Fracking Backers, Critics Converge Amid Report Limited Gas Drilling Will Be OK'd

Supporters and opponents of a plan to allow limited fracking in New York’s Southern Tier converged in Albany on Thursday after a report that the governor will likely give the go-ahead to the controversial practice of natural gas drilling in select areas.

For months, the Cuomo Administration has been signaling it might permit fracking in some areas in the Marcellus Shale region. This week, the New York Times reported that senior environmental officials say they will very likely pursue that strategy.

Five town supervisors from the Southern Tier region whose communities are in favor of fracking came to the Capitol to say they are eager to get started. Those opposed also rallied at Cuomo’s offices.

Sandy Rogers, who is from Bradford in Steuben County, said the town of 700 with one gas station and one bar has deteriorated in recent decades and most residents are elderly on fixed incomes or on public assistance.  

“We’ve got to have something,” Rogers said.

She said many of the farmers in the community are struggling to stay afloat and pay property taxes. Many hold leases with the gas companies, and are eager to sell the gas that’s believed to be under their properties.

Jim Finch, town supervisor of Conklin, which borders the Southern Tier city of Binghamton, said his community has suffered from two devastating floods in recent years. Many of those affected are farmers.

“This is the only thing that’s going to save them from divvying up their farms or the acreage they have to keep surviving,” Finch said.

But John Armstrong, with Frack Action, says people in the drilling regions will see their water poisoned and risk getting sick.  

“We will not carve New York state up into a sacrificial zone in the Southern Tier,” Armstrong said. “That is not OK.”

Sioban Burke was born and raised in Steuben County and now lives near Albany. She strongly against the limited fracking going forward in her former home, and she says it won’t bring the economic relief that supporters hope for.

“The Southern Tier has been an economic sacrifice zone in New York for a very long time already,” Burke said. “And fracking is only going to make that situation worse.”

Last June, the Cuomo Administration appeared to put  approval of fracking on a fast track, moving ahead with an environmental impact statement and setting up a time line that could have led to permits by the end of 2011.

But in the months since, the process has slowed to a crawl. Public hearings were held, and the Department of Environmental Conservation has said for months that it is still examining the over 66,000 comments it received.

Finch, Conklin’s town supervisor, said the people in his community are running out of time. 

“If we don’t get it, we’re done,” Finch said. “Simple fact, we’re done.”

The Cuomo Administration is expected to publicly announce its plans for fracking in New York later this year.