Mention the word "hydrofracking" and you could spark some heated debate on whether New York State should allow the method by which natural gas is being pulled from the Marcellus Shale. Tuesday morning in Buffalo, supporters of the practice stated their case in a panel discussion.
The forum was made up mostly of supporters for hydrofracking. Opponents, who did not take part, claim that the procedure of using liquid to fracture shale beneath the surface to loosen and extract natural gas could also adversely affect water and air quality.
Supporters of hydrofracking say slowly but surely, they're proving elsewhere that the practice is both productive and responsible.
"I think we're making progress in getting the facts out but unfortunately we waited too long. We let the opponents define the issue," said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute and a participating panelist. "Now we're getting the facts out. We're defining what the reality of what hydraulic fracturing is and we see that people understand it and they accept it. We can do both. We can produce natural gas in an environmentally responsible way."
WBFO asked Felmy whether participants' ties to the oil and gas industry might lead some to question the credibility of the science they presented in favor of their case.
"Who do people not challenge the science of the environmentalists?" Felmy responded. "That's simply the challenge we face."
New York State has not yet decided whether to issue permits to drill into the Marcellus Shale, the rock in which a rich supply of natural gas exists. Neighboring Pennsylvania is already home to several active drill sites. Governor Cuomo, who is torn between his promises to create jobs while also protecting the environment, has urged patience to let the science and facts come out. Supporters of hydrofracking say with other states already tapping into the Marcellus Shale, the governor cannot afford to wait much longer if New York is to enjoy significant job growth.
"People often say 'what's the hurry, the gas isn't going anywhere' and that's a true statement, but what is going somewhere are the jobs," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York. "The infrastructure has left New York State. We have lost member companies to Pennsylvania operations. It's going to be very difficult and it will slow down the rate of activity once we get started. It will be very difficult to get those jobs back."
The lone participant whose interest has not yet committed to hydrofracking was Paul Drof, executive director of the Niagara Falls Water Board. While the Cataract City has not yet committed to accepting water used in hydrofracking for treatment, Drof notes that the city's water treatment facilities are taxpayer funded and currently significantly underutilized.
"If we can do it effectively, safely with workers' health and safety in mind and the public in mind, we'd be remiss not to at least look at the opportunity," Drof said.
Drof also pointed out that Niagara Falls is experienced in handling contaminants, noting the city's past experiences with Love Canal, as well as cleanups at Hyde Park and Gill Creek.