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.