NY DEC Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel Appointed by Joe Martens in Disarray

An amazingly balanced and non-partisan article by WNYC News delves into the 13-member Advisory Panel appointed by Joe Martens, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), to advise the DEC on issues with implementing the new Marcellus drilling regulations. The article, which MDN highly recommends you read, points out the confusion among the panel members about what, exactly, they are supposed to do.

It also recounts the rushed and last-minute approach Martens took in creating and appointing members to the panel. The article points out how the panel is stacked with members who are largely anti-drilling (MDN’s words, the article refers to them as environmentalists). Even the so-called industry representative on the panel, Mark Boling from Houston-based Southwestern Energy, is colluding working with the Environmental Defense Fund on a new “industry code of conduct.” He admits his views are not mainstream in the energy industry.

This is how the article opens:

A panel appointed by the Cuomo Administration earlier this month has been tasked with giving advice on some of the most sensitive issues related to the controversial gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But weeks after it was created, the group’s role is still unclear to some of its members, and there are questions about balance.

In the months ahead, the group is supposed to advise the state Department of Environmental Conservation on enforcement, fees and taxes and minimizing the community impacts of gas drilling. Meanwhile, the state will solicit feedback on its 1,095-page environmental review of fracking. As soon as 2012, the DEC could begin issuing permits to drill in parts of upstate New York lying above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.

But no meeting has yet been scheduled for the 13-member High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, and several members said they were asked to join just hours before the DEC went public with its fracking plans.*

The article also asks the same question MDN has asked: Once drilling in New York is allowed, will drillers even bother to show up?

Some opponents of fracking fear that as soon as new rules are in place, the gas industry will swarm into New York State. But this is not likely to happen. For one thing, DEC’s Martens has said permits will only be issued as quickly as his agency’s budget will allow.

What’s more, the economics of natural gas are not working in the drillers’ favor. Since the shale gas boom began, natural gas prices have slumped to around $4 per thousand cubic feet. Earlier in the 2000’s the price was as high as $10. Mushrooming supplies and stable demand mean prices will likely stay low for years to come as more shale reserves are tapped all around the country.

Another obstacle is the long wait time drillers face to obtain the heavy equipment used in fracking. Mike Hogan, an independent oil & gas consultant in Western New York, said roughly 3,500 wells sit ready to be fracked in other states, and a driller ordering equipment for a new site today can expect to wait two to three years for delivery.*

The article paints a picture of disarray with DEC Advisory Panel.

*WNYC News (Jul 26, 2011) – Advisors on Fracking Unsure of Cuomo Administration’s Expectations