From Township Planning Consultant to Fracker: Tom Shepstone
Tom Shepstone has been a consultant for towns on both sides of the upper Delaware River for many years. One township he helped write the comprehensive plan for is my very own, Dingman Township, located in Pike County, Pennsylvania nestled in the rural Pocono Mountains.
Last summer, Pike County got two gas pipeline projects installed, one was the Tennessee Gas Pipeline loop that crossed the Lackawaxen River in Lackawaxen Township, just above the confluence with the Delaware River. Lackawaxen Township is another place Tom Shepstone graced with his expertise when he developed their first zoning ordinance. The river crossing cost business of boat liveries upstream on the river that rent out boats in the summer and muddied the river visibly miles downstream during prime tourism season.
The other pipeline was the replacement and upgrade of the Columbia line that crosses my road. The pipeline now has the capacity to transport fracked gas. The pipeline projects were served many violations and the contracted construction company, Henkels and McCoy, chose consistently to dredge streams and creeks while crossing them, instead of doing "dry" crossings that bore underneath to avoid surface disturbance, but cost more.
The projects have stretched [Pike County Conservation District] resources to the limit as related issues multiply across the miles of raw earth (approximately 300 acres in Pike County) resulting from the clearing activities associated with right of way (ROW) expansion, access roads, staging areas and temporary workspace.
While the Columbia project is nearing completion as it works through the restoration phase, the project has managed to accumulate numerous violations and may be facing additional penalties. Meanwhile, PCCD staff have documented 45 violations with 16 pollution events impacting Pike County waters as a result of the TGP project activities, according to PCCD executive director Susan Beecher.
Most recently, in April 2011, Shepstone has become the campaign manager for the pro-fracking, industry-funded group Energy in Depth. One example of how Tom Shepstone derives a pay check is money from El Paso corporation, that owns Tennesee Gas Pipeline Company, and also funds EID. El Paso and the TGP conveniently have an office in Milford Township near my high school, also a township where Tom Shepstone authored their zoning ordinance.
Normally, I ignore the rants issued by EID. However, I caught Mr. Shepstone's post on the Facebook page of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson where the anti-fracking movement has been occupying the comment threads demanding that she give the residents of Dimock, PA water deliveries after families lost their drinking water when Cabot Oil and Gas fracked natural gas wells for extraction.
His message to Administrator Jackson? "Ignore the radicals and stay out of Dimock."
Now, I thought it was pretty heartless and almost dismissed it at first, until I looked into him. Now here you have it, a heartless man who denies the scientific evidence and documentation of water well contamination in Dimock (PDF)while advocating for the industry that did it and having previously helped townships plan for the future that trusted him to have at least some moral compass.
Our good friends at DeSmogBlog have a great write up on his background here. But you can really get a sense of the guy's sociopathic views by this quote,
“Natural gas drilling is not only environmentally responsible, but essential to health. There is, despite all the hysterical statements made by opponents, not one example of gas-well fracking polluting a water supply. Opposition to gas drilling is largely speculation and fear-mongering by those who would have the rest us do nothing to improve our lot, while they live off money inherited or made elsewhere. …Gas drilling is good for us, good for our health and good for the environment we treasure. We cannot save our environment by standing still. It is only responsible development that generates the wealth required to protectresources. Gas drilling is responsible and it will save ourenvironment.”
Here, he is referring to the case he's trying to make that gas drilling provides jobs, therefore people can eat and live healthier. He refuses to acknowledge that natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale is ruining the rural and esthetic value and reputation of northeast Pennsylvania, displacing tourism, real estate, agriculture, and recreation jobs as mainstays of our economy. That, in fact, eliminates jobs while creating gas drilling jobs that have been predominately given to out-of-state workers, overstated many times, and will ultimately disappear when the gas is gone and the pipe is laid. I'll leave the rest of my jobs argument open for another piece.
An example of his shining work in communities like mine are discussed in the DeSmogBlog piece:
Even while working as a land planner, Shepston helped pave the way for unfettered shale gas industrialization. He introduced a “right to mine ”provision in plans he did for towns, in the sense of a “right to farm”, when there is no “right to mine” under zoning law, if such mining is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of the public. For instance, the Town of Masonville Comprehensive Plan was completed with a “Right to Farm, Practice Forestry and Mine Law” stating that: “Timber and mineral resources present opportunities similar to agriculture. The area offers high-quality hardwoods that provide a potential source of income for owners of open space. Its mineral resources, including natural gas shales, are also considerable. The Town needs to largely avoid interfering with these industries so as not to discourage their development.”
In plain English, he set the town and others like it up to be fracked. The comprehensive plan was done based on a survey of the residents which mentioned mining, but did not mention gas drilling. Nevertheless, under the plan prepared by Shepstone, gas drilling would be allowed anywhere in the town, since gas drilling is not prohibited anywhere under the comprehensive plan. Absent any provisions to the contrary in a local ordinance, the setback of a gas well from a house would revert to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s standard of 100 feet. From a church, school, hospital or daycare center, 150 feet.
These are literally the worst setbacks of any land use regulations in the United States.
Under Shepstone’s plans, no part of the town is protected from the encroachment of shale gas industrialization.
I pity the poor guy. He left a clearly lucrative career as a township consultant and his trade association, and after the gas drilling bubble pops, Tom Shepstone and his family will have nothing to fall back on for income.
Prior to going to work for EID in April 2011, Shepstone held himself out as an American Planning Association AICP accredited planner.
He did so when speaking to municipal groups about shale gas industrialization – even after going to work for EID and after he had lost his accreditation. Shepstone had not paid his membership dues nor maintained his certification since 2008.
The web site for the American Institute of Certified Planners states :"AICP certified planners carry a high mark of distinction because they are required to meet rigorous standards,maintain their expertise through continuing education, andserve community interests.”
Shepstone subsequently dropped “AICP” from his title and became a full time fracking apologist for Energy in Depth.
The moral of the story? The Tennesee Gas Pipeline extension across the Delaware River will resume this summer, if all goes as scheduled for Shepstone and his friends at El Paso. Or so they think.
In Pennsylvania, the project would cross 32 waterbodies supporting warmwater fisheries and 29 waterbodies supporting coldwater fisheries. It would cross 25 high-quality designated waterbodies, seven exceptional value-designated waterbodies, one Class A Trout Stream and two Wild Trout-designated waterbodies. The new permanent right-of-way would result in the permanent alteration of about 78 acres of upland forest land to scrub-shrub or herbaceous cover.
Nineteen state-listed threatened, endangered, rare or candidate species have been identified. These include one reptile, one mammal, one bird, five mussels and 11 plants. One is also a federally listed species (dwarf wedgemussel). An additional eight plants are proposed for listing in Pennsylvania. Timber rattlesnakes were documented along portions of Loop 321 in Wayne and Pike counties.
However, Pike County is waking up to their corruption. All three County Commissioners have objected to the new project as it moved through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pike County Conservation District is a step ahead monitoring the quality of our streams.
“We are also looking at adding sites for the Water Quality Monitoring Program to try to get information on streams that will be impacted by the Northeast Upgrade Project (Tennessee Gas Pipeline). We are working on a plan for that now and we are also looking for additional funding to do that. The 2012 figure under Water Quality Monitoring assumes that we will be adding sites.” - Susan Beecher, Executive Director, PCCD
So, Tom Shepstone, I'm officially ending your future of getting any more contracts to consult townships in Pike County. I'm officially warning my friends that predators like you are out there. I'm officially warning you to tell all your friends that Pike County is not yours for the taking. It is the place I work, love, live, and will always be.