By S. Dennis Holbrook
New York’s tortured decision-making on shale drilling stands alone among the 32 states with the ability to commercially develop natural gas from shale rock. Despite a consensus of academic studies, a wealth of experience and recent statements from the heads of the Energy Department, Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency that focus on the science to conclude that hydraulic fracturing – fracking – has been and can continue to be conducted safely, the process is still banned in New York
Given the governor’s penchant for Hollywood-style theatrics rather than real science, an analogy to “The Wizard of Oz” seems appropriate. Our story opens with Dorothy dreaming in depression-era Kansas (with a striking resemblance to current-day upstate) of a better life over the rainbow, presumably with more yogurt farms and casinos to rescue a reeling upstate economy.
Along the way, she meets the Tin Man, who some would suggest could be our governor because he seems to lack any “heart” for upstate and the devastating economic impact of indecision. His supporters might suggest he is more like the Scarecrow because of his “brain” and his stated purpose in allowing science, not politics and hysteria, to dictate the decision-making process. Others would suggest that the governor is closer to the Cowardly Lion because of his lack of courage in making a firm decision. He has ignored the stellar safety record of the oil and gas industry in this state, because drilling is unpopular with the more extreme elements of his political base, portrayed as the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West.
In the closing scene the characters are told to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, who is actually manipulating everything, including the image of Oz. Our governor’s role in controlling every aspect of the debate over natural gas development in this state is abundantly clear, no matter how much he may choose to hide behind the image of a health review.
If science, rather than the governor’s presidential aspirations, were the driving influence, New York would have safe natural gas development and Norse Energy would not have been forced to shut its doors. A true leader would stand up to the extreme elements of his political base, focusing on the needs of his fellow New Yorkers, most of whom depend on natural gas to meet their daily needs and who benefit environmentally as natural gas displaces coal in electricity generation.
Unfortunately, the consequence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s indecision is not some Hollywood fantasy. The lost jobs and commerce are quite real and the impact is being felt throughout New York, particularly upstate.
S. Dennis Holbrook is a director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York and was executive vice president of Norse Energy, which ceased operations last month.