Anthony Ingraffea is a Cornell professor who has been immersed in the science, politics and resistance to the development of oil and gas from shale in New York State for five years. After a long grassroots battle, New Yorkers have succeeded in achieving a five-year moratorium, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised he will make a decision on permits based on studies yet to be completed. Over 100,000 Californians already have signed a petition against such fracking.
An Interview with Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E.
Tom Hayden: What conclusions did you draw about framing the issue? Why did you decide it is not about “fracking” per se?
Anthony Ingraffea: If you don’t name a problem correctly, you are not likely to solve it correctly. The issue has become known as “fracking” in popular culture, but we came to realize that it’s not fracking per se, but the use of fracking in the development of oil/gas from shale. More exactly, the development and use of oil/gas from shale using multi-well, clustered pads, with high volume fracking in multi-staged, long laterals: that is the problem. “Fracking” has been done in CA and elsewhere for many decades--if you find that objectionable, where were you all those years? Fracking is only one of many enabling technology and engineering elements in shale oil/gas development. In CA, the potential development of the Monterey shale in this manner is the problem. What makes shale development a big problem--with water, air, and climate--are its scale and spatial intensity. Because shale is inherently impermeable, and individual well productivity quickly nosedives, you need many (as in tens of thousands in the Monterey) wells, closely spaced underground, hence the need for multi-well, clustered pad arrangements. Take a look at the attached PPT animated view of the Barnett shale development under the Dallas/Fort Worth airport: that is spatial intensity Because shale is inherently impermeable, you need to inject 50-100 times more frack fluid (fracking is not the problem, it is the SCALE of the fracking that is part of the problem) into much longer wells, wells with laterals that might be longer than the well is deep. Now one can see need for intense industrialization on the landscape scale,truck trips, local air/water/noise/light pollution, the competition for water, waste hauling and disposal, many processing plants, compressor stations (for gas), thousands of miles of pipelines, habitat fragmentation, leaks, vents, flares, etc. even at small probability of failure, the risks go up because of the number of times you roll the dice.
TH: It took almost five years to win in New York. Tell us about the stages and the quarrels you went through.
AI: Years one (2007) and two: hundreds of grassroots organizations form across the state. Ragged levels of understanding of technology and engineering, risk, consequences. Ragged objectives also: ban? ban what? moratorium? on what, for how long? can’t we just get along? Forming.
Years two and three: wow, there are a helluva lot of organizations and folks, let’s get together and form a super-organization. Oops, we don’t all agree on the key issues, objectives, means. Screaming and shouting and fuming and leaving. Personality issues emerge. Forming/storming.
Years three and four: patience, organizational brilliance, and luck (gas price plummets, PA reveals the ugly side of shale gas development right next store, NYS has a SEQRA law). Passionate/charismatic zealots emerge, coordinated with passionate/informed visionaries, and modulated by honest brokers with a sense of realism. Aha, it is not fracking that is the problem, it is everything that comes before and after, the whole life cycle of development that present all the risks and downsides. There are economic and sociologic and political battles to be fought. Forming/storming/norming.
Years four and five: peaceful co-existence among the hundreds of groups, with most rallying behind trusted leadership of a few. Statewide initiatives to engage under SEQRA. Successful resistance to acceptance of first, second, and third drafts of the SGEIS (supplemental generic environmental impact statement) with tens of thousands of written public comments, and successful resistance to promulgation of “toughest regulations in the country,” with over 200,000 written public comments. Bring in the science: oops, where is it? Successful PR through LTTE, public for a, rallies, letters to the Governor, testimony to the legislature, showing that the science has NOT been done, not the climate science, not the economic science, and especially not that related to cumulative impacts on human health. Forming/storming/norming/performing.
TH: What role was played by the major environmental groups?
AI: The big enviro groups were late to the table or not participating in resistance. Sierra Club (Atlantic) was a strong ally from day 1. Sierra Club national catches up in year 4. The smaller groups, EARTHWORKS, Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group were very effective from day 1.
Environmental grant makers very supportive from day 1.
TH: Tell us about the political strategy.
AI: See above, but also: NYS is a home rule state. Excellent attorneys scoured the state to encourage the use of zoning to zone out heavy industrial activity where it does not belong. Two landmark cases were won in State Supreme Court in year 5 that confirm that towns have the legal authority to do so. Many towns and municipalities are now protected or staging for protection: 209 Communities Protected, (48 of these are in the NYC/Syracuse Watersheds), 91 Municipalities Staging for Passage of Draft Legislation – 300 Municipalities as of 6/12/13.
TH: What has been the outcome and where are you now?
AI: NY State has been in an effective moratorium against shale gas development (not against fracking which still continues in the state in non-shale formations) for nearly 5 years. It is the Governor’s decision to make whether to allow permitting. But he has no SGEIS, no regulations, and no health study completed. His latest public statement is that he will make a decision before next year’s election.