There is a different attitude about hydrofracking starting to emerge from state lawmakers and even the Governor. In a New York Times story under the headline After Early Gallop, Albany Slows to Crawl in Making Decision on Gas Drilling, journalist Myrea Navarro notes the change from last year’s apparent “fast track” movement toward issuing permits to drill:
But now, a decision on the process, known as hydrofracking — its scope, its timing or whether it will happen at all — seems much more uncertain, and the approval process has slowed considerably despite almost four years of study, debate and intense lobbying on both sides of the issue.
Mr. Cuomo did not mention hydrofracking in his State of the State address last month, and did not provide money in his proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year for regulating the new industry.
The change can certainly be attributed in part to the very vocal and creative opposition to hydrofracking, which also helped to produce a record number of comments to the DEC on the dSGEIS document. In particular, the municipalities that have been passing bans and moratoria at the local-government level have made state legislators, who answer to the same local voters, sit up and take notice. A map made by Karen Edelstein that shows the current extent of municipal-level bans, moratoria, and other related actions in New York State can be viewed here.
The degree to which the mood in Albany has changed since last year can’t be explained only by stalwart citizen activists, persistent environmental advocacy groups and alarmed municipal officials invoking home rule, however. The economics also changed, and state legislators pay a lot of attention to economic issues in these difficult times.
Navarro quotes an environmental organization leader and a Southern Tier legislator on this in her NY Times article:
Robert Moore, a panel member and executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said the costs of minimizing hydrofracking’s risks had become a bigger issue now that some gas companies have gone into a retrenchment in response to the glut of natural gas. The industry would ultimately be responsible for the fees and taxes necessary to defray the costs of hiring and training state regulatory workers.
“With gas prices being what they are, it’s unclear what profits can be made,” he said. “If there’s no profit, there’s no tax revenue.”
Another panel member, Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, a Democrat from Broome County, said, ‘It all boils down to two questions: what level of risk are we willing to accept, and at what cost?’ “
As the government agencies, such as the US Geological Survey and the Energy Information Agency, that are charged with giving the “official” word on reserves slash their previous estimates of technically recoverable reserves by as much as 80%, and gas prices reach unprecedented lows below $2.50 per thousand cubic ft., it becomes harder to believe that shale gas drilling in the Marcellus in NY will be profitable. Without the glitter of potential big money to be made, fracking is not so attractive a proposition in the state capital.
For an excellent analysis of the current business and financial situation that Marcellus Shale gas companies find themselves in, check out Deborah Rogers, who has come up North from her Fort Worth, Texas home to do a speaking tour of New York State. Ms. Rogers’ presentation in Binghamton is available on video, or listen to her radio interview with Susan Arbettor here. Her work is also available on her blog.
There is a new awareness in Albany on the fracking issue, and it is not just a clearer understanding of the environmental risks– it is also a changed perception about the strength of the business case for shale gas exploration in New York.