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Is New York Going to Allow Fracking?

History of Fracking in New York

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was banned in New York state in 2008 to study its effects on the environment. Since then, there have been numerous debates on whether or not fracking would be beneficial for the state. Predominantly, citizens and businesses are against the practice. However, many land owners in the Southern Tier are eager to get paid quite handsomely for the sale of their land to energy companies.

A decision to overturn that ban is currently in limbo. Recently, a lawsuit by Norse Energy has tried to drive the state to reverse its decision. The company’s goal is to absolve itself of its $100 million investment in a state that hadn’t yet allowed fracking. With large sections of the Marcellus Shale extending into New York from the south, it’s obvious why gas companies are frustrated with the lack of a permanent answer from the state’s government.

The Governor of New York

Andrew Cuomo inherited the fracking moratorium in 2011 when he became governor. While there have been many attempts by pro-fracking groups to have the ban lifted since then, his environmental commissioner recently affirmed that Cuomo won’t issue regulations to allow fracking until after April 2015. Conveniently, this will then only take place after the 2014 re-election campaign for Cuomo, drawing the ire of many people. “Whatever happened to Governor Cuomo’s commitment to let science, and not politics or emotion, govern this process?” stated Karen Moreau, executive director for the New York State Petroleum Council.  “The human cost in New York, due to arbitrary delays on this matter, is real.”

Despite the current stall of fracking in New York, the state’s dependence on natural gas is growing rapidly. Over 1,300 buildings in New York City converted from oil to natural gas in 2013, which was an increase of 300 from the previous year. Mike Ford of the Energy Information Administration (EIA) sees the reality of natural gas procurement in the short term, saying “Natural gas is more apparent in the short term, but in the long-term we see renewables playing a bigger and bigger role.” In President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address, he called natural gas a “bridge fuel” to renewables that reduce carbon pollution compared to other energy sources like coal and oil. One has to wonder if, or when, Cuomo will side with the president and allow fracking in New York.

Pennsylvania Fracks: Why Can’t We?

Fracking has been allowed in Pennsylvania since 2004, making it a hotbed of controversy for ten years. Proponents of fracking will defend the process and say that land owners are happy with their newly-found financial security, local jobs are being created, and significant revenue is being generated for the state. Opponents would clearly lay out the increased health concerns, damage to the environment, and lack of sustained growth for the state, other than in the immediate fracking locales.

What cannot be contested is the significance that fracking plays in Pennsylvania’s policies and political future. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) is an ardent supporter of fracking who recently announced a desire to end a three-year ban on drilling for natural gas beneath state forests. He hopes to raise $75 million via new drilling leases to help offset a $29.4 billion spending plan. His office asserts that it would not disrupt surface land and would only allow horizontal drilling from sites outside the parks.

Since the state currently only owns approximately 20% of the 200,000 acres, the goal is to sign deals with gas companies prior to them securing gas supplies from under the forests. If the state doesn’t have these deals in place, the companies could obtain gas for free. Clearly, not everyone liked the governor’s plan. Cindy Dunn of PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group, stated “This will place more and more of the budget burden on the backs of public lands. The governor reveals the short-sighted nature of his stewardship of our natural resources by trading more long-term harm to our state parks and forests in return for short-term economic gain.”

Pennsylvania brought in nearly $445 million over the course of two years through leases for forest land. The map below shows the current amount of fracking wells in Pennsylvania.

To Frack Or Not To Frack?

So, how will this all play out? Will New York follow the lead of Pennsylvania and argue that fracking will be able to help the economy? Or will it wait for further research by allowing other states to be the guinea pigs for an industry that doesn’t necessarily tell the truth? In either case, the timing of a decision from the Governor’s office is suspect at best. Whether you’re for or against fracking, resolving the issue after a reelection campaign (under the sole guise of environmental concern) shows a lack of transparency with the people who voted for him.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Ed Sullivan

    If New York State hopes to ever regain it’s status as the true Empire State, we need to build a climate that allows business and industry to thrive. Fracking has not resulted in the destruction of Pennsylvania’s environment so let’s stop allowing reactionary, emotion based, radicals from pulling us all down with them. Lift the ban NOW!

    • Wayne Kovach

      Hi, Ed. Thanks for commenting.

      I wouldn’t agree with you that Pennsylvania’s environment hasn’t been affected by fracking. There are plenty of examples that show fracking can cause earthquakes and other serious issues.

      That said, I still think Cuomo will allow it in NYS, likely in April 2015 after he’s been reelected this fall. It may very well be done in small “test” type batches, and certainly under tight regulations (to appease both sides), but it will happen. There is significant money to be made by leasing land to these companies. I believe he’ll run for President in 2016 and he’ll want to have shown that he made the state as financially sound as possible by that time.