Energy and Environment

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The Fracking Divide

Jun 18, 2013

 The prospect of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York has highlighted a complex debate between two camps: those that support the economic benefits that gas drilling may bring to the region, and those who are concerned that the environmental impact of gas drilling will harm the natural beauty and sustainability of the Southern Tier. And, there are also those who belong to both camps. 

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing are charging there’s a potential conflict of interest with a consultant to Governor Cuomo’s environmental agency. They are asking that the years-long review of fracking in New York be restarted. The controversy caused the consultant in question to sever all ties with a gas industry lobby group.

It all began on Monday with a letter.

 Massive tornado outbreaks, superstorms, drought and torrential flooding … the damages from natural disasters over the past few years have totaled trillions of dollars. In 2012 alone, the economic cost of superstorm Sandy and the drought that affected much of the Midwest totaled 100 billion dollars. If these kind of events are the ‘new norm,’ then how do we adapt as a society to reduce the loss of property and life? 

The City of Elmira is just seven miles from the Pennsylvania border. And for four years, the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier crossed over the border and boosted Elmira’s economy. But that boom has slowed down, and now there’s disagreement in Elmira about whether a temporary boom is worth the costs.

At a public lecture organized by an Elmira anti-fracking group, three well-known speakers laid out the arguments against fracking.

The decision on whether to allow fracking in New York seems to be yet again in limbo. Governor Cuomo’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, said a month ago that he was still in the midst of a health review, requested by the governor’s environmental department last September, but that he expected to be done in a few weeks. But Dr. Shah, in his only public comments to date, seemed to contradict even that deadline.

“I anticipate that we will be done in the next few weeks,” Shah said on March 11. “There’s no real timetable.”

Oral arguments were completed Thursday in the case that will decide whether New York towns have the right to ban gas drilling, or fracking, and the fate of the local bans will come down to the interpretation of a single sentence.

New York Environmental Conservation Law 23-0303 says - the provisions of this article shall supersede all  local  laws  or ordinances  relating  to  the  regulation  of  the oil, gas and solution mining industries. It then goes on to affirm local government authority over road use and property taxes.

Late last year, the Cuomo administration laid out its agenda to address New York’s future energy requirements. All this week, reporters from the Innovation Trail are putting different parts of that complex energy puzzle under the microscope.

In this first report, Matt Richmond examines the goals of that plan, known as the Energy Highway Blueprint.

The New York State Assembly has approved, by a 95 to 40 vote, a two year moratorium on hydro fracking in New York. While it’s unlikely to be passed in the Senate, the action reflects state lawmaker’s growing worries about potential health impacts from the natural gas drilling process.

Pennsylvania and New York are geographic neighbors, but the two states' stances on natural gas drilling, or fracking, seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. As New York continues along its fracking journey, its citizens look to sites and stories in Pennsylvania. Here, Matt Richmond pairs photos from natural gas drilling endeavors with audio from New York State residents discussing varying perspectives on drilling.

Hydrofracking for natural gas is on hold in New York while the Department of Health reviews its potential health impacts. If New York permits the controversial drilling technique, one of the obstacles is how to handle the huge amounts of wastewater produced by each fracked well. In neighboring Pennsylvania, the use of privately owned treatment operations is spreading.