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: