Cuomo keeps his ear to the ground
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 20:10
As far as Republican governors go, Andrew Cuomo is unique. In the end of September, his administration restarted the regulatory review process that would allow hydraulic fracture gas drilling to begin in New York state. In The New York Times article, “Shift by Cuomo on Gas Drilling Prompts Both Anger and Praise,” Cuomo is quoted as saying that drilling cannot begin until potential effects on the public are explored and investigated.
According to ProPublica, a non-profit journalism organization which works in the public interest, “Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.”
Despite pressures from lobbyists, landowners and industry executives, Governor Cuomo decided that this is not a simple matter of personal approval or potential revenue. This is an issue that concerns the health of the public and the purity of our rivers, lakes and skies and it requires more deliberation.
Does this end the debate over the future of “hydro-fracking” in New York? Not by a long shot. But it does mark a change in the tide for scrutiny of the controversial process, and the influence that energy companies have over environmental policy.
This is an example of a politician putting the well-being of the public above corporate interests, a mythical practice once called prioritizing. To the dismay of his caucus, he is not a pushover to oil and gas companies, and has decided the cleanliness of his state’s water and air is more important than revenue and employment.
The truth of the matter is that the Cuomo administration, the EPA and energy companies do not know the full extent of what effects hydraulic fracturing has on groundwater and people living in close proximity to gas wells, but the Cuomo administration is the only one in this discussion honest enough to admit its ignorance on the subject.
In a manner of speaking, hydro-fracking is a remarkable new pill that works wonders for profit margins, but may have serious negative side-effects. Rather than put the pill into production, the governor has decided that unless he can offer a 100 percent guarantee that the process is safe he cannot give it his approval.
In my opinion, the most overlooked aspect of this decision is that it comes in lieu of a canoe trip Cuomo made to the Adirondack National Park Sept. 24. He took members of his cabinet and the press to the Boreas Ponds Tracts, a newly purchased plot of land that is going to be added to the State Park just south of Mount Marcy.
Although it is obviously a carefully crafted photo-op, it shows that the governor is not just concerned with politics in Albany and a population center in New York City. In retrospect, this event may have played a role in the governor’s decision about hydraulic fracturing. If it did, it speaks volumes about the man.
This column is not against hydraulic fracturing, but it is against hasty decisions that are difficult or impossible to undo. Apparently, so is the governor. He understood that this debate is hotly contested throughout the state and the country, and that if the debate is not over, it is not up to the administration to pretend the debate is over.
Hydraulic fracturing is remarkable. Nobody disputes it is a marvel of engineering for a well to drill down more than a mile into the earth to find gasses we use to heat our homes, but arguments in its favor ignore the fact that all fossil fuels harness a limited resource. If the supply of a resource is always diminishing and the demand is always growing, reason dictates that how clean, dirty or economically viable the process is makes no difference. At best, hydraulic fracturing is a temporary solution and at worst it is helping to make unsustainable energy a permanent problem.