OP-ED FROM SENATOR GREG BALL ON FRACKING

 

    Ball: “Five years is long enough, the Governor had it right.”

    After the 2012 legislative session I visited Pennsylvania to see first-hand the process of high volume hydraulic fracturing and its effects on the health of the community, the environment and the economy. In Pennsylvania, a state that rushed to frack without putting the proper regulations, enforcement funding and manpower in place, the results were sometimes disastrous.

    As I toured the region I met families that had their drinking water contaminated and the values of their homes drop by 90 percent, I saw former pristine natural resources that had been destroyed and natural wildlife that had been contaminated. Some in the industry suggested that most of these stories were “trumped up fabrications”, yet seeing them and speaking with the victims firsthand, I knew the concerns to be real. Quite frankly, Pennsylvania should be ashamed at how they rolled out fracking without taking the time to protect their people and their environment.

    When I returned to New York State I spearheaded the call for a moratorium so we could put the proper regulations in place, and do so without repeating the mistakes of Pennsylvania and others. During this time I drafted the “Property Owner’s Bill of Rights”, which aimed at setting tough, new standards for hydro-fracking to prevent the issues I witnessed. Since this time, we have seen hundreds of thousands of comments involving important public input and New York State has moved forward to reinforce some of the stiffest regulations in the nation.

    It has now been five years that New York State has maintained a virtual moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing. New York State has a track record of vigorous regulations and high environmental protection standards. As New York State moves into the fifth year since we have placed hydro-fracking on hold, I believe we are in a very unique position to do what Pennsylvania initially failed to do. While I have been the prime sponsor of legislation pushing for a moratorium, I believe it is now time to begin moving forward albeit cautiously.

    Over the course of several months I have met with elected officials, industry representatives and citizens from Pennsylvania, but also states like Louisiana and Texas. You do not have to search long to see many of the key factors that make Texas appealing to economic drivers and job producers from around the world. There are hundreds of factors that make Texas more open for business than New York, but their experience with the extraction of natural gas mustn’t be overlooked. For both Louisiana and Texas, natural gas is a huge job creator. As a firsthand witness to the issues experienced in Pennsylvania, I was very surprised to learn that these states simply didn’t have the devastating environmental problems that I witnessed to the north. What these states have seen is great economic development and growth, while there environmental issues and water contamination have been nearly unheard of.

    Let’s be frank, our friends upstate and in the Southern Tier are starving for job creation and without fracking will be left hopeless in a dying economy. In fact, a recent report by the state Comptroller’s office showed that the five counties that border the State of Pennsylvania and would benefit most from hydro-fracking, have all seen a steep sales tax revenue decline. Chemung County experienced the steepest decline at 6.4 percent.

    As these struggling counties are seeing sales tax revenues decline, gas companies are seeing record profits. National Fuel Gas Co., which has holdings in the Marcellus Shale Region of Pennsylvania, said its third-quarter profits jumped by 35 percent as a result of a big jump in natural gas drilling. According to Bentek, a Colorado company that analyzes energy trends, both Pennsylvania and West Virginia have seen a 50 percent growth in natural gas production compared to last year. The report says that while the number of actual wells has declined, production has grown because of increased efficiency in drilling techniques.

    Governor Cuomo has also acknowledge the great economic benefits fracking would bring to New York State. During a “Capitol Pressroom” public-radio interview Cuomo said, “every area that has participated in fracking will tell you that it’s increased commercial activity and it has an economic boost effect.”

    This Governor was right when he initially spoke of a phased approach and I firmly believe it is now time for New York State to put in the proper protections and begin an incremental approach by allowing fracking in up to 6 counties. Let me also be very clear, that to do so, these protections and regulations must be backed with the funding and manpower necessary to hold the industry completely accountable.

    In support of the Governor’s previous proposal, I believe that we should select several test counties in the Marcellus Shale Region that have already passed resolutions in favor of fracking to begin a three-year test. After this three-year period we can allow a respected New York State university or college to do a study on the environmental, health and economic impacts. Then based on this study we can make a final decision on fracking in New York State. Let the industry put their best foot forward and be judged exactly on their merits.

    For more information contact jbachmei@nysenate.gov or (845) 531-9796.

    ###