Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fracking making news again today in NJ, NY and PA

Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling technique better known as fracking, is making headlines, directly and indirectly, today in three northeast states.

In New Jersey, no fracking operations but plenty of anti-fracking activity

In the Garden State (which does not sit on top of the natural-gas rich Marcellus Shale formation) fracking opponents will rally at the State House at noon to support a bill that an Assembly committee will take up this afternoon. The bill would ban wastewater treatment plants from accepting frack water from drilling operations in neighboring Pennsylvania.   

The legislation before the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee (S-253) unanimously cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee last week.

Although no natural gas drilling is taking place in New Jersey, environmental groups have been campaigning against fracking for months, contending that allowing its use in northeast Pennsylvania could endanger the drinking supplies of 15 million people in the Delaware River Basin, including more than 1 million in New Jersey who rely on the river for potable water.

The bill in committee today, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen), addresses a new concern that  wastewater from fracking operations will be accepted by New Jersey plants that treat wastewater.

Environmentalists argue that the plants are not equipped to remove dangerous chemical constituents in fracking wastewater which, after processing, would be discharged to local streams and rivers.

In New York, Governor Cuomo looks to split the fracking baby

Natural gas drilling has been the subject of an ongoing moratorium in New York, but it leaped back into news headlines yesterday when the New York Times reported that the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is considering a plan to allow fracking only in portions of several struggling New York counties that border Pennsylvania.

Cuomo has been caught between two inflamed factions--environmental groups who want fracking outlawed statewide and shale region property owners who, unlike their counterparts in Pennsylvania, have been unable to realize any profits from leasing their land to drilling companies while the statewide drilling moratorium remains in effect. 

More than 100 communities have passed moratoriums or bans on fracking, anticipating that the state freeze could be lifted as early as this summer when regulators are expected to finish studies of how fracking could be safely implemented. A few dozen counties  in the Southern Tier, a row of counties directly north of Pennsylvania, and in western New York have passed resolutions in favor of the drilling process.

Cuomo's approach would be welcomed in areas that support fracking and it could minimize political and environmental censure in regions most strongly opposed to the process. It also could finally allow New York to get into the gas-drilling game which has been dominated by neighboring Pennsylvania.

And what about Pennsylvania?

In the Keystone State, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, has demonstrated no hesitation to embrace fracking and its reputed economic benefits. Since his election last year (supported by more than $1 million in campaign contributions by drilling interests) Corbett has played cheerleader for the gas industry, initially opposing all efforts to tax drilling and later conceding only to enacting the nation's lowest tax on drilling. Currently, he is offering large tax breaks and other incentives to entice Shell Oil to locate, in Pennsylvania, a large "cracker" plant to convert ethane--a drilling byproduct--into chemicals used in plastic products.

Corbett's pro-industry activities, which he argues will benefit the state's economy in the long run, all come at a time when he also is proposing a state budget that slashes aid to education and welfare programs and  reduces operating funds for the Department of Environmental Protection--the agency that regulates the natural-gas drilling industry.

Yesterday, news stories reported that Corbett's voter approval rating had slumped to 36 percent, its lowest since he became Governor. While numerous factors might contribute to that decline, the governor's stance on fracking likely plays a role--something environmental groups continue to underscore in their efforts to gain greater restrictions over the process.

Related news stories:
Cuomo Proposal Would Restrict Gas Drilling to a Struggling Area
Cuomo's Energy Proposal Polarizes Supporters And Opponents
Proposed tax break for Shell gas 'cracker' plant draws debate
Corbett approval rating just 36%

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