Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Election analysis: Who gained an edge in fracking war?
Based on the GOP’s campaign platform, a Romney administration would have done everything within its power to keep federal drilling regulations minimal to non-existent. Obama, gearing his campaign almost exclusively to voters in the swing states, promised to encourage blue-collar jobs through an “all of the above” energy strategy that embraced shale gas development “as a priority.” With the election behind him, Obama will of course be subject to pressures within his own party to immediately broaden his focus beyond his pitch to woo swing states hopeful of mineral extraction jobs.
As I recount in Under the Surface, Obama provided plenty of encouragement for shale gas development in his first term. In 2011, he issued Blue Print for a Secure Energy Future, a plan that recognized the importance of shale gas development, including a component to support global efforts to displace oil with natural gas. Now comes the big question for his second term: Will Obama feel the political urge to federally regulate shale gas development given concerns over its impact on water and air? More specifically, will the Obama EPA provide the groundwork necessary to undo federal regulatory exemptions, known as the Haliburton Loophole, passed under the Bush/Cheney administration?
As I have written in a previous post, that process would begin with a study examining fracking cases now underway by the EPA. Even if the agency were to confirm and quantify fracking risks that are now – due to a lack of study -- mostly a collection of disparate reports, repealing the Haliburton Loophole would take an act of Congress. That is a long shot, at least within the next two years, with Republican control of the House of Representatives. But a final draft of the EPA study is due for public comment and peer review in 2014 and could become fodder for a midterm election battle.
States have regulatory control over shale gas, and New York state, which sits over promising sections of the Marcellus and Utica Shales, is worth tracking for those following shale gas politics. New York is the centerpiece for the grass roots anti-fracking movement and the only state with potentially worldclass gas reserves that has held back on issuing permits due to environmental and health concerns. It’s also led by a governor frequently cited as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
Despite the oft-heard rhetoric that “science will decide” the future of shale gas development in the Empire State under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, politics will play a large role, and at the moment New York’s political picture is murky. Candidates for and against shale gas development running in districts over some of the most promising reserves had mixed results yesterday, likely influenced more by their campaign war chests than their positions. Two examples: Senate Deputy Majority Leader and drilling proponent Tom Libous handily defeated Democratic challenger John Orzel to keep his 52nd District Seat. In the Assembly’s 123rd District, incumbent Donna Lupado easily defeated Julie Lewis, a drilling proponent and leader of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. Lupardo, a senior Democrat and member of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, favors a full scale health study of fracking risks.
Lupardo is part of a house that has been reluctant to allow drilling to proceed in New York without more assurances of its safety, but unable to get bills through the Republican-controlled Senate. Although it looks as though yesterday’s election gave Democrats control of the Senate, it’s unclear how the numbers will influence Senate leadership. There are many dynamics in play, including races that are too close to call, and the direction of a group of independently minded Democrats who have sided with the Republican majority in the past and have been duly rewarded with various perks. Albany reporter Jimmy Vielkind breaks down these and others factors that will play out in coming weeks and months in this excellent post for Capital Confidential. (It’s worth noting here that fracking issues also played into some Congressional races. In New York, two noteworthy challengers running on anti-fracking platforms lost to Republican incumbents. Dan Lamb lost to Richard Hanna in New York’s 22nd District and Nate Shinagawa lost to Tom Reed in the 23rd District.)
So what have we learned at the end of the day after the 2012 elections? The political circumstances that will determine the long-term prospects of shale gas development are still unfolding among a divided electorate and political gamesmanship.