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A Chat on New York’s Shale Gas Ban with Anti-Fracking Superhero Mark Ruffalo


The actor Mark Ruffalo, who lives near the Delaware River in upstate New York, campaigning against shale gas drilling in 2011.

On Twitter early this morning, I had a productive exchange about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to ban shale gas development in New York with Mark Ruffalo, the actor best known for playing the Marvel comic character Hulk.

Ruffalo, who lives near the Delaware River in the upstate New York region that was targeted for shale gas drilling, is one of many prominent public figures who pressed Cuomo long and hard to ban hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking.

We both would love to see a post-fossil energy menu for New York, and the planet, in coming years but differ on how to achieve that goal. Our differences emerged two years ago in comment exchanges (scan them here) on a David Roberts post at Grist on “The Virtues of Being Unreasonable on Keystone” (the pipeline that would bring Canadian tar sands oil to American refineries).

Here’s our chat, with some Twitter-speak cleaned up (Ruffalo was happy to have it posted here), and a takeaway thought from me:

The discussion began when I noted this:

Ruffalo (appropriately) spread the credit more broadly:

I agreed there were many involved, including organizers like Walter Hang, a longtime toxic-site consultant based in Ithaca (I’ve credited him for identifying regulatory weaknesses, for example).

Ruffalo singled out some others:

Then we shifted to energy and environmental policy. I noted that overarching arguments about national or state energy and regulatory policy can’t compete against the political intensity that comes from those resisting an industrial-style activity in a populous region with a bucolic setting:

Ruffalo added another element, a reference to an all-renewable energy plan for New York State created by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson and others (discussed on Dot Earth here):

I noted that it’s hard to see a state shale-gas drilling ban meaningfully affecting a path to new energy options as long as the state is importing vast amounts of gas from other regions for both industry and household use:

He challenged this argument, saying a roadmap is vital:

I agreed on the value of a vision (see Dot Earth for my caveats):

We shifted to other factors that influenced the decision, with Ruffalo noting that big environmental groups, some of which have supported natural gas as a transitional fuel, were pressured as well:

I brought up how low natural gas prices from expanded gas production elsewhere were likely involved (a point long hammered by the No Fracking Way blogger Chip Northrup):

Ruffalo’s response:

He also noted that he was working to help Jacobson and others press the case for a national renewable energy plan, The Solutions Project:

Ruffalo also stressed New York’s progress on expanding solar power (which has been substantial):

I mentioned, from personal experience with our new old house in the Hudson Valley, that there are still difficulties with solar affordability:

He suggested one clean-energy option, buying renewable energy through Ethical Electric:

I said I’d check it out and have done so, and we’re switching from Central Hudson to wind-generated power from this provider for the next 12 months.

My takeaway from Cuomo’s decision and my chat with Ruffalo is that progress on environmental and energy policy in the United States emerges from a never-ending, and normal, tussle involving a mix of activism, law, economic realities, scientific and technological advances (both in developing energy sources cleanly and tracking problems), improving transparency (which is far greater now, even in places like Wyoming, than a few years ago), politics and lots of communication.

With communication in mind, Twitter is one path that I still contend is worthwhile. You can follow Ruffalo at @MarkRuffalo and me at @Revkin. Our full chat is here if you have time. We explored a couple of additional threads.

This may all be ugly at times, but the trajectories are in the right direction.