'If You Organize... You Can Win': After NY, Hopes Rise For More Fracking Bans
'It's a game-changing moment,' said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director at Food & Water Watch
In the wake of New York's victory against fracking, many regions in North America faced with growing climate threats seem ready to follow the state's lead and ban the drilling practice altogether.
Just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a moratorium on fracking following an intensive environmental activism campaign, the Canadian province of New Brunswick introduced its own temporary ban on the controversial method of drilling.
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, who promised a moratorium on fracking during his campaign, said the halt would be lifted for companies who meet certain conditions, which include a consultation process with First Nations tribes, a plan for waste water disposal, and credible reports on the health and environmental impacts of the practice.
New York's resolute stance against fracking is particularly momentous because the state sits atop a large portion of the Marcellus Shale, a methane-heavy formation that has been targeted by the energy industry for drilling. Legalizing the practice would have been a financial boon for the state; by prioritizing the environment, Cuomo "sets a model for what should happen around the country," Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director of Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams.
"I think you see things happening already," Beauchamp said. "It's a game-changing moment."
Deborah Goldberg, Earthjustice attorney, told Al Jazeera that Cuomo's move will "give other political leaders courage to step forward and admit what we know about the health effects, what we don’t know about the health effects, and take a more cautious approach."
And it seems they may. "[T]he lesson from New York is that if you organize from a grassroots level... you can win."
— Food & Water Watch director Alex Beauchamp
"We're seeing advocates in other states latching on to what New York has done in support of their own efforts," says Kate Sinding, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council told National Geographic.
North Carolina's Rules Review Commission on Wednesday passed a series of fracking safety standards that could prevent the state legislature from lifting the current fracking moratorium, which it was set to do within months.
In Maryland, another Marcellus-adjacent state where fracking companies have set up shop for years, climate activists have been fighting ferociously—with actions that mirror those taking place in Seneca Lake, New York—to close construction sites and convince their Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan to halt the practice. Hogan has called fracking an "economic gold mine."
Democratic governors, such as California's Jerry Brown, are likely to face the same pressure that Cuomo did, Beauchamp said. "If you're in power and you're a Democratic governor, you should really take note," he added. "[T]he lesson from New York is that if you organize from a grassroots level... you can win."
Fracking bans exist elsewhere, such as Vermont, but that state's move against the practice—which came in 2012—while welcome, bears little practical impact, as it has few shale resources to be exploited, unlike New York.
Many opponents of the environmental movement believed that a fracking ban in a state like New York "wasn't politically possible," Beauchamp said. "A few days "I asked myself, 'Would I let my family live in a community with fracking?' The answer is no,"
—New York Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zuckerago... a lot of people would laugh you out of the room" for suggesting that it could happen.
As National Geographic notes, Cuomo's move could have an impact on neighboring Pennsylvania, another state where fracking has become a flashpoint of the environmental movement.
"I asked myself, 'Would I let my family live in a community with fracking?' The answer is no," said New York Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Wednesday. "I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either."
Earthworks eastern coordinator Nadia Steinzor told Al Jazeera, "The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health."
There are other indicators that the tide is starting to turn on fracking, Beauchamp said. "[Y]ou see polls increasingly turn against it. You see a clear trend, not only in the U.S. but around the world."
The takeaway for climate activists, Beauchamp said, is to not back down: "You don't start with what you think is possible. You don't start with where you think the compromise will be. There's no one bigger than the fossil fuel industry... and Wednesday we beat them."