New York Sheds Light on its Fracking Plans

Ken Silverstein | Jan 06, 2013


New York State is moving a step closer to allowing fracking on certain properties there. Its governor has been awaiting the findings of a detailed analysis on whether the shale gas drilling process can be done without jeopardizing the local water supplies and the region’s air quality.

The New York Times got access to an eight-page analysis that said the process would safeguard both air and water. But the paper is reporting that Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely restrict such drilling to the southern parts of the state that border Pennsylvania. Those landowners are generally in favor of shale gas exploration while other parts of the state are adamantly opposed.

The paper also says that environmental groups are lambasting the newly acquired report that is not yet public. They are saying that the authors, who are part of the New York Health Department, did not do much original research. That concern, in combination with what they say is a lack of transparency, diminish the report’s findings. Meantime, the governor’s office is saying that the analysis scooped by the Times is old and that a newer version of it is forthcoming -- and that no formal decisions have been made.

“By implementing the proposed mitigation measures, the (Health) Department expects that human chemical exposures during normal (fracking) operations will be prevented or reduced below the levels of significant health concern,” says the original report.

New York State has banned fracking until it can gather more facts on whether it pollutes local drinking water supplies. The process involves using a concoction of sand, water and chemicals to loosen shale gas from the rocks where it is held, all a mile below the earth’s surface. Critics are maintaining that the chemicals ooze out and damage surface water while proponents of fracking say that the depths of the finds prevent such exposure.

Producers are pointing to a Yale University study indicating that as long as as current production rates are constant, shale gas development would add $100 billion a year to the national economy. The same analysis says that environmental mishaps could be mitigated.

Lack of Transparency

For his part, President Obama has said that shale gas production is a key catalyst to future economic development but that his administration would apply the necessary oversight to ensure good results. Among the measures he would require is to have natural gas developers to reveal the chemicals that they are using to frack -- something to which they have been opposed on competitive grounds.

But those producers may need to bend. That’s because the onslaught headed their way could undo their futures. Opponents are citing a study from the Colorado School of Public Health that says anyone living near drilling sites is getting exposed to unhealthy conditions.

“We’ve seen fracking and drilling for oil and natural gas contaminate water supplies, pollute our air and industrialize rural communities,” says Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “With the oil and gas industry enjoying so many exemptions from key environmental laws, it’s clear that we can’t regulate ourselves away from this problem. We need to ban fracking now.”

Those adversaries just got an added boost when it was revealed in December that a key study had been declared flawed and opaque. That is, fracking advocates had been pointing to an examination performed by the University of Texas. But its key author, Dr. Charles Groat, didn't reveal that he was paid $1.5 million over five years to sit on the board of a drilling company.

Beyond the lack of transparency, the study has been criticized for its scientific shortcuts -- that it “lacked a rigorous, independent review.” Dr. Groat was therefore forced to resign his professorship at the university while the head of the school's Energy Institute, Dr. Raymond Orbach, was also pushed out.

Meantime, the University of Buffalo released a pro-fracking report last spring. It, too, failed to reveal conflicts of interest, forcing the school to not just discard the study but to also disband its institute that focused on shale gas production.

Indeed, those conflicts get to the heart of many issues affecting the energy sector. Namely, both proponents and opponents of issues will secretly bankroll studies that use selective parameters to support their positions. They then hire media professionals and think tanks that they also fund to hype the findings. Independent studies have the most authenticity. But in the absence of that, the authors must thoroughly disclose from whom they are getting paid.

Despite some lack of transparency, the shale gas industry generally has a good track record. It should be permitted to expand production but under the watchful eye of both federal and state regulators.

EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been honored as one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

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Flawed Fracking Studies

The following references “University of Texas Revamps Conflict Rules After Critical Review” AAAS Science Vol 338 Dec. 14, 2012

Dr. Groat retired from UT and in now president of The Water Institute of the Gulf [nonprofit research organization based in BatonRouge LA]. Groat’s conflict of interest arose from this position on board of Plains Exploration & Production Co. [Houston TX] – “Groat had nearly $2 million equity in the firm … and [his] income from the company was more than twice his UT salary”.

Energy Institure Director Raymond Orbach, former research chief at the USDOE, stepped down from this post on Nov. 30, 2012. He “… declined to comment [but] remains on the UT faculty.

So yes the UT work included poor scholarship and conflicts of interest. But so did USEPA studies in WY and PA. Such reports only add to the rheotoric regarding Hydraulic Fracturing.

To prevent environmental degradation the drilling firm should work with State Regulatory Officials and develop site specific monitoring plans for disposal and/or treatment of fracking fluids. Such plans have been successfully developed in several states e.g. TX, PA and ND.

Please refet to my article Goodwin, R.W; “Shale Gas - Friend of Foe”; Energy Pulse Weekly; February 1, 2012 

Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL  


Fracking Plans

You are talking about an industry that falsely claims safety, benefits from exepmptions from the clean water and clean air acts, and hides behind confidentiality agreements it victims are compelled to sign to get water or recompense. The idea of a good track record is nothing more than a lot of false propaganda.


It is also a myth that the states or the federal goverment have either the trained personnel or the desire to keep a watchful eye over the industry. The division in NYSDEC has 15 or 17 people, barely enough to review and issue permits much less provide the needed field supervision.

fact check

"Those landowners (Southern Tier) are generally in favor of shale gas exploration while other parts of the state are adamantly opposed." I live in the Southern Tier of NY and can assure you that this statement is incorrect. There is large-scale opposition in our region. There have not been many local bans/moratoria becuase town board members who are potential leasors or members of landowner coalitions will not recuse themselves from votes. Independent polling shows opposition and support figures to be nearly equal, with about 15% still undecided. The numbers downstate show slightly higher level of support for drilling, as some people feel they will be protected from the negative environemntal impacts while they enjoy cheaper methane pricing.

The situation in NY is as clear as (drilling) mud at the moment, with the SGEIS unfinished, the health review of DEC analysis by DOH and outside experts kept from public view, and a 30-day comment period on draft regulations ending Friday with a Feb. 27 deadline to finalizes regulations, even though the SGEIS and health review, which should precede drafting of regulations, have not been finalized.