To Frack or Not to Frack?
It wasn't only the title of a Continuing Legal Education seminar and forum held Tuesday at the Robert H. Jackson Center, but a question currently wrangling in the state regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing of shale.
The forum featured Eugene Leff of the state Department of Environmental Conservation; Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for the Business Council in Albany; and Michael Joy, partner for Reed Smith LLP.
The scheduled keynote speaker, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, was unable to attend the event.
The bulk of the discussion revolved around a state environmental review on hydrofracking, which has been ongoing since 2008, said Leff - who broadcasted via teleconference from Albany.
The DEC, which has been tasked with regulating the controversial industry, is currently reviewing 66,739 comments regarding its latest environmental impact study. Leff said the process to review and respond to the comments will take time.
"We are currently reviewing those comments," he said. Leff said due to state law, the process to potentially approve hydrofracking requires study releases and revisions.
"We are required to access the potential adverse environmental impact before the state implements the actions," Leff said to The Post-Journal after the meeting. "We embarked in 2008 to scope out what that assessment would look like."
Leff said impact studies were released in 2009 and 2011, both of which received heavy feedback from state residents.
"It took a substantial amount of time to review" those comments, he said, noting the review period could be finalized by the summer. "It's a possibility. We don't know at this point."
New York currently does not offer permits for hydrofracking, the process of freeing up natural gas by injecting chemically treated water and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations. The state's entrance into the booming industry will rely on the state review.
Other states, including Pennsylvania, have drilled and fracked thousands of wells in the Marcellus Shale region.
And, according to Joy, no ill effects on the environment have been found.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there ... as it relates to the environmental impact," he said.
Joy noted misnomers of "non-traditional" gas well drilling, which includes using a well bore to extract natural gas through a horizontal drilling process. He also said concerns regarding groundwater contamination as a result of hydrofracking is unfounded and untrue.
Joy, who moved his family to the shale-rich state of Pennsylvania, alluded to several benefits of tapping into the fracking industry. Aside from an abundance of natural gas, the tax revenue and royalties from the industry would subsidize the loss of several coal-burning energy plants within the state.
Not to mention, the thousands of jobs that would be created if hydrofracking operations were to open.
"We're talking about a real manufacturing revolution," Joy said.
"We would like to see the process move forward," added Suarez, also speaking from Albany.
The use of hydrofracking, however, has been hit with a negative stigma by environmentalists who claim the chemicals used in the process can leak, contaminating local waterways.
To protest the state's consideration of hydrofracking, a concert in Albany will take place May 15. Dubbed "New Yorkers Against Fracking: An Urgent Call to Action," the concert will be precluded by a rally on the state Capitol lawn.
Guest speakers before the seminar Tuesday included Francis Carroll of the Fidelity National Title Group; John Plumb spoke on business ethics; and Donald Swanz of St. Bonaventure University spoke on foreign corruption practices.
A luncheon featuring Paul Wieland, former Buffalo Sabres public relations director, also took place.