With the Senate session winding down in Albany, and about a thousand bills left to debate, the hydrofracking moratorium bill may not even hit the floor for a vote. Most Queens lawmakers oppose allowing the drilling process in New York State without conclusive scientific evidence that it can be done safely, without contaminating groundwater.
The drilling process known as hydrofracking is used to obtain natural gas from rock formations, such as the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from New York’s Southern Tier to West Virginia. Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water along with a slurry of sand and about 600 chemicals into a narrow horizontal pipe at high pressure to induce “mini-earthquakes,” which release the natural gas.
“Hydrofracking is a very dangerous process,” Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “The damage to the environment would be extreme and we would have to live with the ramifications for a very long time.”
Avella said that he is concerned about the chemical-laced water, about 50 percent of which is not recovered from the wells and eventually seeps into the groundwater, where opponents worry it may contaminate drinking water reservoirs. New York City receives 90 percent of its water, unfiltered, from upstate reservoirs.
Avella introduced the bill, which is based on the state Assembly’s moratorium bill, which would forbid hydrofracking in New York until May 2015. The moratorium passed the Assembly in March, but for it to become law, the Senate must pass it, and Gov. Cuomo needs to sign it.
However, the pro-fracking Republican leadership in the Senate will not allow the bill to reach the floor for a vote.
According to Avella, if the Senate does vote on the bill, “it’s obviously passing; we have enough votes.”
Almost all of the Democratic senators, most of whom represent downstate districts, have signed on as co-sponsors. Avella noted that while the Republican leadership is pro-fracking, individual Republican senators may vote for the moratorium.
“It is clear that the majority of senators support postponing a decision on fracking until science can give us a clearer answer as to its safety,” Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “Unfortunately, the current Senate leadership refuses to allow a vote to take place that would ensure such a moratorium would be put in place.”
Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) referred to hydrofracking as “the single most important environmental issue of our time,” but said he is “not very optimistic at this point” that the bill will “see the light of day on the Senate floor.”
Addabbo said that he is “not convinced that there’s any safe way to do it in our state,” noting the soil and water contamination in Pennsylvania, where gas companies have already been fracking the Marcellus Shale.
Supporters of the practice insist that fracking can be done safely, without excessive groundwater contamination with adequate precautions and regulations, such as thicker cement pipe casing.
Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said she opposes fracking because of the potential harm to the state’s agricultural economy and drinking water.
“Hydrofracking will damage our water supply, not just for people, but for plants, crops and cattle,” Stavisky said. “I can’t even pronounce the chemicals that go into the stream.”
Stavisky also questioned the economic benefits that pro-fracking opponents often boast, including the possibility that it will create jobs upstate. Stavisky said that the companies typically bring in out-of-state workers who leave immediately after they’ve completed their jobs.
“The moratorium bill simply says to wait and get information. We shouldn’t make decisions in the dark,” Stavisky said.
Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst) said he also opposes fracking in New York “until independent credible research firmly establishes that it does not represent a health risk.”
Similarly, Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica) said that he is “very anxious for the Department of Health to come out with their position. While we’re waiting, we should err on the side of caution. Our concern is the quality of our drinking water and making sure hydrofracking doesn’t cause irreparable harm.”
A spokesperson from Sen. Malcolm Smith’s (D-Hollis) office said that he is “still studying the issue.”
Most of the Queens senators said their constituents largely oppose fracking.
Avella said that when he first started talking about it, few people knew about fracking, but now the opposite is true, and that the latest polls show the majority of voters are against it.
Although the bill hasn’t reached the Senate floor, Addabbo said fracking is a primary discussion topic in Albany and that frequent rallies and press conferences have kept the issue at the forefront. Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing the permit process for gas wells.
Governor Cuomo is under tremendous pressure from the environmental movement to ban fracking in New York outright, but he has maintained that it is important to wait for the science, and not make decisions based on emotion.
According to Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert, 200,000 customers in Queens use natural gas for heat and cooking and the costs have dipped dramatically in recent years because of the spike in domestic production.
But Addabbo insisted, “there is no direct benefit in Queens,” as fracking won’t create a single job downstate, but “it does have a direct negative impact on our water.
“It is important for us to understand that something that happens 200 miles away can affect us,” Addabbo said. “Once you contaminate the water, you don’t get it back.”