Pump up the pressure on Cuomo on fracking: Glick

Fracking was a major issue for Downtown voters on Tuesday. The owner of this anti-fracking button, who was voting at P.S. 41, said she has been wearing it for two years.  Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Fracking was a major issue for Downtown voters on Tuesday. The owner of this anti-fracking button, who was voting at P.S. 41, said she has been wearing it for two years. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  An anti-fracking forum organized by Assemblymember Deborah Glick urged voters a week before Election Day to step up the pressure on Governor Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York State.

Glick and the forum panel of Upstate opponents of the potentially dangerous drilling technique said the current moratorium, imposed seven years ago by the previous governor, David Paterson, could end at any time.

The state Assembly has passed a bill that would make the moratorium permanent, but the Republican-dominated state Senate has defeated the measure, Glick told the Oct. 29 town hall meeting at The New School.

Walter Hang, an environmental consultant based in Ithaca, N.Y., and Erin Heaton Meyer, an anti-fracking activist from Chenango County, joined Glick in urging voters to keep e-mailing and phoning Cuomo to ban fracking.

Opponents and supporters of fracking both say Cuomo has been ducking the issue throughout his first term as governor. The fracking process involves drilling vertically into a shale formation about a mile beneath the surface, then drilling horizontally for thousands of feet and injecting, under high pressure, 5 million to 7 million gallons of water laced with various chemicals to fracture the shale to release trapped methane gas. The Marcellus Shale, which contains methane gas, underlies the state’s Southern Tier counties along the Pennsylvania border.

Gas producers and landowners who lease their properties to drilling firms contend that fracking could be done safely. But opponents say the process imperils groundwater, threatens air quality and degrades the land surface.

“We’ve been driving the governor crazy [with demonstrations and messages] and we have to keep it up,” said Hang.

“We are going to continue organizing and keeping the pressure up,” Glick promised.

The fracking threat to the environment is bound to increase as the prospect of climate change increases, Glick told last week’s forum.

“We’ve already passed a 100-year flood and a 300-year flood in the last few years,” she said. “The potential for more could turn well sites into disaster areas.”

Hang hailed the state’s Court of Appeals ruling in June that local townships can ban fracking under local zoning laws.

“It’s a hugely important decision,” Hang said. Furthermore, on Oct. 16 the Court of Appeals denied a motion to rehear the case.

However, another critical time for the fracking issue could come soon. The governor’s office indicated earlier this year that a state Department of Health analysis of fracking’s health impact would be completed at the end of this year. A recommendation following the analysis would move forward the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on fracking regulations.

Fracking opponents, however, say the health analysis, ordered by Cuomo last year, is no review at all.

“It involves five-year-old data — there’s been a lot of development in five years — and is being done without any hearings,” Hang said.

Former state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said last year that the health analysis would be completed in 2013, but no announcement ever came. Then, in April of this year, Shah resigned as Health commissioner, and Cuomo has not replaced him. That leaves the matter in the hands of Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. Because of the election and pending the appointment of a new Health commissioner, the results of the health analysis are not expected to be announced soon.

While Cuomo has held off making a final decision on fracking, his administration in 2012 indicated that if and when the environmental impact statement is approved, the state would not allow fracking in the New York City and Syracuse watershed counties and in other drinking-water sources. However, drilling permits would be issued in the beginning for a three-year demonstration period for five counties in the heart of the state’s Marcellus area: Broome, Chenango, Chemung, Steuben and Tioga.

To the consternation of anti-fracking environmental groups, the National Resources Defense Council — an important environmental group and anti-fracking advocate — had mentioned a similar option in a response to the state environmental study.

Yet, Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with N.R.D.C., said at the time that the option was not an endorsement of the plan, but rather a product of a legal critique of the impact statement. The environmental statement is required by law to examine all options, and the five-county demonstration proposal was just one of the options that N.R.D.C. said had to be examined.

“We were clear that we were neither specifically endorsing any of these alternatives nor were we presupposing that any level of development be approved,” Sinding said last year.

Nevertheless, Meyer told the forum last week that the five counties are where much of the state’s food is grown and that fracking would imperil farms.

Audience questions submitted indicated concerns about related issues, including Port Ambrose, a proposal to build a deepwater liquid natural gas (L.N.G.) facility 19 miles off Long Island and New Jersey. Under the proposal, gas liquefied by super-cooling would be loaded off ships by pipeline for import during high-demand periods.

Another question posed to Glick asked why she did not join the fight to stop the Spectra gas pipeline between Linden, N.J., and Gansevoort Peninsula in Manhattan. The trans-Hudson pipeline received federal approval last year despite opposition by local groups.

“I chose to put most of my energy into the fracking issue — it’s a state issue and I’m a state legislator,” Glick responded. “The pipeline was a federal agency steamroller.”

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