By Tom Wilber, via Shale Gas Review
As head of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Mineral Resources, Bradley J. Field is a prominent figure in an agency that has promoted hydraulic fracturing as a risk-free and impeccably regulated technology with a proven track record in New York.
Perhaps it’s relevant that Field also sees global warming as a good thing. Field is listed on the Global Warming Petition Project calling for the U.S. to reject international global warming agreements, while claiming there is “no convincing evidence” that manmade greenhouse gases will disrupt the earth’s climate. On the contrary, the petition cites “substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the earth.”
Field’s support of this global warming refutation was reported in Metroland by Robert H. Boyle, a journalist and activist who criticized Field and his agency for being an industry booster. The article, Field of Distortions, was co-authored by Bruce Ferguson. Given that it lacked comment from Field, I was curious to hear directly from the man who heads the agency that will be in charge of permitting and enforcing shale gas development in New York. I had spoken with Field when I was a reporter for the Press & Sun Bulletin in 2010. At that time, he was defending his agency against assertions by Walter Hang, an activist and head of Toxic Targeting, a firm specializing in documenting pollution. Hang uncovered hundreds of unresolved cases of spills and accidents related to drilling in New York state, contrary to the Mineral Resources Divison’s claim that the state’s record was characterized by “a lack of contamination events” from natural gas development. (More on that further down…) Field, however, is no longer talking to the media, as far as I can tell, and this week he declined an interview with me. I learned from Emily DeSantis, the DEC spokeswoman speaking on Field’s behalf, that “If Mr. Field did sign such a petition, it was in a personal capacity and had no bearings on his professional duties.”
Many will argue, to the contrary, that certain flags go up when a public official who plays a critical role in developing policy on the future of petroleum extraction embraces an ideologically loaded position such as global warming denial. Questions about Field’s pro-industry stance on global warming come as the DEC faces accusations from environmental activists that the agency gave the natural gas industry exclusive and unfair access to draft drilling regulations up to six weeks before they were released to the public or to any other stakeholders. Gas industry representatives purportedly took advantage of this inside information by lobbying to minimize reporting requirements designed to regulate toxic and radioactive runoff from drilling sites. These allegations and other issues will be the focus of a Senate Democratic Conference forum July 18 in New York City, spearheaded by Senator Tony Avella and other elected officials calling for stricter scrutiny of the DEC’s relationship with the oil and gas industry.
So is Bradley J. Field — the person in charge of overseeing and enforcing a new and unprecedented era of on-shore drilling in New York State — a climate change denier? And if so, how much does this matter? I asked DeSantis to ask Field directly if he signed the Global Warming Petition Project in a “personal capacity” as to clear the air. “I did,” she replied: “He does not recall.”
Which brings us to why this matters. The response is exactly the kind of equivocation that has characterized Field’s approach to handling the debate over the merits and risks of shale gas development from the beginning. The agency’s position of record, articulated by Field’s staff at public meetings held throughout the state in the advent of the shale gas development in 2008, is neatly summarized in the following memo to Tom Wilinsky, a resident of Sullivan County. Wilinsky wrote to the department, inquiring about necessary steps to ensure that fracking is done safely. This was in May, 2008, long before any policy had been developed or even proposed to handle shale gas development. Wilinsky received this reply: