Backyard Talk

How Real is Governor Cuomo’s Ban on Fracking?

By: Rachel Oest

The recent celebrations over New York Governor Cuomo’s ban on hydraulic fracking have come to an end. A group of farm families in Tioga County, NY have filed for a state permit for a natural gas well that uses gelled propane and sand instead of water mixed with chemicals. The process is still fracking, but it would skirt the state’s ban.

When announcing the ban, Cuomo recognized the emotionally charged nature over the debate and then stated, “I will be bound by what the experts say.” He then turned all attention to state health and environmental officials. The officials said the potential health and environmental impacts are too great to allow fracking to proceed in the state, and pointed to studies regarding the long-term safety of hydraulic fracturing. DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens explained that fracking in New York is “uncertain at best” and the economic benefits are “far lower than originally forecasted.” Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker revealed that in other states where fracking is happening, he found that state health commissioners were not even present when decisions about the process were being made. Based on these finding, Governor Cuomo announced “I think it’s our responsibility to develop an alternative … for safe, clean economic development.”

Shortly after these announcements though, a drilling application was filed with the state DEC by Tioga Energy Partners- a contracting company working with the Snyder Farm Group. The five families leasing their land for natural gas development claim to be outside of the state’s ban and want to tap in to the Utica Shale formation by developing a 53-acre natural gas well in the town of Barton. Since the process avoids the need for millions of gallons of fresh water and doesn’t result in the enormous volumes of polluted wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, proponents call propane fracking a more environmentally benign method. But there is no such thing as environmentally friendly fracking. All types of drilling inherently carry serious public health and environmental risks. Instead of entertaining the idea of workarounds, the focus should be on building a cleaner, healthier energy supply.

The DEC will review the application as required by law, but let’s hope Governor Cuomo is serious about this ban.

Backyard Talk

By: Katie O’Brien

Congratulations New York! The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued their Findings Statement on June 29, 2015, bringing their seven-year review of fracking to an end. This is big news because the state sits on 12 million acres of Marcellus shale. This formation of rock has natural gas reserves that have put states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the energy production map. New York is the first state with significant potential to produce major natural-gas resources that has banned fracking.

It wasn’t easy for New York to achieve this ban. Although there are many known and unknown health effects of fracking, the industry yields high profits which allows some people to see a pay raise instead of the threat that stands before them. Energy companies and some local communities fought the ban. Some NY towns even threatened secession. Many people in those communities were hoping to lease their land to energy companies and reap the economic benefits. Some states are even banning fracking bans. In May, both Oklahoma and Texas signed bills that prohibit towns from banning oil and gas operations. According to the National Law Review, Oklahoma’s ban was signed even amid “warning from the state’s own government that a recent dramatic spike in earthquakes is linked to wastewater injection”, which is a main process of fracking. Against all the odds, New York won the right to protect their communities from the aftermath of fracking.

The state of New York reviewed the process and health repercussions of fracking for seven years. New York DEC commissioner Joe Marten said based on the Findings Statement, “prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative. High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated. This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”

The DEC’s Findings statement is based on a lengthy report about the fracking process that began in 2009. The DEC has been working on the statement since December 2014, when Marten stated that too little was known about the health impacts of fracking to support the ban. The statement concluded that there are no alternatives to the environmental and health risks that fracking causes. Because of this, New York joins Vermont in outlawing the risky practice.

Opponents of the ban are expected to file lawsuits, and although the fracking ban can be rescinded, Earthjustice, the attorneys representing the case, guarantee “to stand alongside the state in any legal challenge”. This is a big win for both the state of New York and the environmental justice community as a whole.

Click here to view the DEC’s full Findings Statement.