New York State is moving a step closer to allowing fracking on certain properties there. Its governor has been awaiting the findings of a detailed analysis on whether the shale gas drilling process can be done without jeopardizing the local water supplies and the region’s air quality.

The New York Times got access to an eight-page analysis that said the process would safeguard both air and water. But the paper is reporting that Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely restrict such drilling to the southern parts of the state that border Pennsylvania. Those landowners are generally in favor of shale gas exploration while other parts of the state are adamantly opposed.

The paper also says that environmental groups are lambasting the newly acquired report that is not yet public. They are saying that the authors, who are part of the New York Health Department, did not do much original research. That concern, in combination with what they say is a lack of transparency, diminish the report’s findings. Meantime, the governor’s office is saying that the analysis scooped by the Times is old and that a newer version of it is forthcoming -- and that no formal decisions have been made.

“By implementing the proposed mitigation measures, the (Health) Department expects that human chemical exposures during normal (fracking) operations will be prevented or reduced below the levels of significant health concern,” says the original report.

New York State has banned fracking until it can gather more facts on whether it pollutes local drinking water supplies. The process involves using a concoction of sand, water and chemicals to loosen shale gas from the rocks where it is held, all a mile below the earth’s surface. Critics are maintaining that the chemicals ooze out and damage surface water while proponents of fracking say that the depths of the finds prevent such exposure.

Producers are pointing to a Yale University study indicating that as long as as current production rates are constant, shale gas development would add $100 billion a year to the national economy. The same analysis says that environmental mishaps could be mitigated.

Lack of Transparency

For his part, President Obama has said that shale gas production is a key catalyst to future economic development but that his administration would apply the necessary oversight to ensure good results. Among the measures he would require is to have natural gas developers to reveal the chemicals that they are using to frack -- something to which they have been opposed on competitive grounds.

But those producers may need to bend. That’s because the onslaught headed their way could undo their futures. Opponents are citing a study from the Colorado School of Public Health that says anyone living near drilling sites is getting exposed to unhealthy conditions.

“We’ve seen fracking and drilling for oil and natural gas contaminate water supplies, pollute our air and industrialize rural communities,” says Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “With the oil and gas industry enjoying so many exemptions from key environmental laws, it’s clear that we can’t regulate ourselves away from this problem. We need to ban fracking now.”

Those adversaries just got an added boost when it was revealed in December that a key study had been declared flawed and opaque. That is, fracking advocates had been pointing to an examination performed by the University of Texas. But its key author, Dr. Charles Groat, didn't reveal that he was paid $1.5 million over five years to sit on the board of a drilling company.

Beyond the lack of transparency, the study has been criticized for its scientific shortcuts -- that it “lacked a rigorous, independent review.” Dr. Groat was therefore forced to resign his professorship at the university while the head of the school's Energy Institute, Dr. Raymond Orbach, was also pushed out.

Meantime, the University of Buffalo released a pro-fracking report last spring. It, too, failed to reveal conflicts of interest, forcing the school to not just discard the study but to also disband its institute that focused on shale gas production.

Indeed, those conflicts get to the heart of many issues affecting the energy sector. Namely, both proponents and opponents of issues will secretly bankroll studies that use selective parameters to support their positions. They then hire media professionals and think tanks that they also fund to hype the findings. Independent studies have the most authenticity. But in the absence of that, the authors must thoroughly disclose from whom they are getting paid.

Despite some lack of transparency, the shale gas industry generally has a good track record. It should be permitted to expand production but under the watchful eye of both federal and state regulators.



EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been honored as one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

energybizinsider@energycentral.com