When Fracking Comes to Town: Pace University’s 14th Annual Land Use Conference (Panel Discussion)

December 2, 2013

Resiliency is the theme of Pace University’s upcoming 15th annual land use conference.   Defined as “ how systems and settlements stand up to shock from the outside…”1, resiliency is an appropriate organizational concept for a panel discussion on how communities might respond to the potentially shocking discovery of rich stores of gas shale beneath their land.

Whether or not New York State eventually lifts its current moratorium on shale gas development, the delay afforded by the ban provides opportunities to craft legislation that addresses a major dilemma: the perception that local land use impacts are inadequately protected by current federal and state regulations “leading many local governments to ban the practice in the absence of sound models…This, in turn, leads some states to preempt local authority, which perpetuates the neglect of local impacts.”3

Panel participant Stephen Ross, County Attorney from Santa Fe County, New Mexico will share his experience with a very similar scenario.  In response to plans for drilling 3000 wells in the scenic Galisteo Basin many residents advocated a ban.  Instead, the County, non-profits and private citizens chose to create a set of regulations that – if they couldn’t prevent it – assured that mineral exploration would be done right.  The goal for policy makers was simple, says Ross:  “Combine all the most stringent regulations they could see around the country into one ordinance.”

Panelist Nathan Richardson, lead author of this year’s The State of State Shale Gas Regulations, can judge how the resulting Santa Fe Land and Gas Amendment to the Santa Fe County Land Development Code compares with state regulations across the country, and in particular with New York state’s proposed regulations which he lauds as “one of few states that would regulate all of the 27 different elements  of the [fracking] process included in our study.”

Richardson cites a colleague’s survey of 200 academics, industry representatives, elected officials and environmental experts where they were asked to prioritize 20 different environmental impacts of concern.  Concerns regarding potential groundwater contamination ranked low, a finding that leads him to conclude that on this subject “there is a giant disconnect between experts and the general public.” 

Hydrologist Jim Saiers of Yale University is mindful of threats to groundwater quality but feels they can be mitigated through appropriate technology and management.  The more important issue he says, however, may not involve water all.

“Over the last year,” he says, “the debate has slowly shifted from focusing on freshwater to focusing on air-quality and greenhouse gas emissions associated with shale-gas development.   Methane emissions (leakage) at the well site and along the natural-gas transmission system have become a growing concern.   Measurements of the leakage rates are now emerging, but are disparate and remain hotly contested.  Constraining the leakage rates is key to assessment of the efficacy of shale gas as a bridge fuel.”

1. Gaia Foundation.  http://www.gaiafoundation.org/climate-change-resilience

2. What the Experts Say About the Environmental Risks of Shale Development.  http://www.rff.org/centers/energy_economics_and_policy/Pages/Shale-Gas-E…