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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