Appalachian Basin

*UPDATE* Cuomo Comments Suggest Fix May Be in on Shale in NY

UPDATE (10:00 am ET, 11/21/2012): A must-read editorial by the New York Post provides a potential motive behind Governor Cuomo’s recent comments on the Fred Dicker Show and continued inaction on the state’s SGEIS.  The paper is the first outlet to note that the Governor may be intentionally slow-walking the regulations so they are never released. According to the editorial: “this delay could invite another public comment period — translating into further delay, possibly leading to the state’s four-year-plus moratorium on fracking never being lifted.” The Post editorial also includes  a few of the worst nuggets from the governor’s interview on Fred’s show yesterday and highlights how those comments are at odds with statements made by officials at the U.S. EPA and just about every other credible source that has examined hydraulic fracturing.

– Original post, November 20, 2012 –

The past few weeks have left many in New York wondering if Gov. Andrew Cuomo actually wants to see responsible Marcellus development move forward in his state. Unfortunately, if the comments he made on Tuesday’s edition of the Fred Dicker show are any indication, it’d be tough to conclude that he genuinely does.

In relaying a question from a listener, Dicker asked the governor if he could understand the frustration that many New York residents are dealing with right now over a Marcellus review process being led by the state that’s been delayed more times than a LaGuardia flight on Christmas Eve – thus denying tens of thousands of hard-working residents the ability to produce (and earn much-needed income off) the minerals they own. Here is a key excerpt from that interview (full podcast available here):

Dicker: “There is legitimate frustration out there, probably on both sides, but homeowners and others down in the Southern Tier who hoped that this could be getting under way, people looking for jobs, unemployment is very high down there. Certainly you can understand their frustration.”

Cuomo: “Look you have it on both sides right. People need jobs and people don’t want to be poisoned.” (50:26)

Dicker: “But there is no evidence of poisoning, have you seen any in Pennsylvania?”

Cuomo: “That’s the whole question right. There’s fear of poisoning.” (50:34)

Dicker: “There’s an answer to it though: fear is artificial in the view of a great many people including myself. The U.S. EPA has said it found no evidence of any water supplies being damaged.”

Cuomo: “Yeah and there is a great number of people who say the jobs aren’t going to happen either.” (50:44)

Dicker: “And you believe them?”

Cuomo: “Well, I am just saying, there is an argument on both sides.” (50:48)

Dicker: “Not necessarily of equal weight though.”

Cuomo: “Well, not to you.” (50:54)

Dicker: “No, not to experts. Not to the U.S. EPA, not to Joe Martens who said it could be done safely.”

Note here how the governor’s response to EPA’s finding that fracturing technology is safe was not to rebut the notion, but rather to dodge it entirely – as if Dicker had not even uttered the concept. It’s as if the governor was rattled by scientific evidence and had to find something – anything – to change the subject. (It’s also worth noting that it was the state’s own assessment that predicted 50,000 jobs could be created from shale development, so Cuomo was effectively changing the subject to argue against his own administration.)

But in this back and forth, Dicker makes an important point: The only folks putting forth arguments against hydraulic fracturing right now are the folks whose opposition to shale development is based on ideology – not on science. Maybe that’s why the USA TODAY noted in a front-page article this week that public acceptance of shale development continues to grow – especially in those areas where real development is actually taking place.

Another reason for this shift in public opinion may be related to the steady stream of comments and testimonials on the safety of the fracturing process that continue to flow from folks who know a thing or two about the issue – and aren’t exactly shills for the oil and gas industry, you feel us? Here are just a few of the ones that really drive the anti-shale folks mad:

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” (April 2012)

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior: “There’s a lot of hysteria that takes place now with respect to hydraulic fracking, and you see that happening in many of the states…It can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.” (February 2012)

John Hanger, Former Pa. DEP Secretary: “We’ve never had one case of fracking fluid going down the gas well and coming back up and contaminating someone’s water well.” (2012)

Dr. Stephen Holditch, Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University: “I have been working in hydraulic fracturing for 40+ years and there is absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers.” (October 2011)

Dr. Mark Zoback, Professor of Geophysics, Stanford University: “Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.” (August 2011)

U.S. Dept. of Energy and Ground Water Protection Council: “[B]ased on over sixty years of practical application and a lack of evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to indicate that when coupled with appropriate well construction; the practice of hydraulic fracturing in deep formations endangers ground water. There is also a lack of demonstrated evidence that hydraulic fracturing conducted in many shallower formations presents a substantial risk of endangerment to ground water.” (May 2009)

You can also view the list of nearly a dozen state regulatory agencies affirming that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate ground water.

So then: According to Governor Cuomo, claims made by the likes of Yoko Ono, Lady Gaga, Josh Fox, and various other groups ideologically committed to shutting down responsible energy development are on equal footing with the experts and conclusions listed above. Is that what he’s saying here? Does he really believe that? Or has he already decided that shale won’t be given a go in NY, having made the political calculation that, since no one wants to spend $10 million drilling a well for $2 natural gas right now, he’ll just shift the blame for shale’s demise over to people at his health office.

Speaking of: Cuomo’s comments today come on the heels of news leaked (not even released, leaked) last week by New York’s Department of Health about the academics it has chosen to review the state’s environmental study on shale — Lynn Goldman (George Washington University); Richard Jackson (University of California-Los Angeles); and John Adgate (Colorado School of Public Health).

EID decided to do some research into what these “experts” have said about hydraulic fracturing (see our letter submitted to the New York Department of Health here). It didn’t take but a few quick searches in Google to uncover that these individuals have made some pretty inflammatory (and baseless) accusations about hydraulic fracturing, all of which cast a disturbing light on how they view shale development.

Here are a few examples:

Dr. Lynn Goldman: “But along with the promise of economic benefits and a healthier planet comes the worry that the exponential growth in the industry is spawning troubling health risks in communities near fracking operations. These hazards include toxic chemicals in the water, polluted air, and even seismic activity caused by disposal of fracking waste waters. … “In addition, some of the chemicals — not just those added as part of the fracking process but also chemicals brought to the surface in the waste water — are linked to health problems such as disruption of the endocrine system or even cancer.” (Huffington Post, Oct. 24, 2012; emphasis added)

Dr. Richard Jackson: “Pick up any newspaper in any city in the world any day of the year; you will find a headline that involves health and environment. As I write this many states are grappling with the challenge of hydraulic fracturing of shale and other natural gas sources, and yes there is “fracking” in California. These most unregulated drilling processes numbering in the hundreds of thousands have impacts on air quality including global warming, drinking water and other waters, soils, air quality, and nearby populations including by noise. Fracking involves serious worker exposures and will likely cause silicosis and other lethal diseases. What we extract from the earth– methane, coal, mercury, metals and more–all eventually embed in the natural world and in our bodies. What we make to help grow food, control pests, move our cars and flameproof our computers; all these chemicals end up in the biosphere and in our children. How we build our communities shapes our energy use, socializing, and physical activity.” (Fielding School of Public Health, Introduction to UCLA Environmental Health Sciences Program; emphasis added)

Professor John Adgate: Adgate serves as the Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH), which recently conducted a controversial health impact assessment that claimed natural gas operations would likely cause negative health impacts. Adgate was one of the contributing authors to that report.

  • NOTE: Energy In Depth previously identified at least eight significant errors that resulted in its flawed findings. Chief among these was that the study utilized air toxics data collected in Garfield County, Colo., between January 2008 and November 2010. Colorado updated its regulatory requirements for oil and gas systems in February 2009, and thus a large portion of the data used in forming the study’s conclusions represented an operating environment that no longer exists in the state. Additionally, the study utilized air samples taken within one mile of a major U.S. interstate (I-70) to determine emissions levels – notably benzene – from oil and natural gas development. This is problematic, as the U.S. EPA has found that most of the nation’s benzene emissions come from cars, trucks and other mobile sources and exposure levels are highest near major roads. The study also relied on flawed assumptions that exaggerated the emissions associated with drilling and completing new gas wells. As a result, the study’s conclusions dramatically inflated the health risks associated with natural gas development.

Because of these and many other errors, the assessment received strong criticism from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the study was decommissioned by the Garfield County commissioners in May 2011. The CSPH researchers claimed to have been working closely with Garfield County officials to collect their data, but the county’s chief environmental health official, Jim Rada, told the press he had “no knowledge” of what the researchers were even studying.

As the above examples attest, an individual could be forgiven if they assumed these recent actions were meant to derail, or at the very least significantly delay, the approval of responsible shale development in the Empire State – which is precisely what opponents of development want.

In fact, anti-hydraulic fracturing activists admitted as much in an Associated Press story on the Governor’s announcement today that the process would once again be delayed. The AP reported opponents were “cheered at word of the latest delay,” and Sandra Steingraber – a well-known opponent of hydraulic fracturing – even suggested the fix is already in.

“We are confident,” Ms. Steingraber said, “that a thorough, independent review of the health impacts of fracking will show it can’t be done safely.”

With Governor Cuomo’s statements and the state’s hand-picked review panel, one has to wonder if that’s not exactly what they’re going to get.

And that raises another important question: With the Governor looking out for the interests of Hollywood, rich musicians, and discredited activist groups, who is looking out for the unemployed upstate – the same folks who rejected “fracktivism” in the recent election and support responsible development?

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