New York and Texas Define the “Fracking Battleground” as the Political Campaign Season Heats Up


Two of the largest, most powerful electoral states have become the fiercest fracking battlegrounds in the nation – with a major citizen group in Texas demanding that industry regulators turn from “lapdogs” to “watchdogs” and a top New York state official warning that new highly anticipated fracking regulations could take the entire summer to draft.

Neither development is good news for the beleaguered natural gas drilling industry that, until only months ago, pretty much had carte blanche to run roughshod over the environment. The stage is now set for a bitter regulatory fight just as the political campaign season begins gearing up for 2012 elections.

In New York, according to the Associated Press, the “…[head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation] Joe Martens said DEC staff will meet twice each week starting in early April and through the summer to complete a new environmental impact statement for gas drilling that addresses issues raised in the 13,000 comments received on the 809-page first draft completed in September 2009.”

That has big implications because natural gas drillers want New York to immediately end its moratorium on fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. The state has been “in review” mode since 2008, and now environmental groups, according to the AP, “…fear fracking will contaminate drinking water supplies [and] have implored DEC to hold off on permitting Marcellus drilling until the Environmental Protection Agency completes a review of the technology.”

It shows you what electing a Democratic governor can do. Before being appointed DEC commissioner, Mr. Martens was head of the land-preservation group, Open Space Institute, and was among those calling for New York to wait and review the myriad environmental concerns associated with fracking. Things are a bit different when you don’t have former industry officials running state regulatory agencies.

The situation in New York stands in stark contrast to what’s happening down in the GOP heartland of Texas, with a Republican gubernatorial administration firmly in place. This week, the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project called upon the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee regulation of air emissions from oil and natural gas exploration and production equipment in the state – a clear signal that state-level regulators are not about to do any regulating of their own.

An article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the citizen group, Earthworks, called out the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to “significantly step up its currently inadequate efforts to protect public health by strictly enforcing emission limits from oil and gas exploration and production equipment.”

According to the Star-Telegram, the citizen group said the Texas Railroad Commission – the primary regulator of the state’s enormously powerful oil and gas industry – has been a “lapdog” but “must become a watchdog.” The Commission “must adopt rules that provide the public with full disclosure of oil and gas drilling and fracking fluids,” the group said, in reference to the secret chemical brew used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

Of course, these are just two of the higher-profile state actions on fracking as we see a groundswell of opposition to natural gas drilling that some are already describing as an all-out grassroots revolution. I doubt that many members of Congress have a firm grasp of just how wildly unpopular fracking has become, but I’ll bet they get an earful during their April recess. Fracking is sure to be a huge political issue in states like New York and Texas that are home to massive natural gas-heavy shale formations.

Here’s a prediction: Once members of Congress from fracking states go home for the upcoming recess, they’ll return to Washington fired up to get something done to appease constituents and special interests. Those members in the pocket of the oil and gas industry will need to make a move to protect their masters, and those looking out for the environment and the people will need political backbone to ensure adequate regulations are put in place.

Here’s the Texas story:

And a link to a good environmental website following that fight:

Here’s a local paper carrying the AP story in New York state:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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