New York State Geologist Supports Shale Gas Extraction

Published April 11, 2011

New York State Geologist Taury Smith, the state’s top scientist and a self-described liberal Democrat concerned about global warming, has publicly announced his support for Marcellus Shale natural gas production. Smith says he has uncovered no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, a cost-effective shale gas production method frequently criticized by environmental activist groups, has lowered water quality.

Abundant energy reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies several northeastern states and is the second largest natural gas field in the world, have resulted in conflict between residents who want jobs, revenue, and greater access to clean-burning natural gas, against environmental activist groups who claim production of the energy source endangers regional water quality.

Clean Environmental Record
Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing—or hydro-fracking—technologies are making shale gas production increasing affordable and environmentally friendly. Hydro-fracking entails the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and very small amounts of trace chemicals (typically less than 1 percent of the hyrdo-fracking solution) deep underground to create fissures in sedimentary rock that allow natural gas recovery.

Smith addressed environmental activists’ concerns regarding hydro-fracking in the March 14 Albany Times Union.

“The worst spin on the worst incidents are treated as if it’s going to be the norm here,” said Smith. “This could really help us fight climate change; this is a huge gift, this shale.”

Smith explained that natural gas production has been unjustly blamed for coincidental water quality problems in some communities.

“Those are exaggerated problems; each incident wasn’t the result of hydro-fracking. There were incidents of groundwater contamination near frack sites, but they were unrelated,” Smith was quoted as saying.

Regulatory Safeguards
Smith said the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) can strictly regulate shale gas production as an extra precaution against environmental harm.
Smith has been strongly criticized by environmental activist groups and anti-energy groups for his comments in the Times Union. As a result, his state supervisors have restricted his public commentary on the topic. In response to an interview request for this story, Smith replied, “Please refer your questions to our Department’s Communications Office.”

David Callahan, vice president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says Smith is right about the environmental safety of hydro-fracking. 

“There have been no confirmed cases of negative groundwater impacts from hydraulic fracturing, and we want to keep it that way. It’s in our best interests to operate as safely and efficiently as possible,” Callahan said.

Pamela Gorman ([email protected]) is a former Arizona state senator.