- - Thursday, March 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or leave ‘em, depending. Several struggling towns in upstate New York look across the state line at Pennsylvania and are thinking about secession, not from the union but from New York. After years of timid waffling, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said no to fracking, the method of drilling for oil and gas that is making Pennsylvania prosperous. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, could be the key to putting a jingle into the pockets of New Yorkers, and improving the state’s dreary and desolate business climate.

Fracking has been an economic boon to Americans living near the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation that stretches from West Virginia to central New York. The shale contains hard-to-reach oil and natural gas but by pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into the shale, drillers can retrieve oil and gas hidden in the nooks and crannies in the shale. Pennsylvania welcomed the new technology and the bonanza of well-paying jobs and tax revenue. Mr. Cuomo dallied for several years and finally last December banned fracking in 12 million acres of the state. He couched his decision as one based on health concerns, fretting over water and air quality. However, pressure from the state’s environmental lobby, which sees access to fossil fuel as a threat to their dreams of a green economy, clearly weighed in the governor’s decision.

Talk of breaking away proceeds from the exasperation when a treasure is snatched away. “We have no jobs and no income. The richest resource we have is in the ground,” Conklin Town Supervisor Jim Finch lamented to the New York Post. This once sounded like a politician’s exaggeration, but when the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation compiled its First in Freedom Index, rating the 50 states on fiscal, educational, regulatory and health care categories, New York was ranked dead last.

The health of Pennsylvanians seems none the worse for the effects of the Pennsylvania fracking. The state benefited from a $34.7 billion boost to its economy in 2012 alone from the natural gas industry, which the American Petroleum Institute says supports 339,000 jobs. The new governor, Tom Wolf, a Democrat, tries to balance the interests and arguments of industrialists and environmentalists, and not long ago prohibited drilling for natural gas in state parks and forests.

New Yorkers can do little but grumble. Secession by a dozen towns in the state’s southern tier of counties is not a realistic strategy. Secession would require the approval of the legislatures of both New York and Pennsylvania and the approval of the federal government. Secession is as deeply unpopular in both Harrisburg and Albany as it was in Washington a century and a half ago. Sometimes such talk provokes a violent lesson. Members of the “Republic of Texas,” a group that gathers occasionally in town hall-style meetings to discuss how the federal government oversteps its bounds, found that out recently. They were subjected to a “show of force” by armed lawmen who disrupted their meeting, fingerprinted everybody and confiscated their cell phones. New Yorkers rarely show the rugged independence of Texans, but the talk of secession is not likely to lead to anything more than talk.

Nevertheless, bitter feelings are inevitable when citizens think their leaders are more interested in the prospects of lobbyists than in their own, and such feelings are always long-lasting. Mr. Cuomo seems to understands this, and delayed his fracking ban until he was safely re-elected last November. The governor called his new autobiography “All Things Possible,” and if secession is not possible, neither is the prosperity that New Yorkers see across a state line. That’s not a good prospect for anyone.

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