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How Much Influence Does the Fracking Industry Have in New York? A Lot

J. Mijin Cha

Just a few weeks after news came that Governor Cuomo was considering allowing limited fracking, emails were uncovered that show just how closely the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) works with the fracking industry. The Environmental Working Group obtained a series of emails through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed drilling companies received detailed summaries of the DEC fracking plan several weeks before they were made public. Only drilling industry representatives received these documents in advance and local communities and public advocacy groups were left out of the “stakeholder outreach.”

As a result, the industry had more than a month to lobby the DEC for rule changes that would benefit the fracking industry, while putting the public at greater risk. Reading through the timeline of the correspondence, it’s clear that not only did industry representatives receive information in advance, it’s unclear who is in charge. The following email shows just how comfortable industry representatives are in demanding to see regulations from the DEC—regulations that are not yet public:

Drilling industry attorney West emails the DEC's Maglienti, Russo and Crocker, thanking Maglienti for the more detailed summary and saying that "we will also need to see a similar list of proposals from any other Divisions or Bureaus in the DEC that will be proposing regulations. We are particularly concerned about some of the proposals that are being developed in the Division of Water, which seem to overlap some of the functions at Minerals [the Division of Minerals]."

Remarkably, DEC’s actions were totally legal. In defending their actions, DEC said the communication was consistent with state law ensuring regulations are not overly burdensome and several legal experts interviewed by the Albany-Times Union agreed that no law had been broken. But, just because it’s legal, does not mean that it’s right. By only consulting with industry, DEC is virtually ensuring that the resulting rules and regulations are heavily tilted in the industry’s favor. With no input from any other interest groups, how could they not be?

The oil and gas industry has a strong interest in making the rules as lax as possible. Health and safety improvements cost money and decrease profit, even if they do protect the health and well-being of surrounding communities. We’ve highlighted the dangers of fracking, which range from flammable tap water to increased earthquakes to mysterious illness striking nearby communities. It is very important to state that the consequences from fracking are not conjecture or potential scenarios. They are the very real negative impacts communities now face due to fracking. These same problems are almost certain to be imposed on communities in New York if fracking is allowed.

The industry is working on all fronts to ensure that fracking is allowed despite its very real consequences. For starters, the oil and gas industry has contributed over $1.2 million to elected official and campaign committees around the state between January 2007 and October 2011. Adding to campaign contributions, the $233,000 study on the impacts of hydro-fracking commissioned by the state was conducted by a consulting firm that counts oil and gas companies among its clients and that could potentially benefit from increased drilling in the state.

The fact that the state did not pay any heed to a potential conflict of interest just shows that not only do industry and the government work closely together; their relationship is so accepted that neither is concerned about an appearance of a conflict of interest. It's yet another example of the toxic role that money plays in politics, and more destructively, policy.