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Source: Legislative Gazette

Hydrofracking moratorium awaits governorís signature

Environmental advocates celebrate billís passage

BY AARON DORMAN

Posted: December 2, 2010
Originally Published: December 1, 2010

Those concerned about drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York can relax for at least another few months, provided they can count on Gov. David A. Paterson's signature.

By a vote of 93-43, the Assembly approved a moratorium on conducting hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking," for the extraction of natural gas or oil in New York until May 15, 2011. The bill (A.11443/S.8129-b) was passed in the Senate over the summer and now awaits Paterson's approval. The governor has 10 days to make a decision on the bill once it reaches his desk.

On Tuesday, a number of legislators and advocates praised the Assembly's action, saying that it was an important step in protecting New York's groundwater and environment.

"New York made a strong statement today that we are fully prepared to put our health and the environment above all considerations," said Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney, D-Babylon, who sponsored the bill. He said the Assembly action "put the lie to" a number of assertions made about the issue, such as that the issue was about upstate jobs versus downstate environmental concern, or that a moratorium on hydrofracking would damage New York's economy.

At a rally on Tuesday environmental groups joined Sweeney and two other assemblymen, Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, and Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, to celebrate the passing of the bill.

"We must have water to live," said William Cooke, director of government relations for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "That trumps an awful lot. The future of New York's energy comes from the sun and the wind; it doesn't come from the ground. We call on the governor to do the right thing."

"It is encouraging to see lawmakers requiring policymakers to take more time to evaluate the use of hydrofracking for natural gas in New York state, resisting the pressure from the oil and gas industry to hurry through permissive regulations," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. "New Yorkers are grateful to see the Assembly join the Senate in making the important decision to balance economic interests with environmental concerns."

Those who had opposed hydrofracking over the past few years had said the toxic chemicals used in the process have threatened groundwater, polluted streams and created air quality hazards in other states, such as Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

New York's Department of Environmental Conservation is currently conducting a review of the hydrofracking process and whether it can be conducted safely.

Kavanagh, said the Legislature would have to play an important role in the future of hydrofracking in New York, regardless of what the DEC finds. "We need to stop looking at harder means of extraction [for fossil fuels]," Kavanagh said. "The Legislature will play an important role in what is and is not allowed in New York state with regards to hydrofracking and drilling. This is an industry that has gotten away with running under extraordinary secrecy … we have seen the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency abdicate responsibility, and we've seen underfunded agencies who can't enforce existing laws."

Cutting funding and staff at the DEC has been a point of contention over the past few months, resulting in the October firing of the DEC Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis, who said, among other things, that objectives such as evaluating the impact of hydrofracking in New York's Southern Tier would be extremely difficult under the mandated thinning of the department.

A spokesman for Paterson, Allison Epstein, said that the governor had not yet made a decision as to whether he would sign the bill. "The governor will review it when it gets to his desk and solicit inputs from viewpoints on both sides, and then make a decision based on what he thinks is the best choice," Epstein said.