Anti-fracking advocates are planning a major rally as residents of neighboring Pennsylvania share stories of their experience with the industry.
New Yorkers aren’t going down without a fight in their battle to ban fracking. Thousands of residents from all corners of the state are planning to converge at the state capital of Albany on June 17 for the Crossroads rally and march.
The message New Yorkers are sending to Gov. Andrew Cuomo is simple and concise.
“We have Republicans, Democrats, Independents, people from every part of the political spectrum, and people from every part of the state,” John Armstrong, a representative of the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition, told Mint Press News, referring to the crowd expected Monday.
New York is prime territory for the oil industry, as it sits atop the Marcellus shale formation. In 2008, geologist Gary Lash estimated that the formation, in total, contained more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 10 percent of which could be extracted through the process of hydraulic fracturing, now known as fracking.
Rather than move in that direction, New Yorkers are urging the governor to invest in sustainable energy initiatives — a move that would create permanent jobs and improve the economy in the long term.
In Pennsylvania, New York’s southern neighbor, a myriad of health concerns have emerged after the industry began operating in the state. From children to animals, Pennsylvania residents claim they are suffering the consequences of the boom-bust fracking industry.
While the Marcellus formation stretches across the southwest border of Pennsylvania into New York, the decision to allow fracking to begin there has yet to be made.
In 2010, the state legislature passed a moratorium on fracking, but it was vetoed by Gov. David Paterson, who implemented a temporary ban on horizontal drilling while an environmental impact review was created. The initial environmental study was expected July 1 of that year. Two drafts later, however, state officials have determined it has fallen short. This has left New York in a unique state of a de facto moratorium since then.
Ultimately, Cuomo holds the cards on this one, as he has the authority to end the moratorium through the approval of the environmental impact study. At this point, no definite date is set on the next draft.
Residents of New York traveling to the Crossroads demonstration want to make sure the governor lives up to promises of combatting climate change. “We know that the governor will make the decision on fracking, and it will be his decision, which is why we have focussed so much on calling on the governor to listen to the science and to listen to the will of the people,” Armstrong said.
Battle in the courts
In early May, a state appellate division court gave a major boost to anti-fracking advocates when it ruled that local municipalities could ban fracking within their limits.
More than 160 local governments in New York have done just that, outlawing fracking within their territories. While many are not located directly on the Marcellus shale, the effort is largely seen as a symbolic one that sends a message to oil companies that they’re not wanted.
Other municipalities, however, passed measures in support of the industry, under the pretext of landowners’ rights.
“There were a lot of communities that were waiting to act because they were intimidated by industry threats to sue,” Helen Slottje, one of the attorneys who made the case for zoning law bans, told the Press and Sun Bulletin. “In the absence of any contrary decisions, this is the law of the state of New York now and it provides a lot of certainty to local governments without feeling threatened by the industry’s threat to sue.”
Unless the Court of Appeals takes up the case and overturns it, which is unlikely considering it passed unanimously, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has to abide by the ruling, according to Slottje. The DEC is the body responsible for issuing fracking permits — and while they can go ahead and do so, it wouldn’t serve as an authority over local regulations.
“DEC’s permits are by definition subject to local law, so therefore a DEC permit would be meaningless where it was zoned out,” former Deputy Commissioner Steven Russo told the Press and Sun Bulletin.
While grassroots advocates throughout the state applaud the broad movement against fracking, they claim it’s not enough. Without a statewide ban, areas would still be susceptible to the industry. And as Armstrong points out, those very areas outside of municipalities’ jurisdiction could be the source of drinking water for those same municipalities.
“New Yorkers are unified in their call for a statewide ban on fracking and will accept nothing less,” Armstrong said.
New Yorkers have seen the fracking industry take over their neighbors’ land in Pennsylvania. Some living on the southern tier of the state already experience the heavy truck traffic fueled by Pennsylvania’s fracking operations, and report seeing flares in the distance.
Since 2002, roughly 5,000 fracking wells have been drilled in the state, with more than $4 billion invested by the oil and gas industry, according to an industry-run website.
Washington Examiner columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth published a column arguing that New York’s moratorium was preventing the state from cashing in on the riches fracking brings. Furchtgott-Roth references her own analysis, claiming that counties in Pennsylvania that have fracking operations have higher rates of income growth and lower rates of unemployment than those without.
Yet for anti-fracking advocates in New York, the boom-and-bust industry isn’t worth the risks. Instead, when state residents gather in Albany, they’ll be focused not only on banning fracking in their state, but also pushing the governor to invest in green initiatives to boost the economy in a sustainable way.
Pennsylvania’s industry hasn’t been absent from mishaps. The very people who consider themselves victims of the fracking industry are the ones working alongside New Yorkers, hoping their bordering state will be the first in the country to stand up against fracking.
“Many of the victims of fracking in Pennsylvania have gone out of their way to tell their stories in New York and show New Yorkers what’s happening,” Armstrong said.
In an anti-fracking advertisement aimed at Cuomo, residents of Pennsylvania take turns with their complaints on the state’s fracking industry.
“My children have had nosebleeds and blisters in their mouths,” a woman identified as Pam said.
Terry Greenwood, a 20-year-old farmer from Daisytown, Penn. purchased land without gas rights. After a leak at a nearby well site contaminated his pond — his cows’ water source — he began to lose cattle. In all, he lost 10 calves and a cow. He appeared on the commercial posing the statement: “If it was safe, then people wouldn’t get sick and animals wouldn’t die from drinking the water.”
“These stories from Pennsylvania are very alarming,” Dr. Sheila Bushkin of the Institute for Health and the Environment at University at Albany said in an article published on the New Yorkers Against Fracking website. “The perspective of the gas industry fails to show adequate concern for the long-term health and quality of life of people.”
In May, a fracking site in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming County dumped 9,000 gallons of chemical-infused fracking fluid into a nearby farm site. It was the second spill in two months by Carrizo Oil and Gas. The first spill came in March, when more than 227,000 gallons of fracking fluid were released, leading to the evacuation of several homes in the area.
These are the exact scenarios New York residents are hoping to avoid by being the first state to stand up against the industry, serving as an example for those states, like Pennsylvania and Colorado, that are already seeing fracking’s effects.
“When you listen to the personal experiences of actual residents of Pennsylvania and other states where fracking has gone forward, you will hear stories of dead cows, pets, sick children, poisoned water and other serious health and environmental problems. These stories confirm our need for much greater research and evidence-based scientific facts,” Bushkin said.