We've previously looked at how the controversy over hydraulic fracturing – "fracking" – is playing out in different jurisdictions all over the country. While several states have already begun large-scale exploration and production activities, residents in many areas have been reluctant to allow fracking to proceed in their communities.
Last week, the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that it will continue to delay the release of a highly anticipated report assessing the potential effects that fracking would have on public health.
A statewide moratorium on the practice has been in place since before Cuomo took office in 2011. The governor has temporarily extended the fracking ban numerous times, citing the need to complete ongoing studies before reaching a final decision on whether to allow the controversial drilling practice in the state.
Cuomo faces stiff opposition from both sides in fracking controversy
Proponents of fracking have steadily increased their criticism of the administration over its refusal to take a firm stance on the issue. Even celebrity figures such as Donald Trump have waded into the debate, characterizing the decision as a simple one.
In an accusatory tweet, Trump suggested that the state government must be "opposed to creating jobs" and should allow fracking to proceed immediately in New York's gas-rich section of the Marcellus Shale.
Meanwhile, environmentalists continue to simultaneously praise Cuomo for continuing the moratorium and criticize him for not taking action to make it permanent. Cuomo is often referred to as a potential presidential candidate, and many observers believe there is a clear link between the governor's political ambitions and his hesitancy to make a decision on fracking.
Although President Obama expressed support for expanded oil and gas drilling during the 2012 campaign, he did not have to endure a Democratic primary challenge, as Governor Cuomo undoubtedly would in 2016.
The most recent delay was attributed to the need for the Department of Health to review newly published reports, including one from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In a letter released on February 12, Health Commissioner Nirav Shah asserted that his agency's report will be ready in "a few weeks."
The New York Times expressed skepticism about Shah's claim regarding a timeline, given that an identical assertion has been made in the past.
At the same time, despite the lengthy delays, Joseph Martens, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, told the Times that the state could begin issuing drilling permits relatively quickly if the Health Department study settled the major environmental questions surrounding fracking.
Such a turn of events could spark a scramble for energy companies to begin fracking their existing oil and gas wells.
Even if the use of fracking is approved by state regulators, firms will still be under pressure to ensure the safety of the practice. All aspects of drilling, including the frac flowback process, must be carefully managed to prevent spills or other on-site accidents, which can prove costly for the companies involved and could even put the entire industry under renewed scrutiny.
Nothing would shut off the flow of oil and gas faster than a large-scale environmental catastrophe. Producers that are looking to guarantee the integrity of their wells while achieving maximum output should consider implementing an oil jet pump or other hydraulic lift equipment.