,” in addition to another statement in support of natural gas drilling specifically in the Marcellus Shale. These policies are surfaced at the county level (at our county Farm Bureaus) and are finalized at our State Annual Meeting where farmers review, amend and vote on each individual policy.

    If you are committed to changing Farm Bureau policies on natural gas drilling, I highly recommend that you keep in close contact with your county Farm Bureau and attend the county policy development meetings this summer and their annual meeting this fall. Should you have farmer colleagues that hold similar views, I encourage you to have them do the same with their county Farm Bureaus.

    I appreciate your sharing this information and your insight into this issue. However, as staff, we are only charged with implementing our organization’s policies. For New York Farm Bureau to change our beliefs, our farmer-members will need to officially change their minds. I have definitely seen this happen a number of times on other issues.

    Thanks again for your e-mail and for voicing your opinions.”

    • kenjaffe says:

      Dear Mr. Ammerman,

      I appreciate your responding to my letter. My goal was not to voice an ‘opinion’, but rather inform Farm Bureau members of facts from newly published research which demonstrates a direct link between gas drilling and shrinkage of the farming industry in PA. The research reports facts. What to do with that information could be considered an ‘opinion’. Since NY Farm Bureau rightly states that the “The mission of New York Farm Bureau is ‘To Serve And Strengthen Agriculture’, informing members of a threat to agriculture is critical part of that mission.

      Given the magnitude of the threat described in the Penn State and Cornell research, it’s really incumbent on the staff of Farm Bureau to at a minimum inform the members of this research. And then let members form their own opinions. As the great NY Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”. An article in the Grassroots would be a sensible place to start informing members. It’s an excellent publications, and I’d bet the authors of both studies would make themselves available to discuss their published findings for the education of Farm Bureau members.

      Also, I appreciate your informing me of the grassroots nature of the organization. I’m trying to understand the details of the governance structure of NY Farm Bureau, but cannot find the bylaws or rules on the NY Farm Bureau website, or with a google search. Could you please send a link to the bylaws governing the organization, or a pdf if the bylaws are not available online.

      Best,

      Ken

      Ken Jaffe
      Slope Farms

  9. Pingback: » Study Shows PA Milk Production Down In Counties With The Most Fracking Chefs for the Marcellus
  10. Nancy Kasper says:

    Thank you for presenting some verifiable information to negate the NY farm Bureau’s assumptions. Good fodder for the frack-free movement.

  11. Lij Lij Briggy says:

    I’m not a farmer, but I would think that using my land to create renewable, sustainable energy, AKA, switchgrass or algae based bio fuels, would not harm the environment and farmers could become our next energy producers. Wow, the new jobs would be enormous. This is another road farmers could take.

  12. Sue Rapp says:

    I buy almost all my food from farmers in the Southern Tier, and I trust that I am getting the highest quality food available. I do not wish to see this threatened by the gas industry, whose sole motive is profit. It will be devastating if Governor Cuomo opens the state to fracking. If fracking–which has yet to be proven safe–is allowed in NYS, we will be subject to unknown risks and harm. One of the selling points industry uses is that fracking will help save our farms. That is a transparent lie! Thanks to Ken Jaffe for his letter. When is enough evidence considered “science”?

  13. Kate Ryan says:

    Thank you for getting information re these new studies out, Ken. I think I remember seeing that the Delaware County Branch of the NYS Farm Bureau did not support fracking. But I’m not sure. Perhaps you might contact Duane Martin to find out.
    Best,
    Kate

  14. Mary Sweeney says:

    Thank you, Ken Jaffe, for posting this very relevant information!

    I live in the Southern Tier of NY, but I was born and raised in Scranton, PA where I grew up surrounded by the huge and expensive environmental and economic mess left behind by the coal industry. I am now very much afraid that another huge and expensive environmental and economic mess is being created by the shale gas industry in PA, and that this huge and expensive mess will eventually make its way into my adopted state of NY.

    The trouble with extractive industries is that they make the land unusable for many other purposes. The economic booms they create are short-lived, but the damage and the economic busts they create last for generations.

    My husband and I grow some of our own food and we purchase a lot of the remainder from local farms. If/when fracking comes to our area, we will be much less inclined to rely on this area for any of our food or water–the risks will just be too great. In fact, if fracking is allowed here we will move to another area, but we will continue to worry about those who are not in a position to move to a safer area–particularly the children who are stuck living on the gas fields.