After the rock intestines of earth digest what erosion swallows, drilled wells tap the gas, filter and pump it through pipes to be burned for electricity, space heat and hot water. Much of it is made into fertilizer.

The first gas produced here, in 1851 for street lamps, was from coal torched in the brick gashouse standing at Court and Plain Streets. News of gas discoveries in Central New York prompted Ithacans to dig also. The test bore of 1887, near the present Titus Towers senior housing, brought thousands of spectators. At 500 feet they struck bright bubbly mineral water "superior to Saratoga Springs water." Hundreds filled pails. Then a gas pocket spit fire ten feet high. At 2,400 feet the drill chewed salt till it quit at 3,150 feet.

Yet there are natural gas fields in Tompkins County. Lansing, Groton and Danby drilled shallow wells in 1939 and 1940. A tin building atop a Lansing well "blew to pieces" years ago, and the Groton wells have been abandoned says Verl Rankin, a longtime resident. A few Danby wells are said to be producing for resident farmers. Four more deep empty wells were sunk in the early Sixties.

Despite this dry history, Tompkins County is still a valuable prospect. Several major oil producers have bought oil and gas drilling rights in Tompkins County, based on seismic exploration by corporations which sell their charts for $1,100 per mile. Exxon, Sohio and Quaker State are among those which hold leases in Ulysses, Enfield and Newfield. When natural gas becomes scarce, they'll move in to find the 'tight' gas here, 2,500' deep. There is also "moderate" potential for shale gas, extracted by heating local rock to 350ºF.

Western New York sandstones yield five percent of the state's natural gas. Although Auburn is a major nearby field, theirs goes northward. Beginning in the 1940s, interstate pipelines enabled Ithaca to import natural gas, now from as far as Los Angeles, Mexico and Canada. However, all of our natural gas is delivered to NYSEG by the pipelines of Consolidated Natural Gas, which is supplied mostly by the Tennessee Pipeline. Consolidated buys roughly half from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and half from Appalachia. NYSEG has longterm contracts, mainly with Louisiana suppliers, and shops monthly for cheaper gas from among over 1,000 suppliers to the 'spot market.

The CNG pipelines (30-60 inches underground) feed gas to Tompkins County at six points: Newfield, Spencer Street in the city, Route 79 near German Cross Road, Freeville, Dryden and Groton. Pipeline gas pressure is reduced from 900 pounds per square inch maximum to 45 psi at the six NYSEG stations, to one- quarter psi entering homes, to one-eighth into stoves. Within the pipe grid gas changes direction with demand. Continued Lansing suburbanization would require a new pipeline across Groton.

From the Ellis Hollow Creek Road compressor station in Dryden the gas enters 90 inches of pipeline (the most diameter in any New York town), to push toward Albany and Syracuse.

These pipes are marvels of engineering which make life easy as long as there is gas to put into them.


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How Much is Left?

The Potential Gas Committee's report of 1986 says we have a 30-year supply remaining. The Office of Technology Assessment (1985) expects short supply by the 1990s and insufficient supply by 2020. U.S. estimates of proven reserves have been cut in half during the past 20 years, despite record drilling activity between 1978 and 1985.

Canadian gas will help in the short run, then decline as Canada's population increases. U.S. attempts to shake gas loose with nuclear explosions (1967-1973) did not work. Methane from coal seams might produce for a few years. Other sources such as high-pressure aquifers, low-permeable sands, permafrost, shale and polar seabed slush carry terrific expense.

Oil is black blood, as essential to life in Ithaca as the red blood inside us. Nearly all Ithaca's food is raised and hauled here by petroleum. Nearly all of us use gasoline to bring food home, to get to work and visit friends. Most of our clothes are wove of long oil molecules, like the plastics needed for telephones, electric transmission, appliances and tools. At least 24 percent of Tompkins County's homes are heated with fuel oil or propane.

During the past 70 years the United States built tall cities and farmed half the continent, primarily with oil. America pumped itself to global power as the supreme oil producer and exporter. During the past 40 years, however, this country has needed increasingly to import foreign oil, 25 percent more since 1985, as it pours its strength into automobiles. New York state especially depends on oil imports, for 64 percent used. And most of it goes to gas tanks. Though the nation's first oil well spouted 180 miles southwest of Ithaca, our state produces only one of each 400 gallons it needs.

From Tampico to You

Tompkins County is transfused from the supertanker ports of Shanghai, Qatif, Minagish, El Harrach, Malaga, Genoa, Palembang, Rotterdam, Alwich, Cape Lopez, Pointe Noire, Tampico, Tuxpan, Lagunillas, La Salina, La Brea and again as many more. From these places the largest ships ever built bring millions of gallons of crude oil to refineries in the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Texas, Louisiana, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Philadelphia. From the refineries come gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, propane and kerosene in other tankers or direct into underground pipes.

The petroleum arteries crossing Tompkins County carry distillates from Mexico, Texas, Los Angeles, Louisiana and New Jersey. Pipeline fluids drool at 2.5 mph or gush, according to demand. The Texas Eastern Pipeline brings propane from the Gulf Coast near Houston through the Mississippi valley up the Appalachians and through Enfield, Newfield, Danby and Caroline on toward Albany. We tap this line at Watkins Glen and Harford Mills.

The Colonial Pipeline, from Louisiana, serves the whole east coast and delivers petroleum products to the Mobil, Atlantic, Sunoco and Buckeye pipelines, which climb eastern Pennsylvania to our region. Mobil's line receives oil up the Delaware River also, at the Paulsboro, New Jersey refinery. It once fed our city directly with a branch to the West End. We tap at Vestal and Elmira. Atlantic's products are refined in Philadelphia and piped toward Rochester. The pipeline starts out 20 inches wide and narrows to 8 inches at Big Flats. Buckeye begins in Linden, New Jersey and clips Groton on its way to both Buffalo and Syracuse. Some of the petroleum barged up the Hudson into the Erie Canal may reach us.

From these pitstops 9,200-gallon trucks deliver to gas stations, governments, industries, businesses and homes.


Bottled gas heats one of every 31 Tompkins County homes, runs tractors, forklifts, chicken incubators, hot water tanks, greenhouses and RV stoves. Though a major Tompkins County fuel, propane sales figures are trade secrets.

Most we use is produced from Texas crude oil and in natural gas processing plants, the rest flows from refineries. Most is brought by bobtail truck (2,000-3,500 gallons) from Western Energy's deep salt caves at Watkins Glen and Harford Mills. The remainder is trucked from pipelines or railheads at Bath, Binghamton or Syracuse. Some even arrives from Montreal and Chicago refineries.

Tom Overbaugh of Ehrhart Propane in Trumansburg says there used to be some dozen dealers in Tompkins county but big operators bought small independents. Overbaugh is one of 8 county suppliers, and is chair of the New York State Liquid Gas Association's Education and Safety Committee. Propane must be handled with precision, being a gas which liquifies when pressurized and bums hot, to 3,595 degrees Fahrenheit, with nearly twice the heat per pound as coal.


Near the bottom of the refiner's barrel sits heavier goo, called #2, #4 or #6 oil for industrial and home furnaces, delivered in trucks like propane. About 8,000 homes in Tompkins County burn it. Since 1986 natural gas sales have declined as people switch to oil.

The Last Drop

Oil's offspring, gasoline mostly, have made North Americans the fastest most mechanized people in history. A voyage across Tompkins County that took many hours on Cayuga Indian trails needs 30 minutes now. Public sanitation is more reliable and backbreaking work more rare. Oil's several blessings, however, contain curses that threaten to shake civilization apart. One third of the Greenhouse Effect is believed caused by cars and trucks, each spouting their weight in carbon yearly. Millions of families are shredded by grief at 48,000 U.S. traffic deaths every year (12 in Tompkins County) and 140,000 permanent traffic injuries. Our coastlines and many rivers are suffocated by petroleum and its byproducts.

But regardless whether we enjoy or endure oil, a large stop sign looms in our road. The United States is expected to run out of oil within thirty years, and the world will be world will be dry in forty years (U.S. Energy Atlas, The Energy Factbook, Beyond Oil, Introduction to Energy Technology, State of the World 1988). Much sooner the prices of gasoline, fuel oil, diesel will bring today's internal combustion machinery to a halt. The United States has used about 80 percent of its expected oil reserves. And the more we explore the less we find. The U.S. Geological Survey, after "disappointing drilling results," recently cut its estimate of onshore reserves by another 40 percent, to 33.4 billion barrels, or 7 percent of its 1972 estimate (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle 3/11/88). During the 1950s, fifty barrels of oil were found for each one spent drilling. Today that figure is five to one, and will fall to dead even as early as 1994.

The United States imports more oil from the Middle East today than before the Arab oil embargo of 1973. After the next embargo those Arab nations, controlling 60 percent of the world's oil, would control the United States. Already gasoline costs $5.00 per gallon, when Persian Gulf military expense is added. Ten percent of U.S. industry is foreign-owned, thanks to national and trade deficits half due to oil imports.

Twelve federal agencies combined to report that "growing oil import dependence places our national security at serious potential risk" (Los Angeles Times 3/18/87). Ithaca is not 'centrally isolated' from these global struggles. New York state is 75 percent more dependent on oil than the country in general.

A desperate search is planned for domestic oil, to squeeze the last drops from tar sands at great cost: to sweat it from Rocky Mountain shale, polluting water and air, or to flush it under pressure. Professor Thomas Gold of Cornell believes plentiful oil may originate from meteoritic rock 100 miles below. Any such oil, if ever found, would be plenty expensive.

Take a good look at Ithaca today with cars as we know them. They are soon to be antiques. Most of us in Tompkins County today will live to see the end of gasoline. The hunt for the future must continue elsewhere.

Someday everything neatly stacked for sale in stores will be smashed and reeking in dumps. Pyramid Mall, Wegmans and Woolworths are major Ithaca area landfill depots, displaying several tons of the 144 million pounds of plastic, paper, glass, metal and other garbage that Tompkins County will toss away yearly. Landstrom's landfill in South Danby is an official health menace, one of thousands in the United States about to close.

Garbage burned produces electricity, just like coal, oil and natural gas do. That's why NYSEG, Cornell and Tompkins County each have proposed to use it for fuel. They claimed it would create energy (1,213kw/year) and reduce our landfill problem. Unfortunately though, it wastes more energy than it produces and makes a mess worse than landfill.

Breathing, Drinking and Eating Old Sneakers

Fly ash from over 75 waste-to-energy smokestacks in the United States, including 7 in New York state, puff carcinogens into the air: cadmium, lead, selenium, chromium, nickel, zinc, arsenic and mercury, plus over 200 organic chemicals and a gang of acid gases. The EPA has found its standards violated 40 percent of the time. West Germany reports monsterized fetuses downwind of its incinerators (Der Spiegel 9/10/84).

Also dangerous is the solid ash. The same chemicals concentrated in ash are ready to wash into groundwater. They enter the food chain through water or air. Nor would we escape from landfills, since 25 to 40 percent of the original volume of trash remains as ash, to be disposed again.

Burning trash destroys most of the energy in cans, bottles, newspapers and metals that would be saved by sending these materials directly back to factories instead. Recycling aluminum cans conserves 95 percent of the fuel needed to make them from ore. Recycling glass saves 13-35 percent, iron 90 percent and paper 23-70 percent. Plastic jugs can be recycled at Ithaca Scrap, saving 90 percent also.

Unnatural Gas

Tompkins County's old Caswell landfill in Groton, closed in 1985, lays decaying alone. Methane jumbled with carbon dioxide and nitrogen floats up from abandoned organics. Pipes vent the gas into the air, so that it doesn't trap and explode. If it were burned instead, 60,000,000 BTUs per day would be available for perhaps 20 years. Landstrom contains even more. Syracuse and Long Island recycle dumps this way.


The only geothermal power east of the Mississippi erupts 33 miles north in Auburn, to heat the gymnasium, racquetball courts and locker rooms of Cayuga Community College. Hot briny water (125-165ºF) from a mile-deep well contributes to steaming of water for their electricity also.

California's hot rocks contribute to the national electric system. The DOE National Forecast of 1982 asserts 10 percent of U.S. space heating could be brought from thermal strata.


Waterlogged moss, animals and leaves sunk in swamps will become crumbly fuel after 5,000 years. They can be burned for electricity as in North Carolina, or used for rich potting soil. The U.S. has 190,000 square miles of it, mostly in Alaska. There are deposits in Groton's McLean Bog and elsewhere. Imported from Canada at $2.00 per cubic foot, peat would be expensive heat.

If allowed to rest millions more years, peat would compress to brown coal, or lignite. More millions of years would produce hard black bituminous coal, then hardest anthracite coal, then oil then natural gas.

VILLAGE OF GROTON: The village is an exception to NYSEG rule. The people there pay one-third as much for electricity as the rest of us, because they own and operate their own power lines. They primarily buy cheap hydropower at $1.00 per kilowatt rather than NYSEG's nuclear at $11.50/kw.

Village clerk Charles Rankin says, "We don't have to pay stockholders or maintain fancy office buildings. We're in good financial shape."

When storms damage equipment they can rely on emergency help from the 50 other municipalized power systems in New York state.

NEW YORK TELEPHONE: Walls of wires filled the brick switch station on Tioga and Buffalo streets until recently. Now all calls fit through a machine 8 feet tall and long. It uses half the electricity, but 150 workers lost jobs. Newfield and Lansing are due for computerization in 1992.

PYRAMID MALL: Built during prohibition of new gas hookups, Pyramid is heated with electricity, the most wasteful way possible. Customers radiate heat though, which helps a bit.

CAYUGA MEDICAL CENTER: Natural gas purchased wholesale and delivered by NYSEG produces boiler steam heat. Computers run fans that push the filtered air where it's needed, according to occupancy. 38,000 gallons of oil is held for emergencies. Double-pane glass and air-to-air heat exchangers save fuel, which consumes 3.7 percent of the hospital budget.

MORSE CHAIN: Also steam heats with natural gas, purchased from a West Virginia company at half the NYSEG price. Steel machine parts are hardened at temperatures up to 1,700º F. Propane is used for forklifts indoors because it burns cleaner. Electricity is used for lights, air conditioning, machine tools and drives.

ITHACA SCHOOL DISTRICT: All schools are heated by natural gas ($700,000/year), except for Enfield which has no pipeline and uses fuel oil. Water is heated with refrigeration waste heat. Tighter insulation and weatherstripping requires air circulation with fans, to prevent xerox poisoning and allergic reactions to other chemicals. Ithaca's middle schools spend $559,000/year on electricity, while Ballston Spa's middle school, north of Albany (colder and cloudier) gets most heat and hot water from solar.

CORNELL: The 25-mile maze of daffy ducts delivers steam heat to 10,500,000 square feet of floor. This would equal a single-story room of four square miles.

One fifth of the world's electricity is produced by the raindrops that bend grass, fill rivers and fall suddenly on metal rotors. The world's biggest power plant, on the Parana River between Brazil and Paraguay, generates with water more electricity than do 13 large nuclear power plants. Norway and Zambia produce 99 percent of their electricity from dams, Portugal 87 percent and South America 73 percent. Although the United States generates more hydro power than any nation, this is only four percent of our total use. West Germany and France also rely little on hydropower. One may wonder which of the above are the advanced nations, able serenely to enter the postnuclear, postpetroleum century.

New York State's native fuel is 88 percent hydro, yet is 23 percent of total electricity generated here. The Great Wall of Niagara creates as much electricity in 17 days as Tompkins County uses all year. The state's Energy Research and Development Authority study of 1978 located 1,507 megawatts of abandoned hydropower statewide ready to be restored, and 1,519 megawatts which would need dams. This total 3,026 megawatts would be a tenth of total state generating capacity.

Greater Ithaca sparkles from flying water over monumental falls. These hills carved by water shape our lives. Just 210 years ago Cayuga Indians summer-camped in gorges for natural air conditioning, for fresh fish and cool drinks. Anglo settlers put the water to work grinding grain and sawing wood. As early as 1838 there were at least 74 waterwheels in Tompkins County, most on Taughhannock Creek and Fall Creek. Hydropower probably peaked about 1880. Cornell first made electricity from Beebe's dam in 1904, and has the only large hydro station in the area, producing about one percent of Cornell's power.

Cornell water expert Steve Pacenko calculates that, were all the largest and smallest falls in the county harnessed to hydro and all the spaces between them terraced with dams for even more hydro, the theoretical hydroelectric capacity of Tompkins County would be 17 megawatts maximum, or 3 megawatts in drought years.

Today the City of Ithaca is required by federal law to build a hydroelectric station at Fall Creek Falls (using Ezra Cornell's 1830 tunnel), or to yield to Cornell University or one of the eight private developers who would do so.

Unless electricity from these falls is connected to equal electric conservation then their grandeur is sacrificed to America's energy waste.

The City's plant would operate about 237 days per year, whenever more than 450 gallons per second falls. The 155 foot cascade, presently dry 128 days yearly, would become little more than a dribbling cliff for about 318 days. Only 47 days of the year would the falls be seen wetter than their new restricted flow (FERC Project #674, Revised Exhibits A, F, G: 1986).

Therefore many who approve hydropower as clean fuel prefer installing it at Six Mile Creek and elsewhere, instead. An attempt to free Ithaca Falls from this fate was defeated by half of city council and the mayor on June 8, 1988. If the measure is not successfully reintroduced, then flows will fall. City voters were advised (illegally) to vote yes or lose city control of the falls, though the city keeps its option until 1991.

The city would be the least offensive operator, because there would be more direct control over flow, turbine noise and landscaping. Were the vote not rushed, the estimated $500,000 annual income from electric sales (after 15 years) could have been dedicated to weatherization and insulation as condition for approval.


Before refrigerators, ice from the lake around Stewart Park was an important fuel. Cut with ice plows dragged by horses wearing cleated shoes, frozen blocks were sledded to ice houses insulated with sawdust or hay. Farmers helped harvest each others' ponds, in barn-raising style. Most was distributed from ice wagons by 3 ice companies. Some went to New York City on the train.

By 1904, Ithaca was actually importing ice from the Hygeia Ice Company of Elmira. Manufactured ice looked cleaner as lake pollution increased. The home refrigerator (1913) cracked the ice industry. Lake harvests continue in Miller's Mills, New York.

Even in Tompkins County, New York, famous for cloudy seasons, the sun provides 87 percent of our winter heat by boosting the temperature up from 460 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (deep space) to zero degrees. Sunlight is transparent flame that needs only a glass lens to cause fire, or an afternoon for cooking sunbathers.

So intense is solar radiation that sun rays striking Egypt equal all civilization's energy. The National Academy of Sciences estimates the U.S. intermediate electric load could be sunpowered using an area 40 miles by 30 miles.

Right here in Ithaca solar collectors are calculated able to fully warm homes between April and October, providing above 40 percent of our heat during the winter (CU Ag. Eng. Ext. Bulletin #421).

The first local solar firm, Sunergy, encountered skepticism though, in 1977. Founder Elson Glover says, "local architects thought sun power for Ithaca was a joke." But solar experimentation expanded hereabouts and climaxed during the early Eighties when tax credits (up to $4,000) made risks appealing. Some projects failed from unsuitable design or neglect, while others are stiff doing well.

The success stories prove the worth of this effort. On Meadow Street next to Purity Ice Cream the I.D. Booth warehouse produces nearly all its heat and hot water with 100 rooftop solar collectors. They carry sun's heat into a concrete floor. Manager John Kemery once operated a Pennsylvania solar business. "I know these machines work," he says, I've burned myself enough times to know."

There are probably 50 homes using sun-baked water in Tompkins County, according to NYSEG's Tom Farrell. The utility gives loans for purchase of these units, as does Alternatives Federal Credit Union.

Electric Sunlight

Lynn and Becky McManus generate all their electricity with 16 square feet of Arco 47-watt solar electric (photovoltaic) panels, near Harford Mills. "Even on cloudy days we have to throw electricity away," says Becky, though they charge batteries, refrigerator, stereo and lights. A Spencer family's solar cells "work all year" for computer, TV, lights and radio, despite haze and an east-facing slope. They're buying more.

Amanda Lott and Mark Shenstone of Trumansburg sun pump their water, lights and stereo. "We always have enough, never come close to low supply," says Amanda. She adds, "We feel strongly against nuclear power and centralized power in general, where a huge company controls a basic need at their own price."

At $5.00 per installed watt photovoltaics are now competitive with nuclear power, their efficiency increasingly competes with/surpasses coal plants and they are the only electricity-generating device whose price is falling. Amorphous cells have achieved $2.00 per watt. Local electrical engineer Douglas Reid expects that mass production will swiftly put inexpensive solar panels on every house, like the VCR revolution.

Professor Dieter Ast at Cornell also believes this inevitable. "The question is when. It is a matter of politics." He likes photovoltaics because they are simple-- made of purified sand-- have no moving parts, don't need water, reduce acid rain and dependence on the Middle East. The Solarex solar cell factory in Maryland is powered by its own product.

Tom Farrell expects PV to take off during the next ten years: "People will sell solar electricity to NYSEG or store it at home."

Solar motors, which focus sun up to 1,000 times, are being used by industry to manufacture tractors, brew beer and run radio stations.

There are few solar furnaces in this region because focal collectors need direct rather than scattered light. Professor Jaroslav Vanek of Cornell has run a washing machine from a home-made collector. Electricity from the 10-story Solar One boiler near Barstow, California can be received here.

Aggressively Actively Passive

As the ancients knew, homes can be designed as sun traps. Solar porches, south windows and attached greenhouses will produce free winter heat. Farrell believes several hundred area houses have solar features. This retrofit can be a major source of local construction jobs.

Air from the globe's cold poles and hot spots, trying to trade places, gets swirled into wind by the turn and tilt of Earth.

New York state is windiest beside Lake Ontario, up the Catskills and Adirondacks, out Long Island and on the east hills of each Finger Lake. NYS ERDA estimates 200-300 wind generators work statewide. Of these, over 100 windmills were added to the power pool between 1978 and 1986, when tax credits promoted small power. NYSEG buys electricity from 45 residential wind generators, mostly in Schuyler and Seneca counties.

The United States produces 90 percent of the world's wind electricity, which is less than one percent of its own use. A National Research Council report of 1979 estimated wind could produce 15 percent of this country's energy by 2010. California's 16,769 wind turbines twirl one percent of their electricity, some of which may reach us.

Once hundreds of hilltop windmills pumped water for Tompkins County farms. >From 1898 to 1917 windmills were sold where Center Ithaca now stands. Today only a few rural towers remain. Sailboats are the foremost elegant use of moving air.

Stiff breezes light several homes around Ithaca. For example, a Newfield family of four at elevation 1776 feet is independent of NYSEG. Their Jacobs'- style three-blade rotor on a 60-foot lower has been powering their vacuum cleaner, blender, computer, TV, stereo, lights, incubator, radio and electric fence for seven years. It starts packing 8 deep-cycle batteries when the wind hits 7 mph, and has to be turned off soon after. They have rarely run low. The average annual wind speed west of them on Connecticut Hill is 7.2 mph. Though the City's average is just 4.87 mph, reaching 6.92 in March, there exist practical windmills with 3 mph starting speeds.

Elsewhere in Newfield, farmer-inventor Herman Cymara has patented a windmill (and 11 other things) which needs no tower. "Anyone could put it together inexpensively," says he. Professor Vaneck has also invented a model which sits low and scoops wind toward a paddlewheel.

Over in Caroline a single blade rigged to a 38-foot tripod brightens lights, TV and stereo. There is a back windmill on a ten-foot tower along Route 79 in Dryden blurring its head off at only 1,100 feet. In that same town on Mount Pleasant, a resident reports wind strong enough half the year to make plywood and trashcans fly. But no windmills.

While area winds are not steady enough for commercial wind farms, they are proving reliable for home dynamos. Extensive windmapping of Tompkins County by government and residents would get us ready to do it right.