Kevin Cahill, who chairs the New York State Assembly’s Energy Committee, said there was plenty to gain by taking “a couple more weeks, a couple more months, even a couple more years to get us on track with fracking.”
“We have to do it safe,” said Assemblyman Cahill at a City & State energy forum last week, co-sponsored by Con Edison, GenOn and the New York Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance (NY AREA), and hosted by Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. That means we should do it as safely as possible, and we should take lessons from other states where it’s been done wrong, and figure out how we don’t do it wrong again.”
Hydrofracking involves large amounts of water and chemicals injected deep underground at high pressures to break up rock formations and extract natural gas. Environmentalists have a number of concerns about the process, including the risk that the chemicals that compose the “fracking fluid” could seep into the groundwater.
After environmentalists pushed aggressively for more study of its potential health effects, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month that the Health Department would conduct a review before deciding whether to lift a state fracking moratorium. The administration also announced it would not meet a November deadline to complete regulations, which is expected to trigger another public comment period.
Cahill said lawmakers had long been pushing to include a health study, and that delays could have been avoided had the Cuomo administration heeded their advice. But the lawmaker added he could envision the extraction of natural gas going forward within the state in the future, instead of transporting it hundreds of miles or importing it from states like Pennsylvania, which already allows the process.
“I don’t think it’s going off the tracks,” he said.
Rep. Paul Tonko, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, agreed with Cahill, saying he was unwilling to fully commit to natural gas drilling for fear that it would compromise the state’s water supply.
“I believe, like many, that we’re going to transition from an oil economy to a water-based economy,” Tonko said. “If that’s the case, if that happens in the next 10 to 20 years, New York State is poised for tremendous potential.”
One way to ensure that the state’s watersheds are protected, Tonko said, is to assist local governments with the potentially onerous task of regulating drilling by developing a “resource pool” of state money to use toward upgrading and retrofitting the infrastructure at water treatment facilities.
Another panelist felt that New York State has already fallen hopelessly behind in the race for natural gas. Jerry Kremer, a former assemblyman and the chairman of NY AREA, said that the potential for added revenue is too great to ignore.
“There are states that have been doing hydrofracking for years that are eating New York’s lunch every day of the week by virtue of the fact that they’re getting enormous amounts of revenue,” Kremer said. “I think the delays are going to make it a nonstarter, and from my perspective this whole [fracking debate] is overblown.”