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No Middle Ground on Fracking

J. Mijin Cha

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration are trying to walk a fine line on the future of fracking in the state. A few months ago, word leaked from the Cuomo administration that fracking might be allowed on a limited basis in towns that approved the practice. Then, a few weeks ago, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Commissioner decided that the state’s Health Commissioner would review the potential health impacts that would result from fracking before the Agency finalized regulations.

A move, it turns out, that may cause DEC to miss a deadline for its proposed regulations and restart the whole rule-making process over, including re-opening the public comment period. And now, a state judge has struck down the city of Binghamton’s fracking moratorium saying that the moratorium was premature given that the state hasn’t yet allowed fracking. So, what exactly will happen to fracking in New York?

As Cuomo is surely coming to realize, fracking is an issue where there really is no middle ground for several reasons. One, it is becoming increasingly clear that the practice is not safe. Just a few days ago, fracking was again linked to contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The latest findings were a result of a re-test of the contaminated water well and again, evidence was found that the chemicals used in fracking had contaminated the groundwater. Not only does fracking contaminate water supplies, it requires a tremendous volume of water, which is putting additional stresses on farmers and ranchers who are already suffering from record drought conditions. This is on top of a whole litany of environmental and economic damage caused by fracking.

Two, fracking is not popular. More than 100 municipalities in New York have banned the practice. More than a 1,000 people protestors gathered in Albany to urge the Governor to ban fracking and they presented a pledge signed by over 3,000 to take whatever nonviolent actions were necessary to prevent fracking wells from operating in their towns and municipalities. Nonviolent direct action has been used to successful protest the Keystone XL pipeline permit and advocates are using similar tactics to delay construction of the southern portion of the pipeline in Texas.

What we are seeing is a looming battle between the oil and gas interests and advocates that want to see a different energy future. The oil and gas industry has money and power on their side but advocates have the power of the vote and direct action. Governor Cuomo is trying to appease both parties, or alternatively anger them both equally, but as is rapidly becoming clear, he’s going to have to pick sides. Will he pick the side of a true energy future or will he side with the same tired extreme energy agenda?

On an evidentiary basis, there is no question which is the right answer. The evidence is clear that fracking is a dead-end practice that destroys local communities. But, what is not as clear, is whether Cuomo has the courage to stand up against the fossil fuel industry. For the state's environmental and economic future, I sure hope he does.