Commentary Magazine


Topic: natural gas trade

Cuomo Puts First Things First: Re-election

The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

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The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

This misnamed movement (it’s actually an anti-commerce movement with more than a tinge of misanthropy about it) is populated almost entirely by members of the upper middle class with comfortable six- and seven-figure incomes. They don’t care what energy costs because even if the costs doubled, it would have no impact whatever on their own standard of living. Their consumption of Chablis and Brie would not have to be cut back.

The environmental movement has disproportionate influence on Democratic politics and if you’d like a perfect example of that, just consider Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

The Marcellus shale is a vast geologic layer underlying much of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. It is enormously rich in natural gas that can be accessed with the new technology. Pennsylvania has been exploiting this unexpected bounty with enthusiasm (Power Line has a neat little interactive map showing this). And that has had enormously positive effects on Pennsylvania’s economy and its government’s tax revenues.

The area of New York State underlain by the Marcellus shale has been in an economic depression for decades as its once booming industrial cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, have seen industry flee to areas with better weather, right-to-work laws, and fewer regulations. You would think that the economic possibilities of the Marcellus shale being demonstrated so visibly in the state immediately to the south would cause New York to move quickly to bring increased jobs and mineral royalties to western New York and greatly increased tax revenue to the entire state.

You’d be wrong. The environmentalists are in full Chicken-Little mode (ground-water contamination! fuel spills! greenhouse gases! children refusing to eat their vegetables!) and Governor Cuomo pathetically cowers before them. He (and his predecessor) have been dragging their feet in the time-honored way of politicians, ordering study after study and postponing decisions until the studies are in and evaluated. If the study doesn’t produce the data they want, the study is suppressed. Only when a report was “obtained by the New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret,” did the people of New York State get to learn that the state Health Department regards gas drilling to be safe.

Of course, Pennsylvania has been an ongoing experiment for the last six years and more as to the safety of gas drilling. If there have been any disasters in the Keystone State with regard to the drilling, recovery, and transportation of gas from the Marcellus shale, it has gone unreported.

The reason Governor Cuomo has, effectively, told upstate New York to drop dead, is, of course, that Democrats running statewide for office win downstate, in New York City and its suburbs. Upstate is Republican country.

So Governor Cuomo is simply being concerned with what is most important to Governor Cuomo: his re-election. The welfare and prosperity of the State of New York come a long way second.

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A Conference That Only Makes Sense

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

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