Appalachian Basin

Has New York Lost its Balance?

Armand Keim
Co-Chair, New Yorkers for Jobs and Energy Independence

There has been too much heat and not enough discussion on natural gas development in New York. The enormous potential of the Marcellus Shale formation to produce a long-term supply of clean natural gas cannot be ignored and shouldn’t be rejected based on emotion or incorrect information. As co-chairs of the group New Yorkers for Jobs and Energy Independence, Bill Jaenike and I see the need to provide a balance approach (a pilot project) that both sides could accept and that would move the ball forward in a controlled and monitored way which would lead to a reasoned conclusion.

Original article published in the Journal News

Why have so many Westchester, New York, residents involved in the discussion on high-volume hydraulic fracturing lost their balance? Too few observers are trying to weigh the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing — a controversial method of natural gas drilling — in an objective manner.

Environmentalists oppose hydraulic fracturing without considering the benefits, including to the environment. Natural gas companies often have a “drill, baby, drill” attitude. And, to confuse matters even more, the regulations on controlling hydraulic fracturing are primarily promulgated by individual states and vary considerably.

New York currently has a moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing. It is considering lifting that ban and putting in regulations that are more stringent than those in place elsewhere. Our group — New Yorkers for Jobs and Energy Independence — recommends that New York proceed with a pilot program, or balanced approach.

Natural gas derived from hydraulic fracturing is relatively inexpensive and burns much more cleanly than coal and oil. It is available in huge quantities (there is possibly a 100-year supply of energy) from domestic sources. The preponderance of media reports focus on potential detrimental effect of hydraulic fracturing, often sensationalizing rare, worst-case scenarios. There have been only several dozen real problems reported out of hundreds of thousands of wells drilled. These problems have not caused any major health problems or deaths. We need to find a safe and economical way to increase our gas supply from hydraulic fracturing as a bridge to a future where renewable energy sources and conservation can mature.

Hydraulic fracturing deserves reconsideration by environmentalists because there have been dramatic improvements in both the  methodology and in the additives available to be used in hydraulic fracturing. (One of the prime concerns of the anti-gas proponents is that chemicals used in the process could seep into the water supply rendering it undrinkable.)

After four years of continuous process improvement studies under critical, often helpful, prodding by environmentalists, the state Department of Environmental Conservation recently issued a proposed set of regulations that are more stringent than those of other states and have specific solutions for the problems other states have encountered. This includes protecting the watershed that supplies most of Westchester and New York City’s water. A balanced evaluation of the risk and rewards of hydraulic fracturing in New York needs to include consideration of these important, changing factors. (Click here for a copy of New Yorkers for Jobs and Energy Independence submitted comments to the NY DEC)

Hydraulic fracturing could end our reliance on foreign unfriendly sources of oil and make a big dent in our balance of payments problem. Natural gas can be used to produce electricity, in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way; power cars, trucks and buses; heat homes and businesses, and as an important ingredient in the production of some petrochemical products.

So why not go “whole hog” out for hydraulic fracturing? How about a balanced approach instead. New York’s proposed regulations will go a long way to mitigate the potential problems relating to hydraulic fracturing. But only operational experience will demonstrate their efficacy.

Our committee, therefore, strongly recommends New York adopt a pilot program in which under 100 wells are drilled in New York’s Southern Tier and closely monitored by the state. (This is similar to the approach recommended by MIT in its recent report on the subject.) The detailed environmental and economic results of this pilot program would be published and reviewed by all interested parties.

We strongly believe a balanced approach will produce the information that will demonstrate the risk vs. reward of hydraulic fracturing in New York and become the basis for an informed decision as to whether to proceed.

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