Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New York's Shale Gas Moratorium:
Perpetually Temporary

In New York, a new fear-based religion, environmentalism, has just handily trumped the known, observable results of hydraulic engineering — not to mention the economic interest of thousands of hard-pressed upstate New York landowners.  I guess I should not be that surprised.  If history is any guide, it’s clear that freaking people out is not that hard to do in the political arena.  But I was still taken aback by the out-of-character swiftness with which New York State's lame duck Assembly, late the night of Nov. 29, joined the other house in passing, 93-43, a temporary overlapping moratorium on drilling for shale gas.

So much for gridlock.

I'm assuming Incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo will not think to ask Outgoing Governor David Paterson for a principled veto — in order to free up his new administration's ability to have at least some minor influence over New York’s economic freefall next year.  If I'm guessing right, then the ban on anything happening with Marcellus shale will briefly take effect — overlapping the state administration's now-two-and-a-half-year-old de facto moratorium — at least until May 15, 2011.  By then, the state's extensive environmental lobby will have surely established enough of a patterned drumbeat to ritualize an annual renewal by legislators.  Let's call it a Self-Congratulatory Festival of Springtime Smugness, in which all remaining, still-employed New Yorkers are invited to Albany to celebrate their good fortune in having gotten through another winter — burning natural gas fracked from Pennsylvania.

At some point, though, a small number of free-thinking upstate New Yorkers are going to wake up to the fact that Eternally Rolling Moratoriums (Moratoria?) are just a politically sneaky way of taking part of their property without compensation.  In America, there used to be a well-understood rule against that kind of unfairness.  If this moratorium vote proves how strongly taxpayers feel about giving land-owning New Yorkers no option except to forever leave their natural gas in the underlying shale, then these taxpayers should simply be required, under the American system, to buy the rights to the stuff at fair value.

If we New Yorkers collectively owned all the shale gas, then we would certainly be within our rights to leave it all in place, if we so chose, indefinitely — while we continue idly burning coal, oil, and natural gas produced from far more enterprising states or nations.

That kind of choice is what it means to be an owner.

But, see, we don't own it.

This is exactly the kind of subtle injustice that modern media are no longer able to fit into any of their off-the-shelf narratives.  Yes, there have been cases of fouled water and other external impacts, which we as a society must force industry to relieve, out of the internal proceeds of the enterprise.  And, yes, there have been unbalanced business transactions, which we as a society must work to level with the traditional rule of law, coupled with the simple Free Flow of Honest, Accurate, Truthful, Unpropagandized Information.

But there are also other ways of screwing a landowner.  One of those other ways is what New York State Legislators — acting at the behest of environmental activists who persuade with increasingly less and less scientific credibility — just did to their own people.

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