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Hydro-fracking opponents bring big guns to lobby for a NY moratorium

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing this week for a third round of hearings, this time in Canonsburg, PA, on the controversial natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

A wealth of natural gas is locked into the Marcellus Shale deep under Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio. Some geologists estimate it's enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years. But there are fears fracking could pollute water above and below ground and deplete aquifers. The oil and gas industry says it's been safe for many years and is needed to keep the nation on a path to energy independence. The process is currently exempt from federal regulation.

Now concerned New Yorkers want the state to step in. New York's Senate chambers have been dark since lawmakers left town for a summer break early this month. But the grand hall was briefly lit up yesterday as hydrofracking opponents came to lobby for an 11-month moratorium.

No Senators were actually on hand for the event, even though the lobbyists brought out the big guns. Karen DeWitt has more.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The Senate chambers, which have been dark and empty for days, were briefly lit up as opponents of hydrofracking came to the Capitol to lobby for a bill to impose an eleven-month moratorium on the gas extracting process in New York.

The anti-hydrofracking activists brought out the big guns. Folksinger Pete Seeger and actor Mark Ruffalo provided theatrics for the event. Seeger wrote a song for the occasion, saying “drill baby drill” has turned into “spill baby spill.” Holding a jar of dirty water from a contaminated well ruined by hydrofracking, Ruffalo exhorted law makers to “get off your butts and lead—stand up!”

Jim Smith, a lobbyist who represents the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, says the moratorium legislation isn’t really necessary. It would expire next June, he says, and the DEC reviews hydrofracking applications so carefully that it would take until next spring simply to issue permits. “Let’s look at the product they come up with and then have another discussion about it,” said Smith.

Although senators weren’t present to hear the activists' or industry’s arguments, Senate Leader John Sampson issued a statement backing the hydrofracking moratorium bill. He said he values “the importance of fully understanding the impact of drilling before breaking ground.”

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