New Yorkers at odds over fracking

The state of New York may sit on part of one of the largest gas reserves in the world, but the state’s governor has just issued a formal ban on fracking — much to the ire of landowners. John Dyer reports from Boston.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in the state of New York last week. Environmentalists are applauding the move, but landowners are concerned about the lost revenues. (Photo credit: CREDO, flickr)

New York governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in the state of New York last week. Environmentalists are applauding the move, but landowners are concerned about the lost revenues. (Photo credit: CREDO, flickr)

The massive Marcellus shale oil formation has created well-paying jobs and generated increasing tax revenues in rural Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — regions of the United States hit hard by the downturn in the global economy.

New York sits atop oil and gas

The same can be said about rural parts of New York, which also sit on top of oil and gas reserves. And just as in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it would be necessary to use fracking to reach those reserves: a highly controversial drilling method that injects water and chemicals under high pressure deep underground to extract oil and gas from rock formations.

New York farmer David Johnson had hoped he could share in the fracking prosperity enjoyed in nearby states. The owner of an apple orchard in Binghamton, a three-hour drive from New York City and only 35 kilometres from the Pennsylvania border, Johnson was banking on fracking to help preserve his 161-hectare property.

Cuomo dashes hopes of prosperity

But last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dashed Johnson’s hopes when he banned fracking throughout the state of New York, citing health concerns, the current low price of oil and the difficulty of drilling oil in a region where numerous cities, towns and villages have already banned the practice.

“I’m devastated,” said Johnson. “I have concerns about how to continue this farm that’s been in the family for 150 years. I make a living from people coming to my farm. But we’re losing population. The people who are left have less money to spend. Every year my business decreases.”

Johnson isn’t the only farmer in New York State’s so-called Southern Tier – a region that stretches from Lake Eerie almost to the suburbs of New York City – who is disappointed. Diary farmer Judi Whitaker, whose farm is located near Binghamton, said she was hoping fracking revenues would help her pay her property taxes. “If we had been able to get some gas drilling going it would have made our lives a little easier and taken a few of the stresses away,” she said.

Vermont also says no to fracking

Cuomo’s 17th December decision made New York the second state in the country after Vermont to ban fracking. But unlike Vermont, New York sits on top of part of the Marcellus shale oil formation.

The uproar over Cuomo’s decision reflects how many Americans have embraced fracking, arguing that its financial benefits outweigh the environmental concerns. This is especially the case in upstate New York, where job growth has been flat or negative unlike New York City and its wealthy suburbs.

Adding insult to injury, critics of Cuomo’s decision noted that members of the state’s gaming commission announced on the same day that they would not approve a new casino in the region. “There were two major issues that had the potential to either jump-start the economy or have significant economic impact in the true Southern Tier of New York,” said Binghamton Mayor Richard David, after the governor and commission’s announcement. “Both those doors were closed yesterday.”

Cuomo’s presidential aspirations

David, a Republic, and others say that Cuomo’s decision reflect his political aspirations. A Democrat who is a former member of President Bill Clinton’s cabinet, Cuomo has reportedly been interested in running for the White House. His anti-fracking decision is seen as bolstering his relations with the liberal wing of his party and environmental groups.

“Governor Cuomo has set himself apart as a national political leader who stands up for people, and not for the interests of the dirty fuel lobby,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, a leading environment organisation.


Photo credit: CREDO, flickr/Creative Commons

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