Cuomo May Limit Fracking to Southern Tier

The Cuomo administration is pursuing a plan to limit fracking to New York's Southern Tier region (dark green), where the Marcellus Shale formation is deepest, making the process conceivably the safest there. Image courtesy of Empire State Development.

During a public comment period last year, New York City residents demonstrated a huge wave of resistance to hydraulic fracking and protests in Albany have been ongoing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is now floating a plan to limit the controversial natural gas drilling technique to the state’s Southern Tier, reported the New York Times on Wednesday.

The Southern Tier lies above the state’s deepest portion of the wide-reaching Marcellus Shale rock formation, which is rich in natural gas. Because many townships within the four Southern Tier counties have already outlawed fracking — albeit in violation of an old mining law that prevents towns from overriding state law — fracking would only be permitted in municipalities that want the potentially lucrative practice.

Fracking, the drilling technique that injects highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals horizontally into shale rock to extract natural gas, is taking place in states across the country. The greatest concerns of critics are public health and safety issues, including the contamination of groundwater and the improper disposal of wastewater.



On the Capitol Report, Susan Arbetter reports on lawmakers’ concerns about what isn’t addressed in the state’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS)  on fracking. The fight over fracking has two fronts: regulatory guidelines and public relations. Video courtesy of the Capitol Report.

But the possibility of huge and immediate profits is tough to pass up for many poor rural landowners, many of whom say the environmental risks have been over-hyped. Lobbyists for the oil and gas industry have invested $4.5 million to win Albany over in the past three years, according to a study conducted by the New York Public Interest Research Group. One company has even filed a lawsuit against a New York town that passed a ban against fracking.

Cuomo signed a moratorium on fracking in New York in 2011 so that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) could conduct a more thorough review of the practice. The DEC is currently working on a new draft of fracking regulations, which will go to the legislature when completed, though there’s no word on when that’s going to happen.

Unsatisfied with the environmental impact statement the DEC is currently reviewing, a group of 70 lawmakers signed a letter urging the governor and the DEC to do the following:

  1. Require Environmental Quality Review regarding fracturing utilizing liquid propane gas.
  2. Require an environmental quality report for all New York State mortgage lending programs.
  3. Rescind the state’s Natural Gas Hazardous Waste Regulatory Exemption.
  4. Ban “recycling” of natural gas drilling wastewater that exceeds current pollution limits.
  5. Ban natural gas drilling wastewater in municipal wastewater treatment plants.
  6. Require an independent health study of the effects of hydrofracking.

At this point, environmental advocacy groups and ordinary citizens concerned about the quality of their water are split into two parties. Some, like the Environmental Advocates of New York believe that fracking will inevitably come to New York in some form, and they want to see it done as safely and with as little corruption as possible.

Others, like Catskill Mountainkeeper, are maintaining their militant opposition, claiming that allowing fracking in some towns but not others will essentially create second class citizens, generally some of the most desperate New Yorkers duped into leasing their land to drilling companies.

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