NYS Senate Must Enact Three-Year Moratorium on Fracking Now

The mad end-of-session rush in Albany is upon us, the time of year for frenetic horse-trading and multiple must-do lists. Our list is short: The Senate, where too often good environmental legislation goes to die, must pass a three-year moratorium on fracking permits.

The Assembly passed the moratorium bill yesterday, by a vote of 89-34. Kudos to the Assembly and to the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, long-time chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee. Sweeney has been a consistent champion of environmental protection. Sadly, he’s not running for re-election this year, and we will miss him. But he has not been alone in that chamber on this issue. All along, a strong majority in the Assembly has been suitably skeptical about this high-pressure method of freeing natural gas from shale formations, until all the facts are in.

That’s exactly the position NRDC has consistently taken: This is a momentous decision that the state must make solely on the basis of exhaustively researched, peer-reviewed, sound science. Across the nation, the unfolding science has continued to raise serious doubts about the safety of fracking. In March, for example, I wrote about “substantial concerns and major uncertainties” about fracking, expressed by – among others – one of the consultants the state has enlisted to monitor the state Health Department’s ongoing study of its potential adverse health effects.

There’s no certainty about when the Health Department’s study will reach its final conclusions. And Dr. Nirav Shah, the former health commissioner, didn’t exactly clarify matters when he announced his resignation in April. Given his departure and the steady flow of evidence questioning the wisdom of fracking, there is absolutely no reason for the state to rush to judgment on whether to give fracking the go-ahead.

There seems, however, to be no rush to pass the moratorium bill in the Senate. The end of the session is just a few days away, and the Senate has not (since it enacted a moratorium bill back in 2010) shown much patience for any drilling delay. The seductive but dubious fracking-equals-jobs claims of fracking backers appear to have convinced senators upstate, where the economy has been in the doldrums for a long time, whose party controls the house. If these same senators are worried about the impacts on their constituents’ air and water quality, if they are concerned about how the industry would dispose of the vast volumes of wastewater that fracking produces, if they fret about the road-breaking impact of the industry’s endless parade of heavy trucks, they have managed to suppress those worries in favor of the slim hope that fracking will fix the upstate economy.

And downstate members of the Independent Democratic Caucus - some of whom have long been champions of the state's sage judicious approach to this issue - have no excuse. They must play their part to insist that the bill come to the floor, where we have every reason to believe it has the votes to pass.

So we hold onto our hope, too. Despite the Senate’s consistent record of wanting to go ahead with this dangerous technology, we hope that this time, before they leave Albany to face the voters back home in a statewide election year, the senators will see the wisdom of waiting until all the facts are in. So, Senate, let’s get cracking. Vote for the moratorium on fracking.