An anonymous leak in Albany last week revealed an 11-month-old report from the state’s Department of Health saying that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can be a safe way of boosting New York’s energy supply and its upstate economy.
But if the leak was aimed at winning over or changing the minds of state legislators from Queens who are wary of, or outright hostile to the process, the Cuomo administration’s version of Deep Throat might just as well have saved himself the trip to the underground parking garage.
The Queens Chronicle was able to contact all but one member of the state Senate and Assembly from Queens this past week. Not one who responded said his or her mind was changed in the slightest by the report.
Even those who said they were at least open to the possibility said they want to wait on the results of the official study, and that fracking cannot be permitted without the strongest guarantees and regulations.
Hydrofracking is a process by which water mixed with a cocktail of chemicals is injected into the ground under high pressure to break up underground rock formations that contain trapped natural gas.
Some of the chemicals used are known carcinogens. Opponents fear accidents or natural occurrences could contaminate upstate sources of drinking water for New York City.
The state has a moratorium on the practice first put in place by Gov. David Patterson in late 2010. Cuomo has not committed either way pending the outcome of a study that was due out late last year and has had its deadline pushed back to February.
“We’re talking about water,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven). “After Hurricane Sandy, I was with [Assemblyman] Phil Goldfeder when whole sections of his district were without water for two or three days until they could get relief supplies.
“If those chemicals leak into the water supply for the entire city, what happens when it’s five boroughs?” Miller asked. “It could take years or at least months to fix. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
“If something goes wrong, you can’t say ‘WHOOPS! Sorry!’ after you have a problem,” Mike Armstrong, spokesman for Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) said. “It may be an economic issue upstate, but it’s a health issue if you live in New York City. You can’t be too careful. And you can’t go back once you’ve permitted it.”
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) still wants to wait.
“My view is that we still need a full review, and that we need as much information as possible,” he said. “I need a sense that this can be done without environmental damage.”
In a statement emailed to the Chronicle, Emily DeSantis of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said the leaked document is outdated, “nearly a year old, and does not reflect final DEC policy.”
But in her statement, Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said the contents were no surprise.
“In fact, these reports confirm what has been clear for some time now: sensible regulations can ensure safe natural gas development will protect land, water and public health while providing tens of thousands of good jobs ...” she said.
While Miller believes the pros and cons of fracking operations in places like Pennsylvania are not worth the potential trade-off, Scarborough said the state should take into account the potential for a Pennsylvania-style economic boom in the depressed upstate region that sits atop Marcellus shale.
“Upstate would certainly benefit from that,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be allowed near any water sources. The original plan had it too close to water sources.”
In an email, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) asked for more independent study.
“The jobs created by drilling would not come to New York City, but fouled drinking water might,” Peralta said.
“While I am mindful of the economic boost fracking would provide and am aware of the need for energy independence, simply not enough is known about the potential public health and environmental impacts,” he said.
Asemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) also still has questions.
“I view the issue of whether to permit hydraulic fracturing in New York State as requiring a two-step analysis,” Simotas said in a statement issued by her office. “First, a broad scientific consensus must exist that hydraulic fracturing is, in fact, safe and poses no threat to our water supply.”
Second, she said, if such a determination is reached, reasonable measures must be imposed to regulate “this volatile and potentially destructive process.” State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was far less diplomatic.
“That report isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” Avella said. The senator is attempting to ban fracking in the state.
Dan Hendrick, spokesman for the New York League of Conservation Voters, also said the leaked report changes nothing from the group’s point of view.
“If the governor ultimately allows fracking, we want it done with the strongest possible regulations in place, along with the strongest possible enforcement,” he said.