BY George Pataki
Few issues have elicited a greater reaction from New Yorkers recently than the development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. As the state Department of Environmental Conservation seeks public comment this month, it is important to cut through the political rhetoric and understand exactly what is at stake — and why extracting this resource, with strong oversight by the state, is the right thing to do.
This past summer, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued draft rules, along with an environmental impact statement, analyzing possible ramifications of high-volume horizontal drilling extraction of natural gas, called hydraulic fracturing.
The gas is held in the Marcellus Shale, which extends from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and across southern New York. Geologists estimate that the entire shale formation contains between 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. To put that into context, New York State uses about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.
The benefits of these natural gas reserves for our economy would be enormous, even transformational. Domestic natural gas waiting to be unlocked will give us the opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while making our air cleaner through the use of more natural gas in electric power generation and transportation.
Then there’s this not-insignificant point: The development of the Marcellus Shale formation means jobs and investment throughout New York. Right now, these jobs are being created directly across the border in Pennsylvania. According to a recent report by the Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Department, from October 2009 through March 2010 a staggering 48,000 new jobs were created by the industry and its related supply chain.
New York needs jobs. The April 2011 state jobs report estimates 259,400 upstaters are currently unemployed. An influx of even half those jobs created in Pennsylvania would make a big difference to New York families. And these are good jobs; the same Pennsylvania report shows that the average wage last year for jobs in the basic gas industry was $69,995, while the average wage in support industries — such as construction, steel and engineering — was $63,967.
New Yorkers have a proud heritage of protecting our water, air and environment. As governor it was one of my highest priorities. While the economic and national security benefits are significant, there are legitimate environmental and safety concerns.
Minimizing impacts to local communities and the proper handling of wastewater from the process are two of the issues that must be addressed. Through the deployment of advanced technology and appropriate regulatory oversight by the state, I’m confident these and other environmental challenges can be met.
While we must act prudently, we must also remember that no decision is a decision. Without swift action, this industry will simply bypass New York — costing upstate jobs and investment.
Under the leadership of Gov. Cuomo and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, New York has been right to take a deliberate and thoughtful approach. Its review should continue to be focused on the safe and responsible use of hydraulic fracturing; ensuring the proper handling of man-made materials used in the process; and the proper disposal of the flowback water that results.
We must avoid being swayed by opinionated voices that seek to politicize this issue. By applying rigorous analysis and sound science, we can protect our state’s environment — and develop a better future for all New Yorkers.
Pataki was governor of New York. As counsel at Chadbourne & Parke and principal at the Pataki-Cahill Group, he has advised firms with natural gas interests.