Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gas Industry Gave Campaigns Big Bucks to Back Hydrofracking in NY State

A day before the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) deadline for public comments on hydrofracking (also called hydraulic fracturing or fracking), a report was released by Common Cause indicating that the natural gas industry gave $1.34 million in campaign contributions to New York state politicians and their parties.

“Hydraulic fracturing has raised environmental questions, and now financial ones, about the influence of the natural gas industry over state lawmakers and public policy,” said Common Cause
NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, as reported in the NY Daily News. “New Yorkers need to be assured that such a controversial issue will be decided based on merit, not money,” Lerner added.

From January 2007 to October 2011, the Natural Gas industry made 2,349 campaign contributions to state and local level New York politicians and parties, according to the Common Cause report entitled "Expenditures of the Natural Gas Industry in New York to Influence Public Policy - Part III." A breakdown of the $1.34 million in campaign contributions by type is shown in the figure below.
Figure is from the Common Cause report cited in the text [click image to enlarge]
Almost 75% of the natural gas industry money went to the State Legislature (State Senate candidates, state party soft money, and State Assembly candidates).
The Cuomo-Duffy 2010 campaign was by far the largest gubernatorial recipient of gas industry money, receiving a total of $153,816.

Two local senatorial campaigns were among the top 10 legislative recipients of gas money: Sen. George Maziarz (R) 62nd District (Buffalo-Rochester area) ranked first at $38,532, and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer (R) 61st District (Buffalo area) ranked 7th with $21,175. Maziarz is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Ranzenhofer is a member of that committee as well as the Chair of Corporations and Authorities.

Maziarz voted against the 2010 fracking moratorium bill, while Razenhoffer voted in favor of the bill.

Included in the gas industry are companies that regulate electricity, such as National Grid and Con Edison, which are also involved in natural gas infrastructure. The full list of companies is shown in the Common Cause report.

The Common Cause report raises an important question that New Yorkers should ask their State representatives and officials: What impact does over a million dollars from the gas industry to political candidates and committees in NY State have on the representatives and officials when setting public policy on hydrofracking?  

Senator Maziarz, speaking at a conference on hydrofracking hosted by the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA) last year, said “It’s been proven it can be done in a safe way.” He also said that the Buffalo-Niagara region could see an economic “boom” through the creation of an industry to purify toxic fracking fluid (wastewater) at local water treatment plants in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.

Concerned citizens have subsequently expressed strong opposition to creating such an industry at public meetings of the Niagara Falls Water Board, which is considering purifying fracking fluid as a means to increase revenues. However, the DEC has no proven plan in the current environmental impact statement (SGEIS) for purifying fracking fluid.

The Common Cause report also expressed concern that regulatory decisions may not be based on facts and science and made with proper deliberation since the study of the impacts of hydrofracking on NY state were done by an outside consulting firm, Ecology and Environment, Inc., which has oil and gas companies among its clients. 

Gov. Cuomo indicated to reporters yesterday that there will be no funds for gas-drilling regulation in the budget proposal until the state DEC determines whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing. 

A number of NY Senators and Assembly Members are again proposing and sponsoring legislation to ban, or further extend the moratorium on, the controversial fracking method across the State.

For earlier posts about Fracking at Re-ENERGIZE BUFFALO, click here.

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