Though his plan to ban super-sized sugary drinks grabs more headlines, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also deeply committed to shaping U.S. energy policy. He’s put tons of his own money into the worthwhile cause of shutting down America’s dirty old coal-burning power plants. Too bad that effort is more than canceled out by his hypocritical stance in favor of high-volume fracking for natural gas.
Last year the mayor engineered a ban on fracking in New York City’s watershed. Now he stands on a soapbox to tell the rest of the country it needs fracking made safe by “common-sense regulations.” But if new rules are the answer, why doesn’t the mayor surrender the city’s special exemption and join the fight to enact them?
On Aug. 23, Bloomberg and George T. Mitchell, the so-called “Father of Fracking,” signed an op-ed article in The Washington Post that masquerades as a call to reason. In fact, it’s simply a rehash of industry’s tired old bumper sticker: “Responsible Gas Drilling Now.”
Only magical thinkers still believe in “responsible” drilling (as it is widely practiced today with high-volume, slick-water, horizontal hydrofracking).
In reality, 21st century fracking is far more dangerous to the environment than the method Mitchell pioneered – so much so that it required special exemptions from federal laws protecting our water and air. In 2005, then-Vice President Dick Cheney delivered those exemptions, allowing gas drillers like Halliburton to privatize gain and socialize environmental loss.
State rules often make matters worse. In New York State, the petroleum industry finances an Oil Spill Fund, but gas drillers refuse to accept similar responsibility.
New York City’s environmental regulators studied the science long enough to see that modern fracking was nothing to toy with. They informed the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the city watershed could not be exposed to such risks.
Caving to power, the DEC established a new principle: people who rely on tens of thousands of private water wells upstate will be adequately protected by “responsible” drilling rules, but the city’s elite merit a higher standard. Now Bloomberg, by injecting himself into the national fracking debate after he’s negotiated his special exemption, encourages America to follow New York State’s sorry example of delineating zones of environmental privilege and sacrifice, based on political clout.
Bloomberg and Mitchell are silent on equal protection. They’d rather talk blue sky principles: disclose fracking chemicals, tighten well construction rules, protect groundwater, improve pollution controls, reduce impact on roads. Trouble is, they are all easy to tout, but devilishly hard to enact. Their argument that natural gas produces far less greenhouse gas effects than coal “IF properly extracted and distributed” is similarly flawed. Again it presumes a change in the pro-industry regulatory status quo.
That’s why independent scientists, doctors, engineers and former energy industry executives are urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend the state’s moratorium on modern fracking. Magical thinking isn’t enough.