Being asked to provide a study on fractures and seismicity has put one AAPG member at the epicenter of the contentious debate over hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Robert Jacobi, a University of Buffalo professor for 33 years (now part-time)and consultant, was hired by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in early February for the study as part of its environmental review of hydraulic fracturing, known to much of the public as “fracking” (and to the industry as “fracing”), agency spokeswoman Lisa King told Bloomberg News.
Anti-“fracking” activists jumped on the appointment, saying Jacobi’s ties to the drilling industry, particularly his current work with Pittsburgh-based EQT, a natural gas drilling company, would put the study’s findings under a cloud.
“It raises questions about whether the DEC is just following the lead of industry on this or is taking their work seriously,” Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo-based group that studies ties between business and government, told Bloomberg.
Jacobi, who was president of the AAPG Eastern Section in 2008-09 and received nine AAPG Certificates of Merit, as well as the Eastern Section’s Outstanding Educator Award, told the EXPLORER that his part in the study was “primarily assembling work already completed by myself and others ... (and) reviewing published literature and consultants’ reports to various agencies.
“There is no new science involved,” he said.
New York has banned hydraulic fracturing until it completes its environmental studies and draws up regulations.
“Governor (Andrew) Cuomo made a promise to let the science alone drive his decision,” Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, told the news service. “If he intends to keep that promise he must empower unbiased experts openly, and honestly review fracking’s (sic) true public health and environmental impacts.”
Nadeau later told the EXPLORER, “We have been watching these issues for years to make sure Gov. Cuomo stands by his promises and that unbiased experts are openly and honestly reviewing the data.
“Flags are raised by his ties to the University of Buffalo Shale Institute, which was closed last year,” she added, “because of ties to industry interests ... under a veil of bias.”
Asked about finding qualified experts without ties to the industry, she said, “It would be difficult to find someone completely detached, but the ties to the Shale Institute raise questions.”
Jacobi said the “anti-fracing” sentiment in of some zealots in New York has become “like the Salem witch trials – being fact-based is not a part of it. You’re anti-fracing or you’re dirt.”
He acknowledged that concerns about fracing’s potential effects on water supplies are legitimate, but said his 20-plus years’ of work in the Appalachian Basin stands on its own and bristled at what he called attacks on his professional and scientific integrity.
“Of course there are issues that need to be resolved and understood – that was one of the reasons the Shale and Society Institute was founded, to look at these issues with unbiased science,” he said. “There have been accidents, especially in the beginning.
“I was a consultant to both (the state and EQT) at the same time, but in terms of my own conduct, I don’t think there is in any way a conflict,” he said.
“The faults are where they are. What we know is what we know. I’m the one who knows most about where the faults are,” he said.
“The point is that my work – combined with that of my students and colleagues – stands on its own, and is of such a caliber that the data, concepts and conclusions are in demand by both environmental groups and oil and gas companies,” Jacobi said.
Jacobi said the state asked him to assemble data on “fault systems with respect to seismicity, induced seismicity from fracing – whether fracing could affect the water tunnels of New York City, fluid migration, anything to do with faults.”
He accepted the task “desiring to be a good citizen,” he said, “examining issues and providing data to those who needed to make decisions.”
Jacobi said the debate seems more contentious in New York than other areas.
“We need a dialogue about how to fix the energy problem we’re in,” he said.
“Quit fracing and gas supply decreases almost half in two years,” he commented. “Nobody wants that lost gas replaced by coal because it’s ‘dirty.’ Nobody wants nuclear. Nobody wants hydro because you have to dam rivers.
“We all want windmills,” he continued, “but apparently not in our view. For example, wind turbines are evidently not beautiful offshore Cape Cod. We all want solar, but Sierra Club and HRDC sue big solar on the California border. The sentiment seems to be think liberally but reject locally.”
In a written response to the initial Bloomberg report, Jacobi said that “it is also ironic that I and the science are being cast as ‘tainted,’ when many environmental groups have used my fault maps in attempts to stop fracing.”
“I brought to the DEC proprietary data from oil and gas companies that outside people could not have known – data that promoted safer margins, based on our knowledge (or in some cases, lack thereof) of faults,” he said. “I argued for safe margins, and I have given advice to individuals, environmental groups and government agencies gratis for years and years concerning faults and their effects (such as seismicity).
“According to these critics, all that advice must have been ‘tainted’ too,” he said, “even though the data were gladly used by all those people, groups and agencies who approached me asking for advice.
“My hope,” he concluded, “is that anti-fracing has not become a religion that cannot embrace data from perceived heretics.”