By Rob Nikolewski │ Watchdog.org
Hydraulic fracturing is now a no-no in New York state.
And that has 64-year-old Marchie Diffendorf, a lifelong resident of the rural town of Kirkwood, New York, really ticked off.
“It’s angered and upset me,” Diffendorf told Watchdog.org. “I think it was purely political.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the Empire State has banned “fracking” in which natural gas and oil is extracted from deep underground by drilling through tight rock formations. Cuomo’s announcement came after the state released a public health review claiming potential water contamination and air pollution outweighed any economic gains for the state.
That prompted celebration from environmental groups but condemnation from critics who say Cuomo’s decision was based more on expediency than hard evidence.
“This is about politics and poorly supported fears,” said Michael Lynch, the president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research Inc., an international consulting firm based in Massachusetts.
But Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called Cuomo’s decision a “huge win for the environment and public health.”
For Diffendorf, Cuomo’s decision is another blow to the economic fortunes of upstate New York.
“He knows it’s safe, but he chose to go the other way,” Diffendorf said in a telephone interview.
The energy-rich Marcellus Shale formation extends into upstate New York, an area that has been hit hard for years by tough economic times. Neighboring Pennsylvania has seen a boost in its fortunes through drilling in its rural areas.
“I’m looking out my window now, and Pennsylvania is just three miles from my house,” said Diffendorf, “They’re got (fracking) and they’re doing well. We’re in Kirkwood, New York, in Broome County. I’ve never seen so many houses here for sale. For farmers, it’s tough just to get by.”
Diffendorf is chairman of the Kirkwood Gas Coalition and, along with his extended family, owns 500 acres in the county, located in what’s called the Southern Tier — west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania.
For six years, Cuomo, a Democrat, waffled on making a decision on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas but announced the ban after his acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker released the 184-page review.
One of Zucker’s concerns was risk to the soil.
“There are no relevant studies looking at soil contamination and human health effects,” Zucker said in the report. “And yet, we grow our fruits and vegetables in that soil. Our cows graze on the grass in that soil, and way closer to our home, our children play there as well.
After enduring an unexpectedly tough challenge from the political left during his re-election, Cuomo said the concerns expressed in the report were enough for him to put the kibosh on fracking — although he seemed to be trying to put some distance between himself and the issue.
“I am not a scientist,” Cuomo said at a cabinet meeting. “I’m not an environmental expert. I’m not a health expert. I’m a lawyer. I’m not a doctor. I’m not an environmentalist. I’m not a scientist. So let’s bring the emotion down, and let’s ask the qualified experts what their opinion is.”
“The Sierra Club applauds Governor Cuomo for recognizing what the science has made consistently clear: fracking is a hazard to human health that endangers communities wherever it is allowed,” Brune said in a news release.
But Lynch, a former director of international studies at MIT, said there has been no substantiated findings that fracking is harmful.
“When you look at all the big studies, what you find is this is a safe practice,” Lynch told Watchdog.org in a telephone interview. “It needs to be regulated so that people don’t spill crap on the ground … or have badly done wells. But it doesn’t seem to be any more threatening to the environment than the rest of the oil industry, which we’ve lived with for 150 years.”
“All we need now is for New York to bring wind, solar, and energy efficiency to full potential so we can leave dirty fuels in the ground and move quickly to clean energy prosperity,” Brune said.
“Most of the people opposed to this are not in places that would be affected, it seems like,” Lynch said. “It’s kind of like the BANANA — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything — and it’s a little arrogant for them to be saying, we have decided you people shouldn’t be suffering the slings and arrows of fracking in your neighborhood.”
Zucker said the review boiled down to whether he would want his family to live in a community where fracking took place. His answer was no.
“We cannot afford to make a mistake,” Zucker said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”
“The process of hydraulic fracturing is noisy,” Diffendorf said. “But it’s a very short period. It’s usually done in less than a week, the fracturing. They’re drilling wells in 21 days or less. It’s a short, small sacrifice to make for the gains the community would get … It would be great for the schools.”
Fracking supporters, including the Joint Land Owners Coalition of New York, are scheduled to meet in the coming days to consider options to combat Cuomo’s decision, including legal challenges.
“As unbelievable and indefensible as it is for our governor to act in this way, rest assured we’ll continue our fight and persevere in the end,” owners coalition executive director Dan Fitzsimmons wrote on the organization’s website.
But Diffendorf seemed resigned.
“I hope the people here can have a Merry Christmas, but I think the hope is gone for any relief for the people in the Southern Tier.”