Grab the first three people you meet in Albany and ask them when Gov. Cuomo and his team plan to issue final regulations governing the safe development of natural gas from shale in New York, and chances are, you???ll get at least three different answers.
Some see the final rules coming this month; others say they???ve been ready since the summer just sitting on the shelf. The cynics will tell you, and they???re probably right, that it won???t hit until after Election Day. For their part, environmentalists would actually prefer that no regulations are issued at all???recognizing that without final rules in place, producers won???t be able to seek or acquire the permits they need to move forward.
Albany has spent nearly four years studying, analyzing, and engaging with the public on shale and hydraulic fracturing, while the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation released a draft report last year outlining the best ways to mitigate the risks while maximizing the benefits. At 1,500 pages in length, it represents perhaps the most stringent regulatory program for oil and gas development ever compiled in the U.S.
Despite the state???s long list of scientific conclusions indicating that fracturing technology can be regulated effectively (and is) and won???t destroy the environment (and doesn???t), opponents remain incorrigible. Tellingly, no longer able to claim that science supports their case, the opposition has deputized Yoko Ono and her son, Sean, to lead the charge in opposition to the jobs, revenue and opportunity that safe development could provide for New York. As if breaking up the Beatles wasn???t bad enough.
Take a quick look at some of their more ridiculous claims:
The movie ???Gasland??? showcased a flaming faucet that director Josh Fox linked to hydraulic fracturing. But what Fox neglected to mention is that state regulators checked out that property, and determined that oil and gas development had nothing to do with what was shown on the film. For their part, regulators in New York have determined that ???no significant adverse impact to water resources is likely to occur??? due to hydraulic fracturing. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson???no shill for oil and gas???has said that ???in no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.???
A Google search for ???fracking earthquakes??? yields thousands of scary headlines. But what do actual experts say? Bill Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey???s Earthquake Hazard Program, recently said: ???We don???t see any connection between fracking and earthquakes of any concern to society.??? The National Research Council, part of the prestigious National Academies, concluded hydraulic fracturing ???does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.??? New York regulators also found ???no increased risk to the public, infrastructure, or natural resources from induced seismicity related to hydraulic fracturing.???
Opponents love talking about the volume of water used during the fracturing process, but they are not providing the context necessary to evaluate their claims. According to one of the largest water suppliers in Texas??? Barnett Shale region, water used for oil and gas development is one-half of one percent of total demand. Its 0.1 percent in Colorado. New York estimates hydraulic fracturing would, at peak activity, increase demand by 0.24 percent???less than one-quarter of one percent.
A single study from Cornell University, authored by anti-shale activist Robert Howarth, concluded that developing natural gas from shale produced more greenhouse gases than producing energy from coal. His study is cited far and wide by opponents, but it has been debunked by his colleagues at Cornell, researchers at the University of Maryland, and even a study funded by the Sierra Club, one of the most vocal opponents of hydraulic fracturing.
All of which brings us back to New York, where opponents continue to use the same debunked talking points to advocate for a total ban on hydraulic fracturing, notwithstanding the fact that natural gas has been safely developed in the state (using hydraulic fracturing) since the late 1940s. Gov. Cuomo won???t say when his administration will decide. Opponents have already threatened him politically should he make a science-based choice.
Complicating matters just a bit: The state estimates that shale development would be a clear economic winner, creating more than 50,000 new jobs and generating more than $100 million each year in new state and local taxes.
The only question: Will Gov. Cuomo sacrifice these benefits and the future of New York to appease a potent political special interest? Or will he allow science to be his guide, and the improvement of the welfare of his constituents to be his goal?