The New York Times reported Wednesday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is close to a decision on how to regulate the burgeoning natural gas industry seeking drilling rights across the upstate region of New York.
Hydraulic fracturing, known more commonly as fracking, is used to extract natural gas from shale rock located miles below the earth’s surface. When a drilling company “fracks” a well, it injects large quantities of sand, water and chemicals into the ground, creating fissures in the sediment that release the gas trapped deep inside. The Marcellus Shale, one of the largest shale formations, lies primarily underneath parts of New York and Pennsylvania, a state where companies — spurred on by the support of Republican Governor Tom Corbett — have drilled rigs on rural land by the hundreds.
Despite industry promises that the hydraulic fracturing process is safe, critics contend that the potential environmental impacts posed by natural gas drilling are not worth what they say may be short-lived economic gains.
Regardless of where the Cuomo administration lands on regulation, the governor’s decision to allow any fracking in the state will feel like a victory to energy companies who have been waiting for years to drill on already-leased land. Corporations like Chesapeake Energy, which holds several dozen upstate drilling permits, have been stymied by the state’s moratorium since 2008, when the Department of Environmental Conservation launched a full-scale environmental review to determine what, if any, environmental degradation may result from high-volume hydrofracking.
Four years later, the state administration has reportedly come up with a proposal that would regulate hydraulic fracturing based on the depth of the drilling proposed. In order to allay concerns about possible groundwater contamination, the Cuomo plan would limit fracking to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, and ban the process entirely in and around aquifers, nationally-recognized historic districts and Catskill Park, home to four of New York City’s reservoirs. While Cuomo has indicated in the past that he intends to support natural gas drilling, Wednesday’s report is the closest New Yorkers have seen to movement on the issue in recent months.
Natural gas drilling, gas prices and alternative energy development have emerged as key issues heading into the 2012 election. Back in 2011, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Obama of “strangling” the economy by failing to increase Marcellus Shale drilling. Obama for his part explicitly endorsed natural gas drilling in his most recent State of the Union address, where he declared that investing in American-made energy may be one answer to the country’s economic woes.
Environmentalists remain unconvinced of possible benefits of natural gas drilling. Critics contend the risks of potential water contamination, air pollution or earthquakes caused by wastewater injection are reason enough to ban the process.
In 2010, well-known celebrity activist and actor Mark Ruffalo sat down with Need to Know to speak about the threat fracking may pose to the drinking water supply for residents of New York City, Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey.
“This isn’t an actor with his pet issue. This is me and my kids and my family. We get our water from our well,” he said. “I care because it’s my life.”
Watch the full interview with Mark Ruffalo: