The Common Council of the City of Buffalo is considering an ordinance to ban all natural gas drilling within the city limits. Forgetting for a moment that there has been no drilling in the city for years, and that the city is prohibited by state law from enacting such a ban one Council member was heard to say, "Let them sue us!" -- it is perplexing to those familiar with the gas drilling process why such an ordinance would even be considered.
More troublesome is why some attendees at last week's hearing before the Committee on Legislation cheered when a speaker noted that, "If Erie County were to follow your [Buffalo's] lead, my company along with a number of others here in Western New York would be faced with the unhappy prospect of going out of business "
To date, more than 75,000 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in New York, including in the City of Buffalo; 14,000 of these remain active and have an excellent track record on environmental compliance and safety standards.
This is not merely an industry claim. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated in no uncertain terms that there has been " no record of any documented incidents of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing for gas well development in New York despite the use of this technology in thousands of wells across the state during the past 50 or more years."
Some opponents of natural gas drilling have indicated at Council hearings that their intention in supporting such an ordinance that is admittedly ineffectual is to send a "message" to other localities around the state. If, in fact, other localities followed suit -- Erie County, for example -- taxes to the county would be lost, landowners would not receive royalties, numerous jobs would be lost and the state's ability to produce its own supply of clean-burning domestic natural gas would be forestalled.
Unfortunately, much of what opponents to natural gas drilling learn about hydrofracturing appears to come from sources, including the Internet, that are a combination of half-truths, misinformation and wild speculation. Once this misinformation becomes public, it is difficult to temper it with reliable scientific information and expertise, even with credible sources.
But separating the scientific evidence and regulatory experience from emotional and unfounded allegations is precisely what we have a right to expect of our public officials. Banning natural gas drilling, in a city that by all accounts is in an economic crisis, takes the city's focus away from meaningful legislative action and arguably sends a message to the business community that Buffalo is not truly committed to retaining existing businesses and attracting new and necessary industries.
Mike Doyle is executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council.