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Thursday, December 18, 2014

New York Governor Cuomo Shuts the Door on the Oil and Gas Industry

New York governor Andrew Cuomo
According to the industry he is indicating here the value he
places on property rights. According to activists it is
the number of contaminated wells the state will have
now that fracking is banned.
After a long process of delaying a decision until enough studies could be produced to support a ban, New York governor Andrew Cuomo finally made official his decision to outlaw fracking in the state yesterday.

The key report relied upon for justification of the ban is a public health review (click here to view the report) that was requested a little over 2 years ago which concluded:
As with most complex human activities in modern societies, absolute scientific certainty regarding the relative contributions of positive and negative impacts of HVHF on public health is unlikely to ever be attained. In this instance, however, the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS.
Celebrities and activists applauded the governor's decision, saying that Cuomo let the science govern his choice.  Others disagreed, pointing out that Cuomo had previously ignored conclusions from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York Department of Health that fracking could be done safely.

Here is a sampling of the reaction and background offered after Cuomo announced the ban.

From The Washington Post:
Industry representatives reacted angrily to Wednesday’s decision, which was announced with little fanfare before the cabinet meeting began. 
“This is an ill-advised decision that denies New Yorkers the opportunity to take advantage of the many environmental and economic benefits that natural gas offers,” said Paul Hartman, the Albany-based northeast director of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the industry trade group. “The decision to prohibit hydraulic fracturing is based on data that does not justify the Cuomo administration’s conclusions.” 
Democrats and environmental activists praised Cuomo’s decision Wednesday. 
“The Governor based his decision on the science — not the demands of oil and gas drillers looking for a quick buck,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The public health risks posed by contamination of our air, land and water are too great to allow high-volume, horizontal fracking in our beautiful state.” 
Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, N.Y., which sits atop one part of the Marcellus deposit, said fracking would upset the local tourism industry without bringing much economic benefit. 
“Our economy is strong because of our agriculture, tourism and education. Drilling pads dotting our hills, trucks pounding our roads, and the fear of soil and water contamination would threaten our success in all of those areas,” Myrick said. “The gains would be short-term.” 
The debate over hydraulic fracturing long predates Cuomo’s tenure. The state legislature passed a measure approving fracking and horizontal wells in 2008, but then-Gov. David Paterson (D) placed a hold on permits for those wells until the Department of Environmental Conservation could report on the impacts. The department issued a draft report in 2009, but Paterson ordered a second draft the following year. 
That second draft came in July 2011, after Cuomo had taken office. Martens, the DEC commissioner, said at the time that he believed fracking could be done safely. The DEC started the long process of crafting regulations that would guide high-powered fracking. 
But after environmental activists protested, Cuomo ordered another review, this one from the state Health Department, in 2012. The Health Department missed key deadlines in 2013, further delaying the DEC report. The report was still unfinished in October, when, at his only debate with Republican opponent Rob Astorino, Cuomo said it would be finished by year’s end. This Monday, Cuomo reiterated that the report would be ready by the end of the year.
The choice to ignore the report that concluded fracking could be done safely and instead direct a new report to be created is what many would point to as an indication that Cuomo wasn't simply interested in the truth revealed through scientific studies of fracking, but instead was interested in someone providing a report that would focus on science which would justify the decision he already wanted to make: to ban fracking.

From Forbes:
Some will argue that excess caution isn’t a problem, because banning fracking doesn’t impact anyone except oil companies. And their employees. And people who sell or rent them equipment. And people who use oil and gas. Or electricity. Or pay taxes. Or own mineral rights to prospective areas for drilling. 
But, hey, Governor Cuomo himself said it best. Per Newsday: ” ‘I get very few people who say I love the idea of fracking,’ Cuomo said, adding that proponents told him they supported drilling because they had ‘no alternative,’ economic opportunities.” 
In other words, regulation is a popularity contest, not science driven. 
Oh, it’s all to easy to make snide comments (“ Unsafe? Have you seen the food on sale on the streets of New York?”) but this gets to the very real issue of going for politics over science. The environmental and NIMBY elephants opposing fracking have labored hugely to prove that the practice is unsafe or even environmentally unsound and brought forth a mouse. Anecdotes about health problems and evidence that common pollutants can be found in areas with fracked wells (along with the rest of the planet).
 From Energy in Depth:
Immediately after the decision, Cuomo confirmed on social media that his actions were intended to appease the “ban fracking” groups that have been lobbying him not to allow development in the state. Through his official Governor’s account, Cuomo retweeted the praise that he received from some of the most vocal anti-fracking organizations currently active in New York:Sierra Club tweetRiverkeeper tweetNWF tweetFrom the beginning, Cuomo had ensured residents his administration would stick to science in making this decision. Yet today, his administration tossed out the vast amounts of data showing that hydraulic fracturing can indeed be done safely. The administration allowed emotional pleas from New York City and Hollywood actors to trump the property rights and economic concerns of residents of Upstate, many of whom have been in desperate need of jobs for several years.
Mark Ruffalo tweet
Governor Cuomo retweeted Hollywood actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo’s praise of the Governor’s decision not to allow shale gas drilling. Source: Twitter
Worst of all, Cuomo’s team ignored previous reports from his own Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which stated in 2011: “we’ve concluded high volume hydraulic fracturing can be undertaken safely.” A 2012 report from the New York Department of Health also said fracking can be done safely. 
The Obama administration has also repeatedly touted the safety and importance of natural gas development. New York Democrats have also publicly supported the practice, as Senator Chuck Schumer stated earlier this year on Morning Joe:

“But overall, the Democrats throughout the country have supported fracking. The president has, most of us have, and it’s worked quite well.” – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
A quick scan of the health report that the Cuomo administration relied upon to make its decision shows a heavy reliance on thoroughly debunked studies and assessments. Notably, the report cites research that hasn’t even received funding, much less proceeded substantively, such as the Geisinger Health Systems study in Pennsylvania. 
Another study included in the assessment looked at farm animals in proximity to well sites, authored by Dr. Robert Oswald and Dr. Michelle Bamberger. Although Cuomo’s team repeatedly touted “the science” in making its decision, here’s what Dr. Ian Rae with the U.N. Environment Programme said of that particular paper: 
“It certainly does not qualify as a scientific paper but is, rather, an advocacy piece that does not involve deep…analysis of the data gathered to support its case.” 
And yet, this report was used as a rationale for denying economic opportunity to real working families in upstate New York. Unfortunately, the other citations don’t offer any more clarity on how New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker’s team reached its conclusions. 
Curiously, Governor Cuomo made no mention of the state stopping its usage of natural gas, which of course has to imported from areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring, including neighboring Pennsylvania. So, New York will not allow development within its borders, but it will continue to reap the extensive benefits of affordable energy as the fifth largest consumer of natural gas in the country. 
Finally, it’s worth reiterating that New York City’s major shift to natural gas has improved the health and air quality of the city dramatically, as the following video shows.

Ironically, New York will continue to use increasing amounts of natural gas in order to improve public health, even as politicians in Albany claim that they cannot produce that gas locally, owing to so-called “public health” concerns.
ProPublica also weighed in after the decision was announced.  That article is posted separately on the blog, and can be viewed by clicking here.

So, what effect, if any, will this decision in New York have on shale activity in Ohio?  It's hard to say.  Undoubtedly it will be used as ammunition and will serve to embolden activists who have been fighting against the development that has been taking place.  Could it have any sort of influence on the matter of home rule, an issue still in limbo here in Ohio as the state's Supreme Court takes months and months to render a decision in the crucial Beck Energy vs. Munroe Falls case?

One thing is for sure: with the state that is the 5th-largest consumer of natural gas declaring that it will keep its supply of Marcellus shale gas locked in the ground, the need for going after the gas in other areas only increases.  So in that respect, drillers in Ohio likely will have to remain busy making sure the supply is there for all of the activists who successfully prevented fracking in New York while heating their homes with natural gas.

Besides, if all drilling stopped, environmental groups would lose a key source of the revenue that they use to attack the oil and gas industry.

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