At Baruch College Thursday night in Manhattan, a three-to-one but two-sided panel discussed with a room full of people the politics of fracking.
The public meeting took place at a time when the public expected New York State Governor Andrew to announce the green light for fracking, so-to-speak. The Governor is waiting for the DEC to present its final statement that would oversee this type of gas drilling. Though Cuomo has given no indication of when this report and his word on it will come about, besides that it would be after the election season, he has said in June that he would only allow early permitting in five more-approving counties on the Pennsylvania border.
Some of the most recent develops in New York State fracking politics, in no particular order, except chronological, have included:
1. Cuomo’s five-county announcement, possibly the most provocative event amongst environmentalists.
2. There was the emergence of Artists Against Fracking over the summer.
3. NYC Mayor Bloomberg wrote in favor of fracking in the Washington Post.
4. The Upstate Town of Caroline passed a ban on fracking on the night of September 11.
5. And just this week Quinnipiac University, well known for its surveys, released a poll stating that more New York State residents are in favor of fracking than against. In it’s own words, the report says:
“By a narrow 45 – 41 percent, New York State voters say the economic benefits of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale outweigh the environmental concerns. Republicans support drilling 72 – 16 percent while Democrats are opposed 54 – 31 percent and independent voters are divided with 46 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed.”
The report adds that NYC is 44 opposed, 41 in favor; NY suburbia is 48 in favor and 40 opposed. It mentions that overall support increase since July. The poll was taken September 4-9; the Presidents’ speech strongly supporting shale mining, which is generally synonymous was on September 6.
Nevertheless, as panelist Bridget Lee, Associate Attorney of Earth Justice pointed out, the amount of New York communities that have enacted their own local laws or moratoria has risen to 135. Forty towns in the State have passed pro-fracking resolutions.
These are the last days before the permits are likely to be granted after four years, though it could be several months or after the dirt warms up again after the winter for the drilling to take place in New York State.
Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting –he came down from Ithaca to join the panel- mentioned that the politics in New York began during the Paterson Administration in 07/08. At that time, he said, Pennsylvania warmly accepted the drilling to take place in that state, which is not ecologically divided by from New York. There was an immediate culture of opposition in New York State and Governor Paterson had the Environmental Department (DEC) begin a process to draft a new environmental statement: the process would take some four years and still is not complete.
The panel did not run through a history of the last four years, which was not uneventful in relation to fracking. For the most part, the panelists presented their case either for or against the drilling process. Tom Shepstone, the Campaign Director of Energy In-Depth’s Northeast Marcellus Initiative, tried his shot at a room that was certainly thick with environmentalists.
“It’s fine to sit here and pontificate about well we all got to get off of fossil fuels,” said Shepstone, adding, “You’re sitting at tables that are made with fossil fuels.”
“Dimock is the watch-word for the anti-gas movement,” he said, referring to Dimock, Pennsylvania, where an incident with Cabot Oil and Gas purportedly led to the contamination of water at several homes. He asserted that 6000 people who turned out at Cabot’s picnic this year represent the town, unlike the eleven people who have sued the company.
He said that in Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, Pennsylvania, “there are 3600 new jobs over the last couple years” for local people. In Upstate New York, he said, “there is no economy.”
An audience member that spoke during the Q&A, said that she was from the southern tier and that her community is doing fine. Nevertheless Sheptsone replied that there was still a significant difference.
There was a three-to-four ratio on the panel –though NRDC’s Eric Goldstein referred to Bridget Lee from Earthjustice as his “colleague” and they are both from lawyer-based organizations unlike Toxics Targeting, which is primarily a data-collecting organization- but the environmentalists on the panel weren’t completely leveled either. Having only Earthjustice and NRDC on the panel would be an inadequate representation of the antifracking movement in the Marcellus bioregion. Hang pointed out in his presentation that NRDC, which has partaken in an advisory panel to the DEC, had suggested a “demonstration project” and designated areas of protection similar to what the DE has proposed. Hang echoes the voice of people who have said since summer 2011 that if it isn’t safe for large populations than it isn’t safe for small ones either; he called the SGEIS a “political” document rather than an ecological one.