Monday, December 6, 2010

Open Letter To NY Governor Paterson:
David, Just One More Thing Before You Go

Dear David,

Though I have never said this before — outside of friends and family, and usually while drinking at picnics, which often tend to lend themselves to good-natured devil's-advocate-type conversations — I have always admired your willingness to Do the Right Thing for New York State.  Especially when it pisses certain people off.  Truly, I do think you will go down in history as one of New York’s Most Unjustly Under-Appreciated Governors.

Incidentally, I should probably mention, some of my prior silence regarding the need to spring to your defense was just due to the fact that I was usually too busy working most of the time.  Yeah, in the oil and gas industry — sometimes New York, sometimes Pennsylvania.  Mostly land-title searching.  Kind of a grind, it’s true.  But, while it lasted, it did pay the bills.  Including my New York State income taxes (which, by the way, are gonna be Way Lower Than Usual for 2010 — sorry about that — though I imagine you are already privy to the forecasts.)

Right at the moment, basically, I’m just another out-of-work upstate New Yorker — still reluctantly flailing against the reality that Somebody Moved My God-Damned Cheese.  Part of me is aware that I must eventually come to terms with the economic imperative to abandon this state.  (My state!  My New York!  My upstate New York!  It's true — I don't wanna go!)

But, before I go, it must be that I got some stuff I wanna say!

One of the interesting things about having no work is you have lots more time on your hands to contemplate — and possibly even to obsess about — Current Events.  (This Internet is unbelievable, by the way.)  And there has also been lots more time for me to even think back upon your governorship.

I still remember those Summer 2010 vetoes, for instance.  I can’t remember where I was (probably working down in Pennsylvania), but it was definitely Summertime.  And you were definitely in all the papers.  The way you seized media attention by spending hours, day after day, hunched over that table, painstakingly scribing vetoes on every single one of those Thousands Upon Thousands of Ear-Marked Pork-Barrel Please-Please-Please Reelect-Me Member Items.  (Goddamn self-serving bastards!  Crazy that we re-elect those guys every time!)

To me, that was Friggin’ Heroic!  I will never forget it!

But — let me ask you something…  You think maybe you could scribe one more veto — before you pack up, come December 31?

The reason I ask is — well, it’s true, I got something in particular that springs to mind.  In fact, I have a whole slew of questions I hope you get a chance to ask of yourself, and of your professional staff — and even of incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo — before you sign off on this latest thing from the Legislature.  This is all about that badly conceived, stampede-driven passage — from last Monday night, Nov. 29 — of the Legislature's (First Annual) Shale Gas Moratorium — good until May 15, 2011, after which I'm sure it's in line for Perpetual Renewal.

Here we go:

• Does adding this second, overlapping legislative moratorium strengthen the legal case of gas exploration companies who have already sought — and might still seek — to indefinitely extend the leases they’ve already accepted from upstate landowners?  (In certain cases, mostly in the Southern Tier, some leaseholders have been unilaterally asserting this right, on grounds that New York’s Unprecedented, White-Knuckled Restraint of Commerce represents a “force majeure,” or “superior force,” preventing them from operating as originally contracted in the original leases.)

• Does this moratorium deepen a valid (though rarely asked) question of fairness and legal liability regarding New York State’s taking nearly $9 million in private-sector money in 2006 in exchange for five-year leases over 16 CNY state forest tracts totaling 19,277 acres?  (Ever since 2008 — as you’re surely aware, since you signed the directives — New York has basically stripped away most of the usefulness of those same leases it granted, along with many other private-sector leases, by Administrative Fiat, and now also, potentially, Legislative Fiat.)  (More here on the 54,764 acres of state land which, at last count, NYS had under lease to industry.) 

• You think maybe your successor, Andrew Cuomo, would prefer to have A Little More Flexibility, economically, running forward, during the opening months of his governorship?

• Does not even waiting to let the DEC people finish their hydraulic fracturing supplement to the famous generic environmental impact statement covering all drilling (plus their purportedly extensive regulatory rewrite) send the Wrong Kind of Message to the professional staff of that reputedly beleaguered agency?  (The DEC folks have been on this particular job since at least July 2008, and now the legislature — without even having seen their final results — already seems to think these guys need more time.  Hmmm…)

• Have the DEC Minerals Division professionals been painstakingly planning a late 2010-early 2011 sequence of rolling out the final SGEIS (together with draft enhanced drilling regulations, undoubtedly followed by much public commentary, and protest)?  (In other words, would the DEC’s original, pre-existing plan make the May 15, 2011 moratorium basically effectively meaningless — except as a Symbolic Gesture by legislators, ever-eager to score points with the right-sounding pressure groups?)

• Is it true — as asserted by IOGA of NY, the main pro-drilling industry group in the Empire State — that the text of this statute was so badly drafted it will require the DEC to halt even some ordinary oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity?  (Supposedly, it’s going to disrupt routine WNY or CNY operations that have never before even so much as popped on the Radar Screen of environmentalists.)

• What is the risk of increasing the legitimacy of a takings lawsuit from upstate landowners?  (I’m not sure who said it first, but, of course, as a lawyer, you know they say no property shall be taken without just compensation...  The need for regulation of the extraction of this resource is understood...  Also, a truly occasional, truly temporary, moratorium can be patiently accepted by most reasonable private-sector individuals...  But, let’s face it, this is starting to look like a permanent ban on the private property right of underlying shale gas — thinly disguised as a Sequence of Perpetually Rolling Moratoriums — am I right?) 

• What is Pennsylvania so capable of that — for some reason — we here in New York cannot seem to get a handle on?  They got Penn State.  We got Cornell (and Syracuse, and SUNY, and even Columbia.)  They got — what? — probably 2,000 shale gas wells drilled so far already.  We got zero.  In fact, as of November, PA had 101 rotary drilling rigs actively drilling, a state record.  We had two (and they sure as hell weren’t drilling for shale gas).  It's true that PA's mishaps have been tragic and spectacular — by media measure, and by political measure — but not, ultimately, in the big picture of righting wrongs and life moving on.

• Have you ever wondered if maybe the State of New York is a Loveable, But Internally Conflicted, And Basically Self-Destructive, Sort of Character?  (I think you have.)  You have gone up against the public-sector unions, and all the special interests — which howl and complain, even while we taxpayers are drowning out here in Red Liquid Pain.  You have fought the good fight, and you have done your best for this crazy state of ours, which has gotten almost as bad as California.

You, of all people, know what I’m talking about!

But, really, on the fracking thing, I’m just asking you to consider giving sanity, rationality, professionalism, opportunity, and enterprise half a chance.  I know the Environmental People have been beating the drums non-stop on this thing, and that they are driving a helluva big flock of thoroughly spooked sheep — some of them even close friends of mine.

But you are so damn smart and independently minded — I know you, David! 

Let's face it — shale gas is just a natural resource, like many other natural resources with which we in New York are blessed.  I might be just be one guy, but I happen to think — once all the shuffling and the panic is finally put to rest — we could actually make this natural resource work for all of us, in a careful, regulated way.

Truly, I don’t think I’m asking for anything special.  I just want to be able to stay in New York, and still make a decent living.  (And maybe also go hiking on the weekends, if there are still any parks left open.)


tom said...

Andy, great stuff. No, you shouldn't go to PA. Have you considered obtaining or creating a position for youself lobbying or advocating for the NY natural gas industry? I'd hate to lose someone with your abilities.

Though maybe a ban on fracking is a good idea. It clearly causes mass hysteria.

Andy Leahy said...

Tom — thanks very much for saying so. (And for your prior correspondance on Norse's flaring Davis 1H, which was admittedly pretty cool.)

I don't know what's possible for me, or for you, or for Upstate NY. I do know that I love Upstate NY, as much as anyone loves Upstate.

And I do think it's totally crazy for the drilling opposition to monopolize the conversation with so much dishonesty, and so much drama — and so little practical consideration for *all* the people who actually live here.

In the end, I am pro-landowner. Whatever you guys wanna do — I will honor that to my dying day. It's your land, your water, your money, and your gas!

(But I will say this: If you want an actual choice in the matter — over your own future — you and your buds better get a move-on!)