New York Lawmakers Pass Extension of Fracking Ban in Assembly, Face Challenges in Senate

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

The New York State Assembly passed a two year extension to an already existing moratorium on hydraulic fracturing on March 7, a move which has elicited strong feelings on both sides of the divisive debate and throws the fate of the practice into question.

The measure aims to prevent the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale in Upstate New York while state authorities continue to consider the safety of the practice. The delays have frustrated fracking proponents as state authorities engaged in study and debate for over four years.

Though Democrats prevailed in the Assembly, the Senate is not expected to approve the measure. Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R – Long Island) vowed to block the extension on the grounds that the governor’s process would be sufficient, leaving both the short and long-term fate of fracking in New York unknown.

Nonetheless, Senate Democrats are pushing forward with their effort to allow time for further research. Senator David Carlucci (D – Rockland/Ossining) introduced a bill in the Senate extending the moratorium by two years to accommodate an additional two public health studies.

In a statement to the Rockland County Times, Carlucci expressed support for the measure and called for public officials to “put science and the health of all New Yorkers first.”

“This [moratorium extension] offers the most comprehensive and scientific review to date,” Carlucci said. “I believe that we should examine all potential public health impacts before we allow the hydrofracking process to proceed.”

Pro-fracking groups have promoted the practice as a way to inject cash into the stagnant economy of regions such as New York’s Southern Tier and chided opponents for delays. New York State Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau described the extension as obstructive and detrimental to economic prospects in the Southern Tier.

“We have waited four years and seven months for ‘science’ to determine the outcome of this debate,” Moreau explained. “For the Assembly to step in to further delay the process, even though a year ago the Department of Health determined that hydraulic fracturing could be done safely, speaks volumes about Albany.”

Assemblyman Kieran Lalor (R – Fishkill) echoed Moreau’s call for lifting the moratorium and accused Governor Andrew Cuomo of deliberately delaying the process to avoid making a final decision before his re-election campaign.

“New York has been studying natural gas drilling for four and a half years,” Lalor explained in a March 6 press release. “That’s enough time for a young New Yorker to graduate from high school or college, start looking for a job, and decide to move out of state because there are few opportunities in New York.”

Cuomo passed a February 27 deadline without a final decision, instead opting to wait for findings from a review of comments by the Department of Environmental Conservation and a State Department of Health report.

It has also been speculated that Cuomo supports limited, regulated natural gas extraction in 2011, but the delays and recent friction between Cuomo and pro-fracking groups has thrown doubt on his actual opinions. In a recent interview with Gannett, Cuomo chastised lobbyists for engaging in “hallway chatter” rather than allaying the fears of state residents.

“Their job is to communicate to the people of the state, to say that this is a safe process, to be open and available. And that’s what they should be doing,” Cuomo explained.