The Northeast has joined Texas as a hotbed for energy lawyers, driven by our nation’s insatiable demand for energy and the lack of a coherent national energy policy. In addition, the industry is moving from a time-worn regulated monopoly model to free-market competition – complicated by climate change concerns on the one hand and the promise of a 100-year supply of energy through fracking on the other.
Texas is logical. But the Northeast is a newcomer in the demand for energy lawyers.
To prove the point, New York lawmakers have introduced 10 new bills related to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking – the most of any state – and have extended a moratorium on fracking until 2015, citing environmental concerns.
Fracking works by injecting fluids into cracks in rock formations to allow oil and gas to escape, increasing the amount that can be recovered. The environmental impact of fracking – and especially its effects on drinking water – has provoked a fierce national debate.
I was discussing the need for more energy lawyers in New York with Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who now runs a nonprofit dedicated to financing green energy projects. He confirmed this demand when he said, “Energy in New York is going to be a large growth area and very intensely regulated. So lawyers matter.”
To illustrate the point, Liberty Natural Gas is proposing a natural gas transfer station 17 miles off Jones Beach, NY and 24 miles off Long Branch, N.J. called “Port Ambrose.” Although the facility would be used initially to import liquefied natural gas to New York and New Jersey, some are worried that it would eventually function as an export plant. As an export facility, there is concern that it will promote fracking in the region.
Obviously, both sides of the issue feature intense lobbying and hotly-contested arguments, as well as high-stakes litigation. Even deep in the heart of Texas, the shoe-in state for more energy production, fracking legislation is booming. Although fracking has been used for more than 50 years in Texas, bills have been introduced, but not passed, that include regulation of water use and waste disposal related to this process.
The heated argument in America over fracking is prompting organizations like the American Bar Association to hold a for-credit conference entitled, “Beyond the Fracking Wars: A Guide for Lawyers, Public Officials, Planners, and Citizens.”
This debate isn’t going away any time soon – and is likely to get more contentious before it is resolved. Environmental debates aside for the moment, fracking represents a huge business opportunity in New York State. A 2011 study by the Manhattan Institute entitled, The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development, concluded that ending the New York fracking moratorium could drive $11.4+ billion in economic growth. Plus, it could create up to 18,000 jobs in the Southern Tier and Western part of the state.
Also, a preliminary study by the Department of Energy concluded “no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site.”
Expect these findings to be continuously used as an argument for fracking.
At the same time, Connecticut may be driving increased demand for fracking in New York. This month, Governor Malloy signed into law key energy legislation clearing the way for Connecticut’s three regulated natural gas companies and a Houston energy company to connect 280,000 customers over the next 10 years. The plan includes 44 miles of pipeline in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.
How would this drive more fracking in New York? Connecticut has no direct access to natural gas. Conversely, New York and other states sit on land directly above huge energy deposits. With a policy now in place to connect hundreds of thousands of natural gas customers, Connecticut is adding to fracking demand from New York.
Another driver of the need for more legal expertise is an increasing number of mergers and acquisitions between providers of new energy technologies and existing firms. In April, AOL Energy (now this site Breaking Energy) reported findings from Mergermarket that “energy mining and utilities legal work hit a value of $90.9 billion in the first quarter of 2013,” representing 21.7 percent of all legal work. The avalanche of legal work in energy was second only to technology, media and telecoms.
I have been conferring with many lawyers heading energy practices at leading firms to understand the need and demand for energy lawyers. For example, my friend, Josh Greene, Partner and Deputy Chair of the Energy & Environment Practice at Patton Boggs, said that he sees that the shale gas boom [fracking] is driving demand for all kinds of lawyers who can navigate the complexities of production, transportation, management, and commercial transactions. When T. Boone Pickens put forth the “Pickens Plan” a few years ago calling for more natural gas, I don’t know if he thought it would drive more production and a plethora of issues to the Northeastern part of the United States – but it has.
Overall, the International Energy Agency predicts in its World Energy Outlook 2012 that the United States will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, overtaking Saudi Arabia. Further the United States is predicted to be a net exporter by 2030.
And it should be noted that demand for energy lawyers in Texas, remains Texas-sized. According to the American Bar Association Journal, this need is driven not just by traditional oil production, but by renewable energy as well.
What all of this adds up to is high stakes for energy producers and consumers – and rising demand for more professionals with legal degrees to hammer out the details.
Nicholas W. Allard is dean of Brooklyn Law School, globally recognized legal expert, and commentator on how law schools must meet the growing demand for jobs where a JD degree is preferred.