The Balanced Middle Way

The following, by Henry Kramer, is cross-posted at EID

The Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC) was formed two months ago.  Our birth arose from our founders’ efforts to find the unbiased factual truth regarding energy development; most local forums seemed to be more political rallies than balanced information dissemination.  As an essential part of its mission, DSEC provides the public throughout Upstate New York with fact and data driven education regarding energy development.  DSEC held its first informational session in Binghamton on August 22 concerning legal issues related to energy.

DSEC’s second public education session was planned for Wednesday evening September 7 in Dryden on the subject of “Water and Energy Development.”  The program was designed stressing that it offered a rare “all views” opportunity for a balanced panel; speakers ranged from a natural gas opponent to a neutral to industry experts.  People from all over upstate central New York were invited to this  meeting.  The thirst for such unbiased presentations must have been large indeed, as close to 200 people attended.  Unfortunately, our water program faced far too much water, demonstrating that water is  abundant and renewable here.

At the last minute some of our speakers were unable to participate due to record rainfall in their area (Binghamton), leading to serious flooding and a declared state of emergency.  Once notified, DSEC was no longer able to present the balanced “all views” event which was the core premise of DSEC sponsorship.  DSEC made the difficult decision to cancel the meeting.

Some people remained behind and had an informal non-DSEC sponsored discussion which included a partisan speaker, Jim (Chip) Northrup.  This was possible because Jim Northrup, showing no sense of respect for the “all views” format under which he had been invited, exploited the emergency and the remaining audience that DSEC had assembled to make a very one sided and anything but neutral presentation.

Therefore, DSEC will be rescheduling the canceled all views forum and will publicize the new date and location.  Future programs will include: legal issues including compulsory integration v. the “right of capture”; the economic pros and cons of energy development; and, national energy policy including dependence on foreign energy and international intervention to protect vital energy interests.

Some of those who would totally ban energy development in our area have called DSEC “pro-drilling.”  The problem with this description is that it divides the world of opinion on energy into just two camps.  Either, like them, you are opposed to all energy development or you are their enemy and are assigned the label “pro-drilling.”  For them, there is no room for a middle position.

DSEC believes the world is divided into three parts, not two: those for bans; those for immediate production; and those, such as DSEC, who conclude that energy development requires careful regulation to protect the public.  We believe that the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will insist on necessary safeguards and as experts can be trusted to determine, on a state wide basis, whether the natural gas production process can go ahead safely.  We also note that the DEC in their SGEIS have found hydraulic fracturing with safeguards an acceptable risk.  DSEC is neither anti nor “pro-drilling”.  We favor natural gas production, true, but only if adequate safeguards are provided.  Bottom line, we are for safe, regulated development of our natural gas resources.  Absent that, we would oppose any efforts to develop this resource.  We represent the center, the moderate “Middle Way.”

We prefer New York State administration of the rules.  First, it is very difficult for any business to cope with different laws and standards every ten miles or to see those laws possibly enacted, repealed, or modified when town boards change hands.  Second, town boards do not have the expertise to evaluate risk.  Third, state law preempts local governments from regulating oil and gas development.  Some ban advocates admit that local governments cannot regulate natural gas production but they claim they can prohibit it.  This is illogical.  A ban is simply 100% regulation.  Fourth, towns that ban development are essentially seizing and confiscating mineral and property rights without compensation.  That is unjust, runs roughshod over individual rights, and takes away landowners’ rights to decide for themselves whether to lease and how to use their property.

All across New York State people are trying to understand the pros and cons of energy development.  We see this as risk assessment.  Every human activity involves some risk.  Get in your car to drive to work and you risk an accident.  But, we’ve developed road specifications and traffic control to reduce the risk.  We balance risk v. reward.  Because people have different risk tolerances, they don’t always agree on how the balance should be struck.  The same thing is happening with energy development.  Citing problems from the earliest wells is like citing mine safety violations in the nineteenth century.  The systems are better and are constantly being improved.

We believe the public must weigh the risks of development against the economics of development.  Upstate New York needs jobs and economic improvement.  Energy development is the only significant game changer in sight.  Upstate residents in a recent Quinnipiac Poll favored development.  At DSEC, we will continue our mission to educate, so that people can make up their own minds free from “visceral education” which is choice by gut.  For more information on the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition please visit us on the web at www.drydensec.org