Type: Public event

A vote of 'No Confidence'?

Date & time

Jan 13, 2014, 12:00-1:00 pm EST


Weill Hall

Free and open to the public. Lunch provided. Speaker: Susan Christopherson, Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University See the presentation from the event:

Abstract: Vertical drilling for natural gas, using at times another form of hydraulic fracturing, is permitted and has occurred for many years in the Marcellus Shale states. The current controversy is over something different: the combination of horizontal drilling techniques and high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) to extract natural gas that is embedded in shale layers -- an industrial process requiring the use of millions of gallons of water per well, the utilization of a different array of chemicals, and the disposal of the resulting hazardous waste, all on a scale far in excess of what vertical drilling requires. The two drilling processes are dramatically different in their impact on the regions in which they occur, both environmentally and economically. This research project addresses why hundreds of communities in the Marcellus and Utica shale "plays" have taken local legislative action in the face of a regulatory regime that has vested state government with the authority for regulating high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) natural gas development and responsibility for its effects on local economies, public health, and environmental conservation. Legislative actions began in 2010 and escalated in 2012. They have included outright bans, local moratoria and land use restrictions in zoning law. In response to the assertion of local authority over natural gas development over fifty local governments in New York have adopted resolutions based on a model distributed by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York to support state regulation of natural gas development (Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, 2012). Local governments in both New York and Pennsylvania are currently (March 2013) engaged in court cases that seek to sort out the prerogatives of states, localities, property owners, and oil and gas industry firms. Communities seeking to regulate HVHF activity face state supersession laws that have been interpreted as preempting any local action to address the community scale impacts of HVHF natural gas development. The resulting court cases pose financial and legal risks for these communities that are not trivial, and they could not be undertaken without significant resources, organization, and widespread public support. This study analyzes why and how the local response to HVHF shale gas development has emerged. To understand why more and more communities have been moved to exercise local authority or "home rule" over natural gas development, we need to examine how they came to understand (1) the risks attendant to HVHF, and (2) their strategic and regulatory options. An answer to these questions requires looking at the concerns that have framed the public discussion, and at how key local actors evaluated industry and state government willingness or capacity to address those concerns. Our analysis is supported by dozens of formal and informal interviews conducted since 2010 with experts on the environmental, social and economic impacts of natural resources development in general and shale gas development in particular; state and local public officials; industry representatives; environmental advocates; and attorneys representing communities in suits over "home rule" authority. These interviews provided us with an understanding of how issues were framed and reframed over time, and of how key actors have adapted (Christopherson and Rightor, 2012). In 2012, we carried out a systematic study of communities taking local legislative action in response to HVHF shale gas development in the four Marcellus states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia). We began by developing a database of communities and the type of legislative action they had taken, and continually updated it over the course of the year. We conducted a socio-economic analysis to learn about how these communities compare with similar communities in their state, and classified their location along a rural-urban continuum (based on the county in which a community is located). We then used these broad classifications to select a stratified sample of communities that had passed local resolutions or legislation on shale gas development in two states, New York (which has not yet authorized HVHF natural gas development) and Pennsylvania (which has), and conducted structured interviews with the highest-ranking public official or his or her designee in each community. These interviews obtained information on the process of decision-making, the critical issues discussed in public meetings, and on community expectations regarding oil and gas industry practices and State regulation or monitoring of the industrial activities associated with HVHF. We also posed questions on residents' attitudes toward shale gas development in the Empire State Poll conducted yearly by Cornell University's Survey Research Institute. About the presenter: Susan Christopherson is a Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. She is a geographer whose career has been based on commitment to the integration of scholarly work and public engagement. Her research interests are diverse, but focus on political-economic policy, especially its spatial dimensions. Much of her research is comparative and she has published a series of articles and a book on how different market governance regimes influence regional development and labor market policies. Susan Christopherson's public engagement has spanned arenas from the local to the global. She has acted as a consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as well as national, state, and local government. She is currently chair of the International Economic Development Council advisory committee on higher education and economic development. Over the course of her career she has produced dozens of policy reports and articles aimed at a public audience. The goal of these publications -- on economic development issues, labor force development, and the knowledge economy –is to make academic research accessible and useful to policy makers. Since 2010, she has received a series of grants from the Park Foundation and the Heinz Endowments to direct research on the economic and social consequences of natural gas drilling. Initial results from this research appear in The International Journal of Town and City Management; Planning Magazine; book chapters and in a series of policy briefs on www.greenchoices.cornell.edu. Her most recent research project analyzes 298 communities in the Marcellus region states that have responded to the environmental, social and economic impacts of shale gas extraction with regulatory or legislative action. Her next research project will focus on assessing where and what types of jobs are created in conjunction with shale gas development.