By Rolland Kidder
In 1973 New York and the entire country suffered through an OPEC oil embargo. Gasoline became scarce, oil and natural gas prices shot up and everyone became aware of what it meant to be dependent on Middle East oil.
One of the reactions in government at the time was to help fix the problem by encouraging domestic energy production. Hugh Carey, who was elected governor of New York in 1974, believed that our state should be involved. The state’s energy policy was out of date and new laws and regulations were needed to properly regulate and stimulate the production of New York’s own natural gas reserves. Legislation was passed beefing up the enforcement and permitting powers of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and natural gas production in New York State took off.
Today, we take a different attitude toward natural gas. If organized environmental groups are opposed to it, the DEC is told not to issue permits. No shale wells have been drilled, though the state Environmental Conservation Law still says that it is “in the public interest to regulate the development, production and utilization of natural resources of oil and gas in this state …”
In 2009, an environmental activist alleged that 270 drilling accidents had occurred in New York State and that the DEC had not been properly regulating the industry. When the DEC reviewed the allegation, it found that only seven of the alleged incidents were related to natural gas drilling sites, and only one had resulted in methane migration into ground water. Considering the fact that for the 30 years in question (1979-2009) the DEC had permitted more than 10,000 natural gas wells, it is a record of environmental safety compliance that should have been complimented, not criticized.
Why would an opponent of natural gas so misstate the facts? Some do so because they are concerned that natural gas is a competitor to wind and solar energy. Others, in my view, make such charges because they know that bad news sells.
The natural gas industry and the general public both believe in the need for governmental regulation of natural gas wells. New York State law says that it should happen, but our policy has become one of just saying “no.”
The political landscape has changed a lot since 1973, but the need for energy independence has never been greater. In 2012, New Yorkers consumed more than 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, most of it coming from shale gas being produced in other states. We need to be regulating, not prohibiting, the development of natural gas in New York.
Rolland Kidder was a Democratic member of the State Assembly from 1975 to 1982 and of its Environmental Conservation Committee. He is the former owner and CEO of a natural gas exploration and production company based in Western New York.