August 29, 2011

Hydrofracking politics, local and state

While they may have tried to present themselves as the middle ground in that strange Ithaca Journal article a month ago, the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition is stepping up its industry affiliations and its rhetoric:

about sixty leaders came together on August 22 at a Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC) sponsored, by invitation only, meeting in Binghamton to discuss legal strategies for pushing back against, and legally combating, local ordinances banning safe, regulated, energy development and taking landowner property unjustly without compensation. Key speaker at the conference was noted New York and Pennsylvania oil and gas attorney and geologist Michael P. Joy.

Conference participants attending included an array of leaders from local, regional, and statewide landowner coalitions throughout upstate New York as well as leaders of farm and industry groups such as the Farm Bureau, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and Energy in Depth. DSEC moderator Henry S. Kramer said, "We are bringing together landowners, farmers, and industry in common cause to overturn bans and unpaid takings."

Meanwhile, there's been some interesting movement in the New York State Senate. I noted that State Senator Jim Seward had sponsored legislation clarifying that municipalities have the right to zone out drilling. At the time, I thought that was a surprising take for Seward, especially given his neighboring State Senator Tom Libous' generally strong support for drilling.

Now, Seward's position seems pretty moderate, at least in contrast with an even more surprising Senator. Greg Ball is generally on the right-most edge of the entire legislature, but he seems to have concluded that hydrofracking is a threat to the private property he so powerfully promotes.

He held an August 23rd hearing which the oil and gas representatives chose not to attend. Perhaps more constructively, Ball released a proposal today that I think more clearly defines what "responsible drilling" could and should be like if drilling is to happen:

  • Immediate 180 day comment period on hydrofracking.

  • Mandatory full disclosure of all chemicals used and compounds produced during the hydrofracking process. Requires oil and gas companies to inform New York State Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources what chemicals are injected, the source of water used, how much water was used, and whether any radiological components were injected, and their fate.

  • Mandatory water and soil testing by an official governmental third-party for presence of chemicals used by the fracturing process prior to drilling

  • All fracking companies must agree to sign a Presumption of Causation Agreement with the State of New York.

  • Mandatory full reimbursement to property owners by negligent fracking companies for 150% of the real estate's market value of property, based on estimates prior to drilling, and 100% of the cost for full remediation of soil and water. The company will also be accountable for full reimbursement of the land owner's legal fees.

  • Mandatory full remediation of soil and water, and free medical monitoring for life. All settlements are not to be taxed.

  • Allow local governments to enact or enforce certain laws and ordinances relating to oil, gas and solution mining.

  • Mandatory adherence to an environmental impact assessment process, similar to New York's SEQR Process, to assess the impact to the environment from fracking.

  • Mandatory disclaimers and warning statements on lease documents about the risk of contamination of soil and water, as well as the potential health affects, related to fracking spills.

I will be very curious to see how (and if) the gas companies and their local allies respond to this plan. Somehow I suspect they won't be too enthusiastic about "responsible drilling" when it includes a heavier dose of responsibility. On the more optimistic side, you never know - they might agree with it as part of a broader possible compromise on drilling.

(I tend to find I either completely agree with Greg Ball or completely disagree with him. I'm not sure there's another politician with whom I have such clear lines.)

Update: Ball's proposal is apparently too much for the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition. Meanwhile, over at The Albany Project, one commenter suggests escrow accounts to ensure the remediation side of this holds up.

Posted by simon at August 29, 2011 12:22 PM in , ,
Note on photos