Will Fracking be part of New York’s energy picture for the next 20 years, or not? The state’s draft 2014 Energy Plan is supposed to answer this kind of question, and the fact that it appears to but doesn’t represents the politically unwieldy position Governor Andrew Cuomo finds himself in with the fracking debate.
In a recent post, I wrote that the plan “makes no mention of developing New York’s shale reserves through fracking, a discussion that remains the elephant in the room. But the plan gives a nod to the role of natural gas and more infrastructure as part and parcel to some very ambitious, of very broad, goals.”
An astute reader, Keith Schue, flagged this. He pointed out Cuomo's plan does in fact mention fracking, albeit in a convoluted and (in my view) meaningless way. Schue directed me to “Volume 2 – Sources,” and a subsection on p. 88 titled "New York Production Forecast." (Embedded below)
My own review of this section found several things worth noting. First, the forecast, accompanied by a chart, extends through 2035. During that time, the state’s natural gas production is “expected to decrease significantly,” according to the text, due to a “decline in existing formations” and “lack of new wells being drilled.”
Yet, oddly, the line plotted in the accompanying “figure 32” gas production climbs impressively through that period.
The text attempts to explain this, ignoring the inconsistency in the original analysis that gas production was expected to decline. The graph illustrates “a conservative Marcellus Shale natural gas production level.” This “conservative” level accounts for “potential (my emphasis) permitting and production difficulties related to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” It offers this elaboration. “If these difficulties are minimized, Marcellus production levels could potentially be higher.”
Finally, it explains that the graph “would show a forecasted overall decline in production continuing through 2035 if the current prohibition on shale development continues.” It concludes that “Regardless of actions within New York boundaries,” ample supplies of gas exist elsewhere “as long as the interstate pipeline capacity exists.”
In a nut, the plan says that Marcellus gas will make production go up, contingent on unknowable factors if it happens, and go down if it doesn’t; and New York can get gas elsewhere anyway, if their are enough pipelines.
To my eye, the analysis appears at first blush to be vague to the point of meaninglessness. But I will grant that it provides a baseline for discussion and many will find that the very dance around the Marcellus question along with the excruciating qualifications and parsing of language are emblematic of the ambiguous state of our energy future.
Shue, who is working with various environmental and anti-frcking groups, explained in an email that he and others were in the process of “writing an exhaustive critique of the energy plan and will be shining a spotlight on this sly mention of fracking at the hearings too.” I am happy that others are looking carefully at this, and I welcome their assessments.