Getting the Frack Out of Here

It was good news last week when NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens reported that the hydrofracking advisory panel is behind schedule and that it’s unlikely any permits will be granted any time soon. The panel was meant to deliver its recommendations today, November 1, but it is still waiting for budget and resource estimates from several state agencies which are apparently struggling to come up with that information. The panel’s recommendations aren’t expected now until sometime next year, well after the Governor’s budget proposal.

This news doesn’t mean it is time to be complacent.  More than ever it’s important to make all our voices heard on this profound issue that impacts quite simply everything that matters: Our water, our food and farmland, our communities, our environment, our health and our economy. Unless it’s changed, December 12, 2011 is still the deadline for public comment on where, when, how, and if horizontal hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — will be allowed in NY State. It’s not too late. As the first state to introduce a moratorium to consider health and safety issues before allowing permits, New York can go on and do the right thing with strict statewide regulations. The clock is ticking.

I think most of us agree that jobs are the number one issue in the state right now, but creating jobs doesn’t have to mean putting our water and our communities at risk. When drinking water is poisoned by fracking’s secret chemical cocktail it cannot be reversed. When a bucolic landscape morphs into an industrial site, that green field instantly becomes a brownfield. What’s more, this is not even a level field.  Few rural communities where fracking has been introduced have strong enough zoning and enforcement protections to counter the sophisticated negotiations or mitigate against the violations of big mining companies.

It’s also heartbreaking to realize how much of the targeted land is farmland: Way too many sites are former dairy farms that struggled and then failed under a strange system that kept the price of milk fixed while energy and other costs soared.  Where was the state support for those hard working farmers who were feeding and nourishing our families while contributing to the upstate economy? How will we continue to feed our families in New York State with diminished farmland which we are putting at serious risk?

This fracking issue has brought misery and bitterness at seemingly every turn.  Beautiful, historic villages like Cooperstown,  a great tourist destination with the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fenimore and Farmer’s Museums and Glimmerglass Opera Festival, has seen neighbor pitted against neighbor in the debate over gas drilling. And what happens to that tourist economy, not to mention real estate values, when the surrounding landscape is pocked with drill pads? The same questions apply to anywhere along the Marcellus Shale, including here in the Hudson Valley.

It’s up to all of us to be informed and vocal about this issue. Here are several ways; feel free to comment at the end of this post with more suggestions.

  • See Gasland, the Josh Fox film that won an Emmy award earlier this year.
  • Check out the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s complete and thorough report on the Safety of Shale Gas Development.
  • Environmental Advocates is offering a webinar Is New York’s Policy Don’t Ask, Just Frack? on Tuesday, November 8,  2011 from 12 noon to 1 pm.  Water & Natural Resources Program Director, Katherine Nadeau, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment’s Legislative & Policy Director, Sarah Eckel, will talk about what is (and what isn’t) in the state’s plans, and what’s best for our communities and our water. Click here to register!
  • Several environmental groups have zeroed in on  10 major flaws  in the State’s published guidelines and how to fix them.

And when you are ready to speak out, Environmental Advocates has just set up a nifty Facebook page that will send real postcards to the DEC or you can comment directly at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website.

About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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