Friday, May 31, 2013

Can wind, water, sun satisfy NY’s huge energy appetite? Anti-fracking movement offers plan with hard numbers

Powerimg NY with renewable energy means more hydro power
like the  2,353-megawatt Robert Moses plant in Niagara Falls
New York state has become a battle ground for the country’s energy future. Do we – through shale gas development -- lay the foundation for another generation of fossil fuel production and consumption, or not?  The heat and intensity of the debate – fracking is bad, fracking is good – often overshadows an underlying reality that makes the discussion so critical to begin with. That reality is expressed in these simple numbers tabulated by the federal Energy Information Administration:

In 2010, New York state consumed more than four times as much energy as it produced (3,728 trillion BTUs vs. 867 trillion BTUs).

Although these numbers seldom if ever find their way into rallies and rhetoric, the protracted debate over shale gas in the Empire State is hopefully compelling residents to pay closer attention to where energy comes from and how they use it.  The consequences of flipping a switch should become less of an abstraction now that the on-shore drilling boom has brought the extraction energy to our collective back yards.

New York state (and the rest of the country) could make up its energy shortfall by using fracking to exploit previously inaccessible carbon reserves, such as the Marcellus and Utica shales lying under largely unexplored regions of New York between the Finger Lakes and the Catskills regions. There is now expectation that the United States will become an energy exporter after the Obama administration recently approved policy to permit liquefied natural gas exporting plants in the wake of a market glut from shale gas production. (It’s a policy that will help shareholders, but hurt wage-earners, according to a federal report, which I have written about here.)

Despite consensus that fossil fuels are not sustainable – even the fracking proponents pitch natural gas as a “bridge” to a world someday powered by cleaner alternatives – acceptance of renewable energy has, for various reasons, yet to reach critical mass.

Whether or not fracking takes us across the bridge to the next generation of energy, there are paralyzing chasms that must be crossed, one way or another, in policy and politics.  In New York state and other places, there is the gulf between the energy consumed and the amount produced – a disparity that is more unsettling as competition for cheap carbon continues to increase globally at unprecedented rates. There is also a chasm between opposing visions of our country’s future by patriots for and against shale gas development. And there is a certain disconnect between the past and future that we are unable to bridge in the present. The moratorium on shale gas permits in New York is approaching its fifth year anniversary (July 23) with little signs of advancing state policy on the broader issue of energy.

New Yorkers Against Fracking poster for rally in Albany
Anti-frackers are seizing the moment to showcase their way forward with a plan that demonstrates how New York can make up its energy shortfall with other natural resources – sun, wind, and water. New Yorkers Against Fracking, a grass roots political action group, is organizing a rally in Albany on June 17  “calling on Governor Cuomo to reject fracking and lead the nation in constructing a renewable energy economy here and now in New York.” Until now, the anti-fracking movement has put more energy into shutting down fracking than proposing concrete alternatives. It’s encouraging to see the movement harnessing its considerable grass roots punch to advance the discussion rather than simply to fortify an impasse.

While banners, placards, slogans, marches, and chants will be the natural and time-honored means for delivering political pressure at the Albany rally – called New York Crossroads -- the concept behind the rally is based on research by a group of scientists, economists, and academics. The result is a paper published in March in Energy Policy, an international academic journal dealing with political, economic, environmental and social aspects of energy. It spells out empirically how New York state can wean itself from fossil fuels and convert completely to renewable energy sources by 2050.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s hesitancy over fracking provides a stark contrast to the approach of the Obama administration, which has characterized shale gas development as “a priority” in the country’s energy future. Now the anti-frackers hope to present the ambivalent New York governor (and potential presidential candidate) with a blue print to overcome the political inertia and practical barriers to advance beyond fossil fuels.

“You have to be realistic and pragmatic,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineer, former fracking industry consultant, and one of the 13 co-authors of the plan. “If you say no to shale gas, you better say yes to something else.”

The report considers the cost and feasibility of powering New York’s residential, manufacturing and transportation sectors with solar, wind, and water energy technologies -- combined with reduction through inherent efficiencies. It also accounts for known health risks associated with carbon fuels. Not surprisingly, it is drawing challenges and criticism on many fronts, including questions about the reliability of a post-carbon grid adjusting to power flows and natural cycles, and behavioral changes, capital sources, enterprise, and political shifts that will be necessary for a renewable energy plan to flourish.

Those on both sides of the fraking debate – now being recast in New York as the fracking versus renewable debate -- see Cuomo’s leadership as pivotal. He could allow fracking in New York as it has proceeded in Pennsylvania, free of a severance tax and exempt from water conservation and hazardous waste handling laws. This would channel more capital into drilling and related infrastructure and contribute to a glut of cheap fossil energy that hurts the competitive position of renewables. Or he could tilt the scales in the other direction, allowing greater incentives for renewables while discouraging shale gas development.

Authors of the report – titled  “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s all-purpose Energy Infrastructure to one using Wind, Water, and Sunlight” --have been promised an audience with Cuomo, Ingraffea said, which has yet to happen, but they are encouraged by the governor’s hesitancy to approve fracking and the mounting political pressure to provide answers.

New York is hardly starting from scratch in harnessing renewable sources. According to the same EIA report that outlined the state’s energy deficit:

The State possesses considerable renewable energy potential. Several powerful rivers, including the Niagara and the Hudson, provide New York with some of the greatest hydropower resources in the Nation, and New York’s Catskill and Adirondack mountains offer substantial wind power potential.

The EIA report notes that New York produced more hydroelectric power than any other state east of the Rocky Mountains in 2011 and that the 2,353-megawatt Robert Moses Niagara hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls was the fourth largest in the United States in 2010. Looking ahead, New York's Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that 30 percent of electricity come from renewable energy resources by 2015; in 2011, 24 percent of electricity came from renewable energy resources. The report also notes that residents in New York, in metropolitan areas at least, are already inclined to conserve energy. Although the state was the eighth largest energy consumer in the country in 2010, it had the second lowest energy consumption per capita after Rhode Island due in part to its widely used mass transportation systems.

Ingraffea dismisses the idea that a fossil-fuel free New York is a pipedream. “The technology is already here,” he said. “The bridge is behind us. Renewables are every bit as real as coal, oil, or gas.  The hard part is not the science. It’s the policy.”

It’s not surprising that the feasibility paper has been criticized and debated over its assumptions and practicality. Andrew Revkin, the New York Times analyst and blogger who covers energy, climate, and environmental issues for Dot Earth, summed it up this way: “To me, the analysis works best as a thought experiment, given the monumental hurdles — economic, political, regulatory and technical — that would hinder such a shift.” (You can read his full assement here.)

Two of the papers’ authors, Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, are also principal aubthors of another paper that has riled the industry with science suggesting  shale gas development is as bad or worse than coal in contributing to greenhouse gasses and global warming. The work, titled Climate Impacts of Shale Gas Development,  has been met with rebuttals and challenges (including this one by Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev at MIT) as well as praise. That’s the fitting and proper nature of academic scholarship, the scientific method, and the hard work of blending science with policy. At the very least, it provides a starting point for much-needed discussions – one challenging the conventional wisdom that gas is cleaner than coal, and the other providing an empirical framework for life after carbon. With or without fracking, carbon reserves are finite, and New York’s share of them will last for maybe a generation or two, perhaps less. The legacy of abandoned wells may well outlast that.  What then, if not renewables? And if renewables, why not sooner rather than later?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Audiences at public talks show texture of fracking debate. Next up: Revolution Books, Joint Landowners Coalition

My nature and disposition are better suited for reporting and writing than public speaking. But it’s hard to write a book about an issue like fracking and then duck out of the fray.

So I do what I can as a speaker -- a role I find both challenging and fruitful. As a reporter, I seek out sources as part of my work-a-day routine. Less frequently do they seek me out (although the frequency is increasing in the Internet age.) The dynamic is different at public talks. Here I encounter in one spot a freewheeling mix of those there to listen and those there to tell me something, with protocols and expectations that tend to change from group to group. Speaking invitations have taken me to some diverse venues including geology conventions, libraries, bookstores, universities, a retirement communities, and a brewery. Some audiences tend to be neutral, some opinionated, and some committed to specific positions for or against gas drilling. Some are more informed than others. Some have unique experiences or are tied to the outcome of the story in a compelling and personal way. Some spontaneously become sources: the young couple in Greenville, Pennsylvania who await drilling crews to begin Utica Shale exploration on their property with large measures of both hope and anxiety and little concrete information; or community members in Oberlin, Ohio mystified about the workings and functions of a nearby disposal well; or a geology expert in Buffalo who offers technical insights in the interest of boosting clarity and credibility in my work. Spontaneous public turbulence is vital to all journalism. It can complicate a simple story line, but it also aerates and enriches reporting by broadening a reporter’s knowledge base and empathy for stakeholders.

In upcoming weeks, I will be participating at events hosted by groups at opposite ends of the fracking spectrum. On Wednesday, I will give a talk at Revolution Books in Manhattan– a store that provides customers “who refuse to accept the horrors of today’s world” with “the books and the deep engagement with each other about why the world is the way it is and the possibility of a radically different way the world could be.” I expect the audience will include anti-fracking activists who feel Big Energy’s grip on natural resources and influence on global politics comes at the expense of public health and the environment.

On May 30, I will moderate a forum in Albany hosted by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, a group that sees shale gas development as an economic engine and means for national independence. The forum will include speakers from the industry, medical community, and academia who will “debunk myths” about shale gas development. I expect the audience will include some people who feel that environmental and health risks are merely a fabrication of liberal interests challenging the system of free enterprise.

I have agreed to both of these forums, partly to serve the discussion and partly to observe the discussion. As a journalist, I think it’s critical to be engaged in and witness to all aspects of this debate and to learn as much as I can as I go. I will not take sides on whether the risks of shale gas development outweigh the rewards. But I am not exactly a disinterested observer. I feel strongly that fighting for transparency in matters of overwhelming public interest is fundamental to the work of any journalist, and there is a critical need for transparency, and aggressive reporting, in matters related to the energy industry.

I also believe that the press serves as an agent for reform and a popular counterbalance to concentrations of wealth and power. Some call this watchdog journalism, which is a fitting and non-political name. But I don't shy away from this: This brand of watchdog journalism embodies liberal ideals that have been associated with the traditional media since the days of Joseph Pulitzer and Upton Sinclair. Journalists are not there to take sides, but to equip society – commoners as well as elites -- with the tools it needs for self-governance, and that begins with a spotlight on matters of public interest.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Efforts to test Marcellus in upstate NY produces leaky well Carrizo crews on site to fix casing problem in Owego

Service rig at leaky Marcellus well in Town of Owego NY
Photo provided 
A Houston company’s pioneering venture into the Marcellus Shale in upstate New York has produced a leaky gas well that the company is trying to fix before abandoning the project or turning it over to another company.

A service crew is now working on the Wetterling Well in the Town of Owego after state inspectors found gas leaking from the ground between the bedrock and the cement casing last fall. Carrizo Oil and Gas drilled the vertical well in October to test the Marcellus Shale. The formation, one of the largest gas reserves in the world, runs from upstate New York through Pennsylvania and into parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland. Carrizo began the project in the Town of Owego even though New York state is not issuing permits for the kind of horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing necessary for commercial production. The permitting moratorium is tied to a review of health and environmental impacts by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, now in its fifth year, and a growing protest movement against shale gas development in New York state.

Problems were first confirmed at the Wetterling well on Oct. 25, according to DEC records, when an inspector, responding to updates from company representatives, found levels of combustible gas leaking from the well bore. The leak averaged about 20 cubic feet per day and was coming from somewhere between the cement casing and the ground – an area known as the annulus.  According to the records, a company representative asked the agency last fall if it would be “OK to abandon the well with a vent pipe.”

The DEC inspector, who is not identified by name on paperwork released in response to a Freedom of Information Request to an area resident, reported in notes:

I told him that I did not know and the New York has no specific guidelines about the matter. I went on to say that I have seen other companies re-entering wells of their own accord to fix small leaks. We agreed to continue monitoring the well and that Carrizo would submit an interim plugging report…

The DEC is updating regulations for shale gas as part of the environmental review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). In February and March, officials said they expected the report to be issued within weeks. More recently they have said there is no timetable for its completion.

Under current rules, New York state gas well inspectors have broad discretion in interpreting conditions and tailoring enforcement efforts for a given permit. The leak at the Wetterling well was allowed to continue over the winter, before the company began work to fix the problem this spring.

Richard Hunter, vice president of Investor Relations for Carrizo, confirmed that a service crew had set up a rig at the Wetterling site to attempt to locate exactly where gas was leaking from. Hunter explained that crews inserted audio equipment into the hole to listen for the leak – similar to listening for a leak in an inner tube. When they locate the spot, he said, they will “squeeze in more cement” to plug the void between the casing and the ground.

Methane leaks, and the extent to which they are disclosed, have caused major problems for the industry’s image in Pennsylvania. Chronic problems in Dimock, Pa. became a showcase for the anti-fracking movement after methane leaked from production wells into an aquifer used by area residents. The problem became apparent after one water well exploded in 2009, leading to greater public awareness of risks related to shale gas development. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has documented dozens of other cases of methane leaks from gas development, some of them fatal.

Industry officials say problems with methane migration from drilling are exaggerated, and point out that methane can leak into water naturally.

Hunter said the Owego well was drilled as part of a contract with a company that sold assets to Carrizo.  From the beginning, Carrizo planned to plug and abandon the well after testing it, Hunter said, although it could be an asset in future business deals. Carrizo is not likely to pursue development in New York given the regulatory uncertainty, he said. But another company might.

 “The thickness, rock quality and everything in the well was very encouraging, and the same kind of thing we are seeing in West Virginia where we are having success,” Hunter said.

Note: Area resident Gerri Wiley provided records obtained by the Freedom of Information Law from the DEC and a photograph for this report. Sue Heavenrich also reported on the well today on her blog, The Marcellus Effect 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reporting of shale gas story influenced by Internet trends PR, advocacy, fill niche as journalistic void grows

This post considers the latest news about methane migration in Pennsylvania. But to tell that story, I first have to tell another story.

In 2010, the number of public relations specialists in the U.S. had risen to an all time high of 320,000. By contrast, the number of reporters had fallen to a low of 58,500. The fantastic trajectory of the PR business will hold strong at least through 2020 with a 21 percent growth curve, according to Statistics at the Department of Labor. Over the next decade, the number of new PR jobs alone will exceed the payroll of the entire news industry.

For professional reporters and those who value their vocational contributions to society, it’s only going to get worse. The reporting payroll is projected to decline by another 6 percent by 2020. That means the public will be receiving more information billed as news that has been shaped, spun, or fabricated by professionals working within the narrow parameters of particular corporate interests. This growing rubric of the Fourth Estate will use the traditional tools – press releases and phone calls -- to leverage stories into news outlets. It also has at its disposal Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter – powerful tools to bypass the working press altogether.

At the same time free content on the Internet has eroded the number of staff writers and newscasters and lent traction to corporate interests, it has given rise to a volunteer corps of citizen journalists, muckrakers, and filmmakers. Josh Fox and Michael Moore have become role models for a new breed of advocacy journalists who, once merely consumers in the Market Place of Ideas, now have new access as vendors via social networks. By way of example, I have written about Vera Scroggins, an amateur videographer who lugs equipment over hill and dale, into town and country, recording municipal meetings, toxic spills, and interviews with residents. She filmed operations of shale gas operators that were beyond the wherewithal of the sparse professional reporting staff in rural northern Pennsylvania, and posted footage on the Internet, providing a repository of information otherwise unavailable. Participation of people like Vera is a good thing. It’s empowered the populous by giving everybody a voice -- access to the public stump in the square, and the ability to share information.

But it comes with a cost. The indy and PR news sources that thrive on the Internet are a welcome boon to free speech, but they also tend to undermine the traditional free press, which is unable to generate on-line revenue sources needed to sustain professional reporting. Beyond that economic consideration, there is the matter of content: Independent news largely comes unfiltered for noise, bias, and confusion. When newspaper reporters get a fact wrong, large or small, they are called on it. If necessary, corrections are issued, and their frequency is considered in a reporter’s annual performance evaluation. Additionally, reporters’ work has to pass muster with a staff of editors. These editors undoubtedly have varying political views, but they are all professionally committed to serving the expectations of a diverse readership. Editorial staff is separate from the news staff, both in the physical segregation of office space and in clearly defined roles.

As the public turns to free content on the Internet at the expense of paid content by professional reporters, the type of credibility and checks and balances that professional journalists have traditionally brought to the public are disappearing. The depth of reporting, and the newspaper’s traditional role as advocate for open government and transparency in matters of public interest are also suffering with the decline of revenue available for investigative journalism. It’s not just about the revenue, it’s about the source of revenue – from an independent readership and viewers – that makes the press such an effective watchdog.

Now for the other part of this story.

The gas industry claims that drilling is not a public health threat, and that fracking fluid is harmless. In support of these claims it cites lack of evidence tying operations to pollution and illness. What’s missing is full disclosure. The industry operates on private property without the level of regulatory oversight that other industries face. (It is exempt from both federal Safe Drinking Water Act and  hazardous waste laws that require disclosure of what goes into and what comes out of the ground.) When something goes wrong, it is often a matter between the company and the homeowner to resolve. When legal pressure necessitates, the industry can make the problem go away with settlements that contain non-disclosure clauses.

A recent example came to light with a personal injury claim against Range Resources and other operators by a family in Mt. Pleasant Township, Pa. Range Resources agreed to pay the Hallowich family $750,000 to settle a lawsuit for personal injury damages related to operations near their home. The case was settled by the parties in 2011, no official complaint was filed, and the records were sealed.  

We only know this because the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter filed and won a suit to get the records unsealed. The unsealed documents also revealed that the PA Department of Environmental Protection did not maintain records of an investigation into a complaint about water contamination at a neighboring property, and that the investigator, Mark Kiel, soon left the agency to work for the gas drilling company he had been investigating. For every case that gets unsealed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of cases sealed in documents that are never opened because their public relevance goes unchallenged, and that’s largely because mainstream media outlets have fewer resources to do that then they did in the golden age of investigative journalism.

Meanwhile, both the DEP and gas companies are able to keep matters of public interest unfolding in Susquehanna County from full public view. Last week, the DEP issued a brief statement that exonerated gas company WPX of causing methane pollution in three wells in the Township of Franklin Forks. Yet the agency is not releasing any results related to the investigation or to its conclusions. It is known that the Franklin Forks area and the nearby Salt Springs State Park contain rich methane reservoirs in both deep and shallow formations (hence the attractiveness of the area to petroleum operators). Although the DEP released its conclusions that the gas affecting the water wells was not from nearby gas wells or production zones being tapped by WPX, it did not explain the source or course of pollution at concentrations five times greater than the threshold for explosion risks.

It’s been a high-visibility case dominated by interest groups. Yoko Ono and other celebrities supporting anti-fracking groups visited the site in January to press their case against allowing fracking in neighboring New York state. On the other side of the fence, the industry group Energy In Depth issued a press release titled “DEP Debunks Methane Claims in Franklin Township,” which seized on the conclusion of the DEP investigation as proof that the industry is being vilified. Meanwhile, the landowner of one of the affected wells – the Manning family – is suing WPX for the pollution. Given the trend, it would be unsurprising if this gets settled behind closed doors.

Franklin Forks may have been less of a story if not for events that have unfolded in Dimock Township, about a dozen miles to the south. More than four years after the explosion of a residential water well called attention to the problem, the DEP is still investigating recurring water pollution problems in the middle of a gas field being developed by Cabot Oil & Gas. Wells providing water to several dozen homes have been taken off line or fitted with filtration equipment to remove gas and other pollution since the water well of Norma Fiorentino exploded on New Year’s Day, 2009. Under the Rendell administration, the DEP cited Cabot for various violations related to the problems.

Now Governor Tom Corbett’s DEP is investigating cases involving two homes in an area where the agency has banned drilling of new wells in the wake of chronic water problems. Recent tests showed dangerous levels of methane flowing into residential water wells near the junction of Carter Road and State Route 3023. Yet the problem, in the eyes of the DEP, remains elusive.  “We are slowly getting some test results back,” DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said. “However  - as per our attorney, DEP does not share test results from private water wells with anyone but the private well owner.”

To be clear, the agency has a policy of releasing incomplete data to homeowners, a policy that has produced much criticism but little action. Officials justify the long-standing practice of excluding some fields as a sound method to filter noise from relevant data. Critics argue that the agency cherry picks the data, and the unreleased fields might be useful indicators of drilling contamination and other problems. Moreover, homeowners have a right to all results of water quality tests that can flag health risks.

The fight over the cause and consequences of methane seeping into private water wells in Susquehanna County is one example of an issue that could stand a little more legal leverage from professional news outlets. While some outlets, including the Scranton Times-Tribune, do what they can with declining resources to report the story, readers would be well served by a legal challenge to the DEP’s refusal to release ground water analysis paid for by tax-payer money concerning matters of overwhelming public interest. News outlets, of course, have to choose their battles and they have less discretion than ever as their revenues fall. In the meantime, we do our best with half-page press releases issued by regulatory agencies, rhetoric from talking heads for or against fracking, or hyperbolic “I told you so” by PR firms and activists representing stakeholders.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

NY Appellate Court upholds Home Rule fracking ban Landmark case critically linked to Marcellus development

New York’s anti-fracking movement scored a critical victory today in a landmark case testing the right of local governments to ban fracking.

In a much-anticipated decision, the state’s Third Appellate Division upheld a ruling  giving local governments authority to ban the controversial practice of unconventional drilling and well-stimulation techniques – including high volume hydraulic fracturing -- to extract petroleum from bedrock.

Today’s ruling comes after the shale gas industry appeal of a February, 2012 decision by a lower court favoring the right of local governments to ban drilling. The appeal was based on an argument that legislation amending the Oil Gas and Solutions Minding Law gave the state, not local governments, exclusive jurisdiction over wells.

In today’s appellate court ruling, the three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the oil and gas law did not reflect legislative intent to “pre-empt a municipality’s power to enact a local zoning ordinance banning all activities related to the exploration for, and the production or storage of, natural gas and petroleum within its borders.”

This theme was reiterated emphatically throughout the 15-page ruling:

We find nothing in the language, statutory scheme or legislative history of the (Mining Law) statute indicating an intention to usurp the authority traditionally delegated to municipalities to establish permissible and prohibited uses of land within their jurisdictions. In the absence of a clear expression of legislative intent to preempt local control over land use, we decline to give the statute such a construction.

Industry attorney Tom West said his legal team will file for an appeal, but it is up to the discretion of the state’s high court whether to hear the case.

Home Rule bans are supported by activists who fear shale gas development, including the use of high volumes of undisclosed chemical solutions injected into the ground to fracture shale and release gas – poses unacceptable threats to environment and public health. Activists praised the court’s decision to uphold local bans, while using the victory to encourage broader opposition.

“The real solution to this problem is for the state to ban fracking, but until that happens, local governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens from the oil and gas industry,” Kelly Branigan said in a statement. Branigan is a founding member of Middlefield Neighbors and a member of New Yorkers Against Fracking. Residents of the towns of Middlefield and Dryden supported the bans, which were legally challenged by Anschutz Exploration and Norse Energy.

The Marcellus and Utica shalea, some of the largest gas reserves in the world, extend throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. Today’s ruling could have a profound impact on the future of shale gas development in the Empire State. Unlike conventional gas development, which tends to be geographically limited, the footprints of shale gas resources cover large regions. Uncertainty over jurisdiction from one town to the next can be a critical disincentive for drillers. Absent a successful appeal, according to West, the prospects of large scale shale gas development in New York are dim.  “This sends a signal to the industry that New York is not stable,” he said. “You can invest millions of dollars to lease in New York and be at the mercy of a 3-2 town hall vote.”

Which is exactly why grass roots activist like it. Local control of the gas industry is a “David and Goliath battle,” said Branigan. “This decision shows that our democracy in New York State still works.”

Permitting for gas wells in New York has been on hold for five years, pending the outcome of a policy review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation accounting for environmental and health impacts. That review, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) has no timetable for completion, Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said yesterday.

The battle continues, and shale gas development is still a real possibility in certain parts of the state despite today’s ruling. There are municipalities that support gas development, including many in Southern Tier counties that are adjacent to productive gas fields in Pennsylvania. If shale gas development were to begin in New York, it would be here, according to a plan floated by Governor Mario Cuomo last year.  The incentive to develop these areas in Broome, Tioga and Delaware counties are strong, because the geology is promising, they are close to major pipelines, and there is relatively little opposition from local town boards.