From a fracking resolution in New York to an escalation of fracking politics across the nation

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From a fracking resolution in New York to an escalation of fracking politics across the nation
Heikkila, Tanya
Weible, Christopher
Place of Publication:
The Conversation
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General Note:
Pre-print. Published in The Conversation on December 22, 2014

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Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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From a Fracking Resolution in New York to a n Escalation of Fracking Politics across the Nation Published in The Conversation, December 22, 2014 resolution in new york escalation of fracking politics across the nation 35655#comment_548955 Tanya Heikkila & Christopher Weible Drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and in other unconventional oil and gas formations across the U.S., has led to a boom in domestic natural gas and oil production largely due to advances in high volume hydraulic fracturing. This has raised many questions about environmental and public health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and has fueled pol itical debates over how best to govern and regulate oil and gas development. The debates have been particularly polarized in New York -which until this week had a temporary moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that was established to give the state time to do an environmental impact assessment of hydraulic fracturing, review regulations, and conduct a health review. , the Cuomo administration has concluded that the health and environmental risks are too high and that New York will ban hydraulic fracturing. The decision end s an era of political uncertainty in New York that began six years ago when the state imposed the de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. During those si x years , many local governm ents in New York decided to move forward with their own local bans on hydraulic fracturing. While a number of local governments across other U.S. states have imposed bans or moratoria on hydraulic fracturing, New York has become the second state in the U. S. after Vermont, and the first to overlie a major shale formation, to ban hydraulic fracturing . This raises the question as to whether more state level bans of hydraulic fracturing are likely to emerge politically feasible. The decision in New York may have been informed partly by the science in the state health study but science is not the decider of political decisions. Political decisions are decided by the power at the intersection of values, interests, and identities . Making political decisions requires good timing and building support and minimizing opposition. For the Governor, the stakes were high. He was up for reelection in 2014, so a decision one way or the other may have affected the el ection results; he had to be careful not to anger any major voting base and yet also show leadership. T he opposition to hydraulic fracturing ha s been particularly strong in New York relative to other states. A survey we administered in the fall of 2013 to people politically engaged in New York , including those from 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% Ban the practice Continue de facto moratorium Permit small-scale experimental drilling Permit in some regions of NY Permit statewide drilling Notes: Survey administered in the Fall 2013 to people political engaged in New York on hydraulic fracturing including government and nongovernment affiliations ( 129 out of 379 people responding ) . Polarization in New York


government and nongovernment affiliations, show s little middle ground . This is not the case in Colorado and Texas , for example, where similar studies we conducted show a larger proportion of moderate positions. S ince Cuomo d oes not have a lot of support in the middle an d would inevitably be caught in the crossfire in making a decision , he had to align with one side or t he other. The political landscape of hydraulic fracturing in New York is of course more nuanced than our figure above presents. In New York, those in favor of using hydraulic fracturing include some local governments , mineral rights owners, and the oil a nd gas industry. In opposition to hydraulic fracturing are many local citizen based groups and environmental and conservation groups. Our research also shows that although the oil and gas industry may have financial resource s , those opposed are better mob ilized, better networked, and orchestrate more political activities that can attract sympathetic observers and gain political allies . However, gaining political leverage i nvolves more than public performances . It requires the capacity to influence government . While opponents to hydraulic fracturing have proven s uccessful at influencing local governments across the state, the durability and legitimacy of that influence remained uncertain until a r ecent state court decision upheld the constitutionality of local bans . This court decision also provided an opportunity for the Governor to align with a powerful coalition . Indeed, without the state ban, local governments would likely have continued to move ahead without the Gover W hile the opponents of hydraulic fracturing were gaining momentum in New York, the supporters had fewer political opportunit ies to gain a foothold on the debate . In part, this is a result of declining prices for natural gas prices , New Y Marcellus, and the fact that the oil and gas industry historically has not been a major economic base in New York . These factor s arguably inhibit New York's potential for expansive e conomic development from shale gas, at least in the near term . The political landscape surrounding hydraulic fracturing in New York is obviously different in other states. Whether other states follow suit with state level ban s is an open question. At le ast in states where shale development is active and the economic opportunities are still strong, we would not expect to see the same opportunity structures in place to follow a similar path. Yet, the nation is watching and learning from the ban in New York . For those supporting hydraulic fracturing, the New York ban is a threat that will likely lead to entrenchment and intensification of political resolve. For those against hydraulic fracturing, the New York ban is a possible path for victory by showin g how to mobilize supporters and pressure government. W hile the political uncertainty associated with the moratorium may have been resolved in New York, the debate will likely escalate across the nation.