Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Money versus the Environment September 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jessica Owley @ 1:56 pm

A perennial issue in the effort to protect the environment, is economics. Many of the biggest fights are about who gets to profit from  the land. We also see many examples of people arguing  that environmental protection will do harm to the economy by limiting jobs or access to resources.

Here in New York (and frankly many other places), there have been several emotional demonstrations against hydro-fracking. Although there are many aspects of this dispute we are likely to hit on in coming weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the economy recently. (For example, tonight, President Obama is unveiling some miracle job recovering plan.) Proponents of hydro-fracking argue that exploration and utilization of natural gas from  the marcellus shale will provide jobs and reduce energy prices. Today, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that it will be holding hearings across the state to go over the findings of its recently released consultant repost (finding that  new natural gas development in New York has the potential to create anywhere from 6,198 to 24,795 full-time jobs, bringing in between $419.6 million to $1.7 billion in new wages for workers). No mention yet of a hearing in Buffalo.

 

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4 Responses to “Money versus the Environment”

  1. domesticatedfoxes Says:

    The Economic Assessment Report is 251 pages long; as far as I can tell, there are exactly two paragraphs addressing the negative impact of large-scale natural gas extraction on New York’s agriculture and tourism industries (see 162-63). According to the report, New York’s ag sector generated $4.4 billion in economic activity in 2009. Tourism-related wages only in 2009 totaled some $12 billion dollars. Which industries are more sustainable over the long term? And on the subject of long term, the report assumes every well drilled in New York will have a production life of 30 years (based on information provided by the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, an industry trade group). The SEC is reportedly investigating industry claims of recoverable reserves and well productivity in order to determine whether companies have provided false information to investors. The implication is that companies that have a financial stake in overstating recoverable resources and well production timelines to boost outside investment may be doing just that. Speculative bubble, anyone? Regardless, the report’s jobs numbers are likely not as rosy as the authors would have us believe.

  2. mtdubois Says:

    Interesting post. I personally have experienced a shift in my feelings on this subject in recent years. If there was a spectrum of sentiment, with pure concern for the environment at the expense of economic concerns on one end (say the left end), and the opposite on the right, I have shifted slightly away from the left and toward the center.

    Nowhere do I feel this more strongly than in the realm of alternative energy sources; while natural gas is still a burning fossil fuel, I can’t help but feel that if we can find a way to extract it safely and responsibly, it will be infinitely better than continuing to rely on foreign oil and coal as much as we are now. I’m not sure how others feel on the issue, but my concerns over peak oil, and the economic and geopolitical damage oil causes the U.S. causes me to view natural gas less as an irredeemable sin against the environment, and more as an opportunity. However, robust regulation is key if natural gas is going to be a viable option, from an environmental standpoint; we can’t allow the economic and air-pollution benefits to be negated by environmental damage in the communities near natural gas operations. That’s my two cents.

  3. leebender Says:

    My concern in this debate may come from a different point of view than many. First, I don’t believe that anything Earth gives freely is something to be commodified and turned into a resource. Second, I believe that if peak oil shows us anything it is that we must develop alternatives that do not rely on the same model as we have with oil. Doing so will simply lead to the same situation we are in later. Instead, we must focus on creating infrastructure and technologies that do not rely on extraction as much as we have, moving toward a model where we do not extract. As we know, we currently have issues with methane as a pollutant. However, this unique pollutant poses hope for our fuel problems; it is a gas. Rather than looking to extract, we ought to be looking to use our current problems to solve others.

    This is my backdrop for believing that hydrofracking is not necessary, and should be avoided, period. However, if there was a means of determining that the process is safe and will not produce more future cost than current benefit, I would be amenable to changing my opinion. I believe the problem is that proponents of this extraction have been allowed to frame the debate with promises of monetary gain. This sleight of hand has convinced people that these natural gas stores are something that Earth has hidden and we must conquer. It is another fleeting hope of sustaining what has become an unsustainable infrastructure and lifestyle, at what may be an exorbitant cost to the economy itself, and to the life that relies on this land. I find it unethical to begin this venture without extensive consideration that removes economics from the positive factors.

    • mtdubois Says:

      Lee, you are absolutely right about the fossil fuel infrastructure being unsustainable. I should qualify my support of natural gas: I view it as a stopgap, a temporary solution as we transition from an oil-based economy to something more sustainable. It has long been my hope that our economy will eventually be fueled entirely by renewable resources like wind, solar, and tidal hydroelectric tidal power, among others.

      We can’t achieve this overnight, however; the alternative energy technologies and the infrastructure to implement them are at least a decade from becoming viable. Until then, we need to move away from oil; it will continue to become ever more expensive and a bigger drag on our economy as it becomes more scarce, and as we continue to wage wars to secure the supply chain (the cost of which cannot be calculated in dollars and cents alone).

      But unfortunately, dollars and cents do matter, and especially now as our economy staggers under this recession, economics must be a concern. While I wish we could afford for economics to not be a factor, people depend on the economy to eat, and it depends on affordable energy, available right now. It is for this reason, and because we already possess the infrastructure, that I think natural gas should be embraced – but it can only be a temporary measure to ease the growing pains of our economy as it shifts from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy.


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