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Letter, Statements Show Complexity of Fracking Debate in NY

The oil and natural gas industry in New York State is "imperiled" and "in crisis" because of the ongoing delay over whether to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state, according to a letter sent Monday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA).

Meanwhile, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials said the agency shouldn't have said several times that a health impact study on fracking was forthcoming within weeks, and IOGA denied there was a conflict of interest after a consulting firm hired by the DEC to conduct a fracking study was listed among hundreds of signatories in the letter to Cuomo.

IOGA Executive Director Brad Gil, in the letter to Cuomo, said he was deeply concerned about the future of gas development in the state. He cited DEC figures that showed 550 permits were issued for vertical oil and gas wells in 2008, but only 163 were issued in 2012.

"We are tremendously anxious that a profound misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the processes for indigenous natural gas production may now prevail in New York, rather than fair consideration based on science and real world experience," Gil wrote. "Our industry, which has operated in good faith and responsibly for decades in New York, is leaving; and so are the 5,000 direct and nearly 50,000 indirect jobs supported by our members.

"As all credible scientific research and demonstrated success has so often indicated, natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. It is creating good, high-paying jobs, and it will continue to be in demand for decades to power business, vehicles and homes. Undeniably, it is fostering a manufacturing and economic resurgence across the country."

The Democratic governor issued a lengthy Earth Day statement on Monday that outlined new environmental initiatives, but he made no mention of fracking. However, he did mention the practice during a radio interview on Friday, after a Quinnipiac Poll showed that 46% of New Yorkers opposed fracking and 42% supported it (see Shale Daily, April 22).

"That's why fracking isn't a toughie because it is literally a 50-50 issue," Cuomo told Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom program. "You make 50% of the people happy and you make 50% of them unhappy. It's not one we have to think about for a long time politically. There's no winning, and in some ways there's no losing."

Cuomo told Arbetter the DEC was still waiting for the state Department of Health (DOH) to complete a health impact analysis of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). The governor gave no indication of when the DOH would be finished with the report, and he denied accusations from both sides of the fracking debate that the DEC wasn't being transparent during the process.

"This process has been designed over the years by government regulation, government policy and by lawsuits," Cuomo said. "I don't think the people are really faulting the process, they're just dissatisfied; they want to know if there's an outcome, and they want to know the outcome is the outcome they want.

"The people who want it stopped want to hear fracking will never happen. And the people who want it to go ahead want to hear fracking will go forward tomorrow. It's probably the most emotionally charged issue that the state is dealing with right now."

Last September, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens asked DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah to conduct a health impact analysis of HVHF. On several occasions since then, Martens and Shah have said the DOH was "weeks away" from releasing their findings (see Shale Daily, March 13; Feb. 13; Feb. 5; Sept. 24, 2012).

On Monday, Martens said that, in hindsight, the DEC shouldn't have speculated about when the DOH study would be complete.

"I think it's difficult to nail down [a release date] simply because it's a difficult topic," Martens said in a video clip posted by The Journal News of White Plains, NY. "Dr. Shah originally said it would be a few weeks. I think the thinking was then that he was going to [be] able to quickly review the status of other reviews in other places. Those reviews have been under development for quite a while; they are complicated.

"If we made a mistake, it was saying it would be a few weeks. We should have just said it will be ready when our evaluation is complete, period, with no timetable."

IOGA spokesman Jim Smith told NGI's Shale Daily the group was not surprised Cuomo didn't mention fracking in his Earth Day statement, but it did take issue with reports surrounding Ecology and Environment Inc. (E&E), a global consulting firm with corporate offices in Lancaster, NY, that studied the socioeconomic impact of fracking in New York for the DEC in 2011 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 27, 2011).

Although E&E was included among hundreds of signatories on the letter to Cuomo, Smith said the firm didn't officially sign; it was included on a list of potentially affected companies that was created by Gil.

"There's one person in the company who's a member [of IOGA], and that's it," Smith said. "E&E has no influence over IOGA, and IOGA has no influence over them. They're a global company that does work for environmental groups. They have a portfolio of expertise that includes all kinds of renewable technologies."

Smith added that there were reports that "made it appear as if there's some conflict, but there simply is not. This is particularly irritating. We made no assertion that we were speaking for any of those people. We simply listed them to demonstrate to the governor what our membership looks like."

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