The state’s largest coalition of pro-drilling landowners hosted a forum in Albany on Thursday, making the case for the soundness of hydraulic fracturing in front of an audience that featured lawmakers from both houses.
The panel discussion was billed as something as a response to recent criticism from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who knocked pro-fracking groups for not doing more to educate the public and allay concerns raised over the safety of shale-gas drilling. Among the panelists were Mark Boling, a Southwestern Energy executive who has teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund to craft a “model” set of rules for shale-gas drilling.
Boling acknowledged that New York’s nearly five-year decision-making process on whether to allow large-scale fracking has been “frustrating for all stakeholders,” but said he believes it “makes sense” to review the health impacts of fracking. The state’s decision on fracking is currently tied up by an ongoing review by state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, with no timetable for its completion.
Still, whether the natural-gas industry eventually comes into New York will depend more on price and less on the length of the decision-making process, Boling said.
“I think what really is going to drive the question of whether industry is going to come here or not is geology and price,” Boling said before the panel discussion kicked off. “If you’ve got a gas price that will support the activity and a geology that, at least in the Southern Tier, looks like it’s there, then as long as there’s some showing that the government and most of the community want to have that activity, then I think it will happen.”
The panel was hosted by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, a group of landowners seeking to lease their gas rights to energy companies for profit. The audience was filled generally with supporters of fracking, though Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, Putnam County, challenged several assertions regarding wastewater and the general safety of the process made by Syracuse University geology professor Donald Siegel. Ball is a critic of fracking.
Meanwhile, Cuomo spoke at Binghamton University earlier Thursday — right in the heart of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region. He was greeted by several dozen fracking protesters, who called on him to ban the technique over environmental, health and quality-of-life concerns.
Cuomo reiterated that a decision will be made based on the “facts and science” and said the protesters didn’t bother him.
“I’ve never seen a more polarized issue than this,” Cuomo told reporters. “That they want to express their opinion — great. That’s what this country is all about.”
Boling’s more-centrist views on shale-gas drilling make him something of an outlier among his gas-industry colleagues, many of which have expressed a higher level of frustration to being kept out of New York. He acknowledged some “friction” with his colleagues and receiving “not near as many Christmas cards as I used to.”
He also sits — or at least sat — on the Cuomo administration’s Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, which was established two years ago and tasked with coming up with recommendations on how to pay for additional drilling regulators. But the panel hasn’t met since late 2011, and there’s no word on when — or if — it will reconvene.
“Until we get to the threshold question of whether or not you’re going to have hydraulic fracturing at all, I can understand why they would put the advisory panel on hold,” Boling said. “Whether or not they decide to bring it back or not, your guess is as good as mine.”