- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2012

With New York reportedly set to allow fracking in portions of the state near the Pennsylvania border, researchers at one of the Empire State’s top universities are warning of catastrophic consequences associated with increased gas drilling.

Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Susan Christopherson, a professor of city and regional planning, on Monday afternoon briefed New York’s congressional delegation, along with several key panels such as the House Committee on Natural Resources, on the footprint the natural gas industry could leave in its wake.

Mr. Ingraffea, the author of a controversial report claiming natural gas is even worse than coal as a contributor to global warming, said policymakers at both the state and federal level should re-evaluate guidelines governing natural gas drilling and consider placing limits on how much can be extracted.

“Maybe your policy should be to slow down development of unconventional shale gas,” such as that extracted by fracking — hydraulic fracturing, Mr. Ingraffea told reporters at a press conference before his Capitol Hill briefing. “Along the way you have to figure out if you’re going to reduce fossil fuel use.”

Responsible for economic booms and low unemployment rates in parts of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, fracking — the use of water, sand and chemicals to crack underground rock and release huge quantities of gas — has become a heated topic in New York, parts of which sit atop the vast Marcellus Shale gas reserve.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon lift a moratorium on fracking and allow it go forward in the southern tier of the state, sources within his administration told the New York Times two weeks ago. The development was welcome news for the gas industry, which for years has been waiting for the chance to tap into the resources in upstate New York.

But the news has also fueled an intense backlash from environmentalists, who claim the industry and its use of fracking will destroy New York’s water supplies, drive rural businesses such as wineries into bankruptcy, and contribute to the larger problem of global climate change.

Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, a vocal fracking critic who skewered the natural gas sector in his documentary “Gasland,” recently released a follow-up titled “The Sky is Pink,” urging Mr. Cuomo and all New Yorkers to stop drilling companies from setting up shop in the state.

Copies of the new film were available at Cornell’s media briefing Monday.

The natural gas industry has strongly disputed both the figures used by Mr. Ingraffea to justify his global warming concerns and similar numbers put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, recently released their own report showing that methane emissions from natural gas wells are about 50 percent lower than EPA estimates.

Last week, Darren Smith, environmental manager for Devon Energy, a leading oil and gas company, testified before the Senate’s subcommittee on clean air and nuclear safety and blasted the EPA’s greenhouse gas estimates, claiming they’re being used by opponents of fossil fuels to demonize the sector.

“It will continue to result in bad public policy and research that overshadows the benefits of natural gas,” he said.

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