Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One good thing about the NYS DEC Fracking process


As we reach the last day for making public comment on whether to lift the moratorium on Fracking in New York State, something good has come out of the four-month comment period. That something good is that we New Yorkers have had a conversation about our environment. Albeit, limited but a conversation nonetheless. Usually, when environmental concerns come up, we only argue about them as NYMBY issues, as how the environmental effects of a project will affect those immediately surrounding that particular project. Or, an environmental disaster occurs and folks start pointing fingers and calling up lawyers. We are a long way from adequately addressing environmental concerns in the media. (Note the almost criminal denial of media attention on Climate Change in the US presidential campaigns this year.)

The Fracking issue, drilling down horizontally for natural gas under the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale beneath New York State, is a positive leap forward in communicating environmental concerns because the whole state has had time to engage in the issue. Even our local media has been stirred out of their slumber and focused on what others think about Fracking in our state, though they themselves have not independently investigated all the environmental ramifications of how Fracking will affect our state. To get an idea of how a responsible and competent media investigates an intricate issue like hydrofracking nearby go to ProPublica’s Fracking - ProPublica “Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat.”

Of course, the limited way in which pubic comment was accepted by the DEC did not make for a full discussion about Fracking. The Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation was not a public discussion about whether to drill or not; it was a discussion on how to make drilling safe. For example, little still will be known about the public health aspects of Fracking after all the thousands of comments come in. Another is that because the cost of natural gas will be cheaper because of the increase in quantity, renewable energy will not be so economically desirable.

NCPR News - Gas drilling could take air out of offshore wind Politics and price are pitting gas drilling against offshore wind on the Great lakes. Our Front and Center partnership with WBEZ in Chicago looks at hopes for economic revival in the nation's rustbelt. In the Cleveland area, politicians and businessmen have been pushing for years to build a wind farm in Lake Erie. But the project's financing is up in the air, and as WBEZ's Chip Mitchell reports, state politics is tipping the balance toward hydrofracking, and away from what could be the first major offshore wind development in the Great Lakes.  (January 11, 2012) NCPR: North Country Public Radio

Those who have heralded natural gas as a transitional fuel, as it doesn’t (allegedly, as the methane component is still being argued about) burn as dirty as other fossil fuels , forget that their argument doesn’t hold up if we are not actually transitioning, that is ramping up the use of renewable energy—wind and solar—as we burn natural gas.

The problem with getting complete coverage on something that will affect New York State’s environment as profoundly as Fracking might be may boil down to simply money. The Fracking issue in New York State, regardless of how popular it is in the press at the moment because the comment period is closing today, cannot compete with something as lucrative for the media as the presidential elections—even though little of much importance is being talked about. Our presidential elections are mostly a dysfunction spin on how to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. There’s even a suggestion that the drilling companies have bribed their way into our decider’s hearts:

Hydrofracking industry bigs gave state politicians thousands of dollars - NY Daily News ALBANY — In pushing for state approval of hydrofracking, the natural gas industry has pumped $1.34 million into the coffers of New York politicians and their parties, a new study revealed. The donations were sprinkled around over the last four years as lawmakers and state officials debated whether to allow the controversial drilling process, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation upstate, Common Cause New York said in its report. (January 11, 2012) New York News, Traffic, Sports, Weather, Photos, Entertainment, and Gossip - Homepage - NY Daily News

The conversation about Fracking in NYS should have been whether or not to allow it all at, considering how much stress our state will be under with Climate Change. As our fresh drinking water becomes dearer in the late summers (as predicted by most Climate Change models in this region), farmers, communities, and drilling companies may be competing for those precious drops of fresh water. The discussion should have been how New York State will get its energy in the future as our state and the rest of the world warms up due to Climate Change. Those few of us who have brought out this critical aspect of Fracking in these times in this state have been largely ignored.

Having said all that, I cannot remember an environmental issue that has received so much attention by so many New Yorkers in a long time. That is good. But have we really learned anything that we didn’t know about this issue? Have we learned how to decide on environmental issues at all—devoid of their potential for making some people a lot of money? Has the Fracking issue in NYS made us better stewards of our state’s environment—or have most been shooting from the hip with talking points from their favorite political parties?

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