Five Years After Ban, New York Can Do More Against Fracking

Credit: Adam Welz/CREDO Action

Five years ago today, Governor Andrew Cuomo made history by announcing that New York would become the first state in the country with known gas reserves to ban fracking. This was a bold victory in defense of public health, communities, and the environment, and came after a multi-year grassroots campaign waged by groups in every corner of New York State. In the intervening years, multiple states, including Maryland, Washington, California, and countless other countries, counties, and municipalities have enacted fracking bans, moratoria, and other regulations on this dangerous practice, proving that where New York goes, the rest of the world often follows.

Since the ban went into effect, statewide momentum has only continued to build, with victories against fracked gas projects like the proposed Williams Pipeline, which has already been rejected in New York twice, and for bold statewide climate policy like the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA commits New York to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously ramping up investments in renewables and energy efficiency. The CLCPA is critical to addressing the climate crisis in a bold and equitable way.

Yet, despite New York’s leadership on climate and in banning fracking, new fracked gas infrastructure still crisscrosses our state, from pipelines that threaten our waterways, to compressor stations and power plants that emit cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde. The fracking that brings gas into New York from neighboring states like Pennsylvania comes at tremendous personal cost to thousands of residents living in the shale fields. One study found that of the hundreds of chemicals used in the fracking process, more than 75 percent of them are associated with adverse effects on the skin, eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, about 40 percent could have effects on the nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, the kidneys and endocrine system, and 25 percent are associated with cancer and mutations. Pennsylvanians and people across the country have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their lives at the hands of the fracking industry.

Not to mention that natural gas is a fossil fuel that releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—from when its extracted, to its transmission, to combustion. The primary ingredient in natural gas, methane, is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, further driving the climate crisis. According to Drew Shindell, a drafting author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, methane has been the largest contributor to the worldwide failure to reduce emissions over the last two decades.

Credit: R. Friedman

There has to be a better way forward to power New York without harming public health and the environment.

Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature can continue to build on our climate goals and protect New Yorkers from the scourge of fracking by taking the following actions:

  • This upcoming session, the legislature should enshrine New York’s fracking ban in state law. Five years ago the statewide fracking ban was enacted through executive action. Let’s get the ban into law and preserve it for generations to come;
  • Governor Cuomo should continue to block fracked gas infrastructure, like the Williams pipeline from moving forward in New York State.
  • Governor Cuomo should stand with his counterparts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware (who collectively make up the state members of the Delaware River Basin Commission) in support of a full ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Governor Cuomo is currently the chairperson of the Commission but is the only state member that has yet to commit to supporting a full fracking ban in the Basin, the drinking water source of over 17 million people; and,
  • The legislature can protect New Yorkers by closing a loophole that exempts dangerous oil and gas industry waste from New York’s existing hazardous waste regulations. According to records maintained by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, seven landfills across New York have accepted over 500,000 tons of contaminated waste from fracked wells in Pennsylvania since 2011.

Taking these actions will require tremendous political leadership and courage. What’s abundantly clear, though, is that fracking and its associated infrastructure takes us in the wrong direction in protecting public health and our communities. The climate crisis is going to get unimaginably worse unless we accelerate the transition to clean energy solutions that don’t sacrifice the health and safety of our communities.

Five years after announcing the ban, it’s time for New York to build on its historic leadership against fracking.