Governor Andrew Cuomo and activist/actress Cynthia Nixon, opponents in September’s New York gubernatorial primary, don’t agree on much—but they are hell on hydrocarbons. Cuomo has outlawed natural-gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Empire State, while Nixon wants to ban fracked gas from even entering the state. Never mind that the revolutionary energy-extraction method has over the past decade transformed America from a net hydrocarbon importer to the world’s leading energy producer. Both candidates promise to block new gas pipelines in New York, too.
The two arrived at their identical positions from opposite directions. Nixon is a provocateur, not a policy macher. Her views are as otherworldly as her prescriptions. Cuomo, meanwhile, is unencumbered by ideals. His positions are calibrated for maximum political benefit—he polled for almost two years before imposing his fracking ban, for example.
Cuomo knows that hydrocarbons fuel our civilization. They certainly power New York, an energy-gobbling giant; it leads American states in commercial consumption of natural gas and is near the top in most other categories as well. But because of Cuomo’s ban, the state produces virtually no natural gas, despite vast hydrocarbon reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation, located in the state’s needlessly impoverished Southern Tier. Neither Cuomo nor Nixon proposes substantive energy alternatives.
Like all New Yorkers, the governor, a two-term Democrat, and Nixon, of Sex and the City fame, rely heavily on hydrocarbons themselves. Cuomo flits about the state in a helicopter, and he commands a massive, natural-gas-heated government complex in Albany. And what would Sex and the City have been without the energy-sucking bright lights of Broadway? (Nixon’s NoHo building uses gas heat—small beer, to be sure, but shouldn’t prohibitionists be held to a higher standard?)
Fracking has brought profoundly positive economic and strategic benefits to the United States while dramatically boosting prosperity in traditionally non-energy-producing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Fracking is fundamentally safe—prohibitionist rhetoric aside, virtually no evidence exists that it poses serious risks. It can be unsightly and noisy, it is subject to occasional accidents, and it sometimes depresses property values. Much the same can be said of pipeline construction. With these drawbacks to point to, anti-development constituencies in New York and other states are always receptive to calls for shutting down energy exploration.
Energy extraction of any sort comes with unavoidable hazards and inconveniences. Grown-ups understand that benefits must be balanced against risk. New York’s leaders, especially Cuomo, refuse to accept these realities. Cuomo cloaks himself in green rhetoric while exploiting the anti-development instincts common in the post-industrial regions of New York—upstate university centers, the Hudson Valley, and, of course, Manhattan and the metastasizing hipster havens of Brooklyn and Queens.
History suggests that Nixon should do well in those precincts, as did another gadfly Cuomo challenger, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, four years ago. Teachout, an ardent anti-fracker, won 33 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 2014, and Cuomo was apparently paying attention. His fracking injunction followed in short order.
Banning fracking to avoid social costs and make political hay while prospering from the use of hydrocarbons mined elsewhere is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy, not to mention dishonest policymaking. It leads to unhappy economic consequences—just ask upstate residents—and diminishes public confidence in government. Not fracking, in other words, has costs of its own. But don’t expect Cuomo or Nixon to tell you about it.
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