Fracking Fight in Tompkins County Intensifies

Tompkins County Legislature slammed the state last week for purportedly failing to be transparent as it moves to regulate ‘fracking’ in New York...

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By Akane Otani via the Cornell Daily Sun, 1/21/13

Bringing the region’s concerns over hydraulic fracturing to fever pitch, the Tompkins County Legislature slammed the state last week for purportedly failing to be transparent as it moves to regulate ‘fracking’ in New York.

In 2008, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation was charged with reviewing the environmental and health impacts of fracking: the practice of injecting chemicals and water into the ground to extract natural gas. Although it has yet to complete the environmental review, the DEC is no longer accepting public comments on proposals to regulate fracking in the state — a move that the Tompkins County Legislature characterized as “seriously flawed,” in a press release published Jan. 14.

The Legislature, sending its letter to the DEC “under protest,” said that the department failed to let it publicly consider and vote on the proposal to regulate fracking before it was released. In addition, the Legislature said the DEC was “completely illogical” in proposing regulations that are based on an incomplete review of fracking’s effects on the environment.

The Legislature “expresses their concern about secrecy regarding review of related health impacts; insufficient information concerning socioeconomic impact and how the regulations would affect local governments; and an overall lack of transparency in the process, which serves to compromise public trust,” the press release states.

While the Tompkins County Legislature has pushed back against fracking — in 2010, voting 14 to one to petition the state to pass a statewide fracking ban — the county’s GOP representatives have vied for it. They say that fracking will revitalize, not hurt, struggling upstate economies, and that allegations of groundwater being contaminated by fracking are inaccurate.

"Natural gas drilling is one of the greatest dangers Upstate New York has faced in decades! … Why is it a danger: It will create jobs! Private sector jobs! Good paying private sector jobs!" wrote Tom Reynolds, the vice chair of the Tompkins County Republicans, in January 2012.

Rather than creating short-term jobs, fracking will generate long-term employment that will help strengthen upstate economies, Reynolds said. Pointing to the economic stimulus package, Reynolds said that the revenue generated by fracking will serve as "seed money" for the state — money that, unlike taxpayers' dollars, will provide a longer-term boost to the economy, he said.

“What is the difference between gas drilling and 'Economic Stimulus' and 'Incubator Projects' that provide a short-term bubble? Answer: gas drilling is not funded by tax dollars," he said.

But other Tompkins County groups have asserted that, notwithstanding fracking's potential economic benefits, there is a litany of possible health and environmental hazards that the state has not yet adequately addressed.

“‘Among concerns expressed [by the county's Environmental Management Council] are failure to address how abandoned wells [will] affect gas and fluid migration; the power of natural gas as a greenhouse gas affecting climate change; how animal and human health will be protected, and environmental harm prevented, from water and air pollution associated with fracking; and how the transport and treatment of drilling wastes will adequately be addressed,’” the Tompkins County Legislature's press release states.

Before the state approves and hands firms permits to drill, county health officials said that it must clear another hurdle: cementing how local health departments will work with the DEC to conduct water well tests and handle “other gas drilling-related impacts.”

In the Legislature's press release, Frank Kruppa, the county's public health director, said that, should fracking be approved, health departments will see a “significant increase" in demands for its resources.

“Formal agreements must be in place between local health departments and the DEC before regulations become final and such drilling is allowed,” Kruppa said, according to the press release.

The DEC must either finalize the regulations or draft new ones by Feb. 27, according to the Associated Press. 

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