NYPIRG calls on Cuomo to rescind fracking review

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A top good-government group and a host of Democratic lawmakers called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rescind the state’s ongoing review of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on Wednesday, citing a “clear conflict of interest” for a consultant that has assisted with the report.

Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported Monday that Ecology and Environment, a private consultant that contracts with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is a member of the Independent Oil & Gas Association, one of New York’s most-active lobbyists in favor of hydrofracking.

On Wednesday, the New York Public Interest Research Group wrote to Cuomo, asking him to throw out a draft version of the DEC’s review of hydrofracking, which the outside consultant’s report was used to support.

“We write to urge you to scrap the (DEC’s draft fracking review) due to a clear conflict of interest on the part of Ecology and Environment Engineering PC, a state contractor that prepared a key portion of this critically important review document,” NYPIRG wrote to Cuomo.

In 2011, Ecology and Environment completed a report on the economic benefits of shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking, a document completed at the DEC’s request and later touted by the agency. The report estimated New York would add 24,795 jobs over 30 years in an average scenario if the DEC were to permit large-scale fracking.

The company’s name appeared on a letter sent Tuesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the gas-industry group, urging him to allow high-volume fracking in New York and vouching for its safety. IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill later said the letter “did not purport to reflect each member’s individual point-of-view,” but rather was meant to show the breadth of the trade group’s membership.

“As the Executive Director of IOGA of New York, I provide a sustained leadership voice for the organization’s board of directors and its 335 members,” Gill said in a statement.

Ecology and Environment has not commented on its membership with IOGA or the Tuesday letter. It hasn’t commented on its work for the DEC in the past, citing client privilege.

On Monday, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in an email that Ecology and Environment “provided its professional observations as part of our comprehensive evaluation process that included a diverse set of perspectives.” She did not answer directly when asked whether the DEC stands behind the Ecology and Environment report.

NYPIRG, meanwhile, has been criticized by pro-fracking groups for taking money from the Park Foundation, an Ithaca-based philanthropic foundation that has provided a few million dollars in grants to opponents of hydrofracking in New York and beyond.

The good-government group has received $150,000 in grants from the Park Foundation since 2010 for public-education campaigns on gas drilling, according to the foundation’s website.

Sen. Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, said the potential for conflict of interest is enough to raise concerns about the DEC’s work.

“I don’t know if Ecology and Environment’s report on the economic impact of fracking is biased or not, and that is the problem,” Gipson said. “To make such an important decision on fracking, the environment and economy, we need truly independent information.”

A decision on whether to allow high-volume fracking in formation’s like the Southern Tier’s Marcellus Shale waits until the DEC completes a complex environmental impact statement. That document won’t be finalized until state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah completes his own review of the DEC’s recommendations, according to regulators.

The NYPIRG letter can be found below:

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20 Comments

  1. NYPIRG is NOT a government agency and therefore is allowed to take money from other antifracking groups! They are not expected to be nonbiased; they are working hard to try to prevent a major environmentsl disaster in NYS!! More power to them! They are right on in demanding the SGEIS be thrown right out. What a travesty to have a member agency for the fracking industry ostensibly iinvolved in the environmental impact study!! I have to wonder; was that an innocent oversight, or another sneaky example of Cuomo’s and the DEC’s collusion with the fracking industry!? I’m glad they were found out!!

  2. Joanne Corey on

    That Ecology and Environment is a member of IOGA is the newest wrinkle. The socioeconomic section of the SGEIS faced a huge amount of criticism when it was released because it concentrated on positive economic impacts while not giving any estimates of costs incurred to municipalities or the state or any treatment of the socioeconomic stresses seen in other areas where wide-spread drilling has occurred, such as higher rents, noise, higher crime rates, increased traffic, and loss of jobs in other sectors. Commissioner Martens publicly acknowledged these weaknesses and that section was supposed to have been amended. The public does not know if this has occurred or not. Ecology and Environment had apparently been engaged to look only at the “economic benefits” of HVHF, as this article indicates. The DEC’s work cannot be complete if it is only looking at one side of the equation.

  3. Hugh Kimball on

    After the most recent version of the SGEIS came out in the fall of 2011 with the socio-economic section, there was much criticism that the section only talked about what would be gained by allowing drilling but not what would be lost.

    Commissioner Martens issued a statement along the lines that he recognized that there would have to be changes made in that section of the SGEIS. Since the next version of the SGEIS has still not been made available to the public (or the legislature), we have no idea what, if anything, has been done to that section.

  4. Independent Oil & Gas Association lobbies the government. One of Independent Oil & Gas Association’s members is then also paid as a consultant to help write the regulations. This is how we end up with regulations that make no sense. They do little to nothing to actually protect the things we want to protect. For example the regulations say very little about what should happen with the fracking waste cuttings and flowback. Another example is no setback from food production sites or fields. I have a 15 ft. setback from my property line for my shed in the yard, but 0 ft. from a gas well is somehow okay? Ridiculous. Those are just two examples, but I have dozens more.

  5. Taxpayer1301 on

    The “report” on the socio-economic effects of fracking with its exaggeration of benefits and ignoring of costs to local taxpaers is incompetent on its face. This revelation explains why it was so biased. The entire sGEIS is similarly flawed and needs to be withdrawn.

  6. Figures. The SGEIS read like it was written by the fracking industry, and now this revelation shows it probably was.

  7. Isaac Silberman-Gorn on

    This is absolutely unacceptable with New Yorker’s health and safety on the line.
    Thanks to Senator Kruger and NYPIRG for calling this out.

  8. Mary Sweeney on

    I live in Broome County. When the economic assessment written by Ecology and Environment, Inc. came out, I noticed that its “average” development scenario estimated that over the course of 30 years 21,067 gas wells would be drilled in Broome, Chemung, and Tioga Counties. I consulted U.S. Census population and land-area figures and calculated that if that many gas wells were drilled in those three counties, there would be about 13 gas wells per square mile–about one gas well for every 16 residents!

    Either Ecology and Environment, Inc. used pumped-up figures to pump up their estimates of the economic benefits, or else we can expect the gas industry to drill at a density that is probably far greater than most residents of the Southern TIer expect. This extremely high well density is seldom mentioned in articles and news releases that do mention the benefits that were calculated using the high well density. That may be because Ecology and Environment, Inc. did not bother to calculate the density and include it in their report–they just reported the 21,067 well estimate. Readers who wanted to know that density had to get land-area and population figures and do their own calculations.

    Another very grave problem, as other commenters have mentioned, is that, incredibly, the economic assessment included no estimates of costs, only estimates of benefits.

    And now we learn that the consulting firm that prepared the report is an IOGA member! (Why, by the way, wasn’t this revealed earlier?)

    Whether you are for or against drilling, you should be in favor of realistic and unbiased estimates of both benefits and costs. So far, NY has not provided any such estimates.

  9. And who is financially influencing Gov Cuomo? How many hollywood elites have contributed? In the beginning, it was said that science would lead the way. Now since the polls are 50/50, politics lead the way.

  10. And yet again, the anti-frackers and their hysteria try to make an issue, any issue, out of nothing. How about the conflict of interest that NYPERG has in accepting funds from anti-fracking groups, like the Park Foundation. Does this make for a conflict of interest with them, yes it does. Are they to to accept that the process is being done safely in 32 other states?? I expect not.
    How about a news article on the poverty of the Southern Tier, the 10% unemployment, the loss of population and the economic benefits of gas development that can turn this area around. Gas drilling is being done safely, right now, in 32 other states, but not NY. NY is NOT OPEN FOR BUSINESS because of these theatrics. The air is cleaner due to the increased use of gas. What of the improved air quality in NY, the benefit to those with asthma. No nothing about the benefits.

  11. The Anti Fracking position is doomed given that they have yet to provide a single case where fracking has contaminated a single well or aquifer.

    There are cases where water wells were contaminated by methane or other petroleum compounds but that is only because the ground is saturated with these substances in these areas. It literally seeps to the surface and drilling will actually reduce this pollution.

  12. carol tansey on

    It is in the DEVELOPMENT of fracking that the air, water, and land poisoning occurs. It is the explosions of land mass, which, among other horrors, releases radioactive substances from deep within the earth, contaminating air, water, and land. This ‘produced radioactive and chemically-laden water’ can’t be stored anywhere. Besides, we should be transitioning to renewable energy, not dangerously extending the use of fossil fuels. And, yes, it is a desperate and unsettling time for owners of large tracts of land in the southern tier and elsewhere. Let’s not add to their burdens, but instead offer them our help.

  13. Bravo for NYPIRG in discovering yet another turn of events enlightening us to the consistent horrible process of our government’s business as usual approach with listening to corporations over people. In light of this new fact, the regulations must be re-written with using an independent source, complete with scientists not paid for by corporations. It’s the science right? Not political science.

  14. Maybe upstate NY should just brake away from NY State, and hook up with PA..This way the wacko enviro freaks would have to get a job and get off welfare.. oh sorry entitlements.

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  16. Another example of Cuomo rushing to pass laws based upon media attention. We don’t need fast laws, we need good laws. We don’t need a hysterical Governor acting like chicken little. Under Cuomo NY has experienced the demise of 39,453 NY state businesses last year, Cuomo is raiding $1.75 billion from the reserves of the off-budget State Insurance Fund (SIF). Coumo can not even hold on to his democratic majority which is in the middle of a corruption scandal and “show-me-the-money culture” and “pay-to-play politics.” He has disenfranchised the Northern and Western part of New York with his SAFE Act.. He can’t make a decision, either way with respect to fracking. New York has the highest taxes in the nation, is the most indebted state, with 33 percent of income dedicated to borrowing. It is ranked as the least “business-friendly” state in the country and if that were not bad enough NY has the distinction of being the least free state in the union and is called the “Nanny State” with politicians legislating what we eat and drink. Municipal governments from Nassau County to Yonkers to Syracuse are teetering. And during Mr. Cuomo’s time in office, unemployment has risen above the national average. 9% of the state’s 2000 population left for another state between 2000 and 2011 — the highest such figure in the nation,” see the study by George Mason’s libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center.