February 25, 2021

Skepticism Directed at Study of Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing

The $223,000 study of the effects of “hydrofracking” on the economy and the quality of life was conducted by Ecology and Environment Inc., a global environmental and engineering services company based in Lancaster, N.Y.

The study has yet to be released, but some community, environmental and government watchdog groups say the company’s ties to the drilling industry undermine its credibility — no matter what the report concludes.

“I’m not saying they’re bad,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which does not want this kind of drilling to start until the state strengthens regulations of the industry. “I’m saying let’s not be confused. This is not an objective analysis done in the public interest. They went to someone with whom they have a work relationship and that also does work for energy interests.”

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, wrote in an e-mail that the company had “demonstrated it has the needed expertise and capabilities to perform services D.E.C. required.”

She continued, “E E’s client list played no role in D.E.C.’s decision to engage them.”

Officials at Ecology and Environment declined requests for an interview and referred questions to the state agency.

A 40-year-old public company with a worldwide staff of about 1,100 people, Ecology and Environment assists governments and companies on renewable energy projects, on pollution control at contaminated sites, and with obtaining permits and environmental approval for natural gas storage facilities and oil exploration projects, including offshore drilling.

The state agency had planned to unveil the report assessing “community impacts” this past Wednesday, but it postponed the release until next week, citing the agency’s workload in responding to Tropical Storm Irene.

The study is part of the department’s broader draft document known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which identifies risks and proposes rules for allowing the practice of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, a controversial method of releasing natural gas from tight rock by using high volumes of water, sand and chemicals. A target for the drilling is the Marcellus Shale, a rich natural gas field that runs through New York and is already being mined in other states, including Pennsylvania.

The draft document must go through an extensive public comment period and be made final before the first drilling permits are handed out, but the issue has deeply divided New Yorkers over whether horizontal hydrofracking can be done safely.

Joseph Martens, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s environmental commissioner, says it can.

Mr. Martens’s department released the bulk of the draft document in July but stated that it had employed “independent consultants” to research both the positive and the negative impacts of hydrofracking on the upstate counties where it would be concentrated.

Specifically, Ecology and Environment was asked to examine anticipated economic activity like tax revenue and job creation as well as quality-of-life issues like increased traffic and noise.

On its Web site, the company says it has expedited permit applications for more than 200 pipeline and gas storage projects worldwide.

“E E’s management recognized early on that the oil and gas industry provided outstanding opportunities for commercial consulting contracts due to federal and state permitting requirements for new facilities,” the company wrote in its annual report.

The company has multimillion-dollar contracts with several state agencies for other work, including a $50 million, seven-year contract with the Department of Environmental Conservation for what the agency says are services associated with cleanups of contaminated properties.

Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York who is also a member of an advisory panel on drilling convened by Mr. Martens, played down the bias concerns, noting that the public comment period would provide New Yorkers a chance to identify any problems in the report.

“We have long considered environmental impact statements not truly independent analyses, but rather partisan documents that support the intentions of project sponsors,” he said. “For that reason, such studies should always be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism and meticulous public review.”

Mr. Goldstein said it was not unusual for environmental consultants to work at different times for clients on opposing sides of an issue. In the highly polarized atmosphere surrounding hydrofracking, however, some groups are not accepting the usual practice.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=35ef2b99194d451e62ec65a0b4017e47

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