A NATURAL GAS WELL NEAR DIMOCK, PENNSYLVANIA
The states of Pennsylvania and New York share more than a common border. Areas of both lie atop an immense shale formation and energy companies are hard at work extracting natural gas from the formation through the use of a controversial method known as fracking, which is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
Yet despite the potential risks, Pennsylvania regulatory and environmental authorities who answer to Governor Tom Corbitt have been notably lax in monitoring fracking operations and it was in part the considerable campaign contribution largesse of the energy companies that the conservative, slavishly pro-business Republican was elected last November.
Meanwhile, across the border in New York, regulatory and environmental authorities who answer to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo have been more hands on and there has been a de facto moratorium on drilling while these authorities carry out an extensive review the efficacy of fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, which is the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemical into shale to release trapped gas.
New York state's attorney general recently sent subpoenas to four energy companies as part of an investigation into whether they have accurately described to investors for long-term prospects for their wells. State pension funds are heavily invested in the companies, and if they improperly reported to investors how their wells were likely to perform, there could be repercussions for the state’s financial portfolio.
Natural gas drilling has been a boon to both states because it is providing jobs amidst high unemployment and an economic downturn and a boon for communities and owners of the small farms on which most fracking operations are located. Cuomo, in fact, is urging that the moratorium be lifted.
The companies assert that fracking is safe, but a series of articles in The New York Times by reporter Ian Urbina reveal that there are manifold dangers and at least one case where well water was contaminated by toxic wastes from fracking.
The Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot News and Philadelphia Daily News reporter-blogger Will Bunch also have reported extensively on the incestuous relationship between the companies and Corbitt, who in one of his first acts as governor lifted a moratorium on fracking in state parks and forests ordered by his predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, and has resisted levying higher taxes and drilling fees on the companies, which pay astonishing little.
More than 15,000 wells are planned for the Delaware River watershed, which supplies drinking water to more than seven million New York City residents and millions more in upstate New York and northeastern Pennsylvania.
Photograph by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times