Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New York to limit fracking to mostly rural, economically desperate areas

Danny Hakim reports in today's New York Times on the Cuomo administration's anticipated plan for limiting fracking to the southwestern region of the state.  Hakim explains the decision in--among other terms and frames--rural and urban.  An excerpt follows:
The plan ... would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.  
Even within the southwest region--primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties--drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.  
More than the rural-urban divide, however, the divide between where fracking will and will not be permitted to occur is based on economic need--indeed, in some places, economic desperation.  A few dozen communities in the state's "Southern Tier," directly north of Pennsylvania and in western New York, have passed resolutions in favor of fracking.  Hakim's story goes on to give a vivid sense of why people in these nether regions of New York tend to supporting drilling:
"A lot of people look at this as a way to save our property," said Dewey Decker, a farmer, a member of a coalition of landowners supporting fracking and the town supervisor of Sanford, in Broome County, at the Pennsylvania border.  Residents of the town, including Mr. Decker, have already leased thousands of acres to a drilling company. 
Mr. Decker said that the area's traditional dairy business had been in sharp decline, and that the promise of fracking had already helped some residents.  He said there were "a lot of people who, when we signed and got the upfront money, were going to be losing their land and couldn't pay their taxes."  
One environmental organization, New Yorkers Against Fracking, called the Cuomo plan "shameful" and a "violation of environmental justice."  Sandra Steingraber, the founder of the group, criticized the "[p]artitioning [of] our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation."

Meanwhile, it is clear that the Cuomo plan is looking out of for New York City.  Last year, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation last year indicated support for fracking, excepting "environmentally sensitive areas like New York City's upstate watershed."  In that situation, rural and urban interests were arguably aligned--at least if environmental protection is the foremost concern.  Now, however, the Cuomo administration is said to be "trying to acknowledge the economic needs of the rural upstate area."

In related news, some academics at SUNY Buffalo are challenging a report suggesting that state regulation has made fracking safer.  The academics are up in arms because the report was given the University's imprimatur, via the recently formed Shale Resources and Society Institute, though the report's primary authors--both associated with other universities--conduct research for the industry.  The report's lead author was widely quoted in the media about the report:
Now we have comprehensive data that demonstrates, without ambiguity, that state regulation coupled with improvements in industry practices result in a low risk of an environmental event occurring in shale development, and the risks continue to diminish year after year.
This report came at a time when Congress was considering greater federal regulation of fracking, which of course implicates whether state regulation is sufficient.  SUNY Buffalo initially indicated that the report was peer-reviewed, but subsequently acknowledged that it was not.  In fact, much of the report's analysis tracks a Manhattan Institute Report on "The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development."  That report was by three of the four authors of the UB/SRSI report.  As Martha McCluskey wrote on the CPR blog a few days ago, the UB/SRSI "report proves only the power of the fracking industry to weaken both regulation and academic integrity."  Read more here.

And don't miss this on how the "fracking mess" is about to aggravate the "mortgage mess."  In short, signing a gas lease without lender consent is likely to constitute mortgage default.  Further, Wells Fargo, the largest home mortgage lender in the U.S., does not make home loans on properties encumbered with natural gas drilling leases.

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