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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Fracking Fight Coming To Long Island

There are already more than 3,000 conventionally-drilled natural gas wells in New York, spread around 22 counties upstate. Go visit some of these places if you’re curious to see what happens to old railroad towns and factory towns when those things go away.

When the suits come by waving a contract that will let them open a high-volume hydraulic fracturing well on your property, it can seem like the only way out. You just want to believe, need to believe, that the stories the loudmouths are spreading aren’t true. The loudmouths who show up everywhere and say, “Don’t do this to the rest of us.”

And the loudmouths tell stories about what has happened in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and other places. The stories are about rashes, headaches, joint pain and children with nosebleeds. They are about flammable faucet water and the smell of benzene.

Since 2008, “fracking” has been on hold in New York while, in a secretive and opaque process open only to insiders, the Cuomo Administration prepares regulations. Hundreds of thousands of acres are under lease and on hold, waiting for a decision that is already overdue and could come at any time.

We are being systematically trained to expect a bright, independent energy future is at hand, based around cleaner burning natural gas. It is the core concept of the Obama Administration’s energy policy. Nothing adds up.

Production from fracked wells declines precipitously after the first year or two. Montana production is down 38 percent since its peak in 2006, despite a significant increase in the number of wells.

The market price of natural gas in the U.S. is $3.68 per million British Thermal Units (MMBtu). The price ranges between $9 and $10 in Europe and between $13 to $18 in Asia. Gas is too cheap here; it’s going to places where it will not be so cheap. That’s why there are now 30 proposed liquified natural gas terminals around the U.S. and Canada.

The case for a natural gas future was predicated on premises that, one by one, have been weakened or kicked aside completely. Most importantly, we now know that “fugitive emissions” (leaked unburned methane) make shale gas at least as dirty as coal.

For hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, fracking is the fight of a lifetime, for a lifetime. Both political parties seem caught between their loyalty to the kind of powerful interests that make New York’s political world turn and an aroused public that is rapidly turning against fracking in New York.

Last week, the governor avoided protesters in Syracuse to attend a fund-raiser luncheon with ticket prices of up to $25,000. Some of the protesters were chanting, “Cuomo Must Go.”

In November 2011, a floor resolution opposing fracking was blocked for consideration by New York’s Democratic State Committee by its then-chairman, Jay Jacobs, still chairman of the Nassau County party committee. It had already been widely reported in upstate newspapers that Jacobs had signed fracking leases with Hess Corporation on some of his properties in Pennsylvania. There were very hard feelings. It came up again a few weeks ago when Pennsylvania Democrats passed a fracking moratorium resolution, embarrassing former Governor Ed Rendell, a prominent fracking promoter.

Phillipp Negron of Freeport surprised everyone last week by filing petitions to run as the Green Party candidate for county executive, potentially taking votes from whichever of the two Democrats in the field is nominated in the September primary. Democrats accused Negron of being a Republican plant. We’ll see. But in a brief statement about why he is running, the three most interesting words were “fracking” and “Jay Jacobs.”

Nassau County is on the front lines.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net