February 6, 2013

A DEC appointment I can't complain about

New York Hires Fracking Geologist With Ties to Industry screams the headline:

Robert Jacobi was picked by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a seismology study as part of its environmental review of the drilling process known as fracking, Lisa King, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail this week. Jacobi is a University at Buffalo professor and has advised drillers for two decades.

"It raises questions about whether the DEC is just following the lead of industry on this or is taking their work seriously," Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo-based group that studies ties between business and government, said in an interview. "Is there a pattern of regulatory capture at the DEC?"

Jacobi, however, is the guy who studied fault lines in New York State and found many many more than the DEC's weak geology section recognized.

While I understand the concern, the unfortunate reality is that geology and oil and gas exploration have been married for a century. There aren't enough people who understand the science but haven't taken the cash. If I was going to be paranoid about this, I'd worry in a different direction: that DEC likes their currently broken geology section, and hope that bringing Jacobi in will help them avoid changing it to reflect a more complex reality.

No, I don't think that's why they're hiring him. I have some small hope remaining that they're in the process of recognizing they botched that, and will use the extra time created by their probably failed rush to the finish line to fix it. Maybe they actually read my letter on the SGEIS, which cited him?

In many ways I think this is a great sign! We'll see.

Posted by simon at 8:19 AM Comment

Moving some things to Twitter

I'm still trying to do too many things, and along the way I've been losing things. To try to keep up better, I've started a Twitter feed for short references to articles and similar things.

You can see it in the left column of the front page of the site, on its own page, or, if you're on Twitter, you can follow @livingindryden.

Eventually I need to capture and archive it, but the infrastructure for this site is already creaking fairly loudly.

Posted by simon at 8:35 AM Comment

February 12, 2013

Hydrofracking regulations further delayed

I'm not sure this is the 'huge victory' against hydrofracking that some folks are calling it, but the Department of Health apparently isn't done with its review of health impacts, pushing the Department of Environmental Conservation to hold off on releasing its regulations and revised SGEIS.

There is, as Attorney Tom West said on WSKG today, a lot of "industry apathy" toward New York at the moment, thanks to delays, collapsed prices, and the greater appeal of "wet gas" further west. However, this delay doesn't sound like it will be forever:

The previously proposed high-volume hydraulic fracturing regulations cannot be finalized until the SGEIS is complete. However, this does not mean that the issuance of permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be delayed. If the DOH Public Health Review finds that the SGEIS has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS. The regulations simply codify the program requirements.

If, on the other hand, the DOH review finds that there is a public health concern that has not been assessed in the SGEIS or properly mitigated, we would not proceed, as I have stated in the past.

In either event, the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.

Reading Albany tea leaves is tricky.

Posted by simon at 4:09 PM Comment

February 14, 2013

Solar/Energy house tours starting up

I've liked the Green Houses tours, and reported on one. Having a lot of houses open on a weekend is great in many ways, but it kind of limits the conversations you can have and compacts them into a brief period.

I'm delighted that the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition is setting up another style of tour, offering a conversation about one house project a month:

In February we will start our tour on Turkey Hill Road at an older home where the owners have tightened the house envelope and then installed ground mount solar panels plus a geothermal heating/cooling system. The whole nine yards. The solar panels run their lights and the geothermal pumps and also charges their electric car. FEBRUARY 19th, 7:00 pm, 301 Turkey Hill Road; home of Bob Armstrong and Betty Singer.

Photovoltaic installation
Photovoltaic installation on Turkey Hill Road.

This is just the first in a series, which will explore all kinds of home energy conservation and generation. It won't all be solar, though with the SolarizeTompkinsSE project getting underway, solar will likely be an important component.

Posted by simon at 12:36 PM Comment

February 15, 2013

Boundary plays

Fracking politics keeps reminding me of the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania. My brother and I were both born in Pennsylvania, but grew up just north of the border in Corning. Why were we born in Pennsylvania? Because my father worked for Corning, and they had factories in Pennsylvania.

In many ways, the Southern Tier is well-connected to Pennsylvania, through its rivers, through sharing its hills, and through people moving across the borders for work or for home. It has New York connections as well - after all, that's what the Erie Railroad was for - but there are definitely strong connections to Pennsylvania.

In the past week, I saw two pieces that reminded me that it all could be different. First up was a piece from Energy in Depth Northeast Marcellus, Southern Tier Treatment as Sacrifice Zone Leads to Secession Petition, in which those frustrated by New York State's delays wanted to shift to Pennsylvania. Why?

We are tired of the influence New York City has over the entire state. Brain damaged animals from that concrete sewer dictate our direction.

We are tired of being told we need them to survive. We have shale gas - we will be just fine without them.

I'm good with statehood or Pennsylvania annexation, just get me away from Ithaca and New York City.

The other was a new exercise in the fantasy of redrawing state boundaries. I'm not certain, but I think Tompkins County may be the southern boundary of Adirondack, while Corning, Elmira, Binghamton, and maybe Cortland go to Pocono.

I don't think any of these changes are likely, but it is occasionally worth remembering that the current boundaries have little natural or demographic foundation.

Posted by simon at 5:43 PM Comment

February 16, 2013

Ice lanterns return

I enjoyed making ice lanterns last year, and thought I'd repeat the experiment this year once it got cold enough. We had a run of cold weather in January and a brief period where it could work in Febuary.

Lanterns in the snow.
Lanterns in the snow.

The main trick to doing this is weather. You need it cold enough to freeze lanterns, and single-digit (F) overnight temperatures are perfect. Once made, they can tolerate weather a little bit above freezing, but will disappear rapidly in warm rain. Wind gusts above about ten miles an hour put out even fresh lanterns, and partly-melted ones offer less protection. If it's too warm, the candle's heat can help melt the lantern and quickly create a puddle that puts out the lantern. Drainage holes help, but can freeze back up.

Sentinels in the snow.

I tried to light them a little before sunset, as they're pretty in twilight, even if less dramatic than in the dark.

Light spirits at dusk.
Light spirits at dusk.

Ice lanterns seem about the safest way to burn candles, but when the candles got stuck in ice, I put new candles on top. That led to at least one small fire. It didn't go anywhere, but it scorched the silicone I put under the candles - so it's a warning of what can happen if wax catches fire beyond the wick.

Wax fire burned the silicone.
Wax fire burned the silicone.

The lanterns are temporary, and their time seems to be over for now. It's possible I'll make another set this year, but it will likely be December or January before it makes sense again.

Lanterns with sunset.
Lanterns with sunset.

The complete gallery of 2013 ice lantern photos has a lot more. As you can see, there are lots of different ways to take pictures of ice lanterns!

Posted by simon at 10:27 AM Comment