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Fred LeBrun, Times Union columnist, Explains: Gov. Coumo’s recent step towards allowing Fracking in “certain parts” of NY State

In last Sunday’s Times-Union, columnist Fred LeBrun wrote a column that makes clear his analysis of Governor Cuomo’s recently leaked plan to allow Hydrofracking in “certain areas” of New Your State. It’s well worth the read, and as far as I am concerned hits the target right in the center–especially the last paragraph. Even if you think you have read all that’s necessary about Fracking, this will open your eyes a little more when you see the political context. This was sent to me by Norman Mintz…thanks Norman!

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Norman Mintz <>
Date: Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 8:33 AM
Subject: Fwd: Albany TU Coverage of Fracking Politics
To: “Charles Abraham,” <>, lech kowalski

I know you will be very interested in seing this commentary…..

Cuomo’s fracking baloney
Fred LeBrun, Commentary
Published 06:53 p.m., Saturday, June 16, 2012

New York’s fracking civil war, pitting New Yorker against New Yorker, is heating up.

The signal of impending confrontation that got both sides worked up came last week in a newspaper story that had all the earmarks of a trial balloon from the Cuomo administration. It was presented as a seemingly reasonable plan for going forward in only a few places that want it, but that on closer inspection gave no assurances except that fracking permits will be issued.

This plan, announced in The New York Times, purportedly from administration sources, resolved a difficult tactical problem for Cuomo and the gas industry. He has kept himself a very popular governor by giving the public what it wants, or at least what it thinks it wants as he has defined it, and avoided with few exceptions giving the electorate what it needs if it’s unpopular, or embracing what a significant number of voters don’t want, as in fracking.

But make no mistake; from the beginning the Cuomo administration has favored the broadest possible high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Southern Tier’s Marcellus Shale that it could get away with. Properly regulated, of course, which in its view justifies everything. In truth a defensible public policy stance, as long as the anticipated terms and conditions of “properly regulated” have broad consensus. Right now, they do not.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is analyzing a record number of responses from the public that will lead to new state fracking rules and regulations, due for public debate in a few months. There are a number of bones of contention still at issue, from proper wastewater treatment to quantifying local economic impact to health risk assessments. By no means are we where we ought to be with any of them before drilling permits are issued.

Even for what looks like a pilot project such as the one suggested in the Times article.

So. How does a governor who wants to stay popular initiate an unpopular policy that he really wants? The story in the Times is perfect, and his fingerprints aren’t on it at all. He can back out of any of it anytime he wants, without even getting his Teflon suit warm.

According to the plan, fracking will be limited, “at least for the next several years,” to the deepest layers of the Marcellus Shale — so as to minimize potential groundwater contamination — and limited to towns within five counties in the Southern Tier that have said they welcome fracking.

Seems reasonable, as long as it does not lessen scrutiny on the safety concerns skeptics have put forth, embodied in the environmental review process. Water quality is a good example. If there’s a threat to groundwater admitted here, a hard look at risks generally is called for. Aquifers and rivers know no municipal boundaries. A risk to one is a risk to all; whether a town wants fracking is immaterial.

The plan appears to accept home rule. Yet it doesn’t really; it’s squishy. Don’t count on it. At the moment, the administration has no choice because two state Supreme Court decisions have affirmed a locality’s right to say no. However, both those decisions are being appealed by the gas industry. Should the appeals prevail and the gas industry win, it would mean the state calls the shots and not the localities. It will be instructive to see how the governor reacts to home rule if that happens, or whether he publicly supports a bill before the Legislature that strengthens and clarifies home rule in these cases.

Worst of all, though, what appears to be proposed leapfrogs attention over the critical regulation debates, where the focus should be right now. What the gas industry has said repeatedly it fears most is so-called “over-regulation,” which is certainly a matter of perspective. Theirs and ours.

The truth is the reasonable plan in the Times is exactly what the gas industry wants for now, to keep its hand in the game without the need for a major commitment or build-up. Simple but brutal economics have made the expensive technology of drilling for methane unattractive at the moment. Drillers are actually scaling back in the Northeast for now. Not coincidentally, I suspect, for the next several years the gas glut will keep prices too low for much activity in New York. But the industry has a high stake in the future, and times will change. Fifty permits is all it needs to keep investments in play and New York on tap.

Starting drilling where towns want it is no guarantee the drilling will stop there, should New York’s municipalities lose the home rule determination. By then, the great likelihood is that the tumbling consequences, political and otherwise, won’t be Andrew Cuomo’s problem. He’ll be long gone.

Once the story of the state’s supposed plan was in play, the governor went out of his way to neither confirm nor deny it was correct, yet he couldn’t stop talking around it while never really saying anything. At least not believable. What came out was vintage Cuomo’s Deli, where you can get any cold cut you want as long as it’s baloney, sliced anyway you want to hear it.

Jon Campbell of Gannett’s Albany Bureau asked the governor about the reported plan, and the governor responded that he didn’t have a plan. Yet. “First of all, we’ve made no decision on hydrofracking, and I’ve said all along the science is going to dictate.”

And what science would that be? The New York-based Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy list the 10 most significant deficiencies in the draft environmental plan currently under review by the DEC. They include the lack of empirical scientific data on drilling and fracking risks, no plan for the disposal of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater, an underestimation of radioactive drilling waste pollution, the lack of a broad health assessment and little basic data on the location of underground water supplies, faults and floodplains in the affected areas.

Apparently not that science. • 518-454-5453


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