Public Outcry Delays Hydrofracking, But For How long?

In an era of declining resources, extraction technologies used to access harder to reach energy reserves have become more popular, but also highly controversial, in part due to their environmental impacts. Governments, under severe pressure to better their economies, have welcomed industries seeking to exploit these available energy stocks. Hydraulic fracturing is just one of these methods that improves our “ability to extract natural gas from very tight rock” (DEC, 2011). With strong public opposition to fracking on one side and the need to bolster its economy on the other,  the State of New York  is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Since 2008, New York State “has been studying the possibility of opening up the Marcellus Shale to natural gas drilling”(Navarro, 2012, A22). Consequently, citizens and anti-fracking organizations have united to voice their vehement disapproval as the governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, has tried to lift the ban on a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (Confessore & Hakim, 2011, A1). The following picture was taken during a protest that took place last summer in Albany, NY, where more than a 1000 people joined together to march against fracking.

When the original EIS for this project was released for public review in 2009, it was highly criticized, receiving over 13,000 public comments (DEC, 2011). At that time, the public was concerned with the “potential contamination of groundwater and surface drinking water supplies” and felt that the EIS did not “adequately consider impacts from disposal of solid and liquid wastes” (DEC, 2011). This sent the government back to the drawing board in order to address these issues and revise the EIS. But since this all started 5 years ago, nearly 80,000 comments have been sent to New York’s government, putting enormous pressure on the governor, “to ban the drilling process” (Navarro, 2012, A22). In the fall of 2012, the governor even acquiesced to demands that a separate public health impact study be conducted by the state, the results of which have not yet been released (Hakim, 2012, A1). In addition, some towns have adopted local bans against fracking, which to the dismay of the energy industry, have held up in court (Navarro, 2013, A18). The 2011 revised EIS has recently been released, the public comment review period ending on January 13th of this year. Some sources claim that environmental groups submitted over 200,000 comments just in time for the deadline (Campbell, 2013).

What strikes me most about this case is that it demonstrates the public’s ability to influence government decisions or at least delay them. Public participation in EIA is a widely discussed topic because opportunities throughout the EIA process are often said to be limited and inadequate. But this proves that there is power in numbers regardless of whether New York’s inclusion of public participation in their EIA system is sufficient or not. The flood of comments received on the initial EIS are what forced the government to produce a revision in the first place. Even though the fate of NY is yet to be determined, (a decision is expected to be reached next month), the fight is far from over. That being said, if the state decides to move forward with the project, in spite of public outcry, it would set a scary precedent and beg the question: does public participation in EIA really have any concrete influence on policy or is it all just for show?

The following video is a report by Democracy Now, exposing the health and environmental effects of fracking, which are at the root of many New Yorkers’ discontent.

This second video, a promotional piece by the Marcellus Coalition, offers a contrasting perspective on the issue, and illustrates how the industry puts a positive spin on the practice, emphasizing the economic gains of natural gas development.

References:

Campbell, Jon. Feb.13 may Signal Hydrofracking Fate: Environmental Review Precedes DEC’s ‘Findings’. January 14th, 2013. Poughkeepsie Journal online. Retrieved January 16th from: http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20130114/NEWS/301110051/Feb-13-may-signal-hydrofracking-fate

Confessore, Nicholas., and Hakim, Danny. Cuomo Will Seek to Lift Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing (p.A1). New York Times on the web. June 30th, 2011. Retrieved January 9th from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/01/nyregion/cuomo-will-seek-to-lift-drilling-ban.html?pagewanted=all

DEC, Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011). Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs. Retrieved January 6th from: http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html

Hakim, Danny. Shift by Cuomo on Gas Drilling Prompts both Anger and Praise (p.A1). New York Times on the web. September 30th, 2012. Retrieved January 6th from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/nyregion/with-new-delays-a-growing-sense-that-gov-andrew-cuomo-will-not-approve-gas-drilling.html?pagewanted=all

Navarro, Mireya. New York State Plans Health Review as It Weighs Gas Drilling (p.A22). New York Times on the web. September 20th, 2012. Retrieved January 5th from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/nyregion/new-york-states-decision-on-hydrofracking-will-await-health-review.html?_r=0

Navarro, Mireya. Bans and Rules Muddy Prospects for Gas Drilling (p.A18). New York Times on the web. January 4th, 2013. Retrieved January 15th from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/nyregion/bans-and-new-rules-make-gas-drillings-future-uncertain-in-new-york.html?ref=earth&_r=0

 

 

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