Hundreds of the people who will crowd into Albany today during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech won’t be there to learn about economic development or the state budget.
More than 1,000 activists are expected to rally at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to abandon the idea of drawing natural gas from the ground using a controversial process called hydrofracturing. New York state is studying the drilling technique, which releases natural gas from rock by injecting liquid deep into the ground under high pressure.
Interest in drilling for natural gas in New York was heightened several years ago when scientists realized how much gas was contained in the Marcellus shale formation, which spans much of the state’s Southern Tier, and technological advances made extracting the gas economically feasible.
Supporters of fracking are hoping the state will establish a permit process and allow drilling to begin; there’s been a moratorium on fracking since 2008. Gas industry and economic development proponents envision thousands of jobs, lower energy costs and the ability to wean the country off foreign oil were New York to take advantage of the gas in the ground.
But opponents fear the fluids used under high pressure — which contain chemicals — could imperil underground drinking water supplies. The impact of industrial machinery on local roads and the air are among other concerns voiced by communities uneasy with the process.
About 105 different groups are promoting today’s protest, including Food & Water Watch, an organization concerned about the impact fracking can have on drinking water. The state’s years-long decision process hasn’t weakened the resolve of opponents, said Food & Water Watch organizer Eric Weltman.
And each year, he said, the rally in Albany has grown.
“This movement is on an upward trajectory as more people learn about the hazards of fracking,” Weltman said. “Just about every week, there’s more and more information that surfaces about fracking threats. ... That awareness is only strengthening the commitment of our movement to get Cuomo to ban fracking.”
New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of groups and associations focusing on drilling opposition, organized bus transportation to the Capitol from all corners of the state, including Buffalo, Long Island, Syracuse and Binghamton — a city closer to ongoing hydrofracking in Pennsylvania than to Albany.
“Here in the Southern Tier, it’s a little bit of a different situation. It’s not some abstract thing, it’s already here, and we’re trying to support our friends and our allies just over the border,” said Isaac Silberman-Gorn of Binghamton, an organizer with Citizen Action of New York and member of New Yorkers Against Fracking. “At this point, there’s a testing ground eight miles south of where I live here in Binghamton. That’s all the demonstration project you need.”
Silberman-Gorn contends residents in Pennsylvania, where hydrofracturing is already producing natural gas, have been “systematically targeted” for what’s beneath their properties.
“You see, basically, an industry that’s run rampant,” he said, adding that he believes regulators in Pennsylvania have been “asleep at the wheel.”
Silberman-Gorn said he has met with people who believe their drinking water has been contaminated by the drilling process.
“Because of what we see in Pennsylvania, that really makes it important for us to make our call really loud and clear. There’s a growing body of science that says this is a bad idea. We’re asking [Cuomo] to ban it.”