January 25, 2012

Environmental groups rally for NY ban on fracking

Health and environmental groups rallied at the Capitol on Monday to call for a legislative ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells, saying no amount of regulation can adequately safeguard water supplies from contamination.

"Fracking is the most important environmental issue this state has faced in the past 100 years," Sen. Tony Avella, sponsor of a bill to ban hydraulic fracturing, said at the rally in the Legislative Office Building next to the Capitol. "There is no possible regulation or series of regulations that can stop the one incident that pollutes our water supply for 1,000 years."
Organizers said about 600 people from around the state traveled to Albany and registered to lobby state lawmakers for various bills related to the practice known as fracking, which stimulates gas production by injecting wells with millions of gallons of chemically treated water to fracture shale.

Noting that some mainstream environmental groups have been pushing for strict regulation of fracking rather than a ban, Avella said, "Shame on you! There can be no compromise on this issue."

Rob Moore of Environmental Advocates said outside the rally that his group is one of those that has focused on strict regulation rather than a ban. By doing so, it has achieved a "de facto ban," he said. "We're certainly not opposed to a ban; we would support one," Moore said. "But if we had taken a hardline black-and-white stand, we wouldn't have been as effective."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has refused to consider new shale gas wells since 2008, when it began an environmental impact review of fracking. New regulations are expected to be in place this year. The agency received about 40,000 public comments — an unprecedented total — on its proposal.

Industry groups, who point to a decadeslong history of safe gas drilling in New York, have said the regulations proposed by the DEC are so strict they would effectively shut down shale gas development in the state because of the high cost of compliance.

The rally featured chants of "No fracking way" and signs calling for "Renewable energy now." A group of residents from Middlefield in Otsego County held a banner supporting a "home rule" bill, which clarifies the right of towns to enact zoning ordinances that prohibit fracking and discourage industry-funded lawsuits against such bans. Middlefield is fighting a lawsuit against its local fracking ban.

A group of farmers and bakers from Tompkins County delivered 100 loaves of bread to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office to make a point about the importance of a clean and healthy environment on agriculture.

Erica Ringewald of Environmental Advocates said her group was also lobbying for a bill promoting solar industry jobs.

Ana Tinsley of Frack Action said the top priority for her organization is the fracking-ban bills sponsored by Avella in the Senate and by Brooklyn Democrat William Colton in the Assembly. The bills would amend the state's environmental conservation law to prohibit fracking and the disposal of any fluid used in the fracking process.

"Frack Action's position is that there's no reason to even talk about a regulatory approach," Tinsley said. "It has been proven that it can't be done safely, even when regulated."

More than two dozen bills related to gas drilling have been introduced in the Legislature, according to Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. A bill that would classify toxic and radioactive wastewater from gas-drilling operations as hazardous waste passed in the Assembly last year but died in the Senate.

Another bill would suspend permitting for hydraulic fracturing until June 1, 2013.


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