New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and unconventional drilling pioneer George Mitchell have offered their unqualified support and a big financial boost for "common sense" hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regulations, just days ahead of expected new guidelines for New York state operators.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post last month, Bloomberg and Mitchell said their intention was to promote "the sensible center" in the fracking debate. To "jump start" the regulatory process Bloomberg Philanthropies is providing a $6 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to help secure stringent rules in 14 states that today account for most of the gas reserves accessible through unconventional drilling, or about 85%. The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation also committed $1.6 million to the effort, with $400,000 specifically designated for the EDF to help institute new or improved regulations for unconventional drilling.
"Fracking for natural gas can be as good for our environment as it is for our economy and our wallets, but only if it's done responsibly," wrote Mitchell and Bloomberg. "The rapid expansion of fracking has invited legitimate concerns about its impact on water, air and climate -- concerns that industry has attempted to gloss over."
The support comes ahead of a final decision in the state about whether to allow high-volume fracking, which would allow unconventional drilling to expand. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration reportedly is readying a regulatory plan that could be released any day (see NGI, Aug. 13).
Mitchell, who sold Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. to Devon Energy Corp. for $3.1 billion in 2001, is considered the "father" of unconventional drilling. In the 1990s his company perfected the drilling technique in the Barnett Shale, which married horizontal drilling with decades-old fracking stimulation methods.
"In Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and even Texas, there is a fundamental debate over fracking -- the hydraulic fracturing of shale rock that, together with horizontal drilling, unleashes abundant natural gas," wrote Bloomberg and Mitchell. "Mostly, itâ€™s the loud voices at the extremes who are dominating the debate: those who want either no fracking or no additional regulation of it. As usual, the voices in the sensible center are getting drowned out -- with serious repercussions for our country's future."
Shale gas production "through fracking" is the "most significant development in the U.S. energy sector in generations, and it affords four major benefits that people on both sides of the debate should welcome." Gas production is "good for consumers' pocketbooks" because it helps to reduce energy costs. "In the Northeast alone, fracking has helped stimulate major infrastructure investments that will soon bring the first new interstate natural gas pipeline to New York City in decades."
Bloomberg last year offered his unqualified support for Spectra Energy's plan to expand two natural gas pipelines into New York City (see NGI, Nov. 7, 2011). Last week Bloomberg also touted a new study that is urging New York City to upgrade natural gas infrastructure ahead of increased demand (see related story).
Unconventional drilling has spurred economic growth and reduced U.S. dependence on coal, "which is one of the best things we can do to improve air quality and fight climate change," wrote Mitchell and Bloomberg. "The more natural gas we produce, the more quickly we will be able to close dirty-burning coal plants. Finally, done right, today's more nimble natural gas plants even allow more renewable power to be integrated into the electricity grid than coal does."
Last year Bloomberg donated $50 million to a Sierra Club campaign to block new coal-fired power plants and eliminate existing ones. Bloomberg Philanthropies spokesman Mike Marinello said the mayor's financial support of "safe" natural gas drilling was the "next" logical step.
Bloomberg is opposed to fracking in or near New York City's watershed in upstate New York, which supplies drilling water to about nine million people in the city and nearby counties, but he's hasn't wavered in his support of natural gas. If high-volume fracking in the state is approved, the city already has secured a ban on the practice within the watershed by the New York Department of Conservation.
Mitchell and Bloomberg said they would "encourage better state regulation of fracking" around five principles: disclosing all chemicals used in the fracking process; optimizing rules for well construction and operation; minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater; improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane; and reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities.
"We can frack safely if we frack sensibly," they wrote. "That may not make for a great bumper sticker. It does make for good environmental and economic policy."
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