Just a day before one of the most consequential elections in a generation, there are fewer major races and ballot initiatives pertaining to shale and hydraulic fracturing than in recent years.
Here in Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is cruising to reelection. The most recent polls have him up double digits. In the 2014 gubernatorial election, then little-known State Treasurer Tom Wolf shot to prominence by running ads focusing on Pennsylvania’s lack of a mineral extraction tax (while ignoring the local impact fee structure) and positioning himself as a foe of the gas industry. In return, the industry has matched that opposition, and so far has beaten back all attempts to enact an extraction tax, in addition to the local impact fee.
Effective Tuesday, it appears both sides will have four more years to work together and try to figure this out, or not to work together and continue to serve no one’s interest. They came very close to a resolution in 2017 during the eternal budget negotiations of that year but were ultimately not successful. Now with Wolf freed from reelection constraints, expect the extraction tax to come back with a vengeance. Once again, we shall see if the industry considers its most important legislative priority in Pennsylvania to oppose the tax, or whether it decides there are other issues in which it can deal with the Governor that will work better for the industry, the Governor and all Pennsylvanians.
Just north, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also is way ahead in his reelection bid. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing by gubernatorial edict, can rely on the immense power of the downstate environmental lobby without worrying about its effect on the southern tier, where all the gas is and where struggling family farms also are. However, if there is another severe winter, the failure of Governor Cuomo to address the pipeline issue may cause him trouble. In order to grow, New York needs gas. Cuomo has made that very difficult, if not impossible.
He has wanted it both ways. He can play to his environmental base without having to worry about the economic effect to the State as a whole. That will cease soon. As the State, and especially New York City, try to keep growing, they’ll need power. They’ve closed their nuclear reactors, the hydro from Quebec has not been sufficient, and they’re ideologically opposed to coal. What’s left? There is no real plan for renewables and how they’d power New York’s economy. Could it be that statewide groups like “Chefs Against Fracking” may get their wish, and have to live with the consequences?
The most important ballot initiative is in Colorado. Proposition 112 would mandate a state setback of 2,500 feet on any drilling operations from most inhabited buildings. It is five times larger than previous and from the standard nearly everywhere else in the country. Even in rural areas, plotting 2,500 feet setbacks from any inhabited building would make it very difficult to engage in any drilling activities.
As usual, the industry has spoken with many voices. Just last week, an internal paper was leaked suggesting the increased setback actually would have little impact on the gas and oil that could be extracted in Colorado. That was heatedly rebutted with another study – again “leaked” to the press – which stated the original paper was misrepresented.
Despite almost no support from the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, Proposition 112 is leading coming up to election day. If it passes, expect similar pressure in other states, even in ones with entirely different geography. Yet, some of the companies, including ones headquartered in Colorado, have been slow to make their case. This is no surprise given the history of energy company public relations and the industry’s lack of understanding of where its long-term damage may be coming from.
Of course, the major event will be what happens to the US House and Senate. If we have divided government once again, it will fall to both private industry and local governments to chart the path forward. For the good of the economic, ecologic, and security health of the country, let’s hope they’re up to the job.
Questions? Let Dan know.
Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.