The two sides in the hydrofracking debate have strong opinions and a high degree of certitude, as two local columns in Sunday's Opinion section showed. But some still have open minds, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he does and we know we do. Like him, we are awaiting a report by the state health commissioner, which is expected within weeks.
In the meantime, we take note of a couple of interesting developments last week.
One was an Associated Press story about all those celebrities who oppose fracking , a process of extracting natural gas by forcing water and chemicals deep into shale deposits. They see it as a major threat to drinking water and the environment. And they've formed a group called Artists Against Fracking and are buying ads, speaking out, holding events and otherwise using their celebrity to influence public opinion and public officials.
The AP found that this group has not registered as a lobbyist, and suggests that by not doing so it's violating the law (which isn't a crime but is punishable by a fine). It certainly appears that way. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) should investigate, and if it concludes the group meets the law's definition of a lobbyist, make them register.
The other development last week was an agreement between energy companies and environmentalists on a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast.
The companies said they realized they needed to do more to reassure the public about the safety of fracking . The environmentalists said they were just recognizing reality: The natural gas contained in the Marcellus Shale is abundant, valuable and relatively clean-burning, while the jobs involved in its extraction are badly needed. So it's going to be developed, the environmentalists concede; the question is how do you best protect the environment?
The new standards address many of environmentalists' biggest concerns. They call for, among other things, limits on emissions of methane and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; stricter wastewater disposal; maximum water recycling; and the use of less toxic fracking fluids. Many appear to be stricter than state and federal standards.
The biggest problem is that they are voluntary; companies don't have to follow them and there are no penalties if they don't. That means legislation is still needed that is at least as strict as these standards in any state that allows or is considering allowing fracking , including New York. The standards shouldn't be a ceiling, but a floor.