On Tuesday, the City of Buffalo, NY became the latest municipality to ban hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," within its borders. By a unanimous vote of its Common Council, the city declared that no form of natural gas extraction, including fracking, is permitted to proceed in Buffalo.
In so doing, Buffalo joins the ranks of other like-minded cities concerned about the potential health effects to their citizens of inadequately regulated gas development. In the Marcellus Shale region, these include Pittsburgh, which unanimously imposed a ban on natural gas drilling last November, and Philadelphia, which in January called for a moratorium on new wells in the Delaware River basin. The Delaware River watershed supplies water to 17 million people including the cities of Philadelphia and New York.
And just yesterday, New York City released a report reiterating its long-held position that drilling should not be permitted in the west-of-Hudson portion of its watershed - which is completely underlain by the Marcellus Shale and provides 90% of the clean, unfiltered drinking water consumed by 9 million New Yorkers.
While these actions have been called symbolic (there is no known Marcellus Shale under Buffalo, though the another gas-bearing shale, the Utica, is present; Philadelphia and New York have limited, or at least shared (with the states), authority over drilling in the watersheds that supply them) and/or likely to face legal challenges, they send a powerful message. These large cities are loudly proclaiming that they do not believe the environmental and health risks of gas production using fracking have been adequately studied or addressed through state regulatory programs.
In New York, of course, new fracking in the Marcellus (and Utica) Shales is on hold while the state prepares a much-needed new draft environmental assessment. The state should heed the messages coming from Buffalo, New York City and cities across the border in Pennsylvania, where the unfortunate effects of inadequately regulated drilling are all too evident. The gas industry must be made to show that its technologies are safe - and the state must show that it has the regulations and the resources to make sure they are used safely - before any new drilling is allowed.