Thursday, December 25, 2014
Sunday, December 21, 2014
New York is banning the drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing.
Growing evidence about the risks posed by the process make it the right decision.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo always promised that he would let science determine New York's future course when it comes to fracking.
In announcing Wednesday the state will formally ban high volume hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process of pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to release and extract natural gas, the governor delivered on that promise.
In that, Mr. Cuomo deferred to the recommendation of his acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, who released a 176-page, two-year health study that found widespread fracking will likely contaminate the state's air and water and pose significant health risks to residents of the communities around the drilling sites.
Dr. Zucker's compelling conclusion, in which he posed the question of whether he would raise his family near a drilling site, put it best: "After looking at the plethora of reports behind me ... my answer is no."
In banning fracking, New York goes against the trend in which a growing number of states are attempting to cash in on a natural gas boom. But that very boom provided state Health Department researchers the abundant and ever-expanding foundation of data that led to their overwhelming conclusion. States where fracking has been under way are experiencing myriad problems with methane, benzene and other volatile organic compounds polluting the groundwater and air. Data also link the gas drilling process with earthquakes.
In 2009, when New York land owners and developers were urging at least limited fracking to tap the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, only six peer-reviewed studies on the environmental health impact of the hydraulic drilling process were available. Today, 154 such reports have been completed, examining various types of drilling operations in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere, according to Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Health Energy, a New York-based group opposed to hydrofracking. Long-term studies also are under way, which the group believes will reveal cancer and respiratory problems for residents of the communities where there is gas drilling.
Skeptics may say Gov. Cuomo's decision was politically easy, coming during an oil glut that has reduced demand for natural gas. But by instituting an outright ban on fracking, the Democratic governor is already taking political hits from the drilling industry and many Republicans, particularly in the financially pressed Southern Tier and Western New York. Even there, however, fracking's wisdom is disputed by many.
Now the governor and his staff must follow through on his pledge to find alternative and safer economic development opportunities for those areas, which have been struggling for decades.
Scientific research will continue on fracking, and surely technological improvements will, as well. There might come a time when the process is safe enough for some use in New York. But the science today is clear: that time isn't now.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Now everyone is waiting to see whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow hydro-fracking in New York State. Cuomo is brilliant at both political strategy and fund raising (about $45 million for the last campaign) but he is caught up in a huge pincer movement between those who hate the idea of potentially polluting our water and further despoiling our air and those who want to make a buck from fracking. My hero, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, put it to Cuomo this way: “Your father was perhaps the best governor New York State ever had and if you take the money that they want to give you for going along with fracking and injuring people for generations to come, you will go down as perhaps the worst.” Those were pretty powerful words and I suspect they left Cuomo reeling.
Hydrofracking puts Cuomo between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t know what to do. As a result of this predicament, the governor’s top people were almost certainly told to stall. So first the commissioner in charge of environmental conservation studied the problem to death and then transferred the ball to the health commissioner who eventually resigned and went elsewhere. It’s tough to be a medical professional of first rank and have to carry a governor’s political water.
Many people speculated that once Cuomo got through the election he would call for a modified fracking plan for New York whereby localities that voted to allow fracking would be allowed to “Drill baby drill” under strict supervision. They suspected that the Solomon-like Cuomo would attempt to cut the baby in half. Once the door was open, however, the genie would be out of the bottle and fracking would become a reality in the Empire State. But not so fast — there are some intervening political realities.
Cuomo has lost many voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Having styled himself as a social progressive and a pro-business fiscal conservative, the governor is getting beaten up by the more progressive members of his party. Fracking is no exception. A recent Pew poll showed that fracking is getting more and more unpopular among Democrats. So now the rock and the hard place are even closer together. After all, Cuomo got a million fewer votes in the last election than he got the time before. Many of those lost votes were those of angry Democrats who just stayed home. Since Cuomo is much smarter than I am, he’s got to understand that by accepting the money and not taking Pete Seeger’s advice against advancing fracking, he will lose even more of his natural voters.
The truth is that while there seems to be a good deal of evidence that fracking is dangerous, it is even more significant that we simply don’t know exactly what the process will do to our water supply. Why in the world would we take a chance on risking our water, the most important thing on earth when it comes to human survival? People simply have to know that their governor is looking out for them and not for money to run for political office. While he clearly doesn’t want or need my advice, Gov. Cuomo really should close the door on fracking. That’s when the people will know that he cares about them. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important than playing the political game.
Sunday Freeman columnist Alan Chartock is a professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at email@example.com.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Saturday, October 4, 2014
If you want to Rally ‘Round Otsego’s Waters but don’t want to walk, bike, or paddle, we would love volunteers to drive shuttles and bring potluck dishes. To sign up for the event as a participant or volunteer, please contact Cat Gareth, firstname.lastname@example.org. Sponsored by Otsego 2000. Other sponsors welcome!
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Tipping Point: The People's Climate March
Sunday, September 14, 2014
One Week Away: The Countdown! We're really looking forward to seeing all our fracktivist friends at the People's Climate March, next Sunday, Sept. 21