The New York State Assembly is saying no for now on allowing hydraulic fracking within the state’s boundaries.
Outgoing Gov. David Patterson is expected to sign a bill that would prevent energy developers from fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in the Empire State until May 15, 2011, at the earliest.
"Folks are very concerned about the rush to drill and use this new type of drilling, which is incredibly resource-intensive and polluting," said Dereth Glance of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in an NPR interview.
Fracking is a controversial method for extracting natural gas. It involves pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand underground to extract the gas. (MNN has a great explainer here.) In economically depressed Pennsylvania, the practice has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years as farmers and other landowners have been offered large sums of money to allow development to take place on their properties. But while Pennsylvania has been open to the fracking business, New York has been more cautious about offering up its land for development.
New York’s caution makes sense. The state has been burned many times by environmental blunders. In the same NPR interview, Glance listed just a few of New York's environmental low-lights. "This is where Love Canal was. We have Onondaga Lake here. We have some significantly contaminated areas," she says. "We want to learn from our neighbors, what mistakes have happened, and we don't need to pollute our environment anymore."
The moratorium on fracking development will allow for more extensive review of the practice. But I assume the delay will only ratchet up of rhetoric on both sides. Energy developers are likely to spend the next six months trying to make the case that fracking does not contaminate water, and that the process poses no risk to public health. I'm sure they will also claim that it is in the economic interest of the state. Those on the other side will now have a finite window to make a case about health and environmental concerns.
If both sides are successful, the future of fracking in New York may come down to an interesting choice: health and environment or dollars. It could be a tougher call for some who live in an economically depressed part of the nation, but also sit on a gaseous gold mine.