On the heels of a New York Times report suggesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is mulling a plan to conduct a limited amount of hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking,” in several New York state counties sitting atop the Marcellus Shale, both proponents and opponents of the natural gas drilling process rallied in the Capitol to make their case.
According to the Times article, written by Danny Hakim and released last week, the administration’s plan would allow for the process, which involves the blasting of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas deposits, to be implemented in several counties in southwest New York, such as Broome, Chenango and Tioga.
Cuomo first proposed lifting a state moratorium on the process last summer, championing hydrofracking as a likely job creator and an engine for clean, alternative energy. This move, however, was met with strong disapproval from environmental groups, suggesting the potential negative environmental impact of natural gas drilling outweighs the likely economic benefits. This anti-hydrofracking sentiment among environmental advocates has remained strong since.
The DEC issued a response to the Times report, saying a plan for limited hydrofracking is not presently in the works, as the department remains in the midst of a lengthy regulation review, studying the process before giving natural gas drilling the green light.
“Our review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is continuing and no decisions have been made,” said Emily DeSantis, director of public information at the DEC. “If high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, it will do so with the strictest standards in the nation.”
The Times report quickly sparked concern among anti-hydrofracking organizations. The day following the article’s publication, New Yorkers Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of more than 125 anti-hydrofracking groups, rallied in Albany outside the Governor’s Office, calling on Cuomo to ban the process.
“Gov. Cuomo has said that his decision on fracking will be based on science, not emotion,” said John Armstrong, an organizer with Frack Action. “We hope that the governor will recognize that the DEC’s review of fracking couldn’t be farther from being the best science on which he has said he will base his decision and that the best available science is in fact quite decisive that fracking cannot be done without jeopardizing the health and well-being of New Yorkers.”
In an interview last Thursday with New York Post columnist Fred Dicker, the governor refused to confirm or deny the Times report.
Kate Hudson, watershed program director at Riverkeeper, said limiting the scope of hydrofracking does not make it any safer.
“If the governor intends, as the report states, to still let the decision on fracking hinge on the DEC’s environmental review, fracking should not be allowed anywhere in the state in the next year,” said Hudson. ”There remain serious deficiencies in the DEC’s review, such as the DEC’s failure to analyze health impacts, develop a plan for wastewater disposal and take a hard look at negative economic impacts, which need to be addressed.”
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, said if the governor moves forward with hydrofracking, he is “putting the interests of the natural gas industry and a few landowners ahead of protecting our environment, our health and our economy.”
“Regardless of the millions of dollars the natural gas industry executives have spent on lobbying and campaign contributions, hydrofracking is bad for our environment and bad for our economy,” said Scharff. “We can’t let it happen here in New York.”
On the same day anti-hydrofracking advocates flaunted their opposition, a group of town supervisors from across the Southern Tier held a news conference in Albany to showcase their support for natural gas drilling in New York state.
“Not every town is in favor of hydraulic fracturing and their comments have dominated the media,” said Tim Whitesell, Binghamton town supervisor. “Now, however, we’re here to make our case.”
Whitesell said he and other town supervisors want to “take advantage of the economic boom in Pennsylvania,” where hydrofracking is presently practiced.
Dewey Decker, supervisor of the town of Sanford, located in Broome County, said farmers like himself are struggling financially.
“The drilling would provide a source of income and revenue to support our economy,” said Decker. “We know this would be beneficial to us and the entire region.”
On a similar note, Sandy Rogers, supervisor of the town of Bradford, located in Steuben County, said her town garners “very little” income from anything besides farming.
“I’m from a huge town of about 750 people,” joked Rogers. “We have one bar, one restaurant, one gas station and they’re all connected together. Gas drilling is one way to bring income into our community. It will help expand our businesses.”
Scott Kurkoski, a Binghamton attorney representing the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said over the past few months, he’s heard from residents in the Southern Tier and rest of the state wishing to take advantage of the economic benefits of drilling.
“New York is the only state that has had this opportunity and decided to put on the breaks,” said Kurkoski. “We’ve reached the point where with the DEC’s review, we’ll have the strongest, safest regulations in the nation.”