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Controversy Causes Fracking Consultant to Resign from Industry Lobby Group

Anti-fracking signs

Opponents of hydro fracking are charging there’s a potential conflict of interest with a consultant to Governor Cuomo’s environmental agency. They are asking that the years-long review of fracking in New York be restarted. The controversy caused the consultant in question to sever all ties with a gas industry lobby group.

It all began on Monday with a letter.  
The Independent Oil and Gas Association wrote a letter to Cuomo, saying they are “tremendously anxious” about what they say is a “profound misunderstanding and misrepresentation” of fracking. They say the gas drilling process is not getting “fair consideration based on science and real-world experience”, and that fracking is safe.

The letter was signed by what IOGA said was the over 300 members of the association. One, Ecology and Environment, Inc., an engineering firm, served as a key consultant for the state’s  environmental impact study on fracking. The company has a $50 million dollar contract, and has conducted an economic impact study on how fracking might affect communities in the Marcellus Shale region.  
Fracking opponents immediately cried foul. Julia Walsh, with Frack Action, says the letter to the governor advocating that the gas drilling go forward constitutes lobbying and is an obvious “conflict of interest” for the consulting firm.
Walsh’s group, along with the New York Public Interest Research Group, wrote their own letter to Governor Cuomo Wednesday, asking that the entire Environmental Impact Study be scrapped, and that a new one be conducted, using consultants that are more independent and impartial.  
“We are going to be demanding that this document now be thrown out immediately,” Walsh said.  
The Independent Oil and Gas Association backtracked. In a statement, executive director Brad Gill says the “roster” of company names included in his letter to Cuomo was aimed at showing the “magnitude and diversity of our membership” and did not necessarily “reflect each member’s individual point-of-view”.
Late in the day, the governor’s Department of Environmental Conservation released a statement, saying it had asked the consulting firm to clarify its membership status with IOGA.
In an attached letter, Ecology and Environment threw the gas and oil lobby group under the bus, saying it was not a member, but had merely paid for an employees’ membership in the organization in order to receive its newsletter and attend annual conferences.  E and E claims IOGA “misrepresented” the group’s affiliation, and never asked for authorization to use the consulting firm’s name. E and E says it remains neutral on the issue of whether fracking should be allowed in New York, and has severed all ties with the industry lobby group.
Russ Haven, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says he’s not entirely convinced. He wonders why it took three days for any explanation to be offered.
“Pulling away from their relationship with the industry lobby group seems a bit late,” Haven said. “ We still believe New Yorkers would be best served by an independent review.”
Haven says at the very least, the economic impact portions of the state’s environmental review on fracking that were conducted by the consulting firm should be thrown out, and re done  by a more independent company.
The consulting firm is listed as a member of at least one other energy related organization. Ecology and Energy is also listed as a member of Alliance for Clean Energy of New York, which promotes alternative energies. Wind and solar companies, as well as some major environmental groups, are also members.

Finally, IOGA released its own letter, also through the state Department of Environmental Conservation.  In the letter, executive director Brad Gill says Ecology and Environment “has never held, and does not currently hold, a corporate membership with IOGANY”. Gill also says “at this time, no employee of Ecology and Environment are IOGANY members”.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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