Public oversight of industry requires public trust of government
May 2, 2013
From global politics to the workplace to personal relationships, progress isn’t possible without trust. Last week, a gas industry group—with a bit of a boost from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) —struck a blow against public trust in New York’s review of the impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
In a letter to Governor Cuomo, the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) asked that the de facto moratorium on drilling be lifted. Cosigners of that letter: three consulting companies retained by the DEC to work on the fracking impacts review.
For some time, questions have been raised about whether consultants with close ties to the oil and gas industry can objectively analyze impacts from that industry. Big red flags went up when the socioeconomic study by one of the consultants looked at benefits (like tax revenue and job creation) but ignored costs (like damage to public health or roads).
Actively lobbying the Governor to make a pro-drilling decision not only lends credence to those doubts but also crosses an ethical and professional line. Understandably, several good governance and environmental groups are now calling for an entirely new review. Feeling the media heat, the consultants distanced themselves from the letter, claiming they aren’t even real members of IOGA. And IOGA hastily reposted the letter online without the original list of signatories.
In the meantime, a new study shows that stress among Pennsylvania residents living with gas development is closely linked to a lack of transparency and trust, including when companies ignore concerns and complaints and people are denied information or mislead.
Sound familiar? And this even before New York decides whether to move forward with high-volume fracking. The scramble over IOGA’s letter may end, but the DEC’s obligation to rebuild the public trust through a scientifically sound, unbiased decisionmaking process will not.
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