Pennsylvania Fracking Clears Air in N.Y., But Gov. Cuomo in No Rush to Allow It

By Barbara Boland | December 19, 2013 | 10:45am EST

Workmen at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County. (AP File Photo)

( – A long-delayed decision on fracking in New York isn’t expected any time soon.

“I want the right decision, not necessarily the fast decision,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a news conference on Monday. “It’s one of the most important decisions I think we will make as a government, with far-reaching consequences – good and/or bad.”

Calling it a “very controversial field with very high stakes,” Cuomo mentioned “potential health consequences, danger, risk -- versus economic benefit.” He’s leaving it to his advisers to work at their own pace.

Gov. Cuomo’s comments came several weeks after National Public Radio reported that fracking in Pennsylvania “helps clear the air in New York.”

On Nov. 28, NPR’s “Morning Edition” reported that New Yorkers are switching to natural gas while saving money and cleaning up the air. 

“It’s ironic that fracking in Pennsylvania and 29 other states has resulted in an abundance of natural gas being sent to New York City,” Karen Moreau, the executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, told NPR. “There’s been a huge conversion of apartments to natural gas and dramatic increases in air quality, yet Governor Cuomo has yet to approve fracking in New York.”

Cuomo himself said New York has burned natural gas “for a very long time” and will continue to do so: “In my opinion, it has nothing to do with a decision on fracking, he said Monday.

Environmental groups are concerned about fracking’s effects on water and quality; and New York City voters are consistently polled as opposed to fracking

But New Yorkers interviewed by NPR focused on the benefits they’ve personally gained from natural gas rather than “the environmental consequences over in Pennsylvania.”

“The oil, when it burns, it discolors my house – it's terrible. You get the smell,” Kevin Leonard of Pleasantville, N.Y., told NPR. “Natural gas is much better. ...And it's much cheaper at this point in time.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” uses a mixture of water and sand (99.5%) and chemicals (0.5%), which are injected into a wellbore at high pressure, creating small fractures in the rock from which natural gas, deep in the ground, can flow.

Fracking development in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale has produced the “cleanest air in decades” in New York, said Katie Brown from Energy in Depth. Energy in Depth is a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). 

Spectra Energy has built a 15-mile pipeline extension, which winds through Bayonne and Jersey City, New Jersey, running beneath the Hudson River into Manhattan. The pipeline has increased natural gas supply and lowered prices in a region with some of the highest prices in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Administration. 

The capacity to use natural gas is rapidly expanding throughout the city as Con Edison, the energy company that serves the New York city metro area, works on installing bigger pipes and upgrading the city’s gas distribution system. When this is completed, it will be possible to heat more homes and water with natural gas.

NPR interviewed Burt Wallack, a property manager whose company is switching to gas.  Wallack is finding that the switch to natural gas will lead to vast savings. “…the payback will be in about three years,’ he says. “The day we switch over, we'll start saving approximately 50 percent of our energy costs.” 

“This year alone we're going to have converted more than 1,100 very large buildings in New York City,” said Christine Cummings, a section manager in [Con Edison’s] gas conversion group…. A lot of times when you want to do the green thing, it costs you money. In this case, you’re going to do the green thing and we're going to actually save you a considerable sum of money.”

“If we compare this November to last November, we actually see gas prices decrease about 13 percent,’ says Anne Swedberg, senior energy analyst with the firm Bentek Energy.”

At Gov. Cuomo’s news conference on Monday, reporters asked Cuomo’s health commissioner why it's taking so long -- almost 15 months so far, the New York Times reported -- to finish a long-promised study on fracking.

"As recently as one month ago, we got new data from Texas and Wyoming, and until I'm comfortable with the state of the science, I'm withholding my recommendation," said Dr. Nirav R. Shah.

"You know, science needs to be done in a sacred place where we can, with objectivity, understand both sides of the issue, understand the science, dissect it, and then at the end come with a ... conclusion. Shah said the process "needs to be transparent at the end -- not during."

Asked when the public can expect to see the results of his study, Shah responded, "When I'm done."

Cuomo said his timeline for releasing the study is “whatever commissioner Shah needs to do it right and feel comfortable.”

Cuomo is running for re-election next year, and he may eventually run for president, which has increased the political pressure and visibility of his fracking decision (or lack thereof).

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