By Paolo von Schirach
August 26, 2013
WASHINGTON – When major policy decisions are driven by science, you would think that when the scientists settle an issue policy-makers take their cues from them and adjust their policies on the basis of their findings. This is the beauty of science. It is about facts. Of course, scientific knowledge evolves. There is no “final truth” about most issues. We know all that.
Science based policies
Still, usually when there is an overwhelming body of evidence leading in one direction, policy follows in that direction. Well, this is not the case when it comes to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the technology now used across the United States to extract precious natural gas trapped in shale formations.
Here are some key facts. While fracking is still opposed by die-hard environmentalists, scientists who have looked into this practice have concluded that it is safe, provided that energy companies follow best industry practices in designing and operating their wells. While there have been numerous instances of accidents, there is no evidence that they are due to an inherently dangerous technology. The consensus is that they are due to inexperienced practitioners, just like car accidents occur because of bad drivers and not on account on inherently unsafe vehicles. Indeed, after more than a decade of fracking, no one has come up with conclusive, science-based evidence that properly executed fracking causes damages.
Well, this science-based conclusion has shaped policies across the United States. State authorities, first and foremost the various environmental protection agencies, while eager to keep an eye on the fracking industry under their jurisdictions, have not indicated that they intend to ban it on account of any threat to the environment.
At a national level, President Obama, usually no great friend of fossil fuels, has recognized the immense value of additional natural gas supplies recovered now thanks to fracking. The Federal Government will soon issue guidelines for fracking that will take place on Federal Lands.
This science does not apply in NY State
Well, if this is so, then something really extraordinary must be going on in New York State. You see, Western New York State shares the same geology of Easter Pennsylvania. The large Marcellus Shale cuts across both states. Plenty of recoverable shale gas in PA and probably an equal amount in Western New York. The huge difference is that in PA there is a thriving fracking industry, while in New York State there is nothing, on account to a moratorium imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The reason (read excuse) for the moratorium is that NY State needs more data/information about the possible damage that may be caused by fracking to the environment, to the aquifer, and what not. While one should commend Governor Cuomo for not diving too fast, unless his science/environment advisors know something that the rest of America does not know, it is rather obvious that this is all about politics. For more than ten years Cuomo’s colleagues have endorsed fracking, while he still hesitates, claiming he does not have all the facts. What is it, is there an invisible barrier that prevents knowledge from getting into New York State?
It is all about politics
The hard truth is that Governor Cuomo has to deal with a much more vociferous environmental movement. And he needs their votes. Therefore he will not antagonize these grass-roots organizations vehemently opposed to fossil fuels by allowing fracking, something they are dead against on ideological grounds.
Alright, so the whole thing is about politics. We can understand that. But what is truly disingenuous is for the Governor of a major state to disguise a political problem as “scientific research”.
Science does not cross state borders?
As a result of this laughable travesty, we are confronted with this rather bizarre picture. The science about fracking that applies in Eastern PA does not apply in Western NY. The science driven policies followed by the State Government in Harrisburg do not apply to the policies shaped in Albany.
Yes, in 21st Century America, believe or not, scientific knowledge does not cross state borders.