Diane Beeny from New Jersey holds up a sign protesting against hydraulic gas drilling, or “fracking,” outside the Philadelphia offices of PA Governor Tom Corbett Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. The several hundred activists and homeowners who gathered outside the convention center where an industry conference was being held, and then marched through center city, claim that fracking and shale gas drilling in general have led to polluted air and water and made people sick. (AP Photo/Mark Stehle)
While anti-drilling activists were holding protests and Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon was calling people names, the folks at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation were releasing the final version of their detailed report on large-scale natural gas fracking.
Natural gas drilling using a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing could create up to 37,000 jobs and generate from $31 million to $185 million a year in added state income taxes for New York at the peak level of well development, according to analyses in a report commissioned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that was released on Wednesday.
But communities in south-central and southwestern New York, on or near the Marcellus Shale, where most new drilling is expected, would pay a price for the local economic bonanza.
Included among the negative impacts the report outlines are large-scale industrial activity, heavy truck traffic, more spending on police and fire protection and higher housing prices due to the expected influx of workers.
The report outlines the potential economic benefits this way:
Total direct construction employment is predicted to range from 4,408 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers under a low-development scenario to 17,634 FTE workers under an average development scenario. These employment figures correspond to the annual construction of 413 horizontal and vertical wells under the low-development scenario and 1,652 horizontal and vertical wells under the medium-development scenario.
At the peak of activity, employment in jobs operating well pads and related work is expected to range from 1,790 FTE workers under the low-development scenario to 7,161 FTE workers under the average development scenario.
The proposed drilling also could generate indirect employment in other sectors of the economy. Indirect employment impacts are expected to range from an additional 7,293 FTE workers under the low-development scenario to an additional 29,174 FTE workers under the average development scenario.
Although horizontal drilling results in fewer well pads than traditional vertical well drilling, the pads are larger and the industrial activity taking place on the pads is more intense. Also, hydraulic fracturing requires chemical additives, some of which may pose hazards when highly concentrated. The extra water associated with such drilling may also result in significant adverse impacts relating to water supplies, wastewater treatment and disposal and truck traffic. Horizontal wells also generate greater volumes of drilling waste (cuttings). The industry projections of the level of drilling, as reflected in the intense development activity in neighboring Pennsylvania, has raised additional concerns relating to community character and socioeconomics.
Some of these conclusions reminded me of the Obama administration Department of Energy expert panel’s conclusion:
Intensive shale gas development can potentially have serious impacts on public health, the environment and quality of life – even when individual operators conduct their activities in ways that meet and exceed regulatory requirements. The combination of impacts from multiple drilling and production operations, support infrastructure (pipelines, road networks, etc.) and related activities can overwhelm ecosystems and communities.
The Subcommittee believes that federal, regional, state and local jurisdictions need to place greater effort on examining these cumulative impacts in a more holistic manner; discrete permitting activity that focuses narrowly on individual activities does not reach to these issues.
From a West Virginia perspective, though, the really remarkable thing is that New York regulators performed this sort of analysis in the first place.
Of course, New York has something called State Environmental Quality Review, which requires the sponsoring or approving governmental body to identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the activity it is proposing or permitting. West Virginia environmental groups have long called for passage of such a law here, but the Legislature has never thought that weighing the costs and benefits of things like coal mining or natural gas drilling was worthwhile.