The future of hydraulic fracturing in New York has been in limbo since the Department of Environmental Conservation began a review of the practice in 2008. Now, six public hearings are being held across New York to receive public comment on the draft State Energy Plan, with one of them in Albany. Environmental groups were at the Capitol Tuesday calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put renewable energy ahead of fossil fuels in his effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Environmental groups came together Tuesday in Albany. They gathered at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to comment on the draft State Energy Plan. Then they headed downtown to the Capitol to continue discussing the plan and call on Cuomo to keep his 2050 commitment and move away from dangerous fossil fuels toward clean and safe energy.
John Armstrong is spokesperson for Frack Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking.
"That's a great goal, and we are calling on the governor to move away from the dirty dangerous fossil fuels of the past and toward clean and safe energy in New York state," Armstrong said. "Not to invest in any more dirty fossil fuels, including natural gas and to bring more aggressive renewable energy investment to the state that can lead us to that brighter future and create more jobs at the same time."
Armstrong and the activists make it clear: in order to meet the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases, the governor must reject fracking.
"The energy plan that the governor put out promising this 80 percent reduction by 2050; it's very clear that he cannot frack and meet that goal," Armstrong explained. "Bottom line, if he's going to be serious about meeting that climate reduction goal, which is very important to New Yorkers, especially after Sandy, Irene and Lee, Gov. Cuomo has to reject fracking. There has been a very significant and now very rapidly increasing body of science showing harm from fracking, whether it be air pollution, water contamination, seismic activity, concern about earthquakes or a range of other health effects that we're seeing in other states where fracking is already going on. Literally, Americans being made sick by poisoned air entering their homes and day care centers and their schools or by drinking water that's been tainted by methane and benzene and various other chemicals in the fracking process. As you look at the totality of the science coming out on fracking, and it's already there, the only reasonable conclusion is to ban fracking."
But Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, says not so fast.
"A number of the arguments that they have made, simply have not been self-sustaining," Moreau said. "Simply because this is something that has been occurring in a widespread fashion for many years as over 30 states that are using fracking to develop their oil and gas and their overall safety record is quite strong."
Moreau adds that some of those opposed to fossil fuels, perhaps disillusioned by a perceived lack of momentum as the issue drags on, have turned their attention to other actions like obstructing rail traffic and pipeline construction. Moreau suggests a state like New York, which needs to distribute energy to large population hubs, must leave doors to many options open.
"It's better to have a number of eggs in your basket so to speak," Moreau said. "So that if for some reason in some part of the state there's an impediment to delivery, for example, when the Hurricane Sandy, and the New York City region in particular was in dire straits because they didn't have electricity, in order to have gas stations pumping gas they needed electrical power. When you have those kinds of situations, it's important that you be able to get the resource there, and where perhaps you couldn't barge because of obstruction to the Hudson River you could perhaps get the resource into the ports by rail or pipeline. Or if a pipeline terminal was disrupted because of a storm, again, you had another means of getting there. So I think people need to consider that when they start to talk about, 'well we don't really like to see this' or 'we don't like to see that.' We do really need an all-of-the-above policy for development of infrastructure."
A group of pro-gas drilling landowners from upstate New York recently filed a lawsuit against Cuomo. The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which represents more than 70,000 people spread over 14 counties, said in its lawsuit that Cuomo has overstepped his authority by becoming involved with fracking reviews conducted by the DEC and the Department of Health, and that that involvement has been politically motivated.
The state has had a de facto moratorium on fracking for about five years while Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah conducts a health impact review.