The Inevitable Slow Path to New York Shale Gas

Sep 5, 2012 Posted by

August 31, 2012, 10:59 am

By ANDREW C. REVKIN
 

Chip Northrup, a former oil and gas investor from Texas who now splits his time between Dallas and upstate New York, is an articulate and energetic opponent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for the natural gas locked in deep shale layers in the state. Read his output here to get his views. But he splits with many other fracking foes in the region on a critical point – urgency.

Josh Fox, the anti-fracking filmmaker, describes the “urgent crisis of drilling and fracking in New York State.” A frequent talking point of other natural gas foes is the prospect of gas companies poised to deploy a forest of rigs to drill 50,000 wells.

Drilling proponents play the same time card, this week making an “urgent call to action” to press New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to swiftly release the state’s package of new rules for such drilling methods.

Northrup has for many months noted that a mix of low gas prices (probably for many years to come), the costs of extracting gas in New York and inevitable litigation means that whenever the Cuomo administration finally releases new fracking rules, it will take a very long time for drilling to gain any momentum in the state. This two recent Northrup posts explain this reality:

No NYS shale gas wells in 2012, 2013, or ?” (Aug. 22)

Is Fracking DOA in NYS?” (Aug. 19)

Please click and read. When the most recent of these posts was published, I engaged in a short Google+ exchange with Northrup. I said that the inevitability of a slow rollout, with gaps in the rules fleshed out through the litigation that has become a normal part of how America resolves environmental disputes, justifies Cuomo’s signaled decision to proceed.  I wrote:

Those warning of rush to drill 50,000 wells and predatory practices will have a lot of time to focus on the few wells and deals that move ahead. I stand by what I wrote here.

Northrup responded:

Well, we look at it from slightly different angles, but the camel is the same. Slow, based on economics, and refined by the courts, not science…. focused on some Potemkin Wells in Vichy, N.Y. [clear allusions to Potemkin villages and Vichy-style collaborators.]

I invited Northrup to contribute a “Your Dot” piece summarizing his views and he kindly did so via YouTube:

Among other points, he notes as evidence against any New York gas rush that many energy companies with drilling applications in the works in New York are “trying to unload their positions in Houston, cheap.” (Relevant background is in his post here.)

One big question in New York, going forward, is whether the existing energy and environmental departments of government have the capacity or interest to oversee a big expansion of gas drilling, using hydraulic fracturing or any other means. It’s worth reading Northrup on this issue, as well. In a recent e-mail, reacting to renewed criticisms of  Bradley J. Field, who heads the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Mineral Resources, Northrup said this:

When it comes to pesticides, the DEC is an effective environmental agency. When it comes to oil and gas, it is a minerals management agency — not an environmental agency. New York is one of the few states without an autonomous environmental agency for oil and gas.

Complaints about the head of the minerals management department will not alter that fact. The DEC could fire Brad Field, and nothing would change. Nothing. [Read more from Northrup on the minerals division here.]

I’d written about the need for a shakeup of the minerals division, but he’s convinced me that the issues go beyond personnel.

Luckily, as Northrup has made clear, there’s plenty of time to push on reform here, as well.

Sept. 1, 11:30 a.m. | Addendum |
The Green blog reports that environmental groups and others have met with state officials to discuss fresh assessments of potential health impacts from horizontal drilling and fracking.

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