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Fractivists say NY's ban is influencing moratorium decisions elsewhere


New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced this week that he is leaving that position, just two days after he issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in the state.  The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states -- and even countries -- to also ban the gas drilling process.

Julia Walsh, who’s led the group Frack Action through years of protests, hearing testimony, and other actions, helped deliver a thank you petition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo  the day the fracking ban was formalized.

“Today is a great day to be a New Yorker,” Walsh said, when the statement was finalized on June 29.   

Walsh says New York, which began the process to ban fracking last December, has helped influence other groups in the U.S. and around the world.

“In Maryland, they passed a two year moratorium after New York,” Walsh said. “We also saw moratoriums in Scotland and Wales.”

And a the local government in Lancashire, England in late June rejected a fracking application by a gas company .

The Department of Environmental Conservation says it received 260,000 public comments, and held four hearings during the seven years it considered whether to allow fracking in New York. The public input occurred before an over two-year delay as the Cuomo administration said it was reviewing health studies connected to fracking, during which little information was revealed. 

Cuomo’s Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced  late last year that he was recommending that fracking be banned in New York.

“I cannot support high volume, hydraulic fracturing  in the great state of New York,” Zucker said on December 18, 2014.

In its final assessment, the environmental agency says the “construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production, and reclamation phases can result in adverse environmental impacts” which can still be present decades after a well has been drilled and capped.  The agency says encouraging more fracking in New York will lead to “growth in the natural gas industry,” with more pipelines and compressor stations that could harm state owned preserves, freshwater wetlands and forests.  

The final statement also expresses concerns about the danger of spills and run off of fracking- contaminated water, as well as, possibly, earthquakes. The agency says it considered taking mitigation measures, to reduce potential air and water pollution and destruction of natural habitats, but concluded that they would not work.  

Business groups continue to decry the ban.

“I think it shroud be reconsidered,” said New York State Business Council President Heather Briccetti.

Briccetti  says an EPA study, released in early June, said there is no widespread drinking water contamination from fracking, though it did find some specific instances of drinking water contamination.

She cites significant economic growth in states where there’s been a fracking boom, including Pennsylvania and the Dakotas.

“The positive economic impact is undeniable,” Briccetti said.

She says no activity is without some risk.

“If that was the test, we wouldn’t be able to get on a plane, get in a car, have electricity,” Briccetti said. “It’s not a valid argument.”

But Briccetti says she realizes that politically, it’s unlikely that fracking will be revisited again for awhile.  

Martens, in an email letter to the agency’s employees announcing his departure, says he’s proud to have headed an agency that, in addition to traditional environmental concerns, responded to natural disasters like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and most recently, helped to find two escaped prisoners from Clinton Correctional Facility.

And, Martens thanked his staff for all of the hard work during the long controversy over fracking, which dragged on for years. In  his letter, he says “there is simply too many unknowns and the possible risks too great to allow it to go forward."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.