Monday, March 12, 2012

Will the Fracking boom bypass NYS and set us up for a greater economic boom?


New York State seems to be balking at the idea of riddling our countryside with natural gas production. The rise in public concern over Fracking in New York State and current low natural gas prices appear to be giving the gas companies the jitters. Some perceive that NYS is over-regulating the drilling industry, which might mean that the boom could go bust.

That is added to the cascading of Fracking moratoriums (60 as of today) being passed by localities in the state, in part because of concerns over water quality due to the reluctance of gas drilling companies to reveal what’s in their Fracking fluids. (See What the Frack is in That Water? - ProPublica).

Amidst myriad other issues related to Fracking—increased road wear by heavy trucks, possible conflicts with mortgages, well water contamination, possible earthquakes, public health concerns, and many more problems—some may be wondering if there is a chance NYS will miss the Fracking boom altogether. And if so, might this loss of opportunity for the fossil fuel industry make way for the next opportunity for all New York State businesses—the financial boom that will come as the Likely Changes due to Climate Change drive water-thirsty folks in the Southern and Western United States back to New York?

OK that’s a lot. I didn’t want to bury my lead, so let me unpack all this.

No matter how indifferent you are to how we use our energy and whether our energy consumption will affect Climate Change, you can’t have missed the ruckus caused by the Fracking issue. Not even our dysfunctional media could have blinded you to this story. (Although they have been able to blind the American public on Climate Change in this year’s presidential race. Corporate-backed media just won’t ask presidential candidates about Climate Change even though it threatens our future. OK, ‘nuf said on that issue.)

Here’s the worry pro-Fracking people envision:

Fracking boom could go bust in N.Y. But with that not-in-my-backyard movement growing and the state proposing the nation’s toughest fracking controls, gas companies that flocked to the state several years ago are now downsizing or pulling up stakes. Add it all up, and New York’s once-envisioned gas boom is starting to look like a bust. “I think we’re losing the battle,” conceded Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Operators Association of New York State. (November 31, 2011) The Buffalo News

While other states have rolled over for the promise of jobs and great wealth, New York State has proved to be more resistant to the lure of short-term gains at the expense of possible long-term environmental issues. One by one, communities in New York are balking at Fracking. At present the courts are holding up their claims.

Another hydrofracking ruling backs home rule ALBANY — For the second time in a week, a state Supreme Court judge has upheld the ability of municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing and gas drilling within their limits. Otsego County Acting Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio ruled late Friday that the town of Middlefield was within its rights under state law when it passed a ban on oil and gas drilling in June.  (February 25, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle .

Whether NYS lifts its present Fracking moratorium, deciding instead to support Home Rule laws that impose local moratoriums on Fracking, it’s still going to take a while for our state to begin drilling. The governor and DEC chief promised that they wouldn’t go ahead with Fracking until it was safe. And it’s going to take some time to sift through all the tens of thousands of public comments made to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with a staff that has already been gutted by state budget cuts.

Seen from a longer perspective than the recent fracas over Fracking, New York State has historically been leery of using our own backyard to power our lives. We have fought wind, nuclear, and other power options. Much of America’s view that government should curb the excesses of the free market to protect our environment has come from New York State—highlighted in the environmental accomplishments of two NYS governors-turned-presidents, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. The Adirondacks, the largest park in the continental US, resides in New York, so too the Love Canal catastrophe that produced the Superfund for cleaning up industrial messes.

Those who thought that New York State was merely another domino in the ‘Drill-Baby-Drill’ boom had forgotten who we are. Learn more about New York State’s role in leading the way on environmental regulation here: The Nature of New York, An Environmental History of the Empire State

So while we wait for these ingredients of drilling for gas in NYS to cook, let’s consider an aspect of Fracking in our state that we haven’t really concerned ourselves about—the Climate Change connection. Drilling for natural gas could possibly release more greenhouse gases in the form of methane making it worse than coal. And, at the end of the day, burning more greenhouse gases in a time when our atmosphere has too much of them is crazy. Read this excellent encapsulation of the Fracking issue that nails this Climate Change point by our foremost environmental leader and writer, Bill McKibben.

Why Not Frack? by Bill McKibben "As the International Energy Agency reported last summer, the numbers are significant: their projections for a “Golden Age of Gas” scenario have atmospheric concentrations of CO2 peaking at 650 parts per million and temperature rising 3.5 degrees Celsius, far higher than all the experts believe is safe. In September, the National Center for Atmospheric Research tried to combine all the known data—everything from methane leakage in coal mines to the cooling effects of coal-fired sulfur pollution—and concluded, in the words of the scientist Tom Wigley, that the switch to natural gas “would do little to help solve the climate problem.” " Table of Contents - March 8, 2012 | The New York Review of Books

Also a recent report that links Fracking and Climate Change:

Report warns of oil shale risks | The American Independent BOULDER — Pursuing oil shale production in the face of increasing water demands and climate change concerns is ill-advised, a new report from a Colorado-based environmental group warns.  Colorado’s population is projected to swell by 57 percent over the next 30 years while its next-door neighbor, Utah, could see a 105 percent population spike, the Western Resource Advocates report notes. Corresponding water demand from municipalities and industry, in Colorado alone, could increase by as much as 83 percent. Studies estimate large-scale oil shale could drain the West of 122 billion gallons of water by 2050. “Water is the defining resource in the West,” Mike Chiropolos, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates, told reporters on a conference call this week. “There is an enormous uncertainty of what the impacts are of utilizing large quantities of that supply.” (March 9, 2012) The American Independent

Here’s where I’m going with all this: If New York State misses the Fracking boom and escapes ruining our fresh water by Fracking, we will be the Mecca for the onslaught of water refugees from the South and West. Climate Change predictions for New York State include a normal amount of precipitation resulting in no net water loss—although, we will experience less snow cover, more extreme precipitation in the Spring and more droughts in the fall. (Hey, it’s not all peaches and cream.) Areas of our country already experiencing water shortages and droughts in the West and South will experience more of that.

Freshwater resources will be affected by climate change across Canada and the U.S., but the nature of the vulnerabilities varies from region to region (NAST, 2001; Environment Canada, 2004; Lemmen and Warren, 2004). In certain regions including the Colorado River, Columbia River and Ogallala Aquifer, surface and/or groundwater resources are intensively used for often competing agricultural, municipal, industrial and ecological needs, increasing potential vulnerability to future changes in timing and availability of water.AR4 WGII Chapter 14: North America - 14.4 Key future impacts and vulnerabilities| IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

As other communities around our country endure more water shortage events, constraining their agriculture and even their ability to drink fresh clean water, New York State will be a godsend. Surrounded by the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, and innumerable other lakes, rivers, and streams, our economy will boom with grateful new residents tired of continual water problems--provided we are untainted by the Fracking problems other states nearby have endured. Don’t let this happen:

New Report—Fracking Could Cause a Global Water Crisis « EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement New technology enabling the extraction of large quantities of oil and natural gas from shale and other rock formations could drive the world’s next great global water crisis unless it is banned, according to a new report released March 7 by national consumer group Food & Water Watch. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, combined with horizontal drilling, is poised to become a global environmental and public health threat as the oil and gas industry seeks more access to oil and gas trapped in rock formations far beneath the ground. “Fracking is a dangerous American export that should be viewed critically by countries just starting to engage in the practice,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Modern drilling and fracking have caused widespread environmental and public health problems, as well as posed serious, long-term risks to vital water resources.”  (March 7, 2012) EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement

To learn more about how Rochester, NY’s fresh water may be influenced by Fracking and other fresh water threats like the privatization of our waters, go to the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club’s 14th Annual Environmental Forum: Our Water’s Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization.

“Where will all the water for fracking come from? What’s happening to Great Lake levels? Will our children have the same access to clean water that we do? We welcome Jim Olson, the environmental attorney who helped citizens in Michigan win a battle against Nestle’s bottling operation. Jim will share his expertise on protecting fresh water for the “common good” and how it pertains to our Great Lakes and Finger Lakes. Water! Our fresh water! Here in upstate New York, clean potable water is one of the most abundant and important of our resources. We live in the Great Lakes Basin, on the shore of bountiful Lake Ontario and near the beautiful Finger Lakes. We use these lakes as sources of drinking water and are fortunate to be able to do so. But along with the rest of the world, we may soon face challenges that end easy access to abundant fresh water for all.” 14th Annual Sierra Club Forum "Our Water's Fragile Future"

Don’t sit this one out. Our NYS Fresh water is at stake. Learn about this issue, and do something.

1 comment:

Bridget Watts said...

Excellent point. We need to keep making the argument that the long-term economic costs of polluting our waters and devastating the landscape is potentially much greater than the short-term economic benefits of allowing hydrofracking.