NY Assembly Approves Gas Drilling Moratorium: Historic Measure Now Goes to Governor to Sign

Late last night, the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a critical measure that would suspend the issuance of any new permits for gas drilling using the controversial technology of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The purpose of the legislation is "to afford the state and its residents the opportunity to continue the review and analysis of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water and air quality, environmental safety and public health."

Our thanks go to Assembly Speaker Silver for bringing the measure to the floor, and especially to Assemblymember Sweeney, who carried the bill, and Assemblymembers Englebright, Jefferies, Glick, Kavanaugh, Rosenthal and Lifton, who joined him in leading the floor debate in support.

The measure - which was passed by the state Senate with strong bipartisan support back in August - now goes to Governor Paterson's desk for his signature.  Particularly in light of his pre-Thanksgiving comments about the need to go slow when it comes to new fracking in the state, expectations are high that the governor will sign the measure, which formally suspends fracking until next May, into law.

This action represents the first time any state has stood up to the big oil and gas companies and said no new fracking unless and until they can demonstrate it can be done safely.  It sends a powerful message to the rest of the nation - including states from Wyoming to Pennsylvania that are confronting the dangerous effects of inadequately regulated gas development - that a state can draw a line in the sand and insist on the protection of its citizens.

The historic measure also sends a strong message that New York's legislature agrees with the environmental and grassroots communities that the draft environmental review prepared by the Department of Environmental Conservation is fatally flawed.  The legislature has spoken clearly: a moratorium is necessary so that the state can "continue the review and analysis of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water and air quality, environmental safety and public health." In other words, the DEC needs to go back to the drawing board and get it right.

Of vital importance, the legislature's action gives an incoming Cuomo administration breathing room to give the issue a fresh look, and to cure the grossly inadequate enviromental review before moving forward with any new drilling in the state's shale.  This means doing a full analysis of, among other things, the cumulative impacts of the hundreds or thousands of wells that would be likely to operate throughout the Marcellus Shale region at any given time, how massive quantities of toxic wastewater would be managed, and how to ensure that fracks do not intersect with natural fault lines or improperly abandoned wells to create long-term contamination risks.

All eyes will now be on Governor Paterson to quickly sign the measure into law, which would substantiate his comments of last week that, "[e]ven with the tremendous revenues that will come in at this time…we’re not going to risk public safety or water quality, which will be the next emerging global problem after the energy shortage."

You can help us make sure the governor is good for his word.  Call or email Governor Paterson and tell him to sign the moratorium into law as soon as it hits his desk.

About the Authors

Kate Sinding

Senior Adviser to the President

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