Updated throughout with reaction, DEC comment.
A consultant hired by the state to assess the impacts of shale-gas drilling is a member of one of New York’s largest gas-industry groups, according to a letter posted by the trade organization Monday.
Ecology and Environment Inc., an Erie County-based environmental consulting firm, was one of about 200 groups listed as a member on a message sent by the Independent Oil and Gas Association to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday morning.
The letter — you can read it here — calls on Cuomo to allow large-scale hydraulic fracturing in New York as other states have, citing various studies and government officials who have vouched for its safety.
It was written “on behalf of IOGA of NY’s members” — a list that includes Ecology and Environment, according to the letter.
“The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is — and has been — safe, good for our environment and for our economy,” IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill wrote to Cuomo. ”Our New New York must now join the nation and embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development. We need your help.”
(UPDATED: Gill released this statement after this post was published: “As the Executive Director of IOGA of New York, I provide a sustained leadership voice for the organization’s board of directors and its 335 members. The roster that followed the letter identified the magnitude and diversity of our membership and did not purport to reflect each member’s individual point-of-view.”)
The consulting firm was hired by the state in 2011 to perform an economic analysis of what would happen if New York opened the Marcellus Shale to fracking. The DEC at the time said it had not done enough to study the economic impacts of fracking, and said it had decided to engage “independent consultants to thoroughly research these types of effects.”
Ecology and Environment’s study, released later in the year, estimated the state would add 24,795 direct jobs over the next 30 years in an average scenario, with those employees earning a combined $1.7 billion.
The results were touted by the DEC, but were instantly criticized by anti-fracking groups, who said they were overly rosy and didn’t take into account fracking’s potential toll on roads, hospitals and other local-level costs. In December 2011, DEC commissioner Joseph Martens said he would ask the consultant to expand the study, but it’s unknown if that work was completed.
Ecology and Environment did not provide an immediate comment Monday. The company hasn’t commented on its work with DEC in the past, citing client privilege.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the company’s analysis was just one of a number of perspectives considered by the agency during its lengthy review of fracking. She did not respond directly when asked whether the DEC stands behind the consultant’s report.
“Science and the facts will determine whether high-volume hydraulic fracturing goes forward in New York and (Ecology and Environment) provided its professional observations as part of our comprehensive evaluation process that included a diverse set of perspectives,” DeSantis wrote in an email.
New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of groups opposed to shale-gas drilling, called on Cuomo and the DEC to throw out the economic analysis.
“It’s clear that (Ecology and Environment) has revealed itself as very far from an impartial actor, and its role has jeopardized the integrity of the state’s review of fracking,” said John Armstrong, a spokesman for the group.
Ecology and Environment has long counted oil and gas companies among their client list, and the DEC’s decision to hire the firm was scrutinized by environmental groups and fracking critics at the time. But it hadn’t been revealed that the company was a member of IOGA, who has been one of the most active pro-fracking lobbying organizations in the state.
James Smith, a spokesman for the gas-industry group, said it was his understanding Ecology and Environment is an IOGA member.
“I don’t see how it’s an issue,” Smith said. ”(Ecology and Environment) is working with their reputation on the line. I don’t think they would do anything that was inappropriate because they’re a member of an association.”
The DEC has led a review of large-scale hydrofracking — the controversial technique used with shale-gas drilling — for nearly five years. The review must be completed before the agency can issue any permits for drilling in the Southern Tier’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale formations, which proponents say could provide an economic boost for the struggling area.
The completion of the DEC’s work, however, now waits on the state Department of Health, which is reviewing it to ensure it protects public health.
Earlier Monday, Martens said he last spoke to state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah about a week ago and that Shah was continuing his review. Shah has said three times that his work would be completed in the “next few weeks” — once each in January, February and early March.
“If we made a mistake, it was saying it would be a few weeks,” Martens told reporters. “We should have just said it will be ready when our evaluation is complete, period, with no timetable.”