NY groups claim industry bias in fracking study

NY groups claim industry bias in fracking study; cite consultant's oil and gas connections

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Opponents of gas drilling and a dozen New York lawmakers on Wednesday called for the Department of Environmental Conservation to scrap work done by a consultant as part of an environmental impact review of fracking, saying the firm is part of an industry group lobbying to lift the state's 5-year-old shale drilling ban.

Ecology and Environment Inc. was hired in 2011 to do an economic analysis of how shale gas development would affect the state. It gave a positive picture of jobs and economic benefits.

Critics immediately panned the study, saying it didn't analyze negative economic effects, including the toll of truck traffic on roads and increased health care costs. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens responded by saying the consultant would take a harder look at the costs communities would have to deal with if fracking is allowed, but no new report has been made public.

This week, Ecology and Environment was listed as a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York in a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to lift the ban.

"The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is — and has been — safe, good for our environment and for our economy," Brad Gill, the industry group's executive director, wrote in the letter to Cuomo on Monday. "Our 'New' New York must now join the nation and embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development. We need your help," he concluded, noting that the letter was submitted on behalf of the group's members.

"The roster that followed the letter identified the magnitude and diversity of our membership and did not purport to reflect each member's individual point-of-view," Gill said in a statement released Wednesday in response to questions raised about the impartiality of Ecology and Environment.

In a letter responding to a DEC request Wednesday for clarification of its role with the industry group, Ecology and Environment's attorney said the company didn't have a corporate membership in the oil and gas association.

It did pay membership dues for an employee, wrote the attorney, Colleen Mullaney-Westfall. She said the employee has been directed to terminate his membership in the industry group immediately because it "misrepresented" the consultant's affiliation and never obtained authorization to endorse any position taken by the group.

IOGANY Executive Director Brad Gill sent a letter to Mullaney-Westfall late Wednesday saying membership in the association is always issued to an individual, not a corporation, and that none of the consultant's employees were now members.

Mullaney-Westfall said the company's nationwide policy has been to take no position on fracking and provide objective environmental consulting services.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into oil and gas wells to crack gas-bearing rock. Advancement in the technology has brought new jobs and wealth to many communities but has spurred opposition from those who warn of health and environmental costs. Many government regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.

"I don't know if Ecology and Environment's report on the economic impact of fracking is biased or not, and that is the problem," said Sen. Terry Gipson. "To make such an important decision on fracking, the environment and economy we need truly independent information."

Gipson and three other senators also wrote to Cuomo in February raising questions about the seismology study included in DEC's environmental impact review, saying the study's leader had industry ties.

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