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Frack Yes? New York Ready to Compromise on Natural Gas

By Sarah Laskow
Thursday, July 7th, 2011
  • comments (13)

Machine used for hydrofracking (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

The day before Americans took off to celebrate  the July 4th weekend, the governor’s office owned that Gov. Cuomo supported hydrofracking in New York State — under certain conditions. Hydrofracking or, simply, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique that allows natural gas companies to get at long-sequestered sources of gas. The horizontal hydrofracking technique that the gas industry wants to use in New York involves drilling deep into the ground and turning the drill sideways into shale rock formations. By creating cracks in the shale, this technique releases gas, and drilling companies pump tanks of chemical-laden water into the holes in order to keep the cracks open and allow gas to bubble up to the surface.

In Pennsylvania, Colorado and other states where fracking has been used, communities near drilling sites have found their water contaminated with methane and other noxious gases. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study on the connection between fracking and such environmental degradation. Gas companies claim there is none.

New York has waited longer than most states to permit gas companies to start mining its gas resources. Gov. Cuomo says he believes fracking can be done safely and that New York’s approach will be a balanced one. The Department of Environmental Conservation will release to the public this week a 900-page draft document detailing the potential environmental impacts of fracking. The agency’s decision to allow fracking in some areas of the states “was based on rigorous testing, research, facts and science, not politics or ideology on the issue,” Gov. Cuomo said last week. The members of the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, appointed by DEC Commissioner Joe Martens could also be said to be a balanced group: It includes business leaders, former politicians, industry representatives and environmentalists.

At first glance, it seems that the panel is weighted towards environmentalists: seven of the panel’s 13 members are affiliated with environmental groups that include the National Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, and President Clinton’s White House Council on Environmental Quality. On closer inspection, however, the panel is weighted not so much towards environmental advocates as towards people committed, like Cuomo, to a balanced approach to fracking.

On fracking, environmentalists divide into two camps. Larger groups that work on a national or international level (Greenpeace, NRDC, Sierra Club) support increased natural gas production although, like Cuomo, they want a close watch kept on gas companies and strong regulations governing the process. These groups see natural gas as a low-carbon alternative to coal. It is often referred to as a “bridge fuel” that will help slow climate change. Smaller groups voicing environmental concerns about hydrofracking, like the Coalition to Protect New York, tend to oppose it completely. They are not ready to sacrifice their communities’ air and water quality or to change inalterably the landscapes they live in for an energy solution that even its supporters admit is only incrementally better than coal.

The environmentalists on the DEC advisory board come from the first camp. NRDC, for instance, has been a strong national ally to local anti-fracking groups, but its institutional outlook on fracking is that “Natural gas has an important role to play in America’s energy future.” Like Cuomo, NRDC is looking for balance on natural gas policy. The New York League of Conservation Voters also believes “that natural gas will play a critical role in the eventual transition to a clean energy future.” Environmental Advocates of New York is the only group native to New York that has been enlisted in the advisory board and the only group that echoes the fervor with which local opponents to fracking have been fighting against the practice.

Fracking opponents now have three angles from which they are fighting back against gas companies. As the state government moves to open up land to fracking, it will open up a 60 day comment period: In the last round of study, the comment period attracted more than 10,000 contributions. Local groups have also despaired of finding a sympathetic ear in Albany or in Washington and have been working to institute fracking bans town by town, city by city, county by county. And Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also taking seriously the possibility that, unlike national environmental groups, natural gas companies are not interested in balance. He’s pursuing a case against the federal government that digs into the potential health and safety impacts of natural gas. Gov. Cuomo has said he would not support fracking unless he believed it could be done safely. He’s apparently convinced; Schneiderman, it seems, still has questions about whether a balanced approach is possible.

  • Frank Ferracane

    If the corrupt powers that govern us could charge us for sun light, solar power would’ve been pushed on us years ago. Fracking the earth is like smoking to the lung, a slow suicide for the planet and us all. Giving permission for fracking is permiting murder and must not be allowed. Have we not caused enough destruction on our planet in the name of progress an greed? No balance can be achieved when your trying to balance poisoning our drinking water, water has aprox 250 chemical contaminants tracked by water authoritys and aprox 3500 other chemical compounds not tracked and now the greedy people want to dump 800 tanker trucks full of chemicals into our drinking and bathing water. This atrocity must be stopped! If we the little people come together, we can stop this, 1 person 1 vote. If you haven’t seen the movie (gas land) you should before you decide. The world is in our hands literally. God bless and thank-you.

  • Frank Ferracane

    Water, if you could fit all the worlds water in a 5 gallon pale, 1 table spoon would represent all the drinking water. Say no on fracking/poisoning our water and ourselves.

  • Nathan Metz

    You make it sound like such a benign process. The fluid pumped into the ground is loaded with toxic chemicals which Halliburton and other drilling companies will not release the names of. It is pumped in at extremely high pressure, equivalent to ten exploding tires. This pressure increases as the well gets deeper. The Marcellus shale is below the level of the aquifers that supply water to many communities. This explosion of chemical laden water is designed to release the natural gas from the shale and send it back up the well. The gas and the chemicals can leak into surrounding strata underground, and wind up in aquifers. The water in those aquifers BECOMES USELESS INDEFINITELY, WITH NO POSSIBILITY OF CLEANUP. YOU MAY BE ABLE TO SET YOUR TAP WATER ON FIRE. YOU CANNOT EVEN BATHE IN IT. ONCE YOU ARE FRACKED YOU CAN’T GO BACK!!

  • Florence Cohen

    If you know how fracking is done you know the drinking water in the surrounding area willl not be safe. Governor Cuomo has to educate himself completely on this subject in order to make a sound judgment.

  • Debbie Buhl

    Governor Cuomo should be impeached for putting his constituents’ health at risk while trying to gain temporary revenues. I am sorry I voted for the fracking freak. Let’s circulate a petition to prevent this atrocity.

  • Carol McLoughlin

    If this is Gov. Cuomo’s final decision then he should have the committee and environmentalists meet within a few months of the beginning of fracking in the specified areas and determine if there has been any water contamination. If they find in the positive then fracking should be shut down until it can be assured that the process is truly safe.

  • Jonathan N.

    Step 1: Watch Gas land documentary

    Step 2: Look online for real life stories and protests

    Step 3: Draw your own conclusions not this attempted
    bi-partisan bullshit

    You might not give a second thought about small backwater
    towns but when this goes on in NY state you better believe
    that they will drill in the N.Y.C. watershed. That will affect the
    water quality for millions of people! This is irreversible and nyc
    is one of the last cities that has natural tap water that needs next
    to no treatment.

    I’m a highschool student in N.Y.C. and my school helped sway
    people and politicians into imposing the temporary moratorium
    in the NYS senate months ago. We firmly believe in keeping N.Y.C.’s
    drinking water safe for generations to come.

  • Josephine Grasse

    What I want to know is, what water does Halliburton drink?

  • Robert Chapman

    As someone born in NY who has spent the better part of my life as an oilman AND an environmentalist, I observe that this is one of the more reasoned approacehes I have seen.

    I’ve noticed that few of fracking’s detractors arrive at meetings on bicycles. I’ve also noticed that we fight wars to secure foreign sources of hydrocarbon, and that the largest part of the US Trade Deficit goes to foreign oil, so LET’S FACE IT: For now, conservation and domestic energy production is our best hope at a better future.

    Natural gas is clean burning and we have lots of it – so let’s work together, get real, eliminate the stupid operators who cut corners and cause pollution, AND PUT THE FRACKING HYSTERIA BACK IN PERSPECTIVE!! This is a decent proposal

  • Reginald Whittington

    Reginald, How is it that you are interested in the goings on of New York? However, if you are really interested, then your comments are appreciated. Uncle RAnsford

  • Leslie Curley

    Watch, this is how it will go; the gas companies will get the OK, they’ll do what they want, when they ruin the land they’ll get a slap on the wrist, pay a fine, then write it off as the cost of doing business, and get a tax writeoff as well. Cynical? Yes. True? Yes! It happens all the time in the land of the free and the home of the brave. They’re just going along, fulfilling Bible prophecy. It’s just one more nail in the coffin of this system of things.

  • In Su Hu

    Earthquakes. Either you know about it or don’t

  • Frank Ferracane

    I wonder what would happen if we all took a week off from our jobs and stopped paying tax for a year @ the same time, if we had the balls to do it. Boycott fuel for a fee days, send a message. Try a more radical approach. Cohesively go on strike. Let the slaves see the masters do the work. “government, you think the problems we create are bad? Wait and see their solutions, bash the French but their gov is afraid of the people, not like here the people have been divided and mentaly concurred, but if we could all wake up. The possibilities .. . . . . Ok back to work sheeple save your moneys soon water will cost more then fuel.