Last shot at enacting gas drilling moratorium in NY - action needed now

All eyes are on the New York Legislature to see if it will take action to further delay industrial gas drilling in the state to allow for further examination of the risks associated with the controversial technologies proposed to be used – most significantly, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” 

Two bills that would do just that are currently wending their way through the legislative process, while mere days remain in the current legislative session.

The first, Assembly Bill 10490 and Senate Bill 7592 (called “Englebright-Addabbo” after its principal sponsors in each house), would impose a moratorium on any new permitting for gas production using hydraulic fracturing until at least 120 days after the federal Environmental Protection Agency completes its recently commenced study into fracking’s risks.  Enormous credit is due to the grassroots community in New York State, which, through hard and delicate work, overcame differences in strategy and overall objectives to come together in overwhelming support for the measure.  There is no question that it was the energy, dedication and tirelessness of the grassroots that took this bill from one that conventional wisdom held was DOA to one with undeniable real legs. The Englebright-Addabbo bill has passed the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee and is pending in the Rules Committee.  On the Senate side, the bill is pending in the Environmental Conservation Committee.

The second, Assembly Bill 11443-B and Senate Bill 8129-B (“Sweeney-Thompson”), would suspend any new permitting for drilling using hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus or Utica shales to afford the state the opportunity to examine the environmental and health impacts of fracking.  This bill – which, though somewhat less strong than Englebright-Addabbo would still impose a much-needed pause on new fracking in the state to allow for adequate environmental review – has passed the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee and is pending in the Codes Committee.  It is pending in the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

Urgent action is needed now to press New York’s legislators to take the bold step – one never taken in any other state in the country – of saying we are going to ensure that the hard questions about industrial gas extraction are asked and answered before we allow any new drills to break ground.  The potential costs of failing to do so are simply too high.  As has been amply documented in prior blog posts of mine and my colleague, Amy Mall, in other states ranging from Wyoming, to Colorado, to Texas, to Arkansas, to Ohio, to West Virginia and right next door in Pennsylvania, the result of a rush to new and expanded drilling has been contaminated water drinking, exploding wells, health impacts, dead livestock, landscape devastation and air pollution.

Furthermore, New York will have a new Governor, and possibly new Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, in January.  Even under the most ambitious schedule advanced by DEC, permitting would not begin until the very end of this year or early next year – in other words, very likely in the next administration.  Whomever leads the next administration should be afforded the chance to fully analyze whether the risks of new drilling have been properly determined and planned for, rather than inheriting the policy decisions of a lame-duck administration.

Please, call your state senators and assembly persons today and tell them not to go home until they have enacted a moratorium to delay new fracking in New York until the state has had adequate time to properly and thoroughly examine the risks, and to understand whether and if so how to best manage them.

Regulators across the United States are looking to see what New York does, and whether it will fulfill its promise to serve as a better model: one that rejects the ill-fated path followed elsewhere of drilling first, asking questions later – too late for many.