The New York State Assembly has approved, by a 95 to 40 vote, a two-year moratorium on hydrofracking in New York. While it’s unlikely to be passed in the Senate, the action reflects state lawmakers’ growing worries about potential health impacts from the natural gas drilling process.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has led the way in recent days to ban hydrofracking for at least another two years in New York. The Speaker said right now, there are too many unanswered questions. He said concerns include drinking water safety, whether the release of methane gas from fracking into the atmosphere will add to climate change, and possible risks posed by radioactive materials that are brought up from underground during the drilling process.
“No one wants to harm our environment and jeopardize our water supply,” Silver said. “I am skeptical that fracking can be done safely.”
The moratorium would last until May 15, 2015. In the meantime, the Assembly bill calls for the State University of New York to conduct an independent, comprehensive health review. Fracking would be delayed even longer if the health study is not finished in two years and two months.
“Until we have the facts, no new permits should be issued for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus or Utica shale formations,” Silver said.
A similar bill to ban fracking in New York for two more years was introduced by the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate. The breakaway Democrats are in a power sharing agreement with Senate Republicans. The GOP is against the moratorium. They prefer to wait instead for Governor Cuomo’s health commissioner to complete an ongoing review. So it’s unlikely that the measure will move in the Senate.
Despite that, anti-fracking groups see the Assembly’s action as a possible turning point in the years-long debate over whether to allow the natural gas drilling in New York. Katherine Nadeau, with Environmental Advocates, said the public wants a "time out."
“The people are speaking,” said Nadeau. “And they’re getting louder and stronger every day.”
Nadeau said 1,500 protesters rallied outside of the Governor’s State of the State speech in January, and hundreds of others have come up since then to demonstrate against fracking.
“Now the legislature is acting, and that’s exactly what they should do,” Nadeau said.
Heather Briccetti, president of the New York State Business Council, disagrees. She said the legislature should not be getting involved, when Governor Cuomo’s Administration is already reviewing fracking.
“We’ve been in this process now for four years, and I think additional attempts to delay it through a gimmick, which I frankly think the legislation is, it’s really inappropriate,” Briccetti said. “It’s an insult to land owners in the Southern Tier who have been waiting for four years to be able to benefit from hydrofracking.”
During debate on the Assembly floor, Assemblyman Bill Nojay, a Republican who represents portions of Western New York in the Marcellus Shale Region said the moratorium’s real intent is to shut down the gas drilling industry in New York “forever.”
“There should be no illusion about what this debate is about,” Nojay said. “It is not about the environment. It is about an intellectual and political jihad against natural fuels.”
Governor Cuomo’s own review of fracking is currently is stalled. Cuomo has given his Health Commissioner more time to conduct a health review, begun last September. It includes looking at three mega studies. One is by the federal EPA. Another is by a health care company in Pennsylvania looking at potential impacts on Central Pennsylvania residents after several years of fracking.
Cuomo said there’s no specific timetable for completion.
“We want to get it done quickly,” Cuomo said. “But we also want to get it done right.”
Cuomo, asked about the Assembly moratorium on fracking, said he’s “comfortable” with his own agencies' review process, and wants to see what they come up with first.