The New York Senate has passed a bill to impose a nine-month moratorium on granting new permits for natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state’s portion of the massive, multistate Marcellus shale rock formation. The bill passed by a 48-9 vote on August 4.
Productive, Proven Technology
Fracking involves directing a high-pressure stream of water with small amounts of various chemicals into shale rock to create fissures that allow natural gas trapped by the shale to rise to the surface. This method of natural gas production has been largely responsible for the surge in natural gas production—and the decline in prices—nationwide during the past few years.
If, as expected, the New York Assembly passes a similar moratorium after its summer recess and the governor signs it, drilling would come to a standstill in the state’s portion of the Marcellus shale deposit.
Fracking has been used in oil and natural gas production since 1949 and has been responsible for production of 30 percent of the nation’s domestic oil and natural gas reserves. The National Petroleum Council estimates 60 to 80 percent of all wells drilled in the United States during the next decade will require fracking to remain viable.
Environmental Activists Take Aim
Although fracking is a longstanding production technique, energy companies’ increased use of it has put it in the crosshairs of anti-petroleum interests and environmental activist groups. These groups claim fracking chemicals can enter the water table and endanger human health.
Studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission have found no negative impacts on human health, however.
“This moratorium and other, similar ones being considered and enacted at state and local levels are totally ignorant,” said Gary Stone, vice-president of engineering at Dallas-based Five States Energy. “By ignorant I mean they are based in ignorance of the method’s long, safe history and the numerous studies that have failed to demonstrate any harm to human health from current operations.”
“These moratoria are a reaction to a problem that doesn’t exist, and they are causing serious economic damage not only to New York but to the country as a whole,” said Stone.
Abundant Domestic Energy
The battle over natural gas production is important because of the size of the possible gas field at issue. The Marcellus formation underlies more than 95,000 square miles of land stretching more than 600 miles from Ontario, Canada to Tennessee and from the Eastern U.S. Seaboard to Ohio and Kentucky. By comparison, the portion of the lucrative Barnett Shale formation in Texas that is estimated to be capable of natural gas production stretches merely 127 miles and underlies approximately 5,000 square miles of land.
The Marcellus formation is known as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and can play an important part in creating jobs, keeping energy prices low, and reducing foreign energy imports. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects natural gas to account for 57 percent of new electricity-generation capacity built by 2025. EIA predicts natural gas-fired electricity generation, which accounted for 16 percent of all generation in 2002, will account for 21 percent of the total in 2025.
‘Myths and Fears Have Taken Over’
New York’s proposed moratorium could have both short-term and long-term negative economic consequence, says energy analyst Tom Tanton, president of T2 & Associates.
“It is truly unfortunate that myths and fears have taken over the New York State Senate, rather than experience and science. Multiple reviews have shown hydraulic fracturing to be a safe and proven method to increase domestic energy supplies,” Tanton explained.
“Ironically, the moratorium will actually impede production of the very health and environmental data some claim they want,” Tanton added. “Perhaps New York should look to its neighbors in Pennsylvania for a more reasoned approach to issues associated with this century-old technique. In the meantime, the unemployed in New York will face ongoing obstacles that are being eliminated in Pennsylvania.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.