New York State Moves to Ban Fracking

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state’s moratorium on the drilling practice will remain in place.

Weld County, Colo., is one of the most drilled counties in the country, with almost 20,000 wells. Ninety percent of new wells in the state are fracked.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Dec. 17, 2014, 7:49 a.m.

New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that the state will not lift its ban on frack­ing.

The long-awaited de­cision marks a de­cis­ive turn in the years-long battle over frack­ing in New York State. En­ergy com­pan­ies are eager to un­lock po­ten­tially vast re­serves of nat­ur­al gas in rock un­der­ly­ing the state in the Mar­cel­lus Shale. But en­vir­on­ment­al­ists have put strong pres­sure on the Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor to keep frack­ing out of the state. 

The Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor’s de­cision fol­lowed the re­lease of a highly-an­ti­cip­ated health and en­vir­on­ment­al study on the im­pacts of frack­ing. The study, con­duc­ted by the Cuomo ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­cluded that while data is lim­ited and risks sur­round­ing frack­ing are not fully known, the po­ten­tial ad­verse im­pacts ap­pear sig­ni­fic­ant enough for the Health De­part­ment to re­com­mend that frack­ing should not be al­lowed.

“There are many neg­at­ive health ef­fects [of frack­ing],” New York State Health Com­mis­sion­er Howard Zuck­er said, while also ac­know­ledging that un­cer­tainty re­mains: “We don’t have defin­it­ive evid­ence to prove or dis­prove the health ef­fects.”

But Zuck­er said that, based on the sci­ence, he wouldn’t want his own chil­dren liv­ing near a frack­ing site, a fact Cuomo said res­on­ated with him. “If you don’t be­lieve your chil­dren should live there, I agree “¦ no child should live there,” the gov­ernor said.

New York State has had a de facto ban on the con­tro­ver­sial drilling prac­tice, which in­volves high-pres­sure in­jec­tions of wa­ter and chem­ic­als in­to shale rock form­a­tions to un­leash nat­ur­al gas, dat­ing back to 2008.

Neigh­bor­ing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio have reaped mil­lions of dol­lars by drilling in­to Mar­cel­lus, the largest shale rock form­a­tion in the U.S., prompt­ing busi­ness groups and the en­ergy in­dustry to ar­gue that New York has lost out on jobs and in­vest­ment.

But Joseph Martens, New York state’s De­part­ment of En­vir­on­ment­al Con­ser­va­tion com­mis­sion­er, threw cold wa­ter on op­tim­ist­ic as­sess­ments of frack­ing’s eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial. “The eco­nom­ic be­ne­fits are clearly far lower than ori­gin­ally fore­cast,” Martens said.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists and en­ergy com­pan­ies alike have pushed the state to weigh in on wheth­er the morator­i­um should be lif­ted, but Gov. Cuomo has delayed a de­cision on the hot-but­ton is­sue pending the re­lease of the health and en­vir­on­ment­al re­view.

En­vir­on­ment­al groups such as 350.org adam­antly op­pose frack­ing in the state, say­ing that it will wreak en­vir­on­ment­al hav­oc and pose a threat to pub­lic health. New York State’s frack­ing ban has be­come a flash point in a lar­ger de­bate over the po­ten­tial dangers of nat­ur­al-gas drilling across the U.S.

Green groups cheered the de­cision Wed­nes­day. “New York­ers have made it loud and clear that we want to keep this reck­less in­dustry at bay. With this an­nounce­ment, the gov­ernor has listened—and he has demon­strated both cour­age and na­tion­al lead­er­ship on this crit­ic­al is­sue,” said Kate Sind­ing, the deputy dir­ect­or for Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil’s New York pro­gram. 

The oil and gas in­dustry, mean­while, cri­ti­cized the an­nounce­ment. “Today’s ac­tion by Gov­ernor Cuomo shows that New York fam­il­ies, teach­ers, roads and good-pay­ing jobs have lost out to polit­ic­al games­man­ship. This is the wrong dir­ec­tion for New York,” said Kar­en Mor­eau, New York State pet­ro­leum coun­cil ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or for the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, the largest trade as­so­ci­ation for the oil and gas in­dustry. 

Opin­ion polls have long showed a di­vided pub­lic. A 2014 Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll found that op­pos­i­tion to frack­ing in the Mar­cel­lus shale had ris­en to a high of 48 per­cent of voters, com­pared with 43 per­cent who sup­por­ted drilling.

While the state has delayed a de­cision, however, towns across New York have already ac­ted on their own to ban frack­ing. In 2011, Dry­den and Mid­dle­field, two towns in up­state New York, en­acted a ban on frack­ing, which was then chal­lenged by oil and gas com­pan­ies. In 2014, however, the state Court of Ap­peals up­held the bans in a pre­ced­ent-set­ting case. Cur­rently, more than 150 towns and cit­ies across the state have passed loc­al frack­ing morator­i­ums.

This story has been up­dated. 

Jason Plautz contributed to this article.
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