New York Bans Fracking for Natural Gas

That's a natural gas fracking well. You'd be well advised not to drink the water. (Photo by Daniel Foster/Flickr)

The contrast could not have been clearer. A lame-duck state governor who has little chance of holding public office again puts the safety of his people above the profits of the oil and gas industry; while the increasingly lame Obama administration waffles.

On Saturday, Governor David Paterson of New York — who did not run for a second term in the 2010 election — ordered a stop to all drilling for natural gas that involves hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Thus did New York become the first state to limit the process, which has been blamed for depredations ranging from polluted wells to exploding houses.

The perfection of fracking has re-energized the natural-gas drilling industry from West Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York, the area underlain by the so-called Marcellus Shale formation (as well as anywhere else there is a similar formation). Tapped out by ordinary drilling methods, the shale still contains a 14-year supply of natural gas for America, but it is encased in the brittle rock. Fracking involves the injection, under enormnous pressure, of a mixture of water (enormous quantities of water) and noxious chemicals (sacores of them) to blow the shale apart and release the gas.

As reported previously on The Daily Impact (here, here and here), fracking has a number of unintended consequences. The released gas migrates to unexpected places, resulting in water taps that can be lit like a blowtorch and houses that explode. The chemicals wander as well, and have been implicated in the contamination of private wells. The fear is that as the drillers move closer and closer to major urban areas, they could take out a major water source for, say, New York City or Philadelphia.

“We in government must always focus on protecting the well-being of those whom we represent and serve,” said Governor Paterson, expressing this novel theory of government as he banned fracking in New York State until the Department of Environmental Conservation can study the matter and determine how to regulate it properly.

Meanwhile the Obama administration, confronting the same facts and the same threats, agrees that the matter needs to be studied and proper regulations put in place eventually, but not at the inconvenience of the industry. It announced Tuesday that while everybody’s studying ways to make the process safe, the gas industry should just go ahead and frack away. Perhaps they, too, are protecting the well being of those they serve. But apparently the governor who doesn’t have to raise money any more represents the people. For the guys who need millions in industry money to keep their jobs, well, it’s different.

You might hope it’s not. But it is.

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