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Frack Attack
Shale Not So Hale in the Northeast

New York state officially banned fracking this week, putting a rubber stamp on what had been a de facto stand-offish policy towards the controversial drilling technique. Citing safety and health concerns the state issued a moratorium on fracking seven years ago, and earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Administration released a 43-page report that alleged growing uncertainty over “the potential significant adverse environmental and public health impacts” of fracking.

But making the ban official won’t do much to wind down the controversy. New York’s findings seem to run counter to the research of the EPA itself, which just last month released its own report—the most comprehensive of its kind at the federal level—that found fracking could not be linked with any “widespread, systemic impact on drinking water.”

The Northeast is host to the Marcellus shale formation, and fracking has increased natural gas production within the region more than seven-fold since 2010. Unlike its northern neighbor, Pennsylvania hasn’t turned down the shale opportunity, but as the WSJ reports the industry climate there seems to be moving in a negative direction:

Since taking over from a Republican administration this year, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf repeatedly has said he supports the state’s booming shale gas industry. But lately, the industry is questioning his commitment.

State regulators, who have begun reviewing dozens of environmental cases the previous administration handled, recently imposed an $8.9 million fine for a gas well they said is contaminating drinking water—the largest ever against a gas operator in state history.

The state is also proposing a raft of stricter drilling rules to prevent wastewater from contaminating drinking water sources. And industry officials are upset that the Wolf administration earlier this month slashed its estimate of state jobs supported by the shale-gas industry to 89,000 from the previous administration’s estimate of more than 200,000.

Contrasted with the Eagle Ford or Bakken shale formations (which can be found in Texas and North Dakota, respectively), the Marcellus is buried underneath a more densely populated part of the country. As we’re seeing, communities there are clearly concerned over the safety of these practices.

But are blanket bans the best way to address those concerns? Part of what has helped facilitate the shale boom has been the mineral rights afforded to American landowners. If oil or gas is found on your property elsewhere in the world, you groan, because it means the state is coming in to play plumber. Here in the U.S., you own what’s underneath you, so landowners can decide at the most local level whether or not the trade-offs make sense for them. A state-wide ban deprives many people from making that decision.

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  • Fat_Man

    New York should be forced to pay more than other states for gas, because they refuse to accept the cost of producing it.

  • rheddles

    This is more about Wolf than shale. This is what you get when you elect a non-politician. Wolf is also screwing up the privatization of the State Stores and is unlikely to get a budget passed before August. But he will give the teachers’ union its payoff for their election support. Everybody in Harrisburg is trying to figure out who is the biggest bsd.

  • Blackbeard

    Fracking caught the Greens by surprise and once it took off Obama was afraid to ban it because the oil/gas boom was the only thing preventing the Great Recession from turning into depression 2.0. But now Obama never has to face the electorate again and the price of oil is way down. I think we going to be seeing more efforts like this, at both the state and federal level, to ban and/or suppress fracking and indeed the hydrocarbon industry in general.

  • Mavwreck

    There’s a problem with allowing landowners to “decide at the most local level whether or not the trade-offs [of shale drilling] make sense for them”. Some of those trade-offs may have effects beyond the affected property. Problems such as potential water supply contamination may affect the neighbors – or even whole communities. State-wide bans may well be overly broad; however, if natural gas producers cannot compartmentalize these risks, then broader communities will look to affect the process.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Apparently after Cuomo announced the ban on fracking in New York, it was pointed out to him that his draft New York Energy Plan prepared in 2014 recommended a substantial increase in natural gas usage in the state. It was completely hypocritical for Cuomo to ban fracking in New York, which reportedly already consumes about 5% of the nation’s natural gas, while proposing a plan increasing natural gas use.

    Last month, Cuomo released his “Reform the Energy Vision” Plan, for 2015. It is a gobbledygook of clichés, slogans and unspecific policy recommendations (more innovation and R&D; clean energy financing), with very few specifics. The emphasis was on reducing greenhouse gases and carbon emissions; and not on how the state would meet New York’s growing energy demand. It appears Cuomo
    has provided himself an alibi to avoid responsibility for the likely substantial increase in natural gas use in New York.

  • Dan

    Anyone want to buy shares in my new company? It’s the Burns Slant Drilling Co. it will be based out of Pennsylvania.

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