It has been very instructive to watch the reactions environmental groups have presented in response to the recent EPA study on the impacts of hydrofracking. While the natural gas industry has hailed the EPA’s findings as vindication, environmental groups who usually march in step with the EPA were stung by the study as it undermines their core claims in opposing gas drilling.
It is central to the narrative of anti-gas activists that hydrofracking is inherently damaging to ground water. “Fracking pollutes groundwater and must be banned” is the refrain. But the EPA report confirms what fair-minded observers of the industry have been saying for some time. Yes, there are some risks to from hydrofracking and occasional accidents, but those risks are manageable.
The EPA’s statement that fracking does not create “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water” is crucial, it undercuts the entire narrative that the ant-gas activists have been using which is that hydrofracking always contaminates water. Green groups have not backed down though, and accuse the EPA of buckling under industry pressure.
The primary risk factors are well construction failures, surface spills and wastewater disposal. These risks are well understood and monitored by regulators. When incidents happen fines are imposed and remediation undertaken. The process of fracturing itself has yet to be implicated in an actual case of drinking water contamination.
The surest sign of an anti-gas activist is that they are quick to list all the possible things that might go wrong when drilling, but never list any of the benefits that natural gas offers. A fair-minded person would do a cost-benefit analysis, weighing the risks against the rewards.
When evaluating the risks and rewards of drilling for gas in New York, a fair minded person would recognize that New York State is an enormous consumer of natural gas and imported more than 1 trillion cubic feet last year, while not producing our own shale resources.
A fair analysis would recognize that natural gas is crucial to every state and federal policy that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. If we are serious about shuttering coal plants around the state, we need natural gas. If we are serious about cleaning up the air quality in New York City by replacing fuel oil furnaces, we need natural gas.
A fair analysis would recognize that natural gas is a critical complement to intermittent wind and solar resources. New York is intent on building out renewables, and that’s great, but the engineering reality is that wind and solar need to be matched up with fast firing gas turbines that can turn on and off quickly to meet their inconsistent production.
A fair analysis would recognize that the Southern Tier of New York, where the shale gas resources are, is one of the poorest parts of the state and has been steadily losing industry and population for a generation. The Southern Tier is desperate to drill for gas in the hopes of bringing some much needed prosperity back to the region.
As a landowner in the Marcellus Shale I care about our air and water quality as much as anyone else, but I also care about the economic prosperity of our community. Banning gas drilling is bad policy, bad for the citizens and economy of New York, and ultimately bad for the environment as well.