Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog Fight: Marcellus Shale Jobs

I just read a Jan 19 piece in the Capital Business Blog, a product of the Business Council of New York State, Inc, urging the State to press forward in the development of the Marcellus Shale. According to her bio on the website, the writer, Jennifer Levine, “has been able to contribute fact-based, accurate information to the public debate on gas drilling.” I, for one, would appreciate it if she would do that and not what she has done in this piece, which is dishonest. Business interests should come up with better arguments, anyway, than “You haven’t proved it’s not safe!” and “Jobs! Jobs!” in support of their cause. The piece is set forth below this post.

While a million wells have been “hydrofracked” around the country, the article asserts, “there has never been any evidence linking the process with well contamination.” Repeating statements like this, in the face of mounting evidence linking the two, won’t help them to become true. This is one of the mantras the DEC itself was repeating until Toxics Targeting got hold of its records which showed that water wells had been contaminated by gas drilling activity even in New York’s relatively innocent past . When the EPA identified 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) in Pavilion, Wyoming drinking water recently, it noted that there was no other industry or activity besides gas drilling in the area to blame it on, See Scientific American article.  These are reasons to be cautious. Neither the Business Council nor any other proponent is entitled, as a condition of further delay in the Marcellus play, to conclusive scientific proof of a connecting link that has been supported by so many improbable coincidences, among them the contamination of water wells near a Cabot gas play in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Cool it, Business Council.

The article’s second leg of support is a misreading of a study report by its cited source, the Empire Center for New York State Policy, on an outward migration of State residents. The argument is that moving forward with gas drilling will help stop the exodus of tax-paying New Yorkers and keep jobs here. Yes, the report does say that 1.5 million people left the State in the period 2002 to 2008. It does not say, however, as urged in the article, that they left looking for better economic opportunities. The 1.5 million figure includes retirees who, safe to say, would not be prospects for gas-related employment if they had stayed. The breakdowns indicate that the exodus diminished somewhat over the period and otherwise don’t help Ms. Levine’s thesis. Some 60% of the destinations of those who left were the southern states, more commonly associated with warm weather than with industrial growth and job opportunity. An overwhelming majority of the 1.5 M people who left, left the New York City area, not one of the State’s more critical centers of unemployment. I would certainly question whether these urbanites and suburbanites, if they had been looking for work, would have been deterred from moving out of state by the prospect of relocating in mostly-rural upstate where the gas-related jobs will be.

So, this piece is pure invention, as phony and misleading, though not as clever, as the right wing’s invention of “death panels” to scuttle the Democrats’ health care programs. Both are about putting business freedoms to pursue the dollar above people’s health and safety.

The battle cry of “Jobs! Jobs!” has me baffled anyway. As I’ve said before, I want to hear more about the local job opportunities that are alleged to come with gas drilling. “Thousands of new jobs!”, I keep hearing. What kinds of industry jobs will go to locals rather than people who come with the operators? How many jobs will outlast the initial development phase of drilling operations? How many will consist of cleaning up the environmental messes, at governmental expense, after the drillers have gone? Maybe the Business Council can shed light on that.


Marcellus Shale: Still too early to start drilling? Really?
Written by Written by Jennifer K. Levine on January 19, 2010 – 6:36 am
The Times Union editorial 1/10/10 suggests that it is still too early to start drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and wants the DEC to further study the effects of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Nevermind that over one million wells have been horizontally drilled and hydraulically fracked around the country and there has never been any evidence linking the process to well contamination.
The editorial further states that the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale isn’t going anywhere so what’s the rush? The natural gas may not be going anywhere but New Yorkers definitely are. According to the Empire Center for NYS Policy, between 2000 and 2008, 1.5 million New Yorkers left the state in search of better economic opportunities; the largest exodus of any state in the US. And drilling companies, especially the large ones with holdings around the world, will not wait forever for New York to finally allow permitting and drilling to begin when they can easily shift their resources to other shale plays in the US and around the world in China or India. In that case, New Yorkers will not only lose thousands of jobs but will also pay more to import natural gas from other states and countries where environmental regulations are far less strict than those proposed by the DEC.
How many thousands more New Yorkers will have to relocate in search of jobs while we continue to wait, study and review regulations that are already the strictest in the nation? We have an enormous opportunity to safely develop the vast home grown natural resource that lies under our feet but while the gas may remain there, the opportunity for New York to revitalize our nearly bankrupt economy will not.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Here we are, after the end of the comment period on the DEC’s “Final” sGEIS on natural gas drilling, waiting for the last governmental shoe to fall. Is there a dialog going on within the walls of the executive branch on whether to blandly update the document, or to hold off drilling or even scrap and replace it as the EPA, New York City, key New York pols, and the union representing 2000 DEC professionals, scientists and technicians have variously urged? Might we next hear that it has been finalized and that a first permit has been issued to drillers in the town of Hancock? That is to worry.

A piece in this morning’s Albany Times Union has endorsed the delay fray and raised another valid point: that the size of the Marcellus play as apparently contemplated by State officials may be just too big. For the first time, I am seeing some stunning figures on state tax and other income that have been dancing in their eyes. Thirty-two million in tax revenue and a whopping $1.4 billion overall, per year! Would they be so keen if trusted voices were to advise them to cut those numbers down substantially? And, once the floodgates are open and the quantum effects of drilling, fracturing, and waste disposal become palpable, will the DEC even be able to shift gears and begin denying permits based on statewide, or even county-wide, density? After all, new players won’t want to acknowledge and be bound by the errors of their competitors. They will probably sue.

That brings up a point I raised last spring in one of my unanswered letters to the DEC, and which I have not seen voiced elsewhere. Whenever the gas play begins, assuming it will, the DEC, if not the local governments which have been elbowed aside, should be in charge of it, and not the gas industry. I don’t get why government must be reactive, letting industry decide when, where and how it will drill, and limiting its own powers to approving, tweaking, or disapproving the plans as proposed. Industry cares about the geology; it doesn’t give a f... about water supplies, local communities or natural beauty. Allegedly, the State does care about these things. Why can’t New York turn the tables around and say, “You’ve got these seven leased sites. We’ll let you begin on Site 5, because it is not proximate to human habitation and because the probability of wastes entering water systems from here is minimal” (Plus other factors seen as environmentally significant.)? In my view, this is the way we should go, if and when we do go. The start should be slow and measured. It will allow the DEC’s small staff to acquaint itself with the realities of the horizontal fracking process before it gets out of hand.

Comments welcome.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

And How About the Delaware, NY Times?

Below is an editorial from yesterday's New York Times. Below that is my letter in response.

Hands Off the Watershed

Published: January 1, 2010

New York City has now officially registered its ringing opposition to a proposal by state regulators to allow natural gas drilling in the watershed that supplies drinking water to more than eight million city residents. Albany should amend its proposal and put the area permanently off limits to drilling.

The watershed covers roughly a million acres of farms, forests, lakes and streams northwest of the city. Its subsurface rock formations contain rich deposits of natural gas and are part of a much larger geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which runs northward from West Virginia into New York’s southern tier.

The state wants to exploit this resource because it could add to the region’s energy supplies and give a much-needed lift to the upstate economy. But the watershed contains just one-tenth of the state’s known gas deposits. That means New York would not be giving up all that much if it does the right thing and bans drilling there.

Last fall, Albany issued a thick set of rules intended to regulate drilling. Environmentalists and city officials immediately cautioned that while carefully regulated drilling could proceed in other parts of the state with minimal environmental damage, it would be foolish to risk the city’s water supply.

A new report commissioned by the city, and written by scientists and engineers who specialize in gas drilling, confirms those fears. It says that the drilling process — which is done by injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into the rock formations — “creates a substantial risk of chemical contamination and infrastructure damage.” That, in turn, could force the city to build a $10 billion filtration plant and negate the sizable investment it has already made to keep the watershed clean. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to be commended for commissioning the report and demanding a quick turnaround.

The good news is that the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, believed to be the largest leaseholder in the watershed, has already announced that it will not drill there. But its decision is voluntary and not binding on other companies. The only sure way to guarantee the protection of the watershed, and New York City’s supply of drinking water, is to quarantine the area.


To the Editor:

Your editorial ( HANDS OFF OUR WATERSHED Jan. 2) states a strong position on protecting New York City's water supply from possible contamination by natural gas drilling and hydrofracture. But there is another water resource in New York State that deserves special protection. The Delaware River supplies water to local communities before it becomes a major source of drinking water for Philadelphia and other points south. Numerous leases have been signed by landholders on both banks of a river that has been designated Wild and Scenic by the federal government. The runoff from these potential drilling sites would not only pollute the Delaware's drinking water, it would ruin one of the State's most beautiful recreational venues. Fishing, boating and swimming would become dangerous activities and the visually stunning vistas of this peaceful waterway would be compromised by chemical effluent. Grace van Hulsteyn ,Cochection, NY.