New York’s New Fracking Ban Draws Cheers, Jeers

By Barbara Hollingsworth | December 24, 2014 | 12:58 PM EST


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (AP photo)

(  -- Even though it’s right in their own backyard, New Yorkers won’t be benefiting from one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits, with an estimated value of $1 trillion.

Last week, New York became the first state in the nation with significant natural gas assets to ban High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF), commonly known as fracking.

The ban drew cheers from environmental groups and jeers from others who say that fracking has been used safely for decades.

On December 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended a six-year moratorium by announcing an indefinite statewide ban on fracking, which uses a high-pressure mixture of chemicals and water to release natural gas and oil from shale formations deep underground.

Geologists believe that the vast underground Marcellus Shale Formation located beneath parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia contains more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply the entire United States with the clean-burning fuel for two years.

But some 14.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in western New York is now off-limits to drilling.

State conservation commissioner Joe Martens, who will issue the legally-binding ban in 2015, said 63 percent of the 12 million acres with possible gas deposits were already off-limits to fracking because of state environmental regulations or local zoning ordinances.

In June, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that towns have the authority to use land use regulations to ban fracking.

But the statewide ban in New York was largely based on a report by acting commissioner of health Howard Zucker, who acknowledged that “absolute scientific certainty regarding the relative contributions of positive and negative of HVHF on public health is unlikely to ever be attained.”

“Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH [Dept. of Health] recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS [New York State],” the report concluded.

“I will be bound by what the experts say,” Cuomo said at his Dec. 17 press conference, even though a landmark federal study released in September found no evidence that the fracking process contaminates drinking water supplies, a major environmental concern.

Fracking rig (AP photo)

A similar study by New York’s own Department of Environmental Conservation came to the same conclusion in 2011, finding that “the developable shale formations are vertically separated from potential freshwater aquifers by at least 1,000 feet of sandstones and shale of moderate to low permeability,” and concluding that “hydraulic fracturing does not present a reasonably forseeable risk of significant adverse environmental impacts to potential freshwater aquifers.”

New Yorkers Against Fracking, a group that had organized mass protests against fracking at Cuomo’s 2013 State of the State speech, said it wasecstatic with Governor Cuomo’s courageous decision.

“On behalf of millions of New Yorkers, we would like to thank the Governor for his leadership and keeping his word in listening to the science and protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers over the special interests of the oil and gas industry,” the group said in a statement.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that “this move puts significant pressure on other governors to take similar measures to protect people who live in their states.”

However, Cuomo’s fracking ban also has its critics, including residents of the state’s Southern Tier, many of whom are struggling farmers and small business owners who signed leases with energy companies to drill on their land and were counting on the extra royalty income.

“Our rural communities are dying a slow, painful, poverty-stricken death and hope is scarce,” state Sen. Cathy Young (R-Jamestown) told The New York Post. “Gov. Cuomo’s decision to ban exploration of our natural gas resources is a punch in the gut to the Southern Tier.’’

Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, also criticized the decision, pointing out that Zucker did not take the adverse health effects of “poverty and unemployment” into account when he recommended the fracking ban.

“Is our health department ignoring impacts of other energy options and suggesting that we continue with our reliance on coal and nuclear energy?” Fitzsimmons asked. “Did our health department consider the health effects of poverty and unemployment?”

Others pointed out that fracking is nothing new, and has already been proven to be a safe way to extract needed energy supplies without adversely affecting the environment.

“This decision is utter un-scientific rubbish and does a disservice to New York residents who won’t be able to take part in the energy boom that their neighbors across the border in Pennsylvania have been enjoying for years,” said Richard J. Trzupek, environmental policy advisor at The Heartland Institute.

“New York’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, clearly does not understand the first thing about fracking or drilling. If he understood fracking, he would know that we have been using that technique to enhance energy recovery in wells for over 60 years. It’s a proven, safe and completely understood method of stimulating a geological formation, not something scary or new.

“If he understood drilling, he would know that the lubricants, biocides, rust inhibitors, and other chemicals used in drilling wells that are eventually hydro-fractured are used in drilling any other sort of well, be it for water, oil, geological research, deep-well injection, or any other purpose.

“It is a shame that the citizens of New York State have entrusted their welfare to someone who is either unable or unwilling to grasp those simple facts,” Trzupek added.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that “shale gas production” will be “the largest contributor” to the projected 56 percent surge in national gas production in the U.S. between 2012 and 2040.

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