Will Environmental Review be Nail in Coffin for Fracking in New York State?

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Will Environmental Review be Nail in Coffin for Fracking in New York State?

Long-awaited analysis of climate and public health risks could be used by anti-fracking advocates in other states to push for more bans

The anti-fracking movement in New York has grown increasingly vocal and vibrant over the years since former Governor David Paterson issued the country's first formal timeout on the practice in 2010. (Photo: CREDO/flickr/cc)

Setting the stage for New York to issue a formal ban on fracking within 10 days, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released this week a 2,000-page environmental review that underscores the "significant and adverse" climate and public health risks associated with the drilling technique.

In drafting the report, the department considered over 260,000 public comments in addition to scores of scientific and academic studies.

"This report appears to solidly back up the governor’s decision to ban fracking in New York."
—Kate Sinding, Natural Resources Defense Council

This "exhaustive evaluation," conducted over the course of seven years, found that "significant uncertainty remains regarding the level of risk to public health and the environment that would result from permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York, and regarding the degree of effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures," according to an executive summary (pdf). "In fact, the uncertainty regarding the potential significant adverse environmental and public health impacts has been growing over time."

The report cites such impacts ranging from degraded air quality to possible groundwater and surface water contamination to increased earthquake risks associated with fracking.

Furthermore, as Environment & Energy Publishing notes, the review "contemplates a detailed set of regulations that would be needed if shale development were allowed in the state. To protect waterways and other sensitive areas, the study estimates that 7.5 million of New York's 12 million Marcellus acres would be placed off limits—greatly diminishing potential development and profits."

The review is necessary to finalize the fracking ban announced by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December—a decision that marked a huge victory for fracking opponents. 

"This report appears to solidly back up the governor’s decision to ban fracking in New York," said Kate Sinding, director of the Community Fracking Defense Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "New Yorkers have valid concerns about the threats fracking would pose to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities we live in. In the coming days, we will be digging through this lengthy analysis with a fine tooth comb. The governor has rightfully let science and the will of the people be his guide, despite pressure from a powerful industry. He should continue to proudly stand his ground."

In addition, the New York-based news outlet Capital suggests the department's findings will have broader implications, predicting they "will be used by anti-fracking advocates in other states to push for more bans, and could form the basis for the industry's legal challenge to the state ban."

Now, the NRDC's Sinding told Matt Richmond of WSKG News, the focus will be on convincing regulators that "if allowing fracking in New York is a bad idea, so is allowing all the pipelines and waste and storage facilities that go along with it"—such as the hotly contested Seneca Lake methane gas storage facility. 

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